Mr. R is a 47-year-old software configuration manager from San Diego, a real smart cookie, or so it would seem. Naturally, his $69,000 plan was highly detailed and was always in sight. Here he gives us the cogent reasons for what he's accomplished and how he did it. "I wanted to build it rock-solid and with a bitchin' but not overly flashy or overstated appearance inside and out," he explains. "I wanted there to be some modern touches but no modifications that took away from the classic look of the '69. It had to be blue because I'm a surfer and a fisherman and the deep blue color of the ocean has been a constant part of my life. I used my computer and digital skills to visualize different paint schemes, graphics, and stripes for the car and determined that modifications to a solid blue base only looked different, but not better, so I stayed with a solid blue scheme.
"I had a big-block in both my Trans Ams when I was younger, so I decided to stay a bit nostalgic and go with a classic carbureted Rat. Last but not least, being the stubborn do-it-yourselfer that I am, I wanted to build it all myself so that I could have something I was really proud of and also pick up some new fabrication and bodywork skills along the way. I thought it would take a little over a year to finish, but it took a lot longer. My cost estimates were equally inaccurate. I knew it couldn't be something that dragged out, so I dedicated so much of my time each week to getting it done and doing it right. Nearly three years later it's actually done and I still can't believe I finished such a large project." If you want every detail go to his website, www.69camaroproject.com.
Chris bought the car off eBay sight unseen, a risky and often disappointing proposition. But he lucked out. The car wasn't really drivable, but it was mostly solid and had all its original sheetmetal, and that mattered more to him. The OE metal was there to stay; the drivetrain wasn't, so he got on with it. He did every part of the build (fabrication, restoration, bodywork, suspension, interior, audio/electrical, and welding) alone in his garage, with the exception of the final paint and the rear seat covering. Kandie, his brand-new wife, lent him a hand now and then but was there to dutifully and digitally document the whole deal.
"When I was in high school, we'd race anything that moved. We constantly repaired our cars after school and on the weekends, always trying to make them faster or look better even though we had no money," recalls Mr. R. Then he fell into the inevitable trap of early adulthood, which is making his way through school and then making his way toward self-sufficiency. All of that takes lots of money and time, enough time to incur changes in attitude and the direction of the project. His favor changed from muscle cars per se to the popular Pro Touring or G-Machine substratum, where the car is crafted to stop, handle, and squirt beyond its tires in one happy, well-matched conglomeration. According to his profession, his hobbies so noted, and his rampant subjective personality, there was really no other place Chris would have been happy.
He kept his head and made sensible choices, and didn't run away with the cow that jumped over the moon [That's the title of this month's other feature. Delete?-CJ]. The grunt-laden ZZ454 fits well here. Chris soon realized that buying one (warranty included) would cost about the same as building it in his garage. He put a tried-and-true 2004R (0.67:1 OD) and a sensible 2,600-stall-speed converter behind it and the 454 unlocked the universe, as he knew it would.
So what's the tagline? "When I walk out to my garage, it just blows my mind when I see it sitting there and realize it's something I built and not just something I bought." Amen, Chris.
Like we said, it's a GM Performance Parts ZZ454 (PN 12498777) that remains as delivered. Chris liked that the reciprocating assembly is forged and the 9.6:1 compression ratio was completely amenable to pump gas. He liked that it wore large-port aluminum heads. He liked that all he needed to sink it home were NOS engine mounts and a stock 5-quart oil pan meant for an F-body. Though the factory assigns this engine nominal values (440 hp at 5,250 and 500 lb-ft at 3,250), Chris cites his at 491 hp at 5,600 rpm and 517 lb-ft at 4,300 rpm, his information stemming from a magazine dyno test with the same combination.
Since the motor comes without a carburetor or primary ignition system (and other requisite items), he deemed a Holley 4160 750-cfm carb (vacuum secondaries and electric choke) with modified jetting, a pump squirter, and an accelerator cam. He paired it with a GM HEI distributor and an MSD ignition module and rev limiter and set the timing at 34 degrees BTDC at 3,000 rpm. Semi-wasted fuel is sucked away by Hedman 2-inch primaries into a Flowmaster American Thunder 21/2-inch exhaust system.
Chris put the front of the motor on with a March serpentine accessory drive and tucked a Tilton high-torque Super Starter next to the flywheel. Electric fans blow through a big-block-sized aluminum radiator. On the receiving end of the power are a Bowtie Overdrives Extreme converter built with a 2,600-stall speed and a matching Level 3 2004R transmission (2.74, 1.57, 1.00, 0.67:1 ratios). Chris commands it with a B&M Hammer shifter. Fluid is circulated through a B&M cooler as torque huffs its way down a custom Inland Empire Driveline 31/2-inch steel prop shaft (fitted with 1350 U-joints) to a Moser 12-bolt stocked with 3.42:1 gears and an Eaton differential.
To keep cost down, Chris welded some new patch panels where needed and made progress on the body until it was ready for final paint in his home garage. After that, Syndicate Automotive Concepts in San Diego applied four layers of GM Arrival Blue and an equal complement of clear. Better yet, Syndicate got the car out of paint jail in less than five weeks. Was it cool? The Camaro got props last December when it appeared as Budnik's Cool Ride and Lateral-G's Ride of the Month.
A Motel 6 it sure ain't. Chris left nothing untouched. He laid the foundation with an American Autowire loom system and B-Quiet sound deadener throughout. He sank a Detroit Speed steel insert in the dash (customized and painted by him) chocked with Auto Meter Carbon Fiber Ultra Light instruments, removed the passenger grab-bar, and put a transmission fluid temp gauge where the ashtray once resided. He upped the comfort quotient with a custom console/armrest. He got the custom cut-pile carpeting from ACC. Leather covers Arizen Racing seats as well as the console.
Way back when, Chris' car was ordered with the rare (RPO A67) fold-down rear seatback. It presented a perfect place to hide the Infinity subwoofer. The audio compilation includes a Pioneer CD/MP3 head unit and two Alpine amps (in the trunk along with an Optima battery) feeding four Infinity midrange speakers. All this added 150 pounds to the gross and all is connected via Monster cables.
Bright bits include billet door handles, window cranks, door locks, and a Detroit Speed pedal kit. Chris loves his LeCarra Mark 9 Elegante steering wheel. Rather than leaving his wellbeing to 40-year-old cloth straps, he installed Morrison three-point safety belts.
Chris had the stock subframe powdercoated, set it to the chassis, and took the shimmy out of it with Global West solid aluminum bushings. He shored up the rest of the car with Global subframe connectors. To offset the weight of the big-block and induce better handling, he installed geometrically correct Global tubular upper control arms. He powdercoated the stock lower arms and stuck them to the car with Global Del-a-lum antideflection bushings. This was followed by Koni adjustable shocks, Hotchkis 2-inch drop coils, and a hollow 17/8-inch antisway bar. Chris prepped the rear of the car with Hotchkis 11/2-inch drop leaf springs and more Koni adjustable shocks. An AGR 12:1 steering box provides accelerated course corrections.
Wheels & Brakes
Bigs 'n' littles are prominent here. Chris chose Budnik Shotgun rims, 18x8 in front and custom-built 19x91/4 (based on a 10-inch hoop) in the rear. He fit them with spider-grip 245/40ZR and 275/35ZR Nitto NT 555 Extreme rubber. Energy burners include a full Baer Track system featuring 13-inch dual-piston fronts and a 13-inch single-piston job in back.