There are almost as many moving parts to a car's story as there are parts to make a car. A great example is John Wilkus of Lakeville, Minnesota, and his Triple Crown of Rodding Best Street Machinewinning 1969 Camaro. The story of John's 1969 Camaro started not unlike anyone else; with a yearning for nostalgia, John's dad had one while he was growing up so a 1969 Camaro was what John wanted.
John spent some time searching for what he thought was the perfect example; the chosen car belonged to a lady who trailered the 1969 to a show and then sat in a matching chair next to it all day. Her advice to John was not to drive the car, only trailer it and bask in the glory.
As it turned out her advice was bi-fold in message. John soon discovered that in order to assemble the 1969 without a paint scratch or mar in the chrome, the builder left everything—tie-rod ends, ball joints, every part that moved—finger tight. This situation came to light after John jumped in the big-blockpowered beast and blasted down the street with it shaking like a willow tree and darting uncontrollably from curb to curb.
John's main desire for owning a 1969 Camaro was to be able to sport drive it as much as possible and exhibit it at local car shows. He got in touch with the Roadster Shop and brought the 1969 in for a chassis swap and to maybe lose the Rat motor in favor of an LS-series engine; and as long as the car was apart it might not be a bad time to repaint it to a more appealing color. As loyal STREET RODDER readers know, it's a story we all recognize: the owner has gone off the deep end and there's no turning back.
The design process began with John sitting down with Chris, the Roadster Shop's in-house designer, and Jeremy, the shop's co-owner. John said for the most part he gave the Roadster Shop's build team carte blanche, with only a few personal demands to be incorporated into the Camaro. The chassis, which is not a word normally associated with a Camaro due to its unit-body construction with subframes front and rear, was tossed in favor of the Roadster Shop's 1967-1969 Camaro Fast Track chassis. The Fast Track chassis is the result of high-resolution 3-D scanning, allowing CAD-designed framerails that contour tight to the floorpan and provide the rigidity of a full frame configuration. The stock pressed steel subframe rails are cut off and floorpan notched and the Fast Track chassis bolts in place. The 1969's front suspension is Roadster Shop's Fast Track IFS based around Corvette C6-style spindles and sprung with Penske Roadster Shop double-adjustable coilover shocks and body roll hindered with a 1-1/4-inch Speedway sway bar. Steering is handled with a Woodward Precision power steering rack-and-pinion valved to Roadster Shop specs and pressurized via a KRC pump mounted on a specially designed serpentine belt system that eliminates the LT1 engine's need for electric steering. Six-piston 14-inch Baer disc brakes are at each corner. The Roadster Shop rear independent suspension is based around a Strange 9-inch differential, packing 3.90 gears and Wavetrac limited-slip. The tires are Michelin Pilot Super Sport 265/30-19 in front and 335/30-20 in the rear, mounted on Greening Auto Company two-piece billet wheels.
From the floorpan up, the Roadster Shop's goal was to maintain factory lines, but sharpen the edges. After deciding the rear of the roof should blend into the glass, the rear window proved to be a major engineering feat. Ultimately, it was the help of Bruce White, and his company Piper Plastics, producing a razor-edged acrylic rear window that solved the problem. In addition to forming a new roof panel out of steel, an accentuated cowl hood, nose panel, chin spoiler, and front valance were custom made. The custom grille is cut from aluminum and is flanked by LED headlights.
The final prep and paint was handled in-house at the Roadster Shop, led by Alan Palmer using PPG products start to finish. The colors are McLaren Volcano Yellow accented with satin black. The rear panel of the Camaro features billet aluminum bezels around custom red acrylic lenses, illuminated with one-off LED boards. Underneath the custom-fabricated rear valance and between a pair Borla rectangular stainless steel exhaust tips rests a Volcano Yellow mini belly pan.
The transmission is a six-speed TREMEC from Bowler Performance Transmission, with special thanks to Mark Bowler for setting up a bellhousing, clutch, flywheel, and pressure plate to work behind the new LT1.
The interior is one of the few areas the Roadster Shop didn't handle in-house. John's Camaro was shipped to Avant-Garde Design in Palm City, Florida. Avant-Garde is no misnomer; the company is absolutely leading edge in its league. Over Boom Mat laid by the Roadster Shop, Avant-Garde Design started from the floor up using a composite plastic pan shaped using a CNC router and then installed and covered in late-model GM cloth for carpeting.
The steel center console and steel dashboard with bespoke Dakota Digital gauges were fabricated by the Roadster Shop and upholstered by Avant-Garde. With the exception of the seat tracks the bucket seats were made entirely from scratch using composite plastic to form the buckets and then aircraft-quality, high-density foam was shaped and covered with Garrett leather. Drawn in CAD, Roadster Shop and Avant-Garde design logos were laser engraved into the leather. Avant-Garde installed the MB Quart sound system; the air conditioning system is from Vintage Air. The principals at Avant-Garde Design are Rod Rogers, Jeremy Carlson, and Jeff Gardner.
John's 1969 Camaro has garnered more than its fair share of attention since its debut at the 2016 SEMA show—the cover of Hot Rod magazine, to name the most notable. It was asked to make sure special thanks went to Henry Young at John York Fabrication and project manager Chad Glasshagel in addition to the folks mentioned here in the text.
Currently the 1969 Camaro is still on the show circuit, but in our phone conversation with John Wilkus on the day this was turned in, he said he's chomping at the bit to start driving the car.