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1969 Chevy Caprice - Hand, Tooth, and Nail

Dare to be different with a '69 Caprice

Mike Harrington Aug 31, 2007
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Now here's a genuine square peg in a round hole, a doing-it-my-way type of car. We once overheard someone at a car show say: "You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a '69 Camaro."

Fair enough, but when was the last time you saw a '69 Caprice done pro-touring style? Yeah, that's what we thought too.

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Dan and Linda Smith can swing a dead cat anytime they want and chances are almost certain there will not be another '69 Caprice to hit. Why a '69 Caprice? After all, some of the parts have got to be as rare as hen's teeth. According to Dan, he was "looking for something different. There's a big overpopulation of certain models." When we asked him how easy it was to hot rod a '69 Caprice, he informed us everything was a "tooth and nail fight to finish." It took a total of three donor cars to create the masterpiece you see here.

Dan and Linda originally purchased this car in 1999. After taking it to a few shows, the "as is" condition of the Caprice generated little excitement. After thinking about how cool it would be to own a 427, four-speed car, Dan was ready to put the Caprice out to pasture, but his son Sean stepped in and changed his father's mind.

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Sean was a student at the Art Center College of Design and was specializing in automotive design. After seeing the 36x20 rendering his son had drawn up, the project was all go. Over the next five years, the Caprice that nobody wanted was reworked and rebuilt. Nothing on this project came easy. After a year and a half in a body shop, the car was on its way home on an open flatbed trailer. The seatbelts came un-tucked from the headliner, got caught in the wind, and beat the new quarter-panels to death.

Once again, Dan was ready to put the car out to pasture and never look back, but Brett Rounsville agreed to take back the car and rework the beat-up body parts.

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The buildup of the 427 came as no easy task either. The first build had no oil pressure at idle, so Dan took the engine to Larry Molliconie who punched out the Rat to a whopping 530 cubes. The 530 now has Dart aluminum heads and a Comp solid-lifter cam with roller rockers and a stroked Kings crankshaft. A three-inch stainless steel, X-shaped oval exhaust system from Spintech throttles out the spent gasses and shakes the earth underneath your feet. After the workout on the dyno, the engine peaked out at 709 hp at 6000 rpm and torqued out at 685 at 5600 rpm. All this and the Caprice still has the factory GM air conditioning system.

Power is nothing without control, and when it came to the underside of this Caprice, there's almost too much custom work to list. Tim Fleanor helped Dan figure out how to control the power from the big-block. Believe it or not, the brakes on this car are Ford parts. The front rotors are 13 1/8-inch Ford rotors with GM F-Body calipers, GM spindles, booster and master cylinder, while the rear rotors and calipers are from a Ford SVT F-150 Lightning. The shocks are Hal adjustables and there are air springs from Air Ride Technologies-all custom fit of course. Tim even boxed in the control arms while fabricating the rest of the suspension.

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Jan Van Kooten, from Stitch by Stitch upholstery, used the finest cowhide and draped the whole interior in leather, based on the renderings provided.

Looking at the quality of this car, it may be easy to dismiss it as a cream puff trailer queen, but that's not the truth. One night when Dan was driving the vehicle he had the needle buried and was still accelerating (he figures he must have been going around 140 mph) when one of the balance weights spun itself right off of the driveshaft. An unbalanced driveshaft at 140 mph can make you rattle and shake like dice in a Yahtzee cup. Needless to say, it took a few minutes to release the death grip on the steering wheel once the vehicle had slowed down.

Power, beauty and speed. What's not to like?



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