The story is as old as hot rodding. Call it hot rodding lore—you know it, eyes bigger than stomach bite off more than they can chew. But this isn’t about trying to wolf a four-and-half-pound beefsteak at the Big Texan while the clock is ticking. Inexperience is the reason; ego is the driver. But growing up, Alex Wright had been indoctrinated, had been around race cars and sports cars as a youngster.
“I bought the car when I was 22, and slowly started to strip it down. I had no idea how over my head I really was,” Alex confessed. But luckily the bell rang before he tried anything. “When I found out that work would take me overseas, I stashed the car in my grandfather’s barn.” It would begin to take root. When he got back to the States six years later, he had kids and a busy career. What now, he gulped? “Fortunately,” he said, “I found Smitty’s Custom Automotive.”
The Camaro was an orphan, a roller that had been restored but the sticky part was that the insides of it had suffered blazing heat. Chris Smith is an old hand at this business, he knows what real-time actually means, he knows the pitfalls, the BS, and, most importantly, how to craft a premium build. But before the Camaro got under Chris’ roof, Alex had tried to insinuate himself. “It was bed-lined inside and out and I wanted to see what was underneath.” He ground, chiseled, and scraped his heart and fingertips out on either side of the floorboards. He said he’d never been able to get that dirty before, but he’d actually put a part of himself in the build.
To gain formidable handling and cornering traits and to tailor the Camaro’s stance, Smitty’s gang got on it with Detroit Speed mechanicals. In front, the familiar hydroformed subframe attended by tall Detroit Speed spindles, control arms, and a splined antisway bar. Smitty’s ensured wheel control with multi-adjustable RideTech coilover shocks. They added some resistance to torsional bending by running Detroit Speed connectors under the frameless chassis. At the business end, the patented QUADRALink assembly is damped by RideTech coilovers abetted by an antisway bar and a Panhard rod. Big brakes complement; Wilwood 14-inch plates all around and six-piston calipers followed by four-piston pinchers.
You’d think that the LT4 engine would have dropped in the chassis more or less. Sure, it turned out to be more than less. Certain exhaust headers interfered with the Detroit Speed front-end components. Ultimate Headers snakes with 1 7/8-inch primaries brought the issue to a close. Also, there were minor clearance troubles with the OE pulley arrangement that were solved straightaway. Alex couldn’t resist the hairy idea of dry-sump oiling, so Smitty’s built him a reservoir and put it way forward on the passenger side of the engine compartment where the tank would normally be in a Z06 Corvette.
From there, the package went to Lingenfelter Engineering for the tuning and tweaking. The factory LT4 advertises 650 hp at 6,000 rpm and 650 lb-ft at 4,600 rpm at the crankshaft. Lingenfelter petted 638 hp and 632 lb-ft from that engine at the tire tread, so they did a real fine job there. Rather than putting a ho-hum slushbox behind it, Alex got feisty and stuck a Bowler-prepped T-56 and Centerforce clutch pack/flywheel (enabled by hydraulic linkage) behind the Super Magnum bellhousing. With an 0.63:1 top gear, Alex’s final drive reduces the numerical cog in the 9-inch to lazy 2.23:1.
Well, yes, Smitty’s is very good at mechanical chores because they must be, but that is another realm entirely from how they illustrate the car, especially with a dark, turbulent color. To clean up the landscape, they shaved the side markers, gave it OER bumpers, and put in Anzo LED headlamps and Billet Specialties taillights. The firewall got smoothed. They attacked the body seams and gapped them skinny and straight. Although the paint came from PPG, according to Chris Smith it’s his custom mix blue that is seriously complemented by the matte black finish on those Forgeline alloys. Even the smoked window glass contributes.
Trent’s Trick Upholstery over in Baltimore (Ohio) remedied the stripped, fire-blackened hovel that was once the Camaro’s interior. They covered Cerullo seats with leather and then moved to the doors and quarter-panels with the same. They laid down Dynamat and covered it with custom carpet. Over the steel dashboard they placed a TMI cover, and then they pasted it with a Detroit Speed insert and filled the holes with AutoMeter meters. Wait long enough and the whole coalesces down at the handbuilt console.
Winter means crap weather almost everywhere in the country. Since it gets that way in Ohio, too, Alex doesn’t hit the tarmac until the slab is warm and dry, and then he’s out a few times a month stirring up some passion. Immediately after its 26-month gestation, he learned to trust the Camaro’s efficiency. “I drove several hundred miles to upstate New York.” Not a hiccup. Not a fart. Not a wheeze. That most of us have had hot rods quit running—sometimes in the dark, for no apparent explanation—this charming quality cannot be understated.
If nothing more, the Alex Camaro is a four-wheeled pal in the guise of a hairy, favorite four-legged companion—always faithful and always ready to go whenever you want to go. CHP
Owner: Alex Wright, Mount Vernon, Ohio
Vehicle: 1969 Camaro
Type: Chevrolet Performance LT4 crate engine
Displacement: 376 ci
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Bore: 4.065 inches
Stroke: 3.622 inches
Cylinder Heads: A365 T6 Rotocast, 2.13 steel/1.59 titanium valves, 65cc combustion chambers
Rotating Assembly: Forged steel crankshaft, powdered-metal steel connecting rods, forged pistons, OE dry-sump oiling system, custom tank
Valvetrain: OE 1.8:1 ratio rocker arms, OE pushrods
Camshaft: Hydraulic roller (0.492/0.551-inch lift; 189/223-deg. duration at 0.050)
Induction: Eaton intake manifold, intercooled Eaton 1.7-liter R1740 TVS supercharger at 9 psi, Rick’s Tanks stainless steel fuel cell
Ignition: LT4 controller, OE coil packs
Exhaust: Ultimate Headers 1 7/8-inch primaries, 3-inch stainless steel system, MagnaFlow mufflers
Ancillaries: CNR aluminum radiator, American Autowire loom
Built By: Chevrolet Performance
Machine Work: Chevrolet Performance
Tuner: Lingenfelter Engineering
Output (at the wheels): 638 hp, 632 lb-ft
Transmission: TREMEC T-56 assembled by Bowler Transmissions, Centerforce clutch assembly and steel flywheel
Rear Axle: Currie 9-inch assembly, Wavetrac differential, 3.55:1 gears, 33-spline axles
Front Suspension: Detroit Speed hydroformed subframe, Detroit Speed spindles, RideTech Track 1 triple-adjustable coilover shocks, Detroit Speed splined antisway bar
Rear Suspension: Detroit Speed QUADRALink, antisway bar, Panhard bar, Track 1 triple-adjustable coilover shocks, Detroit Speed subframe connectors, Detroit Speed mini-tubs, RideTech TigerCage
Brakes: Wilwood Aero 14-inch discs, six-piston calipers front; Wilwood 14-inch discs, four-piston calipers rear; Wilwood proportioning valve
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Forgeline GA3 18x10 front, 18x12 rear
Tires: BFGoodrich Rival S 275/35 front, 335/30 rear
Upholstery: Smitty’s Custom Automotive (Tiffin, OH)
Seats: Cerullo XR, RideTech five-point safety belts
Steering: Flaming River column and steering box, MOMO wheel
Dash: TMI leather, Detroit Speed insert
Instrumentation: AutoMeter Spek-Pro
Audio: Kicker head unit, 6.5-inch front speakers, 6x9-inch rear speakers, 10-inch subwoofer, Kicker amps, installed by Smitty’s Custom Automotive
HVAC: Vintage Air
Bodywork: Smitty’s Custom Automotive
Paint By: Smitty’s Custom Automotive
Paint: PPG custom blue mix
Photography by Robert McGaffin