Old-time hot rodders will tell you that real men build their own cars. They'll also add, with a wink, that it's almost always cheaper to buy your next ride than it is to build it. When you add the cost of the parts to the time you spend installing them, you become intimately acquainted with the terms "labor of love!" For those with the time, tools, talent, and tenacity, the build becomes an unforgettable experience. No one will know your car better than you do. But, if you struggle through the project without some of those vital elements, chances are you might be less than satisfied with the outcome.
For the guy enjoying life in a high-rise condo with tools that fit in the kitchen drawer, buying a finished vehicle may be the perfect solution. First of all, you'll know if you like it just by looking and you'll know the total cost of your entertainment up front. When you road test it, you'll also know whether the car's performance, handling, comfort, and a host of other factors fit your needs. And finally, don't forget time. Building your dream car could take months or sometimes years but if you buy, you could be motoring home that afternoon.
None of these considerations were lost on Lee Henson, president of Black Ops Moto in Apopka, Florida. Lee's been a lifelong enthusiast of both cars and motorcycles and is lucky enough to make a living doing something he loves. His company produces aftermarket coils and ECUs for dirt bikes and street bikes. Lee could easily build his own car, but the joys of family life and the demands of a new business leave very little free time.
When he decided to add a unique ride to his collection, the choice of vehicles was simple. The first-gen Camaro was one of his lifelong dreams. Although introduced in 1967, Chevy hit one out of the park with their one-year-only blend of style and performance in 1969, a design that is as popular today as it was when it was released more than four decades ago. Because of time constraints, Lee's second choice was simple as well.
Rather than going through the process of building his own, he began a concerted search for an already-complete addition to the Lee garage. The Internet turned up lots of possibilities but one, in particular, stood out from all the rest. Located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the '69 SS had been professionally built, sold by the builder, and eventually became part of an estate sale when the second owner died. The custom Camaro had been languishing in a warehouse for almost a year. When Lee contacted the dealership who bought the estate collection, the general manager sent him a video of the car and that sealed the deal. Lee bought the car sight unseen and had it shipped to his home in Apopka. Was it the right car for him?
The car was delivered just a few days after his birthday, making it a belated gift definitely worth waiting for and, checking the paperwork, Lee found that he and the car shared the same production date of September 1969! Yeah, we'd say the car was a good fit. Lee's wife, Michelle, and son, Colton, enjoy regular rides in the newest addition to the family. Much of the information learned about the car occurred as a result of conversations with the original builder, Jimmy Davis of JD Glassworks in Lubbock, Texas.
Because racetrack speeds were never the goal, the stock chassis was retained, upgraded with a modern RideTech air suspension that put altitude control at the driver's fingertips. 'Bags on all four corners are activated through a combination of a RideTech compressor, 3-gallon reserve tank mounted in front of the car's 16-gallon fuel cell, 1/4-inch lines, and a host of hidden valves and solenoids. Dash-mounted controls and gauges help the driver keep track.
Matching the exterior theme perfectly, the interior sports the popular black and orange houndstooth upholstery, first introduced in 1968. Custom door panels and the unique center console were sprayed a matching orange. The console holds the controls for the elaborate audiovisual system while the dash holds the Clarion DVD player and the Dakota Digital switches for the air suspension.
Rollers & Stoppers
Stainless Steel Brakes scrub off the momentum, employing 12-inch rotors up front and 10-inch versions in the rear, all with dual-piston calipers. Ensuring there's plenty of room for those big brakes and adding to the aggressive stance of the car, the front wheels are Billet Specialties 18x8 and the rear are 20x10. Hankook V12 Evo tires grip like Velcro (245/40-18 up front and 275/35-20 out back).
Although the original V-8 in the Camaro was quick for its day, the replacement GM Ram Jet 350 V-8 made a dramatic improvement even in stock form. With a cast-iron block and crank along with iron Vortec heads, the electronically controlled port fuel-injection system, hydraulic roller cam, and 9.4:1 compression combine to create impressive horsepower numbers. Spent gases exit through Doug's Headers and dump into a ceramic-coated 3-inch exhaust system. The distinctive muscle car sound happens thanks to a pair of Flowmaster mufflers. The combination cranks out a healthy 410 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque. Shiny additions underhood include Billet Specialties valve covers, breathers, engine pulleys, overflow tank, radiator cover, polished strut bars, brake booster, and hood hinges while the two-tone engine room showcases the modern V-8. Multiplying the power is a new 700-R4 transmission replacing the Turbo 400 originally in the car. Since Lee drives it every chance he gets, he wanted a tall overdrive gear for improved mileage. The new transmission is fitted with Raybestos clutches, a TransGo shift kit, and a Lokar shifter. The 3.08 limited-slip differential creates twin black streaks when the long skinny pedal hits the floor.
Creating a home-theater level of audiovisual entertainment begins with the powerful but compact Clarion single-DIN, DVS9755Z head unit, capable of DVD video and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound using the matching Clarion VMA7191 7-inch screen. It incorporates a parametric equalizer to control the multiple amplifiers and 15 speakers. Inside the cab, a single 10-inch sub mounted underdash begins the musical package, augmented by a pair of 4-inch speakers in the dash. Four (almost invisible!) 6.5-inch component sets are cleverly positioned in angled fiberglass enclosures directly in front of both bucket seats. Four more 4-inch units, built into the rear package tray, wrap up the inside speaker mix. But that's just the beginning.
The stereo-filled trunk uses three JBL/MB Quart amps to create a total of 6,000 watts. The pair of smaller JBL amplifiers, mounted left and right on the trunk walls, activate the mids and highs in the cab as well as the pair of 4-inch coaxial sets in their bright orange fiberglass housings. The centrally mounted MB Quart RAA2400 two-channel amp drives the 10-inch JBL sub mounted underdash inside as well as powering the pair of huge JBL 12-inch subs, with their baskets visible from the trunk and firing into the cab through the rear seat. A fuse box and additional EQ were added to the side walls. Everything is lighted in bright orange at night.