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.
To cash in on the exposure, Chevrolet built a limited run of pace car replicas for sale to the public. While originally planning for production of 6,400 units (one for each dealer), the actual tally was 3,675. Designated RPO Z11 Indy Sport Convertible Accents, the option cost $36.90 (a brace of mandatory options pushed the price far higher). Each car was painted Dover White with Z28 style stripes done in Hugger Orange. The lower body sill and the taillamp panel were painted white instead of the usual black. The Custom interior included wood-grained accents on the dash and steering wheel, molded plastic door panels and orange and black houndstooth check seat upholstery. Fifteen-inch ZJ7 Rally wheels and the new ZL2 cowl induction hood were also part of the pace car package.
Approximately 85 percent of Z11 Camaros were built at the Norwood facility, with the remaining 15 percent assembled in Van Nuys. Also built at Norwood was a very limited run of Z10 hardtops. These looked identical to Z11 convertibles and carried most of the same equipment. They were built from April to May as a special promotion for Midwest dealers. Chevrolet also offered a “Pacesetter Value Package” with 350ci engine, J52 power front disc brakes, and deluxe wheel covers that carried a $147 discount
Charles and Kem Cassella of New Port Ritchey, Florida own our feature ’69 Camaro pace car replica. Charles remembers seeing one in a Chevy dealer showroom as a teenager. His father was shopping for a new car and ended up with a Camaro, but not a pace car. “I never forgot the effect that car had on me,” Charles said.
Over the years, a number of collector cars came and went through the Cassella garage, but no pace car. Finally, while at the Turkey Rod Run at Daytona Beach during Thanksgiving, the Cassellas found one for sale. Thanks to Kem’s urging, Charles bought it. Finally, 40 years after that breathtaking trip to a Chevy showroom, he’s finally got his ’69 Camaro Indy pace car.
<table cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2">
<td colspan="3"><strong>What Made a Z11</strong> </br>
<strong> Camaro Pace Car Replica?</strong></td>
<td colspan="3">While it was possible to order additional options and accessories, <br>
the basic Z11 pace car convertible replica was equipped with the following:</td>
<td>Color - Dover White with white soft top</td>
<td>Interior - Orange houndstooth check</td>
<td>aRally Sport Package</td>
<td>Camaro SS Package</td>
<td>Custom Interior </td>
<td>Custom Deluxe seatbelts </td>
<td>Special Ducted Hood (Cowl Induction) </td>
<td>Air Spoiler Equipment</td>
<td>Rally Wheels </td>
<td>Indy Sport Convertible Accents</td>
•The door decals were not put on at the factory. Instead, they were included in the trunk, to be installed by the dealer or customer if they so desired.
•As part of the SS package, the standard engine was the 300hp/350ci engine with three-speed manual transmission. Many were equipped with the automatic transmission and other options such as console, gauge package, and power convertible top.
•There are no records for how many 396ci pace car replicas were built, however estimates range between 15 and 25 percent.
Pace Car Or Phoney?
The easiest way to determine if the white ’69 Camaro convertible with the orange stripes you’re eyeballing is the real thing all boils down to the numbers on the data plate.
First, all Norwood pace cars have the Z11 code on the data plate. Those built in Van Nuys do not. Genuine pace cars have both the RS and the SS option packages. Here’s the kicker: Regardless of the assembly plant, they will have code 50-A (Dover White with white convertible top) and code 720 trim (orange houndstooth check interior) on the plate. Pace cars were the only ’69 Camaro convertibles built with this exterior and interior color combination. Also, no other ’69 Camaro convertibles were built with the cloth houndstooth check upholstery. Finally, all pace cars were built between the fourth week of February (02D) and the first week of May (05A).
If these numbers don’t appear on the data plate and the seller swears it’s a genuine pace car, run–don’t walk–to your car and fry rubber on the way out.
Pace cars were loaded with options. This one boasts air conditioning, gauges, AM/FM radio, wood accents and full gauge package.