1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 - RPO Z28

Derek Trulson’s time out of time

Ro McGonegal Feb 1, 2012 0 Comment(s)
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That sticky, stuffy utterance “numbers matching” makes me cringe. It seems as odious and undeniable as a challenge. No changing anything for upgrade or improvement. Finding hard-to-find parts that are bound to be included because they are all part of the numbers-matching craziness, details no mortal (or masochist) should be forced to contemplate. But that’s just me, not the NM disciple.

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The dichotomy naturally begins with money… and questions. Wouldn’t it be more advantageous to spend it on making all the car’s systems as complete as possible? Or wouldn’t it be righteous and maybe wise to religiously restore a car to its original brilliance? Obviously, it depends on the car in question. You need something that’s coveted, exalted even, to remain in stasis forever, the perfect model, the perfect form. Can you drive it without feeling guilty? Can you drive the ever-loving balls off it without feeling criminal? You admit to all this? You must be Derek Trulson.

Derek, the fast-car habitué has groomed a stable that required early work in Corvette Land. He’s had three big-block ’67s, a Fuelie ’62, a rare bit ’63 Z06 (199 built), a ’57 Fuelie, and a ’68 Shelby GT 500. So why a Camaro now? When did that impulse become as undeniable as a fetish?

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It all began with familiar I-was-a-kid-and-my-friend’s-father-had-a-hot-car-in-the-garage-and-we’d-all-had-some-beers story. It was the quirky ’80s. Derek was 17, a bad age for testosterone and devoid of common sense. The night air closed around the assembled in the garage, their eyes bright, hearts thumping, then someone raised the curtain. “That’s when I saw my first cross-ram DZ302. It was striking how cool the engine looked with two four-barrels staring you in the face… it got a whole lot better when we fired up the car. It sounded amazing… the chambered exhaust! [Beer now enlightens] When it was revved up to 8,000 it had an amazing sound! I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of all my buddies. We were like ‘Wow, this thing is nuts!’

“The big question was who had balls to take the car for a ride? Soon enough, the guy whose father owned it backed it out of the garage. I’ll never forget. Black with white rally stripes and houndstooth interior. Probably had a 4.56 gear because the car took off down the road as if it had a big-block in it. He packed Second gear, a power-shift that slammed the rear at about 7,000, throwing the car sideways with both tires smoking. That was the night I told myself that someday I would own a Z/28 with a cross-ram.”

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In November 2005, Derek bought a 1969 Cortez Silver Z/28. “I flew to Michigan to see it. Plain Jane. Real car with original drivetrain. I thought it was great. I fell in love with the silver and the black stripes. In hindsight, I bought a dog. I thought it was a solid car that needed little work. Instead, it silently screamed for a full restoration. I was told that a complete re-do would run 12 months and $70,000. Well, 66 months, $250,000, and three shops later I got my car back.”

In an endeavor as ambitious as this you must know the players key to the mission, be conversant if not downright insinuating, and be available whenever you’re needed. The top row of Derek’s hard-core recondos included Ken Lucas of Lucas Restorations in Phoenix, Maryland; Lonny Gordon of East Coast Muscle Cars in Craley, Pennsylvania; Wayne Guinn (Guinn’s Engineering, since purchased by Rick’s First Gen); Larry Christenson (ex-Camaro Plus owner, Arvada, Colorado); and Al Tischler, Derek’s engine man. Unlike most car features, this one could honestly consume the length of a book, the detail, the parts, and the parts chasing is that intriguing, elaborate, and complete.

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Let’s say it began with Wayne Guinn. “Once I realized I had an average Z/28 that needed restoration that was going to cost more than the car was worth, I tried very hard to make it special. Enter the cross-ram intake manifold. It was like that night the cross-ram Camaro lit the tires up in Second gear. Guinn connected with me instantly. He had worked as a GM engineer in the late ’60s. He was around the race scene and knew all about Penske Racing and Mark Donohue. He was very knowledgeable about the Trans-Am scene.”

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And herein, Derek’s destination became clear and immutable: build a race-ready, period-correct Camaro. Sublimely true to Duntov’s white paper on the efficacy of factory-supplied parts, a car like this one could have been built by anyone interested in racing because the parts were available over the counter from GM. All you needed was money and passion.

The image of those dual quads hung in front of Derek like devil bats. To do the race-prep gig absolutely meant the inclusion of a cross-ram intake system. According to Derek, to re-create such a hellion “you have to find a lot of parts that just aren’t lying around or being knocked-off by the aftermarket mill.” You’d also have to understand the GM mentality of the day. Clandestine would be a word for some of it. Obfuscation, clearly misleading information, would be others. Guinn, from his book Camaro Untold Secrets 1967-1969: “It should be noted that most of the following information is cut and dried. However, there are certain areas that still remain vague. These gray areas exist due to the very nature of their origins, much of which was designed to be misleading and evasive. Clever escape tactics developed in order to eliminate liability for all involved.” Concurrent to this was the “out-the-back-door” parts policy.

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Derek says the stuff most difficult to obtain was related to the suspension. “You can find original cross-ram manifolds and carburetors, but not the real disc brake and heavy-duty suspension components. Proper headers [Penske used 1¾-inch primary pipes x 36-inches long x 3½-inch collector] are important, too. I got lucky. I met Larry Christenson online. Turned out he had all the HD suspension parts, the original cross-ram fiberglass hood, and rear axle with disc brakes. If you put all Larry’s parts together with cross-ram components and a few smart consultants you can see a recipe for a wonderful car that could represent the history of late-’60s Trans-Am racing.”

So the chassis of Derek’s Z/28 then became exclusive. It has the heavy-duty suspension composed of high-rate front (PN 3927503) and rear (PN 3927504) springs that the Engineering Group prepped for the Penske Camaro Daytona entry, as well as the HD 11/16-inch front sway bar and related bushings. The rear leaf spring has a low arch and re-rolled spring eyes as well as a spacer plate between axle mounting pad and underside of leaf bundle. Koni adjustable dampers were the usual shock absorber choice. The J56 (PN 3947049 and 3947050) HD front disc brake package featured rotors that were 1¼-inch thick (1-inch stock), special molded brake pads (higher than normal copper content), and special Pyrotex (asbestos) insulators.

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The HD rear disc braking system (PN 3941818) was never meant for production but sprang forth skunkwerks-like for the high-speed torture of upper limit use. Basically, it was taken from the Corvette and adapted to the Camaro 12-bolt axle assembly. These axle assemblies were hand-built for Penske and eventually included heavy-duty 22-plate differentials (in place of the previous 18-plate), effectively increasing frictional disc area and by applying higher spring plate preloads, the unit was capable of handling extra stress by affording the needed slip for acute turns without burning up the differential. Ring-and-pinion ratio is 3.24:1

Al Tishler’s Competition Engines in Somerville, New Jersey, built the engine at 304.6 ci (4.02 x 3.00) and used all the correct factory gear, as prescribed by rules. Penske’s grinders spent a minimum of 40 hours on each (PN 3927186) cylinder head, porting and polishing like the flathead junkies of old. Al set the timing in the transistorized Mag Pulse distributor (PN 1111263) at 36 degrees and let her rip. On pump gas (Penske used leaded Sunoco 260 pump gas rated at 104 octane) plus a little anti-knock helper, Al saw 482 hp at 7,000 rpm and 441 lb-ft at 5,500 rpm. Stout by any means. Yes, you have to wing the bejeezus outta the motor but that’s how it was done back in the golden oldies. You haven’t lived until your reality has been shredded by the ungodly buzz-saw rip of a 9,500-rpm small-block.

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Once the powertrain was complete, including the original Muncie M21 four-speed, Wayne and Ken made certain that all the parts and the assembly of said parts were copasetic with the project intention. Wayne was also well aware of Derek’s sanguinary tendencies, so he spent a lot of time making sure that safety came first, but that quality and authenticity were unsurpassed.

Derek: “In the end, we have what you see in the photos. What’s more fun for me is just how amazing this car is from a performance perspective. This is a big stamp of approval from a guy who drives 600hp big-block Corvettes. The chambered exhaust and the period-correct headers make a sound that will throw you back in the seat without putting the car in First gear!” You’ve got to love it.

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When it was revved up to 8,000 it had an amazing sound! I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of all my buddies. We were like ‘Wow, this thing is nuts!’

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