If you ask Agoura Hills, California, resident Chris Brooks what he considers to be the ultimate muscle car, he’ll probably just point to his immaculate, Hugger Orange ’69 Camaro SS you see on these pages. In our gear-grinding minds, car guys all have what we consider to be the model that embodies what a muscle car should be. Some hold the ’70 Chevelle SS454 as the ultimate muscle machine, others say a Pontiac started it all (pshaw, whatever), but to a lot of people like Chris, GM’s Mustang rival is what they think of when they hear the term muscle car.
After searching high and low for a solid specimen, Chris’ quest ended in New Mexico where he found a rust-free ’69 Camaro that was sitting for 15 years. “I actually have a ’68 Chevelle too, but I always wanted a ’69 Camaro. To me, a ’69 SS is the best muscle car ever, so when I found one on Craigslist, I made a deal with a guy and it was set to be delivered.” Chris almost didn’t get to purchase the car after the seller tried to increase the price at the last minute, but after some negotiating, he was able to drive away with what would become one sanitary ’69.
For the next three years, Chris slaved away in his garage getting his ride ready for paint and assembly. “It was originally going to be a totally stock restoration, but I decided to change some key areas,” Chris says. Those key areas included an overdrive-equipped automatic transmission, which is engaged by a factory high-beam switch, from Hughes and a much more powerful powerplant than what a typical resto build would have. Instead of a boring, flat-tappet factory 350 like the SS came with, Chris opted for a killer 406 from Vrbancic Racing. “Bob and George [Vrbancic] did a great job on the engine,” Chris says. “I don’t ever have to wonder if it will fire up in the morning and when I want to go fast, the power is there.” A pump gas fueled 500 hp under the toe of Chris means manageability on the street, with enough power to get around even modern muscle cars.
We actually got to drive this car on the day of the photo shoot, and we can say with confidence that this ride is much faster than it looks, but you couldn’t tell from the sound of it. Dynomax designed an exhaust system that’s not too obnoxious, but still provides a healthy rumble when it counts. Teasing the Camaro’s floorpan with the bottom of the throttle pedal results in a neck-snapping roar, a squeal from the BFGoodriches, and a grin across your face you cannot stop.
Danny Booker of Team Green Motorsports was a huge help in getting this car together. Details such as wiring the overdrive, installing the progressive throttle linkage and plumbing the dual carbs was all handled by Booker. “I was after a car that would seriously haul ass, but be fun and comfortable to drive, yet look stock-ish,” By the look and feel of the final product we’d say Chris nailed it.
Under the louvered, steel hood is a stout 406 small-block by Vrbancic Brothers Racing in Ontario, California. Chris wanted a reliable combo for his Chevy, but he also wanted enough horsepower to turn heads with a healthy rumble as well. An iron 400 block was chosen and stuffed with Diamond Pistons that provide approximately 9.8:1 compression, which allows Chris to run pump fuel. Scat connecting rods reciprocate around a Lunati crankshaft. Topping the 406 is a classic Offenhauser intake manifold that sports dual 600-cfm Holley carburetors. Knowing dual quads can be temperamental to tune for the street, Chris recruited the carburetion experts at The Carb Shop in Ontario who were able to make it purr like a kitten at idle and roar like a snow leopard wide open. A set of ProComp cylinder heads were prepared by Bob Morgan and a valvetrain from COMP Cams, including the rocker arms and timing set, was chosen to manipulate Manley’s pushrods, valves, and springs. The oiling system for Chris’ 406 was handled by Moroso and the spent fumes exits through Dynomax stainless mufflers.
Opening the door of this orange sleeper reveals a sane office consisting of pieces from National Parts Depot. Much like a lot of the car, Chris assembled the interior of his SS using all the period-correct parts, including a factory tachometer and gauge-equipped center console. Instead of factory instrumentation however, Chris replaced the console gauges with pieces from Auto Meter for a subtle but modern look and function. A factory-style steering wheel also from NPD allows the driver to control the turns, while factory fresh pedals accelerate and decelerate the whole shebang. At the driver’s right is GM’s famous “horseshoe” shifter, which connects to a Hughes TH350 transmission.
Once Chris had the Camaro at his home in sunny Southern California, he contacted Linda Moghtader, at Mid-Valley Auto Body in Tarzana, where the old paint was stripped off and each panel was painted Hugger Orange before assembly. Extensive cleaning, sanding, and painting went into getting the car looking as sharp as it does. The whole frame, engine bay, and undercarriage have been stripped and painted and traditional SS stripes adorn the exterior for a factory look. The “350” badges, hood louvers, and even the bumpers are spotless on this car.
Being a street car means no rollcage, no tubular control arms, no mini-tubs, just a powerful cruiser that’s at home in the car show as well as the highways. To help the Camaro plant its tires while still utilizing leaf springs, Chris went with Calvert Racing’s CalTracs bars, which transfer weight over the rear tires more effectively under heavy acceleration. Other chassis upgrades include Hotchkis subframe connectors, Addco sway bars for limited body roll, and absorbing harsh road bumps are KYB shocks at each corner.
One of the main reasons we think this car is neat is its sleeper style, which we feel has a lot to do with the wheels and tires it has. Instead of crazy billets or super lightweight racer wheels, steel rims with dog-dish hubcaps roll at each corner of this sedate-looking ride. Classic BFGoodrich radial T/As wrap each dog-dished wheel and the whole ride comes to a stop with Wilwood disc brakes. chp