Vietnam 1969, Dave Roberts is a Marine. His year of service is over and he’s ready to DEROS, rotate from in-country back to the world. Before he leaves the green hell, he bucks way up, and orders a Z/28. Shortly thereafter his parents and brother drive it to Chicago’s O’Hare to meet him at the gate. “That car was everything I wanted in a car,” Dave exclaims. “It was fast, beautiful, and it sounded fantastic. I’m sure that I washed it daily and waxed it every Saturday morning.”
Meanwhile, he moved on to become a mechanical designer with employment in the automotive industry where he met his future wife. “We went to lunch one afternoon and I knew she was the one when she said, ‘Gee, your car is awfully noisy and hot. Doesn’t it have air conditioning, and is there something wrong with the muffler?’ ” She wasn’t being mean, only curious. In the “old days,” there was an unwritten code: A man might do anything to prove his love and enthusiasm.
“Well, I did what every young man would have done with a car that he truly loved when his new girlfriend thought it was hot and noisy,” Dave says. “I traded it in for a new Corvette, air conditioning, automatic transmission, the works.” But there was a big problem. The Z/28 was gone. But life moved on. The Z/28 remained Dave’s avatar and always would be.
“After a number of years of raising two children and wishing that I had never traded the ’69 Z in, I started attending the annual Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale. Year after year, I would say I can’t believe that people are paying that for a ’69 Camaro, pass on buying one, and come back the following year to realize that they’d gone up another $10,000. That went on for 10 years. My wife kept reminding me that they were just old cars. As you can tell, she is a gearhead.”
So maybe she wasn’t, but the trail had grown too long to abandon it now. At least Dave could afford the build, but not before racing Porsches. “… but I just couldn’t get the sound of that small-block Chevy out of my head. While I loved Porsches, nothing could compete with the sound of open exhaust headers on a small-block Chevy,” he says.
One of his favorite races is the Kohler International Challenge at Road America in July. His Porsche runs in Group 8, so whenever the Group 6 Trans-Am cars were on track, he couldn’t help himself. He had to stand next to pit wall and listen to the Camaros run down the straightaway headed to Turn 1. “What beautiful music,” he thought. A few years of this convinced our protagonist to build a replica of the Penske/Donohue ’69 Trans-Am Championship car.
Dave huddled with friend Nick Short, the owner of CRP Racing in Harrisburg, North Carolina. Short was a veteran, having serviced Indy car, Trans-Am, and NASCAR teams. He tended the Porsche, worked together to build another car for the 24 Hours of LeMans. What Dave saw in CRP was remarkable attention to detail and a tremendous knowledge of road racing. The problem was they didn’t have a car.
Praise the almighty grapevine. An insurance guy friend tipped Dave to a likely candidate only two miles from home. And just like that, a numbers-matching ’69, 327, four-speed, Cortez Silver car became a clone of the Penske racer. A marketing angle grew out of the inclusion of Cragar wheels in an effort to rebuild the brand. Cragar’s parent is Carlisle Companies in Charlotte, North Carolina, that happens to have Dave on its employment rolls. The fit, shall we say, was a natural.
As you will see, SVRA rules dictated stock suspension, as the car had to comply with period-correct race specifications. The rollcage, sway bar, and more, are direct copies of the Penske ’69 Camaro. So where, you may ask, is the instantly recognizable Sunoco Blue and yellow livery? Read on pilgrims.