The Hybrid Camaro - Technical Article - Chevy High Performance Magazine

Retro Rides Fourth-Gen Goes '69

Bob Mehlhoff Apr 24, 2006 0 Comment(s)

Take one '02 LS1-powered Camaro and one '69 Camaro complete outer sheetmetal kit from Goodmark Industries, assemble them carefully together, and what do you have? A hybrid supercar with total fourth-gen performance underneath and '69 Camaro looks up top. This cool idea started when the folks at Retro Rides in Spanish Fork, Utah, were bench racing about how much amazing technology the fourth-gen F-body has. The incredible handling, precise steering, superior antilock brake system, quick acceleration, and interior comfort all surpass that of older Camaros. But admittedly, the classic style of a first-gen Camaro was missing from the later-model cars.

That's when Retro Rides co-owner Dennis Palombo mentioned it would be possible with today's availability of Goodmark's body parts to assemble an entirely new '69 Camaro body above selected fourth-gen chassis and power-train parts. This would blend the two cars' strong points in perfect concert, resulting in a unique car that looks like an early Camaro, but drives like--and has all the luxuries of--a brand-new modern car.

Right away, Dennis' wife told him he should just do it. So with the help of new business partner Bill Jeffries and their crew at Retro Rides, the guys went to work building the first prototype. The finished product was on display at last year's SEMA Show in Las Vegas, and production is scheduled for this year. When we heard this exciting news, we booked a flight and took a trip to their shop to learn more.

Initial Consultation
Upon our arrival, we got to see and drive the red Retro Rides '69 Camaro you see here. We especially noticed how well all the body gaps fit and if no one had explained what these cars are, we probably would not have recognized the modifications. The car at our photo shoot featured an STS Turbo Charged LS1 motor and a four-speed automatic.

The process begins with an initial consultation with the customer to go over how they want the car equipped, the color, the specific year ('67 through '69 are available in coupe and convertible), and if they would like any available options. After the consultation, a first-gen host car is selected, which provides many of the upper structural items to assemble the brand-new early-Camaro sheetmetal to. Because much of the host car will not be used, the overall condition is not terribly critical. The host car may be customer-supplied or Retro Rides will provide it. If the customer wishes, Retro Rides offers options like performance brakes, engine options, and accessories. Then the host car's critical parts are completely blasted to bare metal. Some of the main items needed from the early Camaro are the A-pillars and C-pillars.

Building Process
Retro Rides uses a patent-pending process to retrofit select mechanical portions of a fourth-gen ('98-02) Camaro or Firebird to the host car. Because a fourth-gen F-body is based on a 101-inch wheelbase and a first-gen on a longer 108-inch, the floor is sectioned and lengthened to accommodate the longer size. All exterior sheetmetal is replaced with new steel panels from Goodmark Industries, as well as new bumpers, grille, and weather-stripping.The car is then treated to a modern interpretation of the classic design by eliminating most body seams, tightening panel gaps, shaving drip rails, retrofitting 21st-century door strikers and latches, flush-mounting door handles, and many other custom additions.

Under the hood, Retro Rides adds a fuel-injected crate motor (standard is an LS1), a new crate transmission (four-speed automatic or six-speed manual), brakes, suspension, wheels, tires, and more. Options include an STS turbo (100 extra horses), a new LS7 (based on availability), full air suspension, and even an upgraded performance brake system to handle all the extra power. Inside, a new custom interior is installed using components designed to fit by Retro Rides. Each car is finished to customer specification as to audio system, interior fabric color, and more. The finished product is far quieter and tighter than the original--and user-friendlier. In addition to the normal items like factory A/C, power steering, brakes, windows, and locks, a Retro Rides car includes such items as power mirrors, remote keyless entry, cruise control, power seats, and even a full onboard diagnostic system!

The finished product is a car you can literally drive every day. It has all the reliability of a new car, the drivability of a true sports-performance car, and the creature comforts that rival anything on the road today. We drove the Retro Rides Camaro for about 10 miles and were very impressed. Although this particular car was still in the last stages of development, it accelerated and handled just like a late-model LS1-powered Camaro. The body fitment was excellent too. One of the best parts of our experience was looking out over the '69 cowl induction hood. As far as the car's looks in person, if we had pulled up to it at a stoplight, we're certain we would have recognized it as a genuine '69 Camaro. To learn more, contact Retro Rides.

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Since fourth-gen F-bodies are built on a 101-inch wheelbase, the underbody is lengthened 7 inches during assembly to match the 108-inch wheel-base used on '69 Camaros.

Installed fourth-gen F-body components utilize a front suspension system called a Short-Long Arm (SLA) twin A-arm front suspension, which benefits from greater wheel travel, less dive during braking, less bumpsteer, and reduced wandering on rough pavement. Note the Saginaw-powered rack-and-pinion steering system used in place of the first-gen's recalculating ball-and-nut style.

At the rear, the Retro Rides Camaro uses the fourth-gen system. This one is fitted with an Edelbrock Panhard rod for improved cornering.

An optional performance braking system is available. This one is fitted with Wilwood brakes.

The new interior is installed with components designed by Retro Rides with modern materials and techniques to create a unique environment in the Retro Rides Camaro...

...which includes air conditioning, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, cruise control, power seats, and even a full onboard diagnostic system.

An LS1 engine is standard with the package, but if you wish, you may upgrade to an LS2 or even an LS7 (depending on availability).

A six-speed manual transmission is optional. Our test car featured a four-speed automatic.

The test car we drove had the optional STS Turbo system (rear-mounted), which added gobs of power.

The fourth-gen shock towers are retained to house the front suspension system and also clue you in that this is not just another LS1 engine transplant in a '69 Camaro.

The mostly stock interior doesn't deviate much from the original fourth-gen offering.

The Goodmark Industries sheetmetal fits very well. Notice how the gaps are even. The fourth-gen outer door handle is one of the few clues that this Camaro was built by Retro Rides.

The custom billet taillight bezels (optional) and taillight notches to the rear lower panel provide an understated dash of modern design to the car.

Whoa baby, this thing is a blast to drive. Not seen in this shot are six Utah County Sheriffs who took a few moments out of their schedules to enjoy watching a few burnouts at the end of a desolate farm road.

From any angle, this Retro Rides Camaro appears like a genuine '69, unless you know what to look for--and look very closely.

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