During the usually prolonged project car gestation period there are a gaggle of calamities that likely occur at the most inopportune time, but a myocardial infarction isn’t usually on the checklist. But life is nothing if not uncertain. That heart attack business? Real. Serious. Mark Lengal? Real. Serious.
“Since the start of this build, during the past seven years [my wife and] I have had twins, built a new garage, remodeled the house and even brushed with death.” His devoted buddy Mike McGinnis and he were about to leave for the upholsterer’s shop in Nebraska to pick up the finished car and debut it at the Goodguys Columbus event. “We were getting the truck ready for the drive [from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania] and I was having major chest pains. My wife called 911,” Mark said. “After I left for the hospital, Mike finished the truck, cleaned my shop, and even fed my cat.” Mark was out of action for three weeks.
From the very beginning, he realized that the plan wouldn’t come to fruition without outside help and attention from others like Mike, and for that he is deeply appreciative. Despite the contributions by this small army of mercy, more than seven years passed before the cake was fully baked.
Mark bought his ’69 at the Carlisle Spring Swap Meet in 2004. He drove it home … and played with it until the following Thanksgiving, but that weekend he tore into it and had the shell twirling on the spit by Sunday evening.
Seven years ago, his plan was to build a luxury muscle car, and in the original vision it was going to be a big-block clone, but it all came back to bite him on the heinie. According to Mark, planning and making decisions was a big issue and one that would eventually deplete his wallet pocket. He charged ahead. He began sourcing parts. He stumbled onto lateral-g.net. What he found rocked him like a small nuclear detonation and the experience changed his outlook irrevocably. He was astounded at what the Pro Touring faction was doing and was amazed at the number of suppliers already dedicated to the proposition. Because of this, he ended up selling a lot of stuff he’d already bought for the big-block clone.
His army of mercy was substantial, though. Mark: “I have to hand it to lateral-g.net for showing me the light. Ben Hermance for helping me put the whole idea on paper. Frank Serafine of Prodigy Customs helped plan the build and guided me. Tracey Weaver at the Recovery Room made the car his pet project for the year. Mike Redpath of MuscleRodz used the Camaro to develop several news parts. Steve Dembinski (Hot Rods by Steve, Farmingdale, New Jersey) wrangled the rims and the rubber. Chuck Greason owns the local MAACO and let me use it for the paint session—37 hours, no sleep. Dave Rosengrant took over the spray gun when I began to fold. I spent the next two months doing the wet sanding and polish. Scott Spicer (Spicer Motors, Middletown, Maryland) was my around-the-corner parts store. He took a week and guided me through most of the wiring. Tony Rose (in Oregon) was my Stainless Works dealer. He knew the street scene score. Shannon Odom at Modo Innovations (Krum, Texas) gets props for the custom pedals, trunk, and door locks. And Jeff Schoenfelt, who welded in the new floor and quarter-panels.”
His time on the websites taught the importance of the preview, the battle plan as it were, a rendering that would look more or less like the finished piece. He got with Ben Hermance (Hermance Design) for the throwdown. Mark worked it. “We went through 18 different designs before I was ready to make a decision,” Mark said. “About three days before the paint was to go on, I called Ben to say that I needed something on the sides to break up all the light green. He came up with a reversed hockey stripe.” Then Mark commenced with the Ford Fusion Moss Green application.
Mark wanted a cruiser, not a bloodletter. All the comforts of home tied to an upgraded chassis/suspension and an engine that wasn’t close to being out of bounds. Clean, steady, conservative power was what he sought, enough grits and stick to stretch the outer limits of the chassis but without stepping off the ledge. “Of course,” winked Mark, “This set me back a few years because of cost and time, but I made the decision to go all the way no matter how long it took.” Let us say now that Mark has been a car painter for the past 25 years (and a journeyman welder) that had the knowledge and mindset to take this case right to the end.
Since he was pouring a lot of loot into the interior and the body, he felt justified in making his take-out LS motor (a 22,000-mile 1998) mild, yet he was optimistic that some minor tweaks would put some moxie in the all-aluminum sack. Changes amounted to new valvesprings, lifters and pushrods; a bumpier but still cruise-oriented camshaft from HiTech Motorsport in Elk River, Minnesota; and an LS6 intake manifold. To handle the scut work, the sides of the block were anointed with Stainless Works headers built with 1¾-inch primaries. The system was extended with 2.5-inch stainless steel pipes and MagnaFlow mufflers. These scant modifications were enough to make the motor zoom. EFI tuner Speartech Fuel Injection Systems in Anderson, Indiana, worked the computer and the harness, then Dennis Wheet at Air Flow Development did the exacting final tune on the chassis dynamometer. A punk fuel pump notwithstanding, the critter still cranked out 360 hp.
Mark: “Moving on to the interior was a major hump.” About three years into the build, he met Tracey Weaver of Recovery Room Hot Rod Interiors in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. The two hit it off famously and for the year following, the Camaro became Tracey’s special project. As you can see, the results are astoundingly good. Every piece is right where it should be. Every piece looks chosen rather than required. The tableau is tight. The message is as clear as crystal. Before it went to clothes jail, Mark installed the stereo system, building twin sub boxes beneath the convertible top niche and the amp rack in the trunk. Tracey swathed all in buttery leather.
The centerpiece for the design was the then-new Marquez dashboard. Although Mark put it up originally, Tracey later painstakingly re-installed the piece in three sections. The instrument panel is filled with American Instruments. Those sexy, out-of-the-ordinary A/C vents were sourced from a ’10 Porsche. That sexy, out-of-the-ordinary Isotta Katiena steering wheel meshes seamlessly and the ears behind the spokes are Twist Machine paddle shifters connected to a 4L60E. Tracey did the door panels and seats as a matched set. He built the center console. He did just what Mark desired simply because the pre-job discussions were pointed and the deliberation did not end quickly. Mark: “To this day, the interior is the biggest compliment I get at car shows.”
Mark had no intention of beating up on his car because it was, after all, a ragtop and not meant for torture, blood, and sweat, but he fixed the chassis as if belonged to a hardtop just as well. “It makes a really big difference by welding up the subframe seams and using solid bushings,” Mark advised. The front suspension is based on factory spindles, Speed Tech upper and lower tubular control arms, Chris Alston VariShock coilovers (single-damp type), and a 1.0-inch antisway bar. Steering is enabled by Pontiac WS6 equipment. Stability is furthered by DSE subframe connectors. To convert the rear of the car, Frank Serafine’s son Mike flew up to Pennsy to help Mark hang the Moser 12-bolt (3.73:1 gears and a Detroit Truetrack differential), VariShocks, and the Alston G-Bar setup. They also put up the DSE mini-tubs.
Energy burning is the province of 12-inch, four-piston caliper Wilwood discs all around, abetted by a Wilwood master cylinder and a Hydro-boost reservoir. Those big round things in front of them are 18x8 (4.75-inch b/s) and 18x12 (6.0-inch b/s) Boze Tach wheels capped with 245/40 and 335/30 BFG g-Force KDW2 rubber.
“Not only have I gotten 100 percent of my parts from lateral-g.net and pro-touring.com members, but I had some very late night conversations seven days a week on building techniques, best parts to fit my build, and where to get the best steak when I’m traveling around the country. I’ll be calling you for the late-night talks and, who knows, maybe even stop by,” Mark threatened.