It is one of the most iconic racecars in pony car history: the deep blue, yellow-lettered Penske/Sunoco '69 Camaro driven in the Trans Am series by Mark Donohue.
Donohue won six of 12 Trans Am races in '69-certainly a commendable feat-but he won 10 of 13 races the year before. Nonetheless, taking the checker flag for half of the season's races was impressive, and Donohue's outspoken opinions about the science of racing made him a favorite with reporters. Coupling those accomplishments with the can't-miss-it color scheme of Penske's '69 Z28 was the recipe for a legend. (Donohue died in 1975 from injuries sustained in a crash during practice for the Austrian Grand Prix.)
Forever linked to the legacy of Mark Donohue, the blue '69 Camaro built by Penske Racing is one of the most readily identifiable racecars of the last 35 years. It was for this reason that, when deciding to build a standout calling card, GM's recently formed Performance Division mimicked the Penske/Sunoco car with its Camaro project vehicle.
"You paint a car blue with those yellow accent stripes and everybody makes the connection to the Donohue car," says Kip Wasenko, the Performance Division's chief designer.
Formed in 2002, the GM Performance Division is a group of dedicated car nuts whose mission is helping other GM divisions turn their performance ideas into production reality. For example, the new Silverado SS pickup, with its Escalade-derived 345-horse 6.0L engine, is their handiwork.
To announce the Performance Division's creation, as well as demonstrate its capabilities, executive director Mark Reuss commissioned a pair of F-body project cars. Wasenko was the designer for both. (The second vehicle created was a neo-traditional Trans Am.)
"With the F-cars going away, we wanted to send them out with a salute," he says. "Doing the Camaro as a racecar with the Donohue colors seemed like a great way to honor the Camaro's performance heritage."
From concepts to drivable vehicles, both F-car projects were completed in just over six weeks.
"Everybody wanted to get them done in time for the Woodward Dream Cruise," says Wasenko. "For a while it didn't look like we'd make it, but it all came together."
Giving the Camaro its racecar appearance included much more than a paint job and hanging a net in the window. Look closer and you'll notice almost every body panel, save the roof and doors, was modified. The fenders flare 4 inches in front and 4.5 inches in the rear. A deeper front air dam was created and a tall rear spoiler was added. (Don't bother asking where to get similar part. All the body pieces were custom to this car.) And though the Camaro wears the same number "6" as Donohue's '69, the yellow graphics on the Performance Division's car are unique.
Under the blue skin is a 427ci Gen. III engine, which sounds marvelously like a NASCAR Monte Carlo idling in an aluminum shed.
C5-R Heart The ear-splitting cackle from the Camaro's NASCAR-inspired exhaust system sends a shiver up the spine of all but the most jaded (and hearing impaired) racing enthusiast. It's an LS1-based engine under the fiberglass hood, but it's far from the 5.7L lump that was slipped into the F-cars when Ste. Therese was sending them off the assembly line. Instead, a 7.0L version of the engine used in the Corvette C5-R racecar is fitted.
Though based on the production LS1, the C5-R engine has a heavy-duty, siamese-bore cylinder block. In the production aluminum engine block, cast-iron cylinder liners have integrated water jackets for coolant flow. The C5-R block's siamesed iron cylinder liners don't have water passages, which allow the bores to be stretched to 4.160 inches.