The budget ’69 Camaro is a mythological creature of sorts, like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. However, unlike these elusive ape-men and water dragons, budget-built ’69 Camaros really do exist. For evidence, we present to you Exhibit A, Nick Visciani’s Pro Touring F-body. It packs big-block power, a four-speed stick, and an apex-hunting suspension put together for roughly $30,000. While that’s not exactly sofa-cushion money, it’s downright cheap by first-gen Camaro standards. To pull off such an impressive feat of frugality, Nick replaced only the components that needed replacing, spent his money wisely, and, of course, turned his own wrenches. The resulting product strikes an almost ideal balance of economy, visceral appeal, functionality, and purposeful crudeness.
During the 14 years that he’s owned the car, Nick’s goal has never been to build a show car or a race car. Like most enthusiasts, he digs machines with hot lines and tire-roasting power to stomp the throttle and bang gears in on nice sunny days. He doesn’t spew bogus propaganda about how he could drive his Camaro every day if he wanted to, or how it should smoke a new Z06 around a road course if he was into that kind of thing. Nope, Nick is a no-nonsense kind of guyand like its ownerhis Camaro is a car that keeps it real. I call my car the Rat Touring Camaro, since it has a modern suspension, but it was built in my garage on a budget using a bunch of spare parts. I just wanted to build a car that I could beat the hell out of, and not worry about chipping the paint, he says. My buddies have cars that are so nice, that they don’t want to drive them, and to me that defeats the purpose. Shiny is nice, but I want something that’s fun and fast without being a race car. I can hop in my car, go play, and not even worry about messing anything up.
Nick says one of the biggest contributing factors to staying on a reasonable budget was picking the car up in 1996, before first-gen Camaro prices skyrocketed. I got lucky and bought this car when Camaros were still cheap. I had to sell my first ’69 Camaro to pay for college, and a friend of mine sold me his for $500 after I finished school, he recalls. I repaired several of his engines for him, so giving me a deal on the car was his way of thanking me for my help. The Camaro was a complete pile of junk with rotted-out quarter-panels, and primer that had been applied with a paint roller. The car was a bodyman’s nightmare, and it was going to be a huge challenge just to get it looking like a normal Camaro. Fortunately, I had worked in a body shop and a machine shop in the past, and I had a 454 big-block laying around that I could put in it.
After patching up the quarters, fenders, and hood and laying down a fresh coat of white paint, Nick dropped in the 454 and went cruising. Over the years, he replaced various odds and ends and slowly reconditioned the more fragile wear-and-tear items. A freak on-road incident tore up a fender one day, which served as a good excuse to repaint the car. Once again, he sprayed the custom orange mix at home with the help of his cousin. The entire process sucked, and it was the worst eight hours of my life, he says. I had every problem you could think of, from dirt, to water, to running out of paint. My advice to newbies is to use new factory colors so the paint is easily matched. I’ll never do a three-stage paintjob again.