As we go through life, it’s not uncommon to grip onto a couple of influences that make us do things we might not normally do on our own. Yes, some are bad while others work out just fine. But without a rock-solid plan, it is common to reach a crossroad when it comes to choosing a build style while piecing together a classic Camaro. Influenced or not, a decision needs to be made. And with the popularity of so many build styles to choose from these days, said decision might not come so easy.
When Mike Cornelius of Bowling Green, Kentucky, bought this ’69 in 1998, the car was Bahama Blue and featured 15-inch wheels, a TH350 with 2.73 gears, and drum brakes; not entirely cutting edge, but it was definitely cool for the time.
“When I bought the car, the Pro Touring movement was just getting started,” states Mike. “I was reading a lot of magazines at the time, and these sorts of muscle cars were in their early incarnation. To see this new build style come into its own was very exciting. I remember Mark Stielow as the main guy doing it back then and I’ve since followed all of his Camaros. From the early white ’69, The Mule, Red Witch, and Red Devil—those cars were, and still are, major influences which molded the build direction with my ’69.”
What’s it take to get the wheels rolling on a build like this? For most it’s money, and for others it’s time, but more often than not, it’s a combination of both. Mike’s ’69 has been marinating for over 13 years, and in that time it’s seen various parts and pieces come and go. With varying trends and the aftermarket introducing bigger and better parts, change is inevitable. “This car has continually evolved from one project to another,” informs Mike. “I’m on my third engine, fourth set of wheels, and second brake setup. A lot more than I care to list have been changed since I started on this car.”
While hitting some of the major car shows in the country, Mike attributes the 2004 Columbus Goodguys show as the one where he really got the Pro Touring bug. “That and other big shows are a huge influence on the parts I’ve acquired,” mentions Mike. “I’d have to say this Camaro is sort of a hybrid of all the cars I’ve seen at these shows.”
The integration of seeing the latest and greatest parts on show-winning first-gen Camaros kept Mike busy searching for the perfect combo for his ride, and his budget. Mike explains, “I wanted a clean, understated look with some cool details. I shaved the driprails, filled the side marker lights and the cowl vents, and hid all the underhood wiring as much as possible. The only ‘bling’ on the car is the paint. Everything else is brushed except the bumpers, window trim, and door handles.”
Although a bigger LS engine is in the works, for now a 5.3L LS takes up residence between the rails. Steve Hoff doctored in the transplant that features mostly stock internals garnished with GM Z06 heads bored .030 over, COMP pushrods, and a COMP custom grind cam with 218/222 degrees duration at 0.050. Lift is .595 on the intake side and .598 on the exhaust end.
Mike went old school on the intake with his LS and propped a Holley 670-cfm Avenger carb on top of an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake manifold. A supercharger is on the “wish list,” but for now the naturally aspirated mill relies on a 125-gph Holley pump for fuel delivery. A PRC aluminum radiator ensures the F-body keeps cool while an MSD 6010 keeps the fire alive. Intruding air gets treated by a K&N element housed in a brushed aluminum Allstate Performance air cleaner box. Along with the brushed DSE closeout panel, the ensemble blends quite nice with the painted gray block and valve covers. The color-matching combination would easily gain the approval of any HGTV fashion host.
Hedman Hedders 1¾-inch mid-length headers dump into a 2½-inch exhaust system complete with X-pipe. MagnaFlow stainless steel mufflers offer a slightly docile tone in a cruising state, but announce Mike’s ruckus behavior when he hammers the loud pedal.
A simple and cost-conscious assemblage of parts, Mike estimates the engine’s horsepower output to be in the ballpark of 400 ponies.
A manual transmission is high on the list of future upgrades, but for now a GM 200-4R and 2,400-stall converter assembled by the guys at Walt’s Transmission Service (Bowling Green, Kentucky) handles shifting duties. Manageable torque twists its way to an 8.5-inch rearend, which houses a limited-slip differential and 3.43:1 cogs.
As previously mentioned, the Pro Touring influence laid heavy on the theme throughout the build, and even when his wallet fought back, Mike upgraded the stock spindles and control arms with Hotchkis 2-inch lowering springs and KYB shocks up front. A massaging of the GM leafs out back combined with additional KYBs brought the rear down 2 inches as well. The stance was set.
Budnick Diamond Lite wheels wrapped in Nitto 555 rubber (235/35-19 front; 285/30-20 rear) feature brushed outer hoops. Behind the painted spokes, you’ll see a glimpse of the GM LS calipers riding on 12.8-inch rotors up front with 12 inchers out back—a bit smaller plates by today’s Pro Touring standards, but good enough for Mike’s criteria.
The interior continues the hybrid mix of modern coupled with vintage as the front seats, shifter, and center console were sourced from an ’02 Trans Am. DJ’s Upholstery, also in Bowling Green, laid the black carpet and fit the graphite and silver leather over the seats while Kyle Tuck at Poston Electronics introduced a custom scene on the door panels and side panels accented with Lokar door handles and window cranks. Lokar bits also cover the brake and gas pedals while the Budnik steering wheel keeps the theme in line.
Auto Meter Ultra Lite gauges keep Mike in the know and a Vintage Air Gen III system keep he and his wife, Denise, cool as cucumbers, even during Bowling Green’s relentless summertime heat and humidity.
A Pioneer DEA 7200 head unit backed by a JL Audio HD 900/5 amp juice the JL Audio C5 6½ inch speakers resting in the custom kick panels whittled by the aforementioned Kyle Tuck. Tuck also tackled the custom-built rear package tray and nestled in the JL VR 690 6x9s. All said and done, the system offers a balance of scorching tunes in a rather lightweight system.
Cary Guess sprayed the PPG Silver Metallic but not before brilliantly massaging the sheetmetal to perfection while Jeff Smith polished the existing OE stainless trim. Goodmark came on board where necessary including the hood, grille, and front and rear bumpers.
So did Mike finally get it right? “I like to drag race a couple times a year, and I’m really starting to like autocrossing. And even though it’s still basically a work in progress, I’m just enjoying driving the sh#* out of it.”
Mike, we’d say you got it right.
“Mike’s ’69 has been marinating for over 13 years, and in that time it’s seen various parts and pieces come and go.”