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.
Engine & Drivetrain
SVRA sanction rules demand a period-correct engine (no larger than 305 ci) and drivetrain, forms that at least look like the original equipment. CRP Racing sourced a cast-iron block and cylinder heads with which to begin. CRP got JE forgings and fitted them to the combustion chamber for a 12:1 compression ratio. Oliver rods hook them to a Callies crankshaft. Since the ’69 is a race-only character, CRP fabricated a custom oil sump and pickup gear. COMP Cams donated a complete array of cam timing equipment, including camshaft, timing chain, valves, springs, 1.6:1 rocker arms, and pushrods. They, in turn, took up residence on and around Dart iron cylinder heads. Induction is something simple, but rare. After looking for months, Dave found his very expensive staggered dual-quad baby on eBay. As for the airbox, Penske had Chevrolet product planner Bill Howell design one and Penske metal wizard Ron Fournier fabricate one from aluminum. CRP mounted twin Holley 650-cfm carburetors. They set the fire via an MSD ignition system. They had Jere Stahl build them headers to ’69 race specs (13/4-inch primaries by 3-inch collector). The exhaust system contains muffler material and juts from beneath the body before the rear tires. CRP dyno-tested the concussion grenade at a raspy 530 hp at 7,200 rpm. Good God, listen to that little-block ring. The drivetrain is no less authentic. A straight-cut gear, close-ratio Muncie M22 Rock Crusher whines for all its worth and offers a low gear ratio of 2.20:1. When paired with 3.89:1 cogs in the Currie 9, it makes for an optimum setup at most tracks, and allows the car to top out at 150 mph. The stock driveshaft transfers torque.
Wheels & Brakes
One thing is for certain: The tractive qualities of modern racing rubber puts 40-year-old racing rubber in the dirt and rectifies some of the shortcomings of the stock suspension. Hoosier Vintage Race rubber represents Dave’s take on the situation. He runs 26.5x9.5 15s all around on 15x8, one-piece Cragar 610 hoops. Disc brakes from a ’69 Corvette clamp down on both ends of the car.
More rules-conscious equipment here. The suspension is basically stock, but prepped for the mission with new bushings, links, and more. The front aftermarket antisway bar is adjustable but the OE leaf-spring bundles, quick-ratio steering box, spindles, and coil springs are not. Shock absorbers are Koni adjustables. Since being competitive in this arena was paramount back in the day, it’s highly likely that there was tomfoolery with the suspension attachment points. Now, as then, all this stuff has to appear original. Although there was a plan to adapt a 5/8-inch rear stabilizer bar, it was deemed superfluous in light of the stabilizing effect that a rollcage had on chassis rigidity. About 10 “kits” were built, but the bar was never included in factory equipment.
The interior is so much upholstered, as it is a receptacle for race-born accoutrements. There is a single seat, a Racetech aluminum bucket. This Spartan, all-business aura pervades, as it should. Dove gray abounds, the only place bare metal shows through is where Dave’s heel pivots on the throttle. CRP wired the system and installed the dashboard in patches of brushed aluminum to accommodate a switch panel and the few important gauges. The big rev-meter is stationed in front of his face. Dave cranks it into terror with a MOMO race wheel, stabs the throttle, and finesses the gearbox with a Hurst shifter.
When Dave found the car, it was strapped to a rotisserie gathering lint in a corner of a local body shop. Progress thus far included the floorpan, quarter-panels, and the roof. Dave dragged the whole thing to CRP, making it easy to weld the subframe to the floorpan, reinforce all the suspension pickup points, and build the rollcage. With all welding and fabrication finished (using various photographs of the real car), CRP disassembled the Camaro and brought its members to Carolina Collision in Charlotte for the 2010 Camaro Rally Yellow and Cragar Blue stripes. The Donahue special, of course, was the reverse: Sunoco Blue with yellow accents. The fiberglass cowl-induction hood was an over-the-counter item back in the day for use with the limited production cross-ram manifold. CHP