The love affair with automobiles often starts in impressionable youngsters with a single glimpse of an iconic body line. When the desire to roam free takes over and all that can be experienced is that which is felt deep down—the rumble of a tuned-up exhaust, the clatter of a set of high-performance roller rockers, the pop-pop-pop of a high-performance camshaft. In the case of Oklahoma City’s Matthew Hensley, that glimpse occurred when he was at his most susceptible to succumbing to the horsepower virus that takes us all.
“My love affair with the first-generation Camaro started in high school. One of my classmates drove a beautiful black 1968 Camaro for special occasions. It was his father’s car. Apparently he had way more trust from his parents than I did. I was always jealous of his car. Ever since then I have dreamt of having a black 1969 Camaro,” says Matt.
But this build wasn’t the result of just signing a blank check and handing it over to a builder of choice. No, it was far from that. In fact, during the build process he learned a number of valuable lessons about building a Pro Touring car. The chassis, which was picked off a Craigslist ad, was initially selected because of its bare nature.
“I had been looking for a completely stripped shell. My thoughts at the time were that at least I was sure of what I was buying, and I wanted all-new parts anyway,” he says. “I saw too many car shows on TV that had nightmare stories about buying a ‘solid’ car but really got a rust bucket. This particular car was just a shell but had a solid floor and trunk.”
So, with a solid foundation, he could get started with the rest of the build, right? Not so fast. As with any nearly 50-year-old car, there was definitely a need for metalwork to set things straight. Apparently, the chassis had been lifted with a fork truck at some point during its life, which bent one of the A-pillars. Then, with rust discovered in the rear quarter-panels, he paid for them to be replaced. “Later, I found out that I had paid them to do a terrible job that had to be completely redone just to make the doors fit right,” he says. And to add insult to injury, over the life of the build, he paid multiple shops to work on the car—most of which did subpar work that later had to be fixed to move forward with the project. “Finally, I found MuscleRodz. This turned out to be the only shop in my area that could produce the quality that I expected at a reasonable price,” says Matt.
He finally got the car into the MuscleRodz shop, where Mike Redpath and the MuscleRodz team were able to bring his vision to life using a wide variety of serious aftermarket parts designed to enhance performance, look good, and turn heads in the process.
In the front, the factory subframe is still in place, but every component attached to it has been upgraded. Speedtech Performance sent out their Camaro GT front suspension package, which is designed to utilize the stock subframe with an assortment of high-performance parts that get the job done without breaking the budget. It consists of ATS/Speedtech AFX tall front spindles based on the C4 Corvette, beautiful tubular upper and lower control arms, and the company’s 1 1/8-inch tubular chromoly sway bar. A coilover conversion kit works with the Viking Crusader double-adjustable dampers to set the ride height and keep the suspension under control in the process, while one of Speedtech’s power rack-and-pinion units helps Hensley wheel the car.
One of Art Morrison’s complete rear clips was added under the newly installed sheetmetal, complete with AM subframe connectors and Detroit Speed mini-tubs. The frame encloses one of Art Morrison’s 9-inch Ford housings stuffed with a locking differential, Moser Engineering axles, and 4.56 gears. The triangulated four-link suspension arrangement relies on one of AM’s antiroll bars and Strange Engineering shocks and springs to control tire motion, while a full complement of Wilwood four-piston Dynalite brakes hangs at all four corners. Forgeline 18x9.5 wheels are wrapped in 265/35R18 BFGoodrich Rival rubber on the front, while monstrous 315/35R18 hoops encircle the rear 18x11 wheels.
Underhood, a mostly stock LS6 delivers the power. It’s been hopped up with a Comp Cams Mutha Thumpr grind boasting 0.563-inch lift, which is fed by an Edelbrock Victor Jr. EFI intake manifold feeding a set of aluminum 243 cylinder head castings. The whole works is controlled by one of Edelbrock’s Pro-Flo electronic fuel-injection systems, which provides plenty of room for growth should Matthew decide to step up the engine program. The Pro-Flo system maintains the vintage air-cleaner look with the reliable performance and driveability improvements offered by port fuel injection.
Ultimate Headers 1 7/8-inch long-tube headers feed a custom exhaust system that exits through a set of Borla Atak mufflers. There’s no hiding from this Camaro when the hammer is dropped. Blumenthal Auto Services in Oklahoma City went through and prepared the TREMEC T-56 transmission.
When you gaze at this car, you might not notice all of the exterior modifications applied by MuscleRodz. “I added a ton of custom touches throughout the car, including filling the side marker lights, cowl louvers, front-fender extensions, and upper rear body panel seams. Finally, there were a ton of hours in getting all of the panels to line up just right, leaving very small and consistent gaps,” Matt says.
This attention to detail extends through the rest of the exterior changes that were performed. The stock hood was modified by MuscleRodz to accept the LS air cleaner, the front bumper was heavily modified, and the rear bumper was narrowed to clean up its appearance. Transparent powdercoating was laid over the stock door handles to keep them looking slick, while the outside mirrors were sourced from a second-gen Camaro. Once all of the body mods were complete, the PPG DBC Black was laid down by MuscleRodz, then augmented with custom graphics.
The MuscleRodz team also let their handiwork in the passenger cabin, hooking up a set of Dakota Digital gauges to help Matt keep tabs on the car’s performance. You can’t have a true hot rod without cold A/C, so a Vintage Air system was set into place to keep the interior livable on the hot summer days.
Tunes run through a Pioneer head unit and amplifiers into Polk Audio 6.5-inch front and rear speakers augmented by a Polk 10-inch subwoofer. Procar Rally seats are up front with a custom MuscleRodz console between them, and Matt controls the cruises with a Billet Specialties steering wheel. Hix Design perfected the headliner—there is no droopy material here.
Even as beautiful as this car is, Matt feels there’s room for improvement. “All of the brand-new parts that I had to purchase added up to so much more cost than I had planned. The parts bill for this car was astronomical. So much so that I had to compromise a few times,” he says. Even with those challenges, “the most memorable time was the first time I got to drive it. I could not stop smiling. I was so happy to finally get to the point where I could actually enjoy it.”
In our opinion, each of the subtle touches and improvements made to Matt’s Camaro exist in harmony. At first glance, you know there’s something different, but it’s so clean you can’t put your finger on it right away. That’s how you know it’s done right.
Photography by Grant Cox