1969 Chevy Camaro - Simple Abundance

Air Force pilot Nathan Devonshire builds a fighter of his own

Ro McGonegal Jun 1, 2011 0 Comment(s)
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Most car crazies like us build their cars to drive them, not put them on a rack, stand back, and admire the handicraft, be it ours or someone else’s. Most people envision themselves insulated, apart from the rest, because after all, it is their car, their prize, their sanctum. So the idea is not to build certain of their popular icon, eschewing labels, types, and the latest sizzling cattle prod. Their mission, their quest, has just as much to do with altruism as it does with ego. The idea is to present a form pleasing to the eye of others all the while deriving satisfaction from motives of their own.

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Consider Air Force pilot Nathan Devonshire and his ’69 raggy. By its virtue of its unstructured top, a convertible is not known as a pillar of strength and stability, especially one of this vintage. Convertibles are for fun driving, not meant as omnipotent corner carvers or inhabitants of any other sub-phylum that incurs massive torsional and bending stress. Stiff chassis members and additional reinforcement are paramount on cars with fixed roofs. In a convertible, these changes amount to crucial add-ons but are just playing catch-up.

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Nate is a good example. He describes his car’s most unique feature as the green and silver paint combination. “It really grabs your attention but isn’t over-the-top and ridiculous … I spent a very long time trying to find the exact color I was looking for. I first saw it on a ’72 Chevelle convertible and I knew that’s what I wanted.” Why then, did he build this particular car? “There wasn’t a special reason,” he offered. “I have always wanted to restore a 1969 Chevy Camaro but I never had the time or space to take on such a big project.

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“I began looking for a ’69 in 2003-04 when I was on a deployment in Afghanistan. Once home, I began looking in magazines, the local traders, and so on. I was looking for a Camaro in any condition, a forgotten project car, a matching numbers car; you get the picture. I couldn’t find the one that made me say, ‘Wow, that’s a really nice car I’d like to have’ or ‘Man, I could really do something with that pile of bolts.’ I finally found a pile of bolts and rust in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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“The car was a plain Jane V-8 convertible. A friend and I drove out to Tulsa from Florida. We left on a Friday evening and got back Sunday night.” Nate tried it one way. It didn’t work. The “customizer” jailed his ride for more than a year and did absolutely no rehabilitation. After hearing, “We’ll be getting to it next week” a dozen times, he wised up and pulled his protégé.

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“After a year of lies, I got in touch with Frank Serafine at Prodigy Customs in Apopka [Orlando], Florida. He got the car from the garage and trailered it to his shop. Prodigy had to replace everything that the previous shop had done incorrectly and the car was broken down all the way to the floor pan, firewall, and A-pillars. Clearly, I should have taken the car to him a year before I did. Then it was two and half years of restoring the car and upgrading and updating every square inch of it.”

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Blowing the Camaro apart facilitated every phase of the build. Prodigy began with the chassis but kept the changes to the basics that most would consider. They didn’t see the need for a hydroformed front clip, just the bare, freshly scrubbed basics to hang on it. Hotchkis anti-sway bars (hollow 1 1/8-inch front; three-way adjustable 7/8-inch rear) were paired with 1 1/2-inch drop springs and Bilstein non-adjustable dampers. The rear is suspended by Hotchkis 1 1/2-inch drop leaf springs and matching Bilsteins. The rear bar cohabits with a sway bar brace as part of the Hotchkis TVS. No tubular anything. No frame connectors. No wheel tubs. No rollcage. That’s how simple it is. Set the stance and don’t look back.

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Bigger brakes? How could they not? Understanding the motive, Prodigy took two-piston calipers and 13-inch Baer rotors for the front and two-piston 12-inch plates for the rear. The all-important wheel and tire combination includes Pro Touring-like Boze Tach modular rims, 18x8 and 18x10, tinged with a medium shade of graphite. The rubber is BFG KDW in 245/40 and 275/35 sizes.

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No crazy stuff on the inside, either—mostly period, mostly comfort oriented (electric window lifts, Auto Meter Ultra-Lite II gauges, a custom console, HVAC controls, wood-grain GM steering wheel), and a combo of black and gray leather and suede upholstery. The box seats are Corbeau GTS II. Prodigy did up the bench to match. With the top dropped, the silvery light gray contrasts with the dark green and picking up the silver on the rear fascia. Prodigy’s David Whitmore handled bodywork and the block-sanding rituals to the nth degree and applied Nate’s coveted stuff, the Glasurit Sequoia Green.

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The power ball for the dark green agent is a 383 stroker, venerable and venomous but not deadly. Not the world’s largest caliber, but more than enough moxie to frighten and excite. Beyond the long-throw crankshaft, the small-block trains on World Sportsman 200cc intake runner iron heads fitted with dual springs (1.250/1.550-inch diameter) and 2.02/1.60 valves in the 64cc combustion chambers. Main points are the COMP hydraulic roller (0.568-inch lift both valves: 248/252 degrees duration at 0.050-inch); the Edelbrock Air Gap intake with a Quick Fuel 750cfm carburetor; the 1.75-inch primary pipes segueing into a complete 2.5-inch Magnaflow stainless steel system processed with an X-pipe crossover. Output is 475 hp at 6,000 rpm and 425 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm.

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On the commotion end, Prodigy posted a TKO 600 5-speed manual driven by an 11-inch Centerforce clutch assembly. Grunt arches down to a Moser 12-bolt fitted with 31-spline axles, 3.73:1 gears, and a limited-slip differential. Ancillaries include a Prodigy-provided double-pass aluminum core tended by twin 13-inch thermostatically controlled pull fans, an 100 amp Power Master alternator, and lassoed the front of the block with compact March accessory drive system.

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All of this plays well in a cruiser of the first magnitude. Plenty of grunt for a relatively light car, overdriven top gear for decent mileage and less wear on the engine internals, enough tire, brake, and suspension underneath it to avoid squirrels (the human kind) and bird brains, and lastly that drop top. Face it. There’s nothing quite like the rush of noise and adrenalin that comes at 120 in the open air.

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Don’t say you haven’t done it, Nate.

The power ball for the dark green agent is a 383 stroker, venerable and venomous but not deadly. Not the world’s largest caliber, but more than enough moxie to frighten and excite.

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