Mike Angelo's shiny Tuxedo Black 1969 Camaro SS juxtaposed with the shabby paint of the ballyhooed barn finds of recent years led me to a surprising conclusion: Shiny paint looks better than shabby paint. That comes as a bit of a concession given my infatuation with original paint barn/garage/field/shop/treehouse finds. Barn finds typically reveal an exciting story of the hunt, discovery, and acquisition of a forgotten or rare muscle car. Not a second thought is given by the real car guy as to the dilapidated and threadbare condition of the unearthed muscle car.
Barn finds are cool, agreed, but a shiny paint restoration like this one dresses up our beloved muscle cars in a proper black tuxedo. The phenomenon of spectators walking past beautifully restored, primo muscle cars to get to the barn find section leaves me speechless. Little Johnny might look cute having rolled around in the mud during playtime, but parading him around town for the next few weeks in that state seeking accolades for said cuteness seems a bit deviant. Left to run its course, bogus barn finds could be the next hot trend in muscle car forgeries.
Which car is more significant, shabby paint original or shiny paint restored? Which wing of the airplane is more valuable? Both the barn find scavenger and the highly skilled restorer serve as heroes in the muscle car world. But let's be honest. It is the competent restorer who is craftsman, research specialist, and muscle car rescue ranger.
Consider the restoration journey that led to this real-deal L78 1969 Camaro SS. In the 1990s, Mike Angelo enjoyed driving his pristine 1972 Monte Carlo to cruise nights and shows. But he had been bitten by the 1969 Camaro bug. Both a car guy and an aircraft mechanic, Mike had developed the skills to perform his own restoration. Therefore, he looked for a highly desirable project Camaro that was both unique and desirable.
The hunt ended in the late 1990s when Mike found this Camaro. The car was in rough shape. The quarter-panels had been nicely replaced, but work had stopped as the owner shifted priorities. Included in the deal was the original Muncie M22 four-speed transmission (with the car's VIN factory stamped on the case), the original BV-code 12-bolt Posi rear with 4.10 gears, and a replacement JH block. That block would be the basis for building a replacement L78 engine to exact factory appearance. Since it was the late 1990s, the seller had been able to accumulate N.O.S. fenders and hood for the Camaro project.
Mike liked what he saw, but he needed to establish how the car was equipped when new. Even though there was no paperwork with the car, sharp detective work revealed the original assembly line status of the Camaro SS. In 1969, the M22 had been installed only in Camaros originally equipped with solid-lifter-camshaft motors, the Z/28 302/290hp small-block, the L78 (iron head) and L89 (aluminum head) versions of the 396/375 horse motors, and the COPO L72 427 cars. The trim tag body code on Mike's car, X66, indicated that it was a big-block base Camaro, and therefore not the small-block Z/28. Additionally, the build date was May 12, so it was too late to be a real COPO car. Hence, the original VIN stamped in the M22 transmission along with the X66 body code established the car as a L78 Camaro SS.
The Tuxedo Black color, which accounted for only 2 percent of 1969 Camaros, along with the red Hockey Stick stripes, were the icing on the cake. Mike especially liked the small picture that came with the car, which supported the Camaro's as-born status. He struck up a deal with the owner, loaded up the car and parts, and dragged it back to the 30x40-foot shop that sits behind his home in Ohio.
Though Mike is technically an amateur, the quality of his automotive restoration work is second to none. He has performed major restorations on other Chevrolets over the years, including two 1969 Z/28s, two 1969 L78 Camaros, two 1969 COPO Camaros, a 1966 Chevelle SS396, and his aforementioned 1972 Monte Carlo. The restoration of his Tuxedo Black L78 Camaro SS to OE original condition was completed in 1999. The day-two touches were added about five years ago, influenced in part by Mike's buddy, day-two champion Grady Burch (whose red day-two Camaro was our Jan. 2017 cover car).
The sight of Mike's immaculate Code 10 Tuxedo Black 1969 Camaro SS, accessorized with Cragar cuff links, is jolting. It triggers a craving for shiny paint strong enough to drive even the most devoted barn-find fanatic to skedaddle down to the local parts store for a new can of wax and an assortment of diaper-soft polishing cloths. Shabby paint is fine, but shiny paint looks better, especially when it's shiny Tuxedo Black.
At a Glance
1969 Camaro SS
Owned by: Mike Angelo, North Canton, OH
Restored by: Owner
Engine: 396ci/375hp L78 V-8
Transmission: Muncie M22 heavy-duty close-ratio 4-speed manual
Rearend: BV-code 12-bolt with 4.10 gears and Positraction
Interior: Black Custom vinyl bucket seat
Wheels: 15x6 front, 15x7 rear Cragar SS
Tires: G78-15 Goodyear Power Streak front, 9.00x15 Goodyear Blue Streak cheater slicks rear
Special Parts: Mr. Gasket tachometer, Lakewood Traction Action slapper bars, Hooker headers, exhaust dumps, Cal Custom air cleaner