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1969 Chevy Camaro - Accidental Excellence

A Chance Encounter With A Ford Pickup Ends In An Award-Winning Camaro

Mike Bumbeck Sep 1, 2009
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True optimism is always more difficult to find than pessimism. Just ask Joe Nax about his '69 Camaro. Joe spent a long time searching for the right combination of big-block, LeMans Blue, and houndstooth interior. He finally found the right car in 2007, only to have his long-term plan of drive-it-and-fix-it dealt a direct hit by a Ford F-150 pickup. It seems the pickup mistook the Camaro for a parking lot bumpstop right in front of Joe's own eyes. Even with the damage already done, Joe took an optimistic view to the dented goods. A somewhat rough deal had just become a little rougher.

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Bad luck didn't damage Joe's optimism, and it was about to be put to a larger test. The dents were the event that got the car on the fast track to restoration, even if the job did end up requiring more effort than those few dents could possibly foretell.

"I thought 'great, now let's get it back to where it was and take care of a few nagging issues while we're at it'," said Joe.

The "let's" in this case were Joe Nax himself and the crew at Prodigy Customs in Apopka, Florida-also known as Orlando, or O-town to those motoring about the sunshine state in 40-year-old Camaros. The plan was to bring the car back to '69 style with an eye on modernized driving performance. The second test of Joe's optimism came in discovering exactly what had happened to the car over four decades at the hands of lesser repair and rustification specialists. The few dents and crunches at the hands of a Ford were nothing compared the countless brazing rods melted into the floor pan and rocker panels. What started as a repair-and-fixer deal ended up turning into a full-tilt frame-of restoration.

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"It never amazes me once we strip these cars down, of what kind of stuff we will find," said Frank Serafine of Prodigy Customs.

What they found was one too many hack jobs held together with cracked bronze and broken dreams. The entire floor pan was brazed into not much else holding the car together. With the horrible truth uncovered, Joe and the Prodigy crew ordered up a Dynacorn body to completely replace what little was left of the hacked up original stampings. A few dents in a parking lot set a 13-month process in motion that resulted in the Camaro that Joe drives today. The goal from day one was to drive the finished car the 40 miles into Kissimmee, Florida for the Eckler's Winter Nationals show. With three weeks until the crucial date, the crew had but a shell bathed in fresh Le Mans Blue.


In the months before those three weeks, the car had undergone a transformation. As driving was in the works the entire time, the car was in need of some upgrades in the suspension and brake department. A set of tubular Speedtech A-arms hold in a pair of Hotchkis 1-inch drop springs out front. Another 1-inch drop out back comes by way of Hotchkis as well. Dampers on all four corners are Hotchkis-Bilstein units. Scrubbing off untold velocity are Wilwood 12-inch slotted and drilled rotors with four-piston Wilwood calipers to put the clamp down and bring the Camaro back down from fast. The 4-inch backspace on American racing TT2 wheels makes for good looks and a good place for the BFGoodrich shoes-size 7 in front and 8 in back. The wider rear hoops are bolted up to a Moser Engineering 12-bolt with an Eaton Posi for limited slips.

Fast forward back to the shop with one day left until Eckler's. In the dark of the night before the show, Michael Serafin and Joe took the car for a shakeout run. The decision was made to motor the 40-year-old car 40 miles to the show. Confidence overruled any concerns about odds and ends, like a missing dome light lens and horn cap for the rosewood wheel. The next morning Joe motored down to the show only to find out the car had to be registered the day before the show to be eligible to be judged against cars in its class. Once again optimism prevailed as the Eckler's triumvirate of judges were good sports and decided to give Joe and Prodigy a run on their 1,000-point scale. Not only did the car score a 992 despite the delinquent dome light lens, but was given a plaque for the best Camaro engine!

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Joe and the crew at Prodigy Customs had built a winning Camaro from a dented disaster. Michael Serafine, Lisa Serafine, Andrew Stephens, Bob Whitmore, and Ray Zimmer constructed an all-new car from the bronze up, and took an award despite unforeseen circumstances. Joe Nax? He's the happiest guy in O-town.

"Now that it's complete, the whole family is enjoying time together cruising and hanging out at shows and cruises in Florida," said Joe.

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Even with all the success of the project, Joe thought if he could do anything over, it would be to include an overdrive in the transmission department. As of this writing Joe is getting his wish. His Camaro is back down at Prodigy for installation of a Tremec TKO five-speed connected to a 540ci 770hp Scott Shafiroff engine. While 600 hp and the TH350 was fun, 770 hp with a manual transmission will be a blast. And to think the entire thing started with a pickup truck, a few dents, and some shaggy houndstooth.



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