Rick Matthews owns a Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealership in Brooksville, Florida, and his business success has afforded him many cars, some of them exotics, all of them expensive to buy or restore, but none quite as hellacious as this '69 SS Camaro. In his modest office, we talked about the ones that used to do it for him, and why he'll never do them again.
"The ultimate car was that numbers-matching '67 Corvette L71 (435hp) coupe. It was fun while we were doing it, seeing it come together absolutely pristine, but in the end it was so pure that I couldn't bring myself to drive the thing. Not because it was too pretty, but because it didn't brake or handle remotely like a modern car and I didn't want to go greasy side up. Now, I'd rather buy something that cost me as much as what that car did to restore and drive the balls off it." This would allude to his new Viper, a C2 Corvette charged with C4 suspension and an LS2, a Porsche Turbo, and that snappy Ford GT (all of them red), though we've probably missed a few.
To that hot rodder's end, Rick looked to the muscle cars of his youth, which you may have noticed are in extreme demand. "I loved the styling of the 1st-gen Camaro and how good it went in a straight line, but the way it braked and handled was horrible. So I got the one I like the best, a '69 SS, and my service manager Gavin Stebbins and I mapped the changes."
From then on it was Gavin's project. Though the big crate Rat will likely remain stock internally, Gavin adapted a Hogan intake manifold and EFI swap, one part of the Pro Touring ethic we still don't see enough of, buds. Face it. You can't beat an electronically minded fuel system for tunability, reliability, and driveability. Rick: "It's so smooth and linear. And since there's no secondary kick-in, it just pulls hard and seamless."
One thing's certain; Rick likes to drive with both hands. While he could have put a 4L80 behind the tall-deck Rat, he'd rather put his weight behind the shift and vent a kernel or two of frustration on the granite-like constitution of a Tremec TKO five-speed. Gavin could have kept the lateral leaf springs to anchor the axlehousing, but to sustain the once and future torque, he specified a narrowed (4 inches) Moser 9-inch and hung it between mini-tubbed wheelwells with a Detroit Speed & Engineering four-link suspension and coilovers. A Panhard bar locates the axle.
Torque twists. Big torque twists absolutely. Gavin damped a lot of it by installing a mid-plate between engine and bellhousing and anchoring it to either side of the Chris Alston clip. Though a rollcage is inevitable, for the meantime the Camaro's unibody construction gained bags of torsional stiffness via the mid-plate, a tubular transmission crossmember, and Lakewood frame connectors.
Rick has danced with a Cobra or two and there's no denying the visual impact of their gritty Halibrand knock-offs and how they accentuate the structure and the tension in the sheetmetal. Indeed, the Camaro's lines have that forward visual tension and go with the flow of the vehicle. Gavin wisely resisted the urge to polish any part of them, as the machined surfaces lend no-nonsense urgency to the SS.
The motor responds in kind, thundering down the road like there was no tomorrow. It sounds big and it sounds merciless. Rick touched the throttle. The Camaro left straight, narrow, and immediately, smoke and black stripes boiling. Yes, folks, another happy ending.