Something freaky is going down, and a roll of blue painter’s tape is at the center of it all. Every piece of weatherstripping on Mac Bernd’s 1969 Chevy Camaro SS 369 is covered in the blue stuff to keep it from smudging up the trim. He admits that the NOS stripping is notorious for leaving stains, but he uses it anyway for the sake of originality. Sure, it’s an extreme length to go to in the name of keeping the car all original, but there’s good reason for this freakish perfectionism. You see, this isn’t just any ’69 Camaro, but an original, numbers-matching SS396 four-speed car. If that wasn’t rare enough, it boasts a truly bizarre combination of options that leaves people scratching their heads and makes the car even more unique. Throw in concours-quality attention to detail that cleans house on the national show circuit and you’ve got yourself a freakishly rare Camaro that everyone loves to love.
Let’s get this out of the way up front. Mac’s Camaro isn’t a daily driver or a machine that gets hustled down the track, so get over it. To the contrary, it’s a muscle car relic, and a rolling piece of ultra-rare automotive history that demands fastidious preservation. While muscle cars and gear-banging beat-downs go hand in hand, there are plenty of run-of-the-mill six-cylinder cars perfect for that sort of thing. Dropping in an LS small-block and affixing a set of SS badges isn’t a big deal in a more common Camaro, but even hard-core performance junkies would have to think twice before bastardizing a rare original. That’s a pretty apt description of Mac, a man who has no reservations about dumping the clutch in his SS396 ’69 Nova or pitching his LS-powered ’55 Chevy totally sideways.
While it seems somewhat brash for someone with such an extreme proclivity for performance to jump on the show car bandwagon, all it took was the right machine. “My wife, Shelley, and I have had a number of street rods and custom cars over the years, some of which we bought and others that we built. We have had a wonderful time with all these cars, but made a conscious decision to return to our roots and get back into originality,” Mac explains. “As a consequence, I flew to North Carolina to look at an LS6 Chevelle which did not meet our standards in terms of fit and finish, but the trip was not in vain because it was at the same location that I saw the Camaro. It had an unusual color combination with the white hockey stripes and vinyl top contrasting nicely with the Hugger Orange paint. The documentation was amazing because it included the original window sticker, sales contract, warranty with Protect-O-Plate, and maintenance receipts. Further research showed that the car was very unusual because it had a big-block with a wide-ratio four-speed and 3.07:1 rearend. Moreover, it was a radio-delete car with a console but no gauges.”
As someone who was already elbow-deep into building hot rods when first-gen Camaros were still new, Mac immediately realized the car’s potential. “When I looked at the window sticker and saw how this Camaro was equipped, I said ‘Wait a second, this is a very uniquely optioned car,’” Mac recalls. “Cars with center consoles almost always have the gauges, which this car doesn’t, and it’s very strange to have a deluxe interior but no radio or Rally wheels. Researching the published build number statistics indicates that no more than eight of these cars were built with a 3.07:1 Posi rearend, wide-ratio transmission, and a 325-horsepower 396 big-block. If the orange houndstooth interior and other features—such as radio delete and the lack of console gauges—are considered, the car really could be one-of-one.
Despite the Camaro’s mighty fine current condition, it was rotted out beyond recognition before the restoration process began. Virtually every single panel needed replacement, and consequently, it was a project that would have been more trouble than it was worth under most circumstances. However, the car’s original, numbers-matching 82,000-mile big-block, Muncie M20 stick, and 12-bolt rearend made it a worthwhile endeavor. Gallo Restorations (gallorestorations.com) gets credit for painstakingly reassembling the Camaro to showroom condition. Likewise, Danny Kuzmicz (Vineland, New Jersey) freshened up the motor to stock specs by re-using the stock hardware when possible and opting for N.O.S. parts when replacements were needed. After taking ownership of the Camaro, Mac sent it off to Wade’s Rod and Custom (wadesrodandcustom.com) for some finishing touches, and a new factory-spec exhaust.
In less than a year on the ISCA show circuit, the Camaro has racked up a plethora of Best Restored, Outstanding Restored, and Outstanding Detail awards. That includes Best Restored honors at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona. Oh yeah, it’s also a finalist for the Goodguys Musclecar of the Year award. Perhaps what Mac is most proud of is how the Camaro wows even the most demanding and particular of judges. “We took the car to the Camaro Nationals in Maryland to compete in the Legends class. Just to pre-qualify for the class, we had to get the car looked over by Jerry MacNeish, one of the foremost Camaro experts in the country,” Mac explains. “To earn ‘Legend’ status, the car got looked over by six judges for three hours. They scrutinized every inch of the car, and even took apart the carb, water pump, and alternator to check for the correct serial numbers. They judge on a 5,000-point scale, and the Camaro scored 4,650 to officially earn ‘Legend’ status.”
For a hot rodder that’s developed a reputation for messing with every car that he’s owned, getting into the all-original game is a huge transition for Mac, and not everyone’s buying into it. “I am getting grief from all my buddies because I have hot rodded virtually every car I have owned, and they do not believe I can leave this Camaro as it is,” says Mac. “However, this one is different. Other than making it perfect in every detail, we are leaving it alone so people can enjoy this beautiful piece of history.” And even if you have a problem with show cars, everyone can appreciate this rare Camaro for what it is, and Mac’s effort to preserve a bona fide muscle car relic, blue painter’s tape be damned.
“This is all new to me. I’m used to having a Second-place car, not a First-place car.” –Mac Bernd
Owner: Mac and Shelley Bernd, Arlington, Texas Vehicle: 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Type: Big-block Chevy
Displacement: 396 ci
Compression Ratio: 10.25:1
Bore: 4.094 inches
Stroke: 3.760 inches
Cylinder Heads: Factory GM oval-port castings
Rotating Assembly: Stock
Valvetrain: Factory GM lifters, rockers, springs, retainers, and locks
Camshaft: COMP hydraulic flat-tappet camshaft built to stock specifications
Induction: Stock cast-iron intake manifold, Rochester Quadrajet carb
Ignition: Factory distributor, coil, and plug wires
Exhaust: Stock exhaust manifolds, Gardner dual 2.25-inch mufflers
Output: 325 hp and 410 lb-ft
Transmission: Muncie wide-ratio M20 four-speed manual, stock clutch
Rear Axle: GM 12-bolt rearend with 3.07:1 gears and limited-slip differential
Steering: Factory GM box
Front Suspension: Stock
Rear Suspension: Stock
Brakes: Factory front discs and rear drums
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Stock steel 14x7 front and rear
Tires: Goodyear Polyglass F70-14, front and rear
Seats: Factory houndstooth orange buckets
Carpet: GM black
Paint: GM Hugger Orange
Hood: Factory SS