When buying a used car you don’t have the luxury of ordering the optional equipment and model you would like. Yet, when some guys start looking for a vintage musclecar they start with a list of options that their new purchase has to have. In many cases the list gets shorter and shorter as time goes by, but there are those who manage to find their dream car—although they tend to be the really patient ones that will search for years. It’s the lucky few that find it right away.
Mike Gnoss wanted a ’69 Camaro SS 396 with the Rally Sport package, an automatic trans, all the original smog equipment, and air conditioning. Now, right away you know this is not going to be an easy car to find. Mike followed up leads and searched for the perfect candidate for a couple of years until the day he made another trip to the Pomona swapmeet in SoCal. There in the front row was an original L.A.-built 350hp 396 SS/RS with an Endura front bumper, power windows, rear window defogger, fold-down rear seat, houndstooth interior, tilt steering, console with gauges, and early production SS-style wheels. Best of all it was a 102,000-mile unrestored-original car that the seller had just picked up from the original owners, an elderly couple.
Knowing that Camaros like this don’t come around often, Mike made the deal and brought the car home to Northern California. The first order of business was to detail the engine compartment to as close to original as possible with the proper belts, clamps, filters, plug wires, etc. The suspension was rebuilt next and a cowl hood and air cleaner replaced the stock SS hood.
After driving the Camaro in this configuration a while Mike decided it was time for a change. The goal was to make some cosmetic and performance improvements without modifying the car too much. He started by adding a set of 17-inch Budnik rollers and lowering the suspension front and back. The engine was removed so the compartment could be fully detailed—and that’s when it happened—suddenly Mike was waist deep into a complete rebuild.
Mike decided that in the best interest of power and future originality he would put the 396 in storage and build a 454. With the help of Riolo Racing Engines, Mike ended up with a 550hp powerplant that will run all day on pump gas. And just in case the 550 horses won’t get him out front, he installed a Nitrous Oxide Systems’ 150-horse cheater plate as a little insurance.
To make a little more room for the larger rear meats, Mike cut 1 inch of the trunk floor out on each side at the wheelwells and then massaged the inner wheelwells in until they could be rewelded to the floor. He then sealed the seam and painted the trunk, making the mini-tub job look stock. The front and rear suspensions were then tied together with a pair of weld-in subframe connectors.