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1969 Chevy Camaro Exhaust System & Gauges - Thrasher Camaro, Part IV

How to Build a Performance Exhaust and Install Gauges

Mark Stielow May 1, 1999

Step By Step

Off-the-shelf 1-7/8-inch Camaro race headers from Hedman Hedders were used on this car. Notice I'm using a bare mock-up engine to locate the trans and bolt the headers in place. This is to keep the finished engine from getting grinding dust or other life-shortening debris inside of it.

The headers hang down a little so exhaust specialist Richie Hernandez, who I work with at Banks Engineering in Azusa, California, stepped in with the acetylene torch to heat up the tubes and bend everything close to the floorboards. I like everything half an inch away from the body for maximum ground clearance.

The muffler system was built from this custom kit Borla offers. All the 3-inch-diameter tubing is T304 stainless steel. We had access to a swedger, which expands the tubing diameter slightly. This is what's necessary to fit over the slip-on collector. Just about any muffler shop can do this.

Here is how the system was built--I watched while Richie did his magic. I built the 3-inch exhaust on my last car and it took me three weeks. If you do it yourself with no previous experience, expect it to take a while. The key is to take your time, measure twice and cut once, have stands to hold the system in place, get someone who can butt-weld tubing, and walk away if you get frustrated. As a tip, I duct taped the entire system together when I built my own then took it to be welded.

The gaps between the two tubes being butt-welded together need to be flush, which can take a lot of grinding, but it's the only way to get clean welds and not "blow through" tubing.

The trick way to weld stainless steel tubing is with a tungsten inert gas (TIG) welder. They leave no splatter, can be deftly adjusted to apply the minimum heat required to weld (to avoid the material distorting from the heat), and the welding rod material can be fed in separately. This takes skills that can't be learned overnight so, if you don't know how to do this, it's best to find someone like Hernandez who has it mastered.

When building a system, it is important all the components that could get in the way are on the car. That's why the engine, trans, and rearend are in the car. I really should have had the driveshaft in the car, but it wasn't ready in time and I know from experience where it'll end up. A piece of exhaust tubing slid between the rearend yoke and transmission can be used to simulate a driveshaft.

Hernandez built these short pieces of tubing to create the balance tube between the two exhaust pipes. The fishmouths were created by drilling through the center of the tube with a 3-inch hole saw and the center piece swedged out to slide over the two fishmouthed pieces. Balance tubes have been proven to add torque, which is why I run one.

We had to use extremely tight radius bend tubing exiting the mufflers, so I actually ran a 21/2 -inch tube for tailpipes. A swedged piece connected the 3-inch muffler outlet to a piece of Burns Stainless 21/2-inch bend, the tightest I could find anywhere, and the rest of the 21/2 inches came from Borla. The hangers just behind the mufflers are from a late-model Chevy truck and are installed with the frame mount a little behind the muffler mount, so as the system grows, the hangers will straighten out.

If you want sliced endtips, it's important both sides are symmetrical. My feeling on this stuff is to keep it simple. I cut one side until I liked it, then made a paper template, cut it out with scissors, and traced it onto the other exhaust tube. It was simple and looks good.

Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment in CHP over the last few months from Mark Stielow, the builder of many badboy, Pro Touring-type '67-'69 Camaros. He's building a new '69 Camaro, the Thrasher, and is showing us how he created these super-performing ponycars. This month's story details building a minimum restriction, but maximum quiet, Borla exhaust system and how he modified the stock dashboard to accept aftermarket Auto Meter gauges.

The last few months have been spent doing groundwork for the Thrasher, so I'll review to make sure everyone understands what we're up to here. My latest car, a '69 Camaro called the Thrasher, is being built to run a few different events (One Lap and the Pony Express 100 for example) and drive on the street. The drivetrain is loaded with a 450hp, 406ci small-block, a Centerforce clutch setup, a T56 Borg-Warner transmission, and a Currie 9-inch rearend. The suspension is equipped with Koni shocks, my own design SED spindles, Landrum springs, Hotchkis swaybars, Global West bushings, BBS wheels, and BFG tires.

I've built cars with trick, unobtainium parts in the past. They are cool to look at and touch, but when they break, you can't find a replacement part to save your life. That's why the Thrasher is being built with off-the-shelf parts. It should run just as fast as the trick stuff, if not faster, because of how the parts are combined, and I'll be able to fix it if we break something in Resume Speed, Missouri. Having built the engine and outlined the basic chassis work in previous articles, this month you'll learn how to tuck a full 3-inch Borla exhaust system up under a slammed '67-'69 Camaro and maximize ground clearance. You'll also see how I installed a full set of Auto Meter gauges in the relatively ugly '69 Camaro dashboard.

As much as I really dislike exhaust backpressure, an exhaust system that leaves me deaf after a day of hammering it down the highway hardly makes sense. I want the best of both worlds, and through experimentation I think I've found it. The exhaust system on the Thrasher has almost no backpressureand emits a slight rumble at idle and cruise but lets 'er rip when I stomp on the throttle.

The entire system is very simple but completely custom-built to tuck up underneath the car. I started with a set of race-style 17/8-inch primary tube Hedman Hedders (PN 65020) that dump into 3-inch exhaust pipes with a balance tube where they come closest to each other. Just in front of the rear axle (under the rear seat area), two 3-inch inlet and outlet Borla XR-1 Sportsman mufflers soften the bark, and then the exhaust snakes its way over the axle to exit at the rear of the car.

So it would last forever, I chose to build the system with T304 stainless steel tubing, which is more than double the cost of mild steel. If you are on a budget, you could use mild steel, which is also easier to bend and weld, and have it coated inside and outside by HPC to get the maximum life out of the system.

Another reason to consider mild steel tubing over stainless is that stainless "grows" much more than mild steel as it increases in temperature. It is common to see a stainless exhaust system grow 1/2-inch or more over its entire length. This might not seem like much, but often it's enough to tear an exhaust hanger apart after a few hundred miles. I have learned this lesson the hard way and now use a "swing" type exhaust hanger that can move with the tubing growth yet still retain the exhaust. Also, don't mount any hangers too close to the mufflers, as the intense heat will likely shorten the life of the rubber mount considerably--these babies get hot! And, as a final note on the hangers, I use a "blade" type late-model factory hanger at the tailpipe, so as the exhaust tubing expands and the length of the system grows, the blade just slides in its rubber receiver mount on the frame.

Because the components used on this car are aftermarket, sometimes they need a little "persuading" to fit properly. This was the case with the headers. My exhaust guru specialist, Richie Hernandez, used a jack and an acetylene torch to heat up the primary tubes around their bends to reduce the amount the headers hung down under the car. While this is cool to do because it will give me more ground clearance and clean up the underside of the car, understand that the second we started whittling on the headers the warranty was out the window. So, get somebody that can heat the tubes up without blowing through them, kinking a tube, or worse. If done right, it is worth the effort, as it got each collector up about 11/2 inches (and I'll stress "right"). Richie did a great job because he knows what he's doing--if I had to do it, I might have ruined them.

I don't use flanges on my headers, especially on stainless steel systems, because they seem to all leak, crack, or somehow fail after a series of heat cycles are put into the system. I found some trick exhaust clamps that are used on big rigs to seal a slip-on collector to the exhaust system. They are available from Summit Racing Equipment, made by Dyno Max, are called stainless steel exhaust clamps (PN WLK-35978), and cost $8.50 each. These clamps are great because they seal the system but allow some movement, which is important. I'm yet to have one fail. CHP


Currie Enterprises
Corona, CA 92880
Burns Stainless
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Borla Performance Industries
Oxnard, CA 93033
BBS of America
Braselton, GA
Koni Shocks
Florence, KY
Landrum Spring Service
Atlanta, GA
Stielow Engineering & Development (SED)
Pasadena, CA
High Performance Coatings (HPC)
Salt Lake City, UT
Auto Meter Products, Inc
Sycamore, IL 60178

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