"Everybody should have a hot rod" That's the motto Larry Sanders uses whenever he's talking about the unique cars he builds. "Use off-the-shelf parts, not exotic stuff. You gotta build it so the average person can afford it." That's the approach he took in building the '69 Camaro you see here. Owner Lee Novikoff chose Larry's LNJ Street Rods in Fort Worth, Texas, to assemble a car that came together partly from someone else's bad luck.
"About three years ago," Lee says, "I got an offer to purchase a complete drivetrain from a '97 Corvette that had been totaled in a rear-end collision. The car only had 11,000 miles and the engine was flawless." So with an LS1 and a T56 six-speed in hand, Lee began his quest for the perfect car. Knowing how important a wife's blessing is to projects such as this, the search focused on one of her favorite cars, a '69 Camaro. Eschewing the heavily restored, numbers-matching, high-dollar Z/28s, he found his LS1 recipient in North Carolina, a clean, red and black Rally Sport Z/28 with a small-block 350.The few minor blemishes were fixed up by Wietek Paint & Body in Cibolo, Texas, and Lee began to look for help in dropping the new-tech engine into the classic-tech body. The name Larry Sanders kept coming up, so Lee gave him a call, and it was shortly thereafter the Camaro made the short trek from his home in San Antonio to Fort Worth.
From the onset, Larry tackled the project with an old-school approach--use what works from the parts bin. First, it was obvious the oil pan on the LS1 was not compatible with the rear-steer setup of a first-generation Camaro. So a Vortec truck oil pan was sourced and extensively modified to clear the stock steering. When asked if he'd do anything different if he had to do it all over again, Larry explained he would definitely opt for a rack-and-pinion front-steer conversion to avoid using a heavily modified oil pan.
In keeping with Larry's philosophy of using available parts, he put his 40 years of wrenching experience to work and discovered that a set of non-GM truck motor mounts were a great fit for the conversion. Since it obviously worked, we'll forgive the use of off-brand parts. Along with the LS1, a Vintage Air system was installed using the stock Corvette compressor, while the power was routed through a '99 Camaro T56 gearbox. And just for that little bit of extra punch, a MagnaCharger supercharger was added to the top of the engine, which worked exceptionally well since it fit under the factory-style cowl hood.Firing the car for the first time "gave me goose bumps," said Lee. "When I blipped the throttle for the first time, I had a smile that lasted for a good 10 minutes!" The car had exactly the comfort and reliability he was looking for--plus something about all that white smoke trailing off the tires as he banged through Third gear was an added bonus.
Mrs. Novikoff is also enjoying the newly finished car, albeit with some respect for the "touchy" throttle: The first drive after the blower was mounted netted the comment, "I slowly shifted Second gear and the car went sideways!" Her lighter foot nets 20 mpg average, while hubby's leaden shoe returns about seven. Matter of fact, when Lee's behind the wheel, stock in tire companies tends to go up and his wallet gets a bit lighter. Larry must have been sorry to see the car go, because he convinced Lee to bring it back the following year for "a few additional tweaks." After an upgrade to a 3-inch exhaust system and a smaller blower pulley, the LS1-packing Z/28 now shows 506 hp and 505 lb-ft of torque. To handle the extra grunt, a 9-inch Ford rear was added, with the gears dropping from 4.11s to a set of 3.50s for improved drivability. Meaning no more accidentally getting sideways in Second gear!
To help slow the car's extra velocity, Wilwood brakes were added on all four corners and the suspension got Global West A-arms and QA1 coilovers up front and a fresh pair of shocks out back. To keep the driver in place during those on-ramp blasts, a new set of Recaro buckets with original-style houndstooth inserts was installed.
The end result is a very period-appearing Z/28, one that drives more like a modern car than one 36 years old. Many of us look at the current retro trend Detroit is putting out and wonder why they don't just start building the '69 Camaro again with new technology? Sounds like the perfect car to us!