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.
Interestingly, one of the things that Nick likes the most about his Camaro is that it isn’t too nice. He’d like to back-half the car one day, and throw in an overdrive and 12-bolt, but for now he’s enjoying the luxuries of a car that didn’t cost a boatload of money to build. I decided early on that I wanted a driver instead of a show car. I dropped a ladder on my car the other day in the garage, and it chipped some paint off the fender, he says. I wasn’t happy about it, but I wasn’t crying either. If this was an $80,000 build, I can guarantee you that I’d be crying about it. I don’t even get that mad when my cats sit on the car. This Camaro isn’t a big-dollar Pro Touring car, or a rusty rat rod. It’s somewhere in between, and that’s exactly how I like it.
Proving that you don’t have to go broke to build a Pro Touring suspension, the front underpinnings consist of Speed Tech upper and lower control arms, American Touring Specialties aluminum spindles, Addco 1-inch sway bar, and QA1 coilovers with 550 lb/in springs. To control the motions of the rearend, the stock replacement 90 lb/in monoleaf springs have been paired with QA1 shocks, an Addco 3/4-inch sway bar, PST polyurethane bushings, and Competition Engineering traction bars and subframe connectors. The front coilovers and custom rear shackles drop the stance 4 inches all around. A GM 16:1 power steering box and Edelbrock aluminum tie rods provide directional input.
Wheels, Tires, Brakes
A proper Pro Touring cruiser needs a hot set of rollers, and the Camaro sports Forgeline WC3 wheels measuring 18x8 up front and 18x10 in the back. They’re wrapped in P245/40ZR18, front, and P275/40ZR18, rear, BFG g-Force tires. Stopping duties are handled by 13-inch discs and two-piston calipers off of a C5 Corvette up front, and 11-inch discs from a second-gen Trans Am in the rear. A Classic Performance Parts master cylinder and a Wilwood proportioning valve manage fluid distribution.
Engine & Drivetrain
It might not have the cachet of the mega-inch Rat motors popping up in street machines these days, but the 496 in Nick’s Camaro is a simple, effective, proven combination. It’s based on a production four-bolt 454 block that’s been opened up to 4.310 inches, and matched up with a Scat 4.250-inch cast crank. In keeping with the budget theme, Scat I-beam steel rods and Probe 11.0:1 forged pistons complete the rotating assembly. The short-block is topped with a set of Edelbrock Performer RPM cylinder heads and an RPM Air-Gap intake manifold. For fueling flexibility, a Quick Fuel Technology 850-cfm carb can accommodate both premium unleaded gas or E85. The valvetrain is as frugal as the rest of the motor, featuring a COMP 244/244-at-0.050 hydraulic flat-tappet cam with 0.550/0.550-inch lift, and Pro Comp 1.7:1 rocker arms. An MSD distributor and 6AL box light the fire, and fumes exit through 17/8-inch Hedman headers and dual 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers. Nick hasn’t dyno tested the motor, but he figures that it puts out close to 600 hp. Backing up the big-block is a Richmond Super T-10 Plus four-speed manual trans, a Spec clutch, and a Lakewood bellhousing. Out back is an 8.2-inch 10-bolt rearend that has been fortified with Moser 28-spline axles, an Auburn limited-slip differential, a Summit girdle, and 3.55:1 gears.
The Camaro’s interior isn’t going to win any style points, but it’s affordable and gets the job done. Occupants sit in Summit bucket seats and are held in place with RCI four-point harnesses. Nick grafted Auto Meter gauges into the stock instrument panel, and the steering wheel is from Grant.
The worst part about picking up dirt-cheap project cars is the massive bodywork they require, but Nick stayed on budget by completing the work himself. The replacement sheetmetal came from National Parts Depot, and the paint is a custom mix of Matrix Nectarine Orange sprayed over a silver base. CHP