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1969 Chevy Camaro Restoration Completed - Thrasher Camaro, Part VI

The Killer Red Pro Touring Car is Finally Finished

Mark Stielow Aug 1, 1999

Step By Step

Where you build your car directly impacts how you build it. I was lucky enough to barter my way into a friend's shop, which was spacious, clean, and had heat (most of the work was done in the winter). My normal working mode during final assembly is to work on 8-foot folding tables covered with packing blankets or thick jute padding. This keeps the parts off of the floor and on a clean, padded work area that I can sit in front of if I need to work on something for a long time.

I completely redesigned the front suspension to improve lateral grip and ride quality. The biggest change was the design and construction of new "uprights" to replace the stock spindles. These uprights, which are now available from Stielow Engineering and Design (SED) for 1967-1969 Camaros, incorporate a late-model Corvette bearing carrier assembly to create a spindle package (below). The Corvette carrier has a provision for a speed sensor, which I plan on using to install a custom antilock braking system and perhaps even a traction control system at a later date. The rest of the front suspension consists of Global West Del-A-Lum bushings, Koni adjustable shock absorbers, a Hotchkis swaybar, Afco racing springs, and an SED hidden ride-height adjuster. Not shown are the 13-inch Baer disc brakes and 18-inch BBS wheels with BFG tires. To fit the Koni shocks through the lower A-arms, the access hole was enlarged with a die grinder. All the components were black powdercoated for a durable, clean appearance.

If there is one thing I hate about most hot rods, it's that nobody bothers to tune up the little parts. I pulled all of the door guts out, cleaned each part completely with steel wool and thinner, and then greased all the moving parts before reinstalling. It makes rolling the windows up and down a pleasure.

I ordered the Painless Wiring 10-fuse kit for The Thrasher so I could wire all the extras, like the Vintage Air unit, ACCEL electronic fuel injection, electric cooling fans, an electric fuel pump, and all the other details directly into the fuse box/wiring system. The Chevy service manual was a definite time-saver during this job.

If you plan on rewiring your car, order a quality aftermarket harness. There's nothing's worse than having to jury-rig a junction box to run the A/C or some other accessory. As a reference, get a factory manual that includes the wiring scheme. Use the original wiring harness to pilfer various factory-only connectors for things like the taillights and headlights. With all of that in your pocket, you're ready to start wiring. Find some space and time, be patient, and dig in.

Many of my cars have had Currie 9-inch rearends in them because they take an enormous amount of punishment without a whimper. This aluminum center section, Baer-brake-equipped 9-inch was ordered in the stock Camaro width, and I painted the tubes with black VHT paint before installing the brake lines and bolting the rearend in the car.

Reassembling any car after it has been painted, plated, and polished requires patience, skill, and money. Skimp on any of those and the final product will show it. I installed a painted steel bumper (modified to look like an Endura bumper by shaving the bolts), D&R Classics running lights, an original grille I had been saving for years, and a Harwood fiberglass cowl-induction hood.

Big, nasty disc brake rotors stuffed in big wheels look very cool, but many hot rodders fail to match all the components in the package to make it perform to its potential. To make sure the big Baer rotors and calipers on the Thrasher did their job, I called Master Power with the rotor and caliper piston sizes. Master Power built a power master cylinder combination that bolted right onto the firewall in the stock location. All the stainless steel brake lines are from Classic Tube and required some mild hand-bending to match up with the fittings. But for the most part, everything fit amazingly well. I have bent my own lines in the past and won't anymore now that I know these Classic Tube pieces fit so well.

Based on my previous experiences, I wanted the Thrasher to have a fuel tank that could be filled like a stocker yet with pickup and return fuel fittings for the fuel injection, including a fuel pickup box that would use up the very last drop. To pull this off, I chose a new reproduction tank from D&R, cut off the stock filler neck, and welded on a mid-'80s sealed cap end. To install the fuel pickup box, a hole was cut in the top of the tank to access the inside. To accomplish this, I procured a fuel access panel from Fuel Safe and cut the hole in the stock tank. All this took a ton of time and wasn't easy, but I wanted a stock tank that would act like a fuel cell. Of course, you should only do welding on a new tank. Never modify a used tank since the fuel fumes could easily explode when exposed to flame or spark.

Next, I fabricated a steel sump box to create a low point at the rear section of the gas tank and welded it in place. I welded braided-steel line fittings into the tank at the front along with a bracket for the fuel pump and filter assembly. The pickup line is on the passenger side of the tank and the return is on the driver's side. To prevent this elaborate "stock" tank from rusting, the tank was coated inside and out with the Renu process by Matson's Radiator in Stanton, California, 714/826-0357.

To handle the 460 hp of my 406, I chose a Centerforce clutch for a late-model Camaro on a late-model Camaro flywheel. Make sure you clean the flywheel thoroughly with lacquer thinner to remove the packing coating, which can prevent the clutch from working properly. To keep everything tight, I put a drop of blue Loctite on stock GM fasteners, then torqued them to factory specs.

If you plan on using your car in any type of competition, I believe you must use braided-steel line like these Goodridge lines and fittings in certain important areas such as the fuel delivery system. Designed for aircraft, braided line is incredibly durable, which is the confidence builder you need when hauling butt down some straightaway toward a tight corner.

To actuate the Centerforce clutch, I chose a factory hydraulic clutch system out of a '96 Camaro. The only difficult part about installing the system was building a mount for the clutch pedal slave that was in-line with the stroke of the shaft. I found out the hard way that if the clutch pedal causes a misalignment of the shaft, the clutch master cylinder will leak after only a few strokes, requiring an expensive replacement. Once the bracket was properly aligned, I cut off the end of the factory rod and installed a male 1/4-inch Heim end on the master cylinder shaft to minimize binding. I drilled a hole in each end of some bar stock and cut threads to create a male-to-male adapter, which is retained on the slave shaft with two Allen set screws.

The Edelbrock-headed 406ci small-block dropped in with no problems. I have installed everything from bone-stock small-blocks to GTP prototype engines in my Camaros, and I have to say the small-block is hard to beat for power production, durability, and simplicity. CHP

If you have been reading Chevy High Performance for the last year, you have seen the stories documenting the progression of my latest project, a '69 Chevy Camaro dubbed "The Thrasher." The name comes from my willingess to run my cars hard and take abuse without failure. Just before writing this last installment, I put the first few miles on the car and my initial impression is that this is the best Camaro I've ever built. It's powerful, smooth, and more than willing to hammer through a corner or smoke the tires into Third gear. I plan on enjoying the Thrasher for quite a while, and I hope you have been able to avoid at least one car-building snafu or improve the performance of your Chevy by employing some of the ideas presented in this buildup.

This car integrated all of the lessons I've learned from building previous Camaros. It's simple, yet features advanced design and construction techniques. On the simple side, the body is stock and the floorpan is unmolested except for subframe connectors to increase chassis stiffness and a four-point rollbar to provide driver safety. The drivetrain is typical small-block street fare that can be easily serviced anywhere in the country. Though there are several advanced ideas in the car, I did my best to simplify those as well. The best examples are the spindles I designed and had built to correct inherent front suspension geometry problems and the spring and shock combination providing 1990s ride-quality and performance.

I also built a custom instrument panel loaded with Auto Meter gauges, a stainless steel trunk battery mount, and a 3-inch stainless steel Borla exhaust. All of those components were designed to be completely functional, so, from the exterior, this car just looks like a clean 1969 Camaro with a nice set of tires and wheels, which is fine with me. The Thrasher is a purpose-motivated car. Whether I want to cruise the highways chilled by the Vintage Air or blast around a road course abusing the tires, this car will happily answer the call to action.

The subject of cost is always a difficult one; it's an essential topic that few magazine articles are willing to address. Simply put, if you wanted to duplicate this car--not including the paint and body cost--you would need around $20,000 to $25,000 to purchase all the components and pay for the specialty work, while still assembling the car yourself. That's not to say this is the minimum price, but if you want all the components and features of The Thrasher, that's a realistic price tag.

If you had someone build the car for you, the cost could range anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. Don't think there are any $100K Camaros running around? Think again. Shop rates of $40 to $60 an hour can quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars. I'm telling you this because it's important to know your financial limits before starting. I knew mine, and I tried to design and build a car that wouldn't exceed them. In the end, I still went over budget.

There are many components on this car that I consider "foundation" parts, and so they had to be the best. Things like the Currie 9-inch rearend, the prepared Borg-Warner T56 six-speed transmission, the Goodridge braided-steel lines, and the water, oil, and power steering coolers are all top-of-the-line components because this car is going to be road raced. In that case, a component failure could be catastrophic. If you don't intend to use your car this way, lighter duty and often less expensive components can be used.

In the end, the Thrasher successfully combines off-the-shelf, aftermarket components with '60s-era ponycar technology to create a hot rod worthy of the next millennium. So don't be surprised if I park next to you at some rod run with chunks of rubber hanging off the rear fenders, the headers crisply crackling, brake dust plastered on the front wheels, and rock chips on the front valance. What better way to enjoy a hot rod than to drive it?


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