1969 Chevrolet Camaro - Crash Course

Matt and Steve Alcala find out they come out nice when you build them twice

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Plans can be funny things. When you first come up with one, it seems so solid and realistic, but they can often unravel like a cheap sweater once put in motion. Sometimes the changes are caused by the ever-widening desires of the plan’s originator, while other times it’s morphed by outside influences — both good and bad. In the case of Matt and Steve Alcala’s ’69 Camaro, it was all of the above. As Matt tells us, “It is amazing what an idea can do, where it will go, or how it will go. It was the spring of 2008 when my father Steve and I agreed on a simple plan to build and restore a Camaro. Three and a half years later, we’ve learned that the word ‘simple’ means something entirely different in the world of hot rodding than it does in the Oxford English Dictionary. The fact that we were two naïve car enthusiasts didn’t help either. We figured we could each throw in 30 grand and have a nice reliable and fun car at the end of an enjoyable two-year process. This is not to say that a father and son aren’t able to build a reliable, fast, and fun Camaro for 60 grand — it has certainly been done before — and for much less. However, our ideas soon eclipsed the limits of our imaginary budget.”

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Yep, the pair was victim of a car-building phenomenon known as “scope creep.” This is where a set of tubular control arms on a stock subframe and leaf springs out back, mutates into a full hydroformed DSE subframe and QUADRALink rear suspension system. The pair wore down the magnetic strips on several credit cards as the buying spree continued. How about a 500hp LS2 from Turn Key Engine Supply? No problem. Three-piece Forgeline wheels and massive BFG KDW tires; just a quick call to Driverz Inc., and a credit card swipe away. And so it went until their idea of a quick 60 grand build was a laughable memory.

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“By the fall of 2008 our Camaro project had been fed an entire catalog of Pro Touring parts. What had rolled off of the transport as an emaciated shell sitting on archaic 15-inch Cragars had grown into a healthy weekend warrior. Once the car’s underpinnings were tweaked for refined performance, it was time that the exterior receive the same level of attention. There are many shops that can paint a car, and a fair number do it well. However, finding a shop with reasonable rates that could understand our vision, and see it to its end, was a challenge. Being local to the San Diego, California, area, Best of Show Coach Works became the clear choice.

“As the car came together at Best of Show, it became evident that it had become far more special than originally planned,” recalled Matt.

Steve, and especially Matt, kept dreaming up small changes, like functional quarter panel grill vents, a smooth firewall, and a one-off front spoiler. These changes certainly added to the Camaro’s aesthetics, but it also added to the price tag. Matt sketched out a set of custom tail pipes, and the project grew a bit more as Best of Show turned his ideas into finely shaped metal.

It was the summer of 2009 and the Camaro was looking good. In fact, everyone agreed that it was nice enough to be displayed at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. The custom interior was finished by James Perales of Southern California Upholstery and was styled around an interior kit from Marquez Design, which included the dash, door panels, headliner, and package tray. The Recaro Style seats were wrapped in custom suede, and Mercedes carpet covered the floor. To control the SoCal heat, Best of Show installed a smoked glass kit from Prodigy Customs along with a Vintage Air Gen II A/C system.

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As mentioned before, the suspension had almost everything from the Detroit Speed Inc. catalog including their subframe, mini tubs, subframe connectors, four-point cage, solid body bushings, and shocks. Big six-piston GM brakes from a Z06 were squeezed inside Forgeline wheels (18x9 front and 18x11.5 rear) wrapped in BFG rubber. To back up the worked-over LS2, a T56 Magnum transmission and a Centerforce twin-disc clutch were bolted in. The Best of Show crew sucked in the bumpers tight to the body and, once the gaps and panels were “just right,” the Camaro was shot in Aston Martin Amethyst Red PPG paint.

As SEMA approached, the project went into overdrive and overtime to get done. But the car gods can be cruel. At t-minus 12 hours until the event, mechanical gremlins conspired to keep the cosmetically finished Camaro from becoming a driver. Neither the guys at the shop, nor Steve and Matt could stand the idea of pushing a car into SEMA. So at 4 a.m., the decision was made to skip the ’09 show. They would now focus on next year.

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Soon afterwards, the mechanical aspects were sorted out and the process of shaking down the Camaro commenced. Matt took the ’69 to the Run to the Coast event in El Toro, California, for its maiden autocross adventure and several other events to “break it in.” The Camaro hit every driving event around, and in the process picked up a Musclecar of the Year Finalists spot at the Del Mar Goodguys show. At that point, the plan to have the car at the ’10 SEMA Show looked to be set in stone. But that would have been too easy.

It was August, and this time around the plan was changed by an inattentive girl driving a Saturn who happened to be too busy gabbing to be bothered with a red light. The Camaro was t-boned in the passenger side fender. It was bad enough to make the Forgeline wheel, DSE subframe, Anvil carbon-fiber pieces, and right-side Hooker header, scrap. The whole project had just been rebooted to square one with less than two months until it’s SEMA debut, but Steve and Matt and guys at Best of Show weren’t about to be denied again. Matt’s insurance, Haggerty, moved quick to get a check cut for the sizable repair. New parts soon started flowing into the shop. But even that plan was kept fluid by Matt and his overwhelming desire to “do just a little more.” The crunched carbon-fiber hood was replaced with an aluminum version so that metalcrafter, Jeff Davis, could fab in some killer vents Matt had sketched. The GM brakes were pulled off for a set of massive Wilwood W6A calipers and 14-inch rotors. They also decided to go with a complete Speedway Engineering floater rearend, and Matt couldn’t resist the chance to upgrade to a Tilton 600 series floor-mounted pedal arrangement.

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Matt’s palate developed a taste for the track, so he upgraded the DSE shocks to their top-of-the-line double adjustable versions when he ordered the replacement subframe. Of course, this all added time to the rebuild; time they didn’t really have. But the guys at Best of Show cut, welded, sanded, and buffed late into the night and on weekends to get the Camaro done and driving by the SEMA Show. Matt remarked, “My dad and I were so proud driving the Camaro into the Las Vegas Convention Center. It was the culmination of over three years of time and money, but at that moment, it was all worth it.”

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As a bonus to that warm fuzzy feeling, the Camaro was awarded the prestigious GM Design Award at the show. GM chose the Camaro because, in their words, “It was a cohesive design that didn’t take away from the original feel of the ’69 Camaro.” The irony is that with all these car show awards, you’re more likely to find this F-body hitting the track than posing all pretty at a show ’n’ shine.

That part of the plan never changed.

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