The Chevrolet Camaro served as the official Indianapolis 500 pace car four times between 1967 and 1993. Perhaps the most famous and iconic of all Indy pace cars, regardless of make or model, is the ’69 Camaro, which paced the 53rd running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1969.
Pete Estes, Chevrolet general manager, and Speedway President Tony Hulman made the announcement on January 28, 1969, that the Camaro would again pace the race, the second time in just three years. Noting that the RS/SS Camaro pace car would be white with Hugger Orange stripes, it would also have a new interior in orange and a “ducted hood.”
Chevrolet agreed to provide 133 ’69 Camaros decked out as festival pace cars. Of this total, 43 cars went to the Indy Committee and received a special gold Festival decal, 75 were used for the VIP fleet, five for USAC officials, and seven were for official Speedway use. Two specially prepared cars were used for the actual pacing duties, and one equipped with 396 engine, power top, and air conditioning was set aside for the eventual winner, Mario Andretti. Along with the fleet of Camaros, Chevrolet agreed to supply 16 Impala station wagons, 18 pickups, two Suburbans, and one van.
The 43 pace car replicas used for Festival activities were all equipped with 350ci engines and Turbo 350 automatic transmissions. Car No. 34 (VIN 9N609349), along with a matched set of luggage, was presented to the Festival Queen, Janet Lee Faires Kendall. Most of the remaining 85 replicas were built with 350ci engines and automatics, however a handful were equipped with 396ci big-blocks and four-speeds.
The two cars designated for actual pace duties were identical with the exception of the tires (one was equipped with Firestones, the other with Goodyears). One paced the actual start, while the other handled yellow flag pace chores. Driving duties were handled capably by former Indy 500 winner and Chevrolet dealer Jim Rathmann.
The pace cars were built at the Norwood, Ohio, assembly plant. They were specified with the L78 iron head, 375hp/396ci engine, M40 Turbo Hydra Matic transmission, power steering, sport steering wheel, AM radio, console, and gauge package.
From Norwood, the two RS/SS Camaros went to Chevrolet Engineering at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan. The engines were torn down, brought up to specs, and rebuilt. To ensure trouble-free, high-rpm operation, a 63-amp alternator, pre-stretched drive belts, and self-locking, ratchet-type hose clamps were used. A heavy-duty, six-bolt COPO torque converter was installed to handle the additional high-speed torque loads. For high speed operation, the driveshaft was balanced, and a set of 3.31:1 rear gears was installed with heavy-service rear axles. High-speed braking in the pits requires strong binders, so the RPO JL8 four-wheel brake package was installed. The 14-inch rims were replaced with 15-inch Rally wheels.
External changes amounted to brackets fitted to the rear bumpers to serve as flag holders. Since the cars would be driven at speeds in excess of 120 mph, hood pins were installed and special fasteners prevented the convertible boot from flying off. A grab handle for the passenger and a two-way radio for communications with the tower were also add-on necessities.