Murphy wasn't a philosopher. He wasn't much of a pessimist, either. A 1940s Air Force engineer, he rigged up a multitude of electronic strain gauges on a rail-mounted rocket sled to test the effects of extreme deceleration on the human body. When every single gauge failed to work, in what is now a much fabled test, the words he uttered in disgust became the stuff of legend. Perhaps Edward Murphy's affinity for wild mechanical concoctions, pushing the boundaries of physics and pulling massive g's is why his "Law" is a frequent yet unwelcome guest in the world of hot rodding. Regardless of why this peculiar nexus exists, you don't have to remind T.J. Harais of it. While building his '69 Camaro, he's endured some downright wacky misfortunes well beyond the norm.
Like that one time he got rear-ended by a school bus just weeks before our photo shoot. Then there was that other time when bandits broke into his truck at work and took the Camaro's title with them. "About two months before the car was finished, I put all the paperwork for the Camaro in my briefcase, since I'd planned on going to the DMV during lunch. As fate would have it, a ring of thieves hit our parking lot that morning."
Apparently, whoever's running this joint called Earth has a way of balancing things out, as a stroke of good luck is how T.J. scored the car in the first place. He picked it up six years ago--right before musclecar values went gaga--for just $4,000. Better yet, the rust-free desert survivor was practically delivered to his door. "The car's former owner was moving from Arizona to New Jersey and didn't have time to sell it locally," he explains. "He happened to be driving through my part of town on his way there, so I met up with him at his hotel and drove the car home right off his rented trailer."
Purists will need to straighten out their undergarments upon witnessing Z/28 badges on a car that isn't a real Z/28. However, T.J.'s reasoning for doing so is quite commendable. "I've always loved the classic look and lines of the '69 Camaro," he says. "However, I couldn't bear doing that to a rare original car, so I started with a generic base six-cylinder and added what I wanted without guilt." Once back in his garage, T.J. disassembled the entire car and had it media-blasted down to bare metal. With the exception of the bodywork, he built the entire car himself over a span of four years.
The result is a car that doesn't excel in one particular area, but rather works exceptionally well as an overall package. When it comes to Pro Touring, there are those who dig the genre's modern accoutrements for the sake of improved drivability, and those who sacrifice drivability for the sake of building wannabe road-race machines. On paper and from inside the cabin, this Camaro's clearly the former. It sports a modest 430hp small-block that doesn't roast the hides in Third gear, but provides more than adequate gusto on the street. Likewise, its mild 218/228-at-0.050 cam barks a pleasing cadence out the Flowmasters, but with a six-speed Tremec trans and 3.73s in the pumpkin, it loafs around parking lots without a hint of buck or surge. Thanks to a Chris Alston's Chassisworks front clip, it soaks ups bumps and divots as well as most late-models.
Considering all the bad luck he's been dealt, we have to give it up for T.J. for transcending all the challenges he's faced, and building a sweet machine that isn't confused about its mission in life. In essence, Murphy's Law was merely an impromptu outburst made by someone pissed off at his own mistakes. It sure doesn't sound like much of a law worth following now, does it? At least T.J. doesn't think so.
Swing open the doors, and the flavor is mostly stock, with a hint of modernization. The factory seats have been restored and restitched in houndstooth by Jim's Top Shop in Austin, Texas. From the captain's chair, a full bevy of Auto Meter Phantom gauges peeks through the rim of a Budnik billet steering wheel. A Vintage Air A/C system chills the cabin, and an Alpine stereo system doles out the tunes. Armed with an electrical engineering degree, T.J. made short work of wiring up the car himself.
Both fenders, a quarter-panel, the cowl-induction hood, and the grille are N.O.S. GM pieces scored off of eBay. Jeff's Resurrections in Taylor, Texas, laid down the paint and stripes.
The MillBeneath the striped front lid, the magic number is 430. GMPP produced just 430 units of the limited-production ZZ430 crate motor, and this one is serial number 396. As its name suggests, the 350ci mill puts out 430 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque. It features a forged crank held in place by four-bolt mains, steel rods, and hypereutectic 9.6:1 pistons. GMPP Fast Burn cylinder heads feed the bores with air sucked in through an Edelbrock RPM Air Gap intake manifold and a BG Speed Demon 650-cfm carb. A 218/228-at-0.050 LT4 Hot cam kicks open the 2.00/ 1.55-inch valves, and fueling duties are handled by an Aeromotive pump and regulator. Keeping coolant temps in check are Spal electric fans and a Be Cool radiator, and a Vintage Air accessory drive system dresses up the motor. Harnessing the power is a Spec clutch coupled to a Tremec T56 six-speed trans. Out back, there's a Moser 12-bolt rearend with 3.73:1 gears and an Eaton posi.
A Chris Alston's Chassisworks front clip includes tubular upper- and lower-control arms, QA1 coilovers, a thicker sway bar, and a rack-and-pinion steering box. In the rear, Detroit Speed & Engineering leaf springs pair up with QA1 adjustable shocks. A set of Chassisworks subframe connectors adds further fortification.
Rolling Stock & Binders
Power-assisted Wilwood four-piston front clamps squeezing 12-inch slotted rotors scrub off speed in a hurry. In the rear are Baer 11.5-inch discs. The Camaro rides on American Racing Torq-Thrust IIs, 17x8 up front and 17x9.5 out back, wrapped in 245/45ZR-17 and 275/40ZR-17 BFGs. CHP