In '69 it was the Camaro that reigned supreme. Yeah, the Corvette guys had their Tri-power carbs and fancy styling, but the Camaro was still the car on Chevrolet dealer lots, to the tune of 243,085 cars sold. Not only did the Camaro have the 425-horse 427 (if you knew how to get one), but also the holy grail ZL1 engine, of which the Chevelle guys could only dream. At the strip, Camaros with the potent L78 375-horse 396 were taking Mustangs, 'Cudas, GTOs and others to the woodshed in quarter-mile showdowns. And that's where this particular Camaro first cut its teeth.
This Fathom Green terror was built late in '69's model run, sold by a dealer in Ontario, Canada. It was ordered with very few options outside of the SS package, M22 four-speed, and L78 Rat. The original owner ran it on the dragstrips around Ontario until the early '80s, when the car was sold to someone on the west coast, where it continued its life on the dragstrip until the early part of new millennium, when the car was retired to an old chicken coop, not to see the light of day until it was acquired in a real estate deal.
Paul Dyck, owner of D.Y.C.K. Design and Gun, was offered the F-body and with only 19,000 miles on the odo when he bought it, Paul knew the old Camaro still had a ton of life left in it. But instead of just going straight, he wanted to turn the '69 into a real corner carver with high-speed straightaway capability.
The call went out to Speed Tech Performance to get the right parts for making the Camaro a handler. Speed Tech makes some of the best parts for F-bodies, Novas, and Chevelles, including bolt on subframe suspension upgrade systems. And with its recent acquisition of American Touring Specialties (ATS), Speed Tech's line of parts has grown even wider. Once completed, the '69 became Speed Tech's entry in the 2009 Super Chevy Suspension & Handling Challenge.
To make the suspension work, Speed Tech supplied Paul with a Track Time package, which included a brand new front subframe, tubular control arms, coilover shocks, rack-and-pinion steering conversion, and Speed Tech's rear torque arm kit. The advantage of a torque arm system is that it provides the same vertical stability of a four-link style suspension, but still offers the lateral stability and travel necessary for a car to handle on a road course.
Up front, the Speed Tech front subframe uses high-clearance upper and lower tubular control arms, solid, heat-treated chrome-moly sway bar, billet aluminum upper shock mounts, QA1 single adjustable coilover shocks, Unisteer rack-and- pinion with steering arms, and adjustable transmission and engine mounts. Baer 14-inch rotors with Baer six-piston calipers provide stopping power at all four corners of the Camaro.
The Camaro still employs a 396, but in slightly modified form. Sometime in '70, the original block failed, and a factory warranty short-block was installed using the L78 heads. Since then, the 396 has soldiered on. As for when the last time the engine was actually refreshed or rebuilt, no one knows, but it still pulls as strong as it did new. The original intake and vacuum secondary 4150 carb were removed in favor of an Edelbrock Victor intake and newer 4150-style carb, along with the engine being dressed up with a Billet Specialties front accessory drive system, cast Chevrolet valve covers, and a set of Ring Brothers hood hinges to make the engine compartment pop.
A set of Stainless Works headers, designed by Speed Tech, take care of ejecting spent hydrocarbons. A Gun Bigger Block hood was installed to allow more clearance for the taller Edelbrock intake, but the factory "fake" cold air inlets were retained for looks. Backing up the 396 is a Tremec TKO600 transmission with Centerforce clutch.
On the outside, the car was reshot in the factory Fathom Green color, including the bumpers. Inside the interior was revamped with a set of Gun Camaro gauges, along with a whole new stock interior that converted the Camaro from all black to dark green carpet with white houndstooth seats and door panels. A Grant steering wheel replaced the factory unit. Rushforth X-Rated wheels with Nitto NT05 rubber give grip all the way around.
Driver's Impression - On the Autocross Course
I liked the handling of this Camaro and it performed very well considering the extra front-end weight of the 396 big-block. The initial offset slalom tour brought a hint of understeer after initial good turn-in, and the car seemed comfortable with the transitions. The crossover and lane changes leading up to the end sweeper were easy to prepare for, but under hard braking, I encountered serious front wheel lock-up. This occurred every time the brakes were applied to slow the car and the only way around it was to either not use them or soft brake very early. As everyone's aware, locking the front wheels results in understeer and this is no fun either on an autocross course or on the street.
For street driving, it's not a huge issue but push will add precious seconds, not just tenths, to an autocross or track lap time. Drivers hate it and try like mad to diagnose the "root" cause for a solution. Whether it's the brake friction material, improper adjustment of the proportioning valve, or the added weight of the 396, we'll never know, but this tiny problem did change how this car had to be driven. I'm positive that the Camaro could have gone much quicker with the problem sorted out.
Hauling butt back towards the finish had the Camaro showing more push on corner entry. I countered this minor delay by trying to take an early apex as late as possible and this appeared to resolve the understeer. Aside from that, the 396 got the Camaro down the course quickly. There was plenty of torque available and the gearing was perfect. I'd like to see a larger diameter steering wheel, as this would offer better steering response but overall, the steering was manageable. Speed Tech is on the right track and with further development, its Camaro should be outstanding. -Mary Pozzi
Driver's Impression-On the Street
You could paint an oxcart Fathom Green and I'd probably like it. It's a color I'm partial to, having owned a '69 Corvette in that hue. Speedtech's '69 Camaro didn't get extra points for being Fathom Green, but it was just one more thing for me to love about it.
From the test log, we noted this about its suspension: "It takes a set and holds it. Turn in is crisp." We would have loosened the rear shocks for more comfort. The back end felt a tad too stiff for our tastes on the street, especially crossing the railroad tracks on our test route.
We liked the quick, accurate steering, even though it was a little light. Also, it had a tremendous combination of shifter, clutch pedal pressure and action. "The shifter just glides into gear," we wrote in the book. "Nice."
The only real downer was the brakes. Pedal feel was poor, there was no pedal travel and the car was hard to stop. Not what you'd call a desirable combination in a valuable big-block first-gen Camaro, especially one set up for high-speed handling hijinks. Fix that and we'd drive the Speed Tech Camaro anywhere.-Jim Campisano
Speed Tech Performance '69 Camaro Specs
Type: L78 396 big-block
Fuel Delivery: Holley 4150-model 750 cfm carb
Transmission: Tremec TKO600
Rearend: GM 12-bolt
Steering: Unisteer rack-and-pinion
Front Suspension: Speed Tech bolt-on front subframe
Spindles: ATS 0.75-inch drop
Front Shocks: QA1 single-adjustable coilovers
Front Springs: QA1
Front Control Arms: Speed Tech tubular
Front Sway Bar: Speed Tech Track Time 1.25-inch diameter
Rear Suspension: Speed Tech torque arm
Rear Shocks: QA1 double-adjustable coilovers
Rear Springs: QA1
Rear Sway Bar: None
Front Brakes: Baer Pro-Plus 14-inch rotors & six- piston calipers
Rear Brakes: Baer with 14-inch rotors & six-piston calipers
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Rushforth X-Rated 19x10 front, 20x12 rear
Tires: Nitto NT05 275/35ZR19 front, 315/35ZR20 rear