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.
GM Performance Parts PN 12498793 is the perfect place to begin. Though most will think they've reached nirvana and won't take it much further: 572 cubic inches, a forged rotating assembly, those big-port heads, and a 9.6:1 compression ratio make it an instant sweetheart for nitrous, boost, and pump gas. Gavin added an SFI crank damper, Moroso baffled oil pan, a Stewart reverse-flow water pump, March serpentine belt accessory mounting kit, Holley electric fuel pump, Mallory Hy-Fire III ignition (36 degrees total), Alston 2-inch primary pipe ceramic-coated headers, a Flowmaster mandrel-bent 3-inch exhaust system with an H-pipe, and Flowmaster Super 40 muffs. The Tremec TKO five-speed overdrive transmission is rugged enough for the tall-deck Rat and Gavin reworked the underside of the console to clear the Hurst shifter and make everything fit like factory. A Lakewood blast shield and an engine mid-plate pin the motor securely to the chassis. Torque is extruded through a Precision Shaft Technologies carbon-fiber driveshaft to a narrowed (50 inches end-to-end) Moser 9-inch featuring a 3.25:1 gearset, positive-traction differential, and 40-spline axleshafts. We already know that the 572 puts out 620 hp at 5,500 rpm and 650 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. What a great foundation for a temple of power. Though it hasn't been dyno tested, the Hogan intake system and EFI pump the total (estimated) output to nearly 700 hp. Rick doesn't need any more than that.
Chris Alston's front clip includes a sheave of goodies: spindles, tubular upper and lower control arms, power-assisted rack steering, a 11/16-inch anti-roll bar, and Varishock shock absorbers with matching coilover springs. Lakewood connectors pull both halves of the car together. Gavin hung the axle with a DSE four-link arrangement, installed the adjustable Koni coilovers vertically, and quelled side-to-side movement with a Panhard bar as thick as your wrist.
Wheels And Brakes
Charismatic Vintage Wheelworks 60 authentic knock-off wheels, 17x8 and 17x11 inches for the Nitto 555 series 255/40 and 315/35 treads, make an undeniable visual statement. Check out the safety wire. Behind them, a coterie of Wilwood: 11/8-inch master cylinder, four-piston calipers on 13- and 12-inch discs, and emergency brake cable kit.
Though it looks like nothin's goin' on here, Gavin replaced every piece of interior trim (door panels, screws, bolts, carpeting, console, all glass, headliner, and sunvisors) with repro stuff, including the houndstooth upholstery, new upper dashpad, and the Z/28 console and gauge pack. The glint in the footwell blinks off Lokar pedal covers (as well as throttle linkage), but that wood-rimmed steering wheel looks like a fugitive from the '70s. An original "air" car, Gavin replaced the 40-year-old HVAC system with a compact underdash Vintage Air unit.
With the exception of the US Body 4-inch cowl induction hood, the sheetmetal is original, massaged, and painted Porsche Guards Red at Rick Matthews' body shop. The "572" blip and hockey stick stripes sweep tastefully below the late-model Camaro sideview mirrors. Narrowed axle and mini-tubs afford breathing room on either side of the bulbous Nittos.