Too often today, you see high horsepower musclecars wearing diapers.What do I mean? Back in the '60s and '70s, musclecars were built to takepunishment and dish out asphalt assaults to unsuspecting victims on thestreets and drag strips of America. The motors had four-bolt mains,forged internals, and upgraded valvetrains. The trannys were eithertough-as-bricks automatics or rock-crushing four-speeds, and the rearshad big diameter ring gears and beefy axles to put every horsepower ontothe pavement.
Now, more often than not, these same musclecars are treated likefighters with glass jaws, owners afraid to stand on the throttle or pulla good powershift for fear their precious investment might break. Butthere are a few still out there who ride their musclecars hard and putthem away wet when the time's right.
Recently that time was at New Jersey's Raceway Park. The new Godfatherof Super Chevy, Jim Campisano, called on a group of owners to bringtheir Bow-Tie bruisers out for some drag strip action (see the COPOshootout in our last issue). While the COPO face-off didn't leave uswith the same feeling we get watching chick flicks with our girlfriends,we thanked the drag racing Gods that John Larue had accepted our invite,bringing his all original '69 L89 Camaro out for some fun in the heat.John owns an auto service center in the Garden State and loves to punishhis ponycar thw way it was meant to be.
The L89 option first appeared in the Camaro in 1968. Basically, it was astock L78 (rated at 375 hp) with aluminum copies of the L78/L72high-performance rectangular port big-block heads. These heads, bothaluminum and cast iron, featured dual valve springs from the factory forhigher revving, and were well known for their excellent flowcharacteristics. The L78s/89s came equipped with high-lift, solid liftercams, heavy duty 3/8-inch diameter pushrods, high rise aluminum intakes,and a Holley R4346 vacuum-secondary carb.
The L78 had been rated at 375 horsepower since 1966 due to GM mandate ofhow much horsepower a passenger car could have. This rating wasextremely conservative, since it was the same motor that made 425 HP in1965 without any changes. While the L89 option didn't bring any morehorsepower, it did offer a weight savings of at least 50 pounds. Thealuminum heads were exact copies of the high-performance rectangularport heads that the L78s and L72s came equipped with. With some simplecarb tuning, tubular exhaust headers and a re-curve on the distributor,these cars could be running mid 13s easily. Because of the high-revvingnature of the solid-lifter big-blocks, you couldn't order power steeringor air conditioning with any of these engines.
On the bottom end they had four-bolt mains, forged steel crank and rods,and forged aluminum pistons with an 11:1 compression ratio. The aluminumheads shaved at least 50 pounds off the total weight of the 396. For1969, total Camaro L78 production was 4,889, while only 311 buyerschecked off on the pricey L89 option, which cost $710.95--more thandoubling the price of an L78 at $316.00.
This Camaro was delivered to F.J. Chevrolet in Whitehouse, New Jersey,in the middle of 1969. The original owner specified few options for hisnew car. To start, exterior color Fathom Green with black interior, analuminum-headed 375-horse 396 with the Z27 SS option, G80 posi-traction,U63 radio, M20 four-speed, F41 H.D. suspension, undercoating, and theN34 sport steering wheel. After a cash down payment of $300, the grandtotal for this nightmare-inducing Camaro--$3,409.