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1969 Chevrolet Camaro - First Gen, First Car, First Class

Speed Tech Performance co-owner Roger Maniscalco finds the ultimate test mule: his first car, RedZed

Chris Shelton Apr 1, 2012
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The phrase “things aren’t always as they seem” may have been inspired by the aftermarket performance world. Consider the term bolt-on. To the layman it implies that a part’s installation requires no more than the mastery of simple hand tools. To the experienced, however, the ease of a part’s installation is inversely proportional to the strength of the claim that it merely bolts on. As Blake Foster observed, “A lot of parts are bolt-on in the sense that bolts attach them to the car.” To summarize his complaint, most of the time you end up having to make the parts fit the car or, worse yet, modify the car to fit the parts.

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Blake’s especially uncomfortable with the bolt-on claim because the company he co-owns, Speed Tech Performance, manufactures a number of high-performance chassis parts that boast the term. As he surmised, the best way he can prove it is to install his company’s parts on a car that cannot be modified irreversibly.

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Roger Maniscalco, another Speed Tech co-owner, has just a car. He bought his ponycar—this car to be specific—when it was at the trough of its value, so to speak. But what makes his ’69 unique to him is that it’s his first car. In fact, he was only 16 when he bought it in 1985. It’s not like he can just sell it if he wants to take another direction down the line. It would be like selling a kid. No, something far more tragic: the dog.

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So for a 12-month period Speed Tech used Roger’s car as a test mule of sorts. For one, the techs tested the company’s claims that the parts that it sold as bolt-on items did in fact install with simple hand tools. They based their findings on Speed Tech’s Track Time kit, the subframe and rear suspension package that made the company’s ’72 Nova, ResurreXion, do so well at the Handling and Suspension Challenge hosted a few years ago by sister publication Super Chevy magazine.

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The subframe assembly in Roger’s car consists of the company’s anti-roll bar, its specially tuned steering rack, and its gusseted-and-greasable tubular control arms. Pinned to those arms are lightweight forged-aluminum American Touring Specialties AFX spindles, which in turn mount C5 Corvette hubs. And yes, the whole deal lines right up with GM’s body and core-support mounting bosses and attaches with simple bolts.

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Speed Tech used the ’82-02 F-body rear suspension as inspiration for a clean-sheet rear suspension design. A few very short welding runs deny it true bolt-on status, but the adjustability Speed Tech endowed the kit with makes it fit cars built by questionable ’60s tolerances. The company configures the assemblies to use one of several OEM axle options, in Roger’s case he opted for the Strange Engineering 12-bolt housing. It spins 3.73:1 gears on Strange’s limited-slip gear carrier, which in turn drives 31-spline axleshafts. Needless to say, brackets welded to the axle make it bolt right in without fanfare.

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Most dampers passed off as performance items are little more than the guts of inexpensive twin-tube units hidden in fancy looking housings. Not the Bilsteins on Roger’s car. The monotube design offers a larger piston area, which permits a sophisticated deflective-disc valve network. That, in turn, offers greater control over a broader speed range than a smaller twin-tube design could ever dream of. That each damper is tuned for a specific application and that its damping rate varies with speed and road conditions renders external adjustments not just unnecessary but irrelevant. The ones on Roger’s car feature threaded bodies for high-tensile coil springs and, naturally, bolt directly to the suspension assemblies.

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Each corner of the car boasts a 14-inch slotted-and-drilled Baer rotor and six-piston caliper. Bolted to those are forged-center wheels machined specifically for Speed Tech. The 19x9 front wheels have a 6-inch backspace, the 20x12s rears have 77/8. The Nitto Invo tires measure 275/35-R19 and 345/35-R20.

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The g-Machine movement favors the smaller and lighter LS-series engine. Roger’s 427 wasn’t chosen specifically to do so but the fat block offered Speed Tech two more opportunities. One was to test the engine-to-crossmember fit, an especially critical relationship made more so by the Holley PowerCharger sprouting from between the engine’s custom-badged Moroso rocker covers.

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The engine gave the car another opportunity to serve as a test mule, this time to develop more part numbers. Speed Tech commissioned Stainless Works to build 2-inch-primary headers to clear the modified crossmember shape and steering rack. The specific ones on this car are the first production set for Speed Tech, literally the ones deemed worthy of boasting the bolt-on claim.

The headers pass a prepped 700-R4 transmission on their way to 3-inch pipes and MagnaFlow mufflers. That pipes this large arch over the rear axle amid all manner of locating bars and springs with room to spare indicates that Speed Tech put a lot of homework in the torque-arm kit. The only modification this particular exhaust system required was lopping off the corners of the fuel tank.

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What Roger did to his car’s body admittedly has nothing to do with Speed Tech’s research; however, this is a story about a car he’s owned for more than half his life so it bears mention. He had the driprails and purely ornamental quarter-panel gills shaved. They’re from the Camaro parts pile but the rear-view mirrors Roger used came from a third-gen car. Countless more Camaros would’ve survived if only because their window troughs didn’t rust prematurely had GM flush-mounted its windows as Classic Auto Glass Innovations did for the kit Roger used.

Roger replaced the tail, marker, and driving-light assemblies with Marquez Design pieces. Stamped hood hinges were never a model of accuracy or beauty, but the Ringbrothers versions that replaced them are. Ringbrothers also made the exterior door handles. Roger replaced the trunk hinges and doorjamb vents with Marquez’ interpretations.

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From inside, the car is largely as Chevrolet made it—Roger still has the original floor mats of all things. In fact, he based his changes on function rather than simply form. While the Recaro-style seats fit the part of race-bred buckets, they were chosen for their support primarily. The Auto Meter gauges display figures well beyond the means of GM’s. Roger sees those through the spokes of a fat-rimmed, smaller-diameter Billet Specialties Rival wheel. Though it can’t be classified as a performance part per se, the audio system with components from Pioneer, Phoenix Gold, Alpine, and MB Quart increases the entertainment factor between the big blasts of speed.

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Suffice it to say Roger Maniscalco’s first love is a far different car than the green one he dragged home a quarter of a century ago. But these are also different times than they were in 1985. Naturally, he’s a different person, too; rather than comb catalogs as he did as a kid, he makes the parts. Lucky for him that he still has the perfect car on which to test ’em, isn’t it?

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And though he could largely transform the car’s chassis and running gear back to stock in a weekend with little more than hand tools, it’s not very likely. It simply would be the car he had rather than the one he always wanted, even though he never could’ve imagined it turning out quite this way.

“And though he could largely transform the car’s chassis and running gear back to stock in a weekend with little more than hand tools, it’s not very likely.”

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