One of the classic lessons learned after double clutching through a few projects is this: Always start with the cleanest and straightest car possible. A solid foundation is a good plan when beginning any project car, especially true when it comes to 40-something-year-old Camaros. This often-heard advice is sound, unless you change your mind about what the cleanest and straightest Camaro is supposed to be once you finally get one. Dewayne Stephens is in the business of previously owned automobiles. He knows the pitfalls associated with the costs of classic and project cars better than most. Did any of this knowledge stop
Dewayne from taking a perfectly acceptable and trouble-free stock restored 1969 Chevy Camaro SS and transforming it into the 625-plus horsepower modernized muscle monster seen here? Nope. And that's a good thing as far as Dewayne is concerned.
Dewayne had his eye on this Garnet Red Camaro for over six years and through four owners before it finally rolled into his own driveway. Only one summer passed before he started the car down the path toward his own idea of the ultimate '69 Camaro. Dewayne knows he could have saved a heap of money by starting with a less finished canvas, but he forgets he cares about those details of the past every time he mashes the throttle to the firewall.
"Who cares! I got the Camaro I've always wanted," Dewayne says.
Dewayne was a less-than-secret admirer of this Camaro for quite some time before taking ownership. While he was inside on a few of the sales and friends with a few of the owners, the car eluded him more than once. When Dewayne discovered the last owner had a penchant for late-model turbocharged machines as well as vintage American muscle, he knew the perfect customer for a one-owner Mazda RX-7 twin-turbo rotary machine acquired with only 12K miles on the clock. Dewayne made the trade and finally brought the hockey stick Camaro back home. The Camaro ran great as the factory intended from day one of ownership.
While it may not seem like it, Dewayne has owned the car for only three years. For only a few months out of one of those three years did the car drive untouched. Not that it was easy tearing into the stock restored car, but one thing led to another. The car proved itself a reliable runner in stock trim. Driving the car around on the weekends was fun enough but, having owned two Camaros before this one, Dewayne decided to change things up a little. In the beginning he added a set of 18-inch Torq Thrust wheels and dropped the suspension a little. For a time, the Camaro was good.
"I was convinced the car was finished," Dewayne says.
Around the same time Dewayne was convinced of it, his pal Vance Wheeler was in the process of intensively reconfiguring a different '69 Camaro (Camaro Performers, Feb. 2009). Dewayne thought Vance had blown not one but two head gaskets with all the work he was doing, and was perfectly happy to leave the hockey stick '69 with the newer classic wheels and slightly lowered look.
"I told him he was crazy as hell," Dewayne says.
No way would Dewayne ever go through that sort of madness with his car. Or so he thought at the time. As it so often happens in the world of performance motoring, one drive is all it takes to begin a lifetime quest or life savings of money spent for a similar or better ride. A year after his pal's project began, Dewayne got a chance to sit behind the wheel and row through the gears of Vance's freshly sorted and finished '69 Camaro. Dewayne knew in less than one mile what needed to be done. His own Camaro was no longer finished.
Dewayne got on the horn with Jeff Peters over at Mountain Muscle, and a deal was struck to get going on the project. What started out as a subframe swap and mini-tubbing snowballed into everything you see here. What you don't see is where the trouble really started. Underneath the hockey stick graphic and stock body panels is everything but a stock chassis and powertrain. The initial concept was a mostly stock-appearing '69 with the handling and performance of a late-model Corvette.
Starting with the mini-tub, the Mountain Muscle crew stuffed about as much Detroit Speed chassis goodness as possible in under the skin. A 1-inch bushing and body drop was accompanied by some transmission tunnel stimulus projects that had the crossmember and clutch fork areas reworked for improvement. Even the seat mounts were pushed 2 inches backward for more legroom. Subframe connectors tie everything together.
Adhering to the subdued performance theme is 625-plus horsepower of small-block Chevrolet under the cowl induction hood. The 427 cubes were built into blueprinted and balanced performance perfection by Fulton Competition with JE 10.5:1 pistons. A top-secret camshaft profile from Competition Engineering bumps the valves open in the CFE heads. The combination breathes in through a Quick Fuel Technology carburetor and Edelbrock intake and out through a set of Lemmons headers and Borla exhaust. An MSD ignition lights up the fires.
The brushed aluminum finish on the AFCO air cleaner with K&N filter is matched by a set of brushed custom valve covers. Engine accessories like the Be Cool radiator and Vintage Air front runner accessories package all follow the subtle metal or painted black theme to give the illusion of a factory built package. Even the hose fittings and hardware were kept black and stealthy for a sano appearance despite the race-bred performance lurking underhood.
Horsepower is sent through the five forward gears of the Tremec TKO 600 transmission by way of a Centerforce clutch that spins inside a McLeod bellhousing. An Inland Empire driveline sends the torques through a set of 3:73 rear gears. A positraction-equipped center twists both of the Moser rear axles for ideal distribution of power down to the ground. Detroit Speed manufactured the entire rearward power package for maximum durability and entertainment. A Hurst shifter takes care of gear changes.
Detroit Speed is responsible for the whole of the suspension and damping setup. The suspension is upgraded from the body mounts to the wheel studs that the 18-inch five-spoke Fikse Profil 5 (say pro feel) forged wheels bolt onto. The car rides on a Michelin Pilots, that like the Fikse wheels, are 10 inches wide out front and 12 inches wide out back. Taking all this fun back down to a stop from speed is a set of six-piston caliper Baer brakes. A set of 14-inch rotors are out front to make sure the calipers have something meaty to clamp onto when the time comes.
Are We There Yet?
From that first mile in his pal Vance's Camaro, Dewayne knew what needed to be done to transform a car that was good enough for 1969 into a far more entertaining machine. With his car out of the shop, Dewayne joined forces with Vance for a dual Camaro road trip out to the Grand Run in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Getting there was more than half the fun. Over a dozen high-velocity testing sessions under very realistic Sunday morning road conditions proved without a second guess that the result of all the work was well worth the effort. Dewayne is driving the Camaro he always wanted. While the finish line may have been crossed for now, there's always another lap.