Rather than fetch coffee and toil away at other menial tasks, Pro Touring pioneer Mark Stielow spent his internship with General Motors in 1988 overseeing the construction of the first eight Camaro 1LE models, which were produced at the Van Nuys, California, plant.
And you thought lifeguarding for the summer was a cool job.
Stielow, who grew up in North Kansas City, Missouri, rolled from that influential internship straight into his first job at GM and has been there ever since, with recent assignments including Program Manager for the Gen 5 Camaro Z/28. His penchant for track-capable Camaros has obviously carried over into his spare time as he has built a succession of groundbreaking first-gen Camaros that have established new benchmarks for performance, technological innovation, and even refinement.
“From the very first car I built, I was interested in overall driveability,” says Stielow. “It’s one thing to build a fast car or one that can corner harder than anyone else’s, but the trick is doing it in a package that’s fun to drive and won’t beat you up.”
It was a white 1969 Camaro built in 1993, and dubbed Tri-Tip by Hot Rod, that really got the Pro Touring ball rolling, although nobody was calling the genre that at the time—mostly because it didn’t exist—although some called such cars “G-machines.” Sure, there had always been builders more interested in road courses than dragstrips, but it was the Tri-Tip car that established an early framework for the modern Pro Touring movement.
Without the benefit of the advanced chassis systems developed by the likes of Detroit Speed, which was co-founded by Stielow’s former roommate and ex-GM chassis engineer Kyle Tucker, the Tri-Tip Camaro used modified stock parts and was powered by a healthy small-block engine. Its capability was proven on the 1993 One Lap of America rally and that scratched Stielow’s itch to build classic cars with uncompromising performance and contemporary driving manners.
“I built several cars designed to excel at the road-going and track portions of the One Lap events,” he says. “That’s really where the drive to hone the chassis systems of these cars came from. I wanted to make them better and better and the only way to do it was to try new things, learn what worked and what didn’t, and continue to push it all forward.”
His friend Kyle Tucker was helping and learning, too, and when he and his wife, Stacy, launched Detroit Speed in the late-1990s, their chassis and suspension parts for first-gen Camaros provided Stielow with the tools he needed to take his cars to the next level of performance.
“Kyle understood exactly what these cars needed,” he says. “He hit the nail on the head at exactly the right time.”
Among Stielow’s Pro Touring greatest hits has been The Mule, which was featured in 22 consecutive issues of Popular Hot Rodding in 2002-’03; as well as Jackass, a yellow 1969 Camaro featuring an early use of the C6 Corvette ZR1 LS9 crate engine; and Red Devil, which won the 2010 Optima Batteries Ultimate Street Car Invitational. He followed that up with Mayhem, a 1967 Camaro that Stielow drove to the 2012 Optima Batteries Ultimate Street Car Invitational championship.
“They’ve all built on one another to make the next one that much better,” he says. “You learn a lot building them and driving them to their limit, which inspires me for the next car. It’s always exciting to see if you can raise the bar just a little higher.”
The New Project
Stielow’s last build, Hellfire, was a red 1969 Camaro that upped the performance ante with a number of carbon-fiber body panels that shaved 120 pounds off the nose and improved the front-to-rear weight balance to an ideal 51/49. It was also powered by a 957-horsepower, supercharged 7.0L LS engine.
It was a stunning car, but it was an undeniably high-dollar one, as well—something that wasn’t lost on Stielow when he drove the car at 10/10ths on the track.
“In one day, it incurred about $2,000 in paint damage from the stones and other debris kicked up on the track,” he says. “I absolutely realize that’s part of racing, but it’s also something you can’t help but think about when $20,000 or more is invested in bodywork and paint.”
Consequently, the vision for his next project was for a car that drove, cornered, and stopped just as capably as the previous Camaros, but one that focused more on those dynamics and a little less on a show-winning paintjob. In fact, he had similar thoughts for the engine.
“I wanted to have more fun with my next car, working more on the driving experience and less on the perfect paintjob and topping the power output of the previous cars,” Stielow says. “It’s time to get back to the basics.”
With that, Chevy High Performance is pleased to introduce that next project. The as-yet-unnamed green 1969 Camaro seen here, which we’ll follow in a series of upcoming stories. And here’s the basic plan: The body and paint will stay essentially unchanged from the original patina.
“I looked long and hard to find a survivor car that wore its original paint and this one was the perfect candidate,” says Stielow. “That patina will provide a great contrast to the updated powertrain, while simplifying the build.”
The powertrain is being simplified, too, as Stielow is going with a Scoggin-Dickey-supplied Chevrolet Performance LT4 crate engine, rated at 650 horsepower. It will be backed by a TREMEC six-speed.
“It’s a fantastic, very powerful engine and, like retaining the car’s original paint, simplifies the project because we’re not dealing with a custom engine build,” he says. “Eliminating the paintwork and engine assembly will shave months off the project and I should have it on the road by the coming summer.”
Track-Capable Street Car
Along with the supercharged LT4 crate engine and six-speed transmission, the patina-preserved F-car will naturally be underpinned by a complete Detroit Speed chassis upgrade, from the front subframe with coilovers to the QUADRALink rear suspension and mini-tubs. Also planned is a set of enormous brakes, Forgeline wheels, and a Strange 9-inch rear axle.
The chassis upgrades will be handled by Detroit-area Sled Alley, which was instrumental in building Stielow’s Hellfire Camaro and other projects.
“With their experience, they’ve got the installation down to a science,” he says. “It will take them less than half the time it would take me, helping get the car finished that much quicker.”
Beyond the hard parts, Stielow is also adamant the car will retain the driveability for which his other cars have been known. It’s an attribute he sees less and less in other Pro Touring vehicles these days.
“As more of these cars are put into competition, there’s a lot more ‘pro’ in them and a lot less ‘touring,’” Stielow says. “To me, it’s more about building a track-capable street car rather than a street-capable track car.”
It’s an important distinction and one we’ll keep in mind as we follow the buildup of his latest creation. You’ll definitely want to stay tuned.
01. Mark Stielow has spent his career building track-capable Camaros for General Motors and himself. He’s shown here with the supercharged ’69 Camaro he built known as Jackass and the Gen 5 Camaro Z/28 for which he served as the program manager at GM.
02. The Jackass Camaro was the first car built with a Chevrolet Performance LS9 crate engine and features carbon-ceramic brake rotors. It has been updated in the last year or so to make more than 900 horsepower. The front subframe was also swapped for a Detroit Speed subframe.
03. All of Stielow’s Camaros have been built to drive—and be driven hard, which he demonstrated here in 2010 in the car known as Red Devil. Powered by an LS9-blown 7.0L engine, it made more than 750 horsepower, driving through a TREMEC six-speed and 9-inch rear axle.
04. Pushing more than 950 supercharged horsepower, Stielow’s Mayhem 1967 Camaro delivered him the Optima Batteries Ultimate Street Car Invitational championship in 2012. Like several of his other cars, it featured an LS9-blown engine, TREMEC six-speed, and a 9-inch rear axle.
05. Stielow’s last project, Hellfire, took Pro Touring to a higher level with extensive use of carbon fiber in the body, including the front clip. The chassis and bodywork were handled at Detroit-area Sled Alley, which will again assist with the new project.
06. The new project is based on this Fathom Green 1969 Camaro coupe that has a virtually untouched exterior—and that’s exactly how Stielow will leave it, focusing on the chassis and powertrain upgrades.
07. The sunbaked factory paintjob and graphics will be left as-is on the car. Think of it as “Pro Touring patina.”
08. Stielow found the car in Oregon, but its super-dry condition suggests it likely spent a good portion of its previous life in California or another dry climate. Everything from the wheel covers to the thoroughly baked vinyl roof appears to be original.
09. Blessedly, corrosion is almost non-existent, with only a couple of small areas showing any real signs of rust. It’s the kind of project car most of us thought no longer existed, but Stielow has a knack for finding them.
10. At some point, someone tried to rub out a small area of the blistered lacquer and quickly realized the futility in it. That’s fine. The car has more character with the untouched finish.
11. Look at that trunk floor. No pan to cut out and replace here. Talk about project-car envy.
12. The previous owner invested in a dual exhaust system, but the real gem here is the solid chassis, although the rear suspension will be replaced with Detroit Speed’s QUADRALink system.
13. The Camaro is in many ways like a time warp to the 1970s, including the vintage Monroe rear air shocks that were still in place when Stielow took delivery of the car. Pump ’em up!
14. Like the rear suspension, the Camaro’s frontend will get replaced with a subframe and coilover suspension system from Detroit Speed.
15. The black vinyl interior is surprisingly well preserved, too, but someone along the way pilfered the optional eight-track player, which was mounted at the rear of the console where those holes in it are located. And yes, it was an original four-speed car, too.
16. The thick, foam aftermarket steering wheel looks like it was plucked out of a Car Craft advertisement in 1977.
17. A 307 was the Camaro’s original engine, but when Stielow picked it up it was motivated by a small-block of indeterminate displacement and age. It was a runner nonetheless.
18. Michael Dutra helps pull the tired small-block out of the Camaro in the first step of the car’s transformation. We’ll cover the build in upcoming issues.