Project Blank Slate: ’69 Road Racing Clone Camaro Build Update
When it came time to really define the face of Chevy Hardcore, our digital magazine that celebrates the classic era of Chevy musclecars, rebuilding an iconic nameplate for road racing was an obvious choice. When it comes to Chevrolet road racing in the 60s and 70s, nothing stands out more than the pony car designed to conquer the Trans Am series, the Chevrolet Camaro.
Blank Slate Tech Article Archive
Not only are we providing a pretty comprehensive build diary here, but we dive into tech details with full length articles. Check them out below:
The Camaro Z28 package was purpose-built for the SCCA Trans Am road racing series, complete with a specially designed performance package. Finding a Gen 1 Camaro with the Z28 package that is affordable to our blue collar crew is nearly impossible. Car collectors cherish these particular examples of American performance machines.
Like many would-be project car builders, we broadened our search to include any late 60s Camaro.
Because the Camaro nameplate gained popularity so quickly within the first three years, 1969 became a record year in sales for Chevrolet’s value oriented sports car. It stood to reason that our best chances of finding a decent project car would fall into the 1969 model year.
Success came in the form of a basket-case project. Finding a bare bones Camaro SS that the owner was in process of converting into a Z28 clone before calling it quits in the beginning stages, our crew picked up the sad hulk for a decent price.
While the primer gray/faded white on Hugger orange clad beast wasn’t a true Z28, our crew felt obligated to complete the outside restoration as the previous owner had planned.
Our plans to make the exterior a Z28 clone was limited strictly to being skin-deep while hiding a few modern performance secrets under the sheet metal.
Drawing inspiration from the golden era of SCCA Trans-Am series road racing, we planned on some serious street machine upgrades for hardcore road racing and an occasional trip to the local burger stand looking for some Mustangs to eat.
We’re documenting everything in detail for full tech articles on each aspect of this build, but we want to keep you up to date on some of the important milestones we’re passing every month. Bookmark this page – we’ll be updating as we go along, and putting in links to all the detailed stories.
Where do we begin? The car was a hulk when it arrived at the Power Automedia garage but we dove right in and began reworking the car into our vision of what we wanted.
Project Build Diary:
September 3, 2013: Fabricating New Engine Mounts
Things don’t always line up exactly the way you expect them to, especially when you try to shoe horn as much good stuff as possible under the hood. That’s what happened when we got a little aggressive with our ’69 Camaro project car. Our 502 ci LS engine is a work of art and designed specifically for our road racing plans – complete with a dry sump oil system.
After talking with John Schwarz, owner of Avaid, their one-piece, we opted to get their Billet Aviaid dry sump oil pan. It’s good to note, since we’re running a 4.600-inch stroker crank, it was also necessary to run a 3/8-inch spacer between the block and oil pan to give us the clearance needed. Speaking of clearance, Aviaid’s four stage externally mounted dry sump pump requires some additional space when used with this engine combination.We found the that the engine mounts would only fit backwards – that is, the left side mounted on the right and visa-versa. Because the mounts are slightly offset, mounting them backwards provides enough room for the externally mounted dry sump pump. But – and here’s the rub – installing the engine mounts on the wrong side places the engine too far forward in the engine bay. Clearance for other components, like the headers becomes an issue.
So, what do you do when you have a fully functional fabrication shop and need a custom engine mount? You make it, of course.
Our shop dogs used 3/16″ plate steel, a plasma cutter and our Lincoln Electric TIG welder to create our own engine mount. The key to getting it right lies in making an accurate template of the pieces you need to fabricate the mount. We took advantage of the custom fabrication to make a beefier engine mount that incorporated the three mounting bosses on the side of the engine block instead of the forward two that the previous engine mount relied on for mounting.
Once the templates were made and the parts were cut out of the plate steel, our shop dogs TIG welded the pieces together, giving plenty of space to the bushing mounts so that the rubber bushings were not rubbing on the weld and deteriorating with each vibration.
We will be reinstalling our 720 hp engine, along with the newly fabricated engine mounts, once they get a little corrosion treatment and prevention work done.
July 1, 2013: Chris Alston Chassisworks Front Suspension Upgrade
We knew that a chassis upgrade was going to be required to keep our 44-year-old unibody frame from flexing too much. Chassis expert Chris Alston was there to help us figure out what we needed. Alston’s Chassisworks offers several different packages for the classic musclecars that were designed with bolt-on front clips. Our goal with this task was to add a new clip and front suspension to our vintage vehicle while taking advantage of modern technology for performance on the street.
We ended up overhauling the complete front end with Chris Alston Chassisworks Bolt-on g-Machine front clip kit for 1967-1969 Camaros and Firebirds. A fully loaded kit with many different options, we ended up changing everything on the front clip of our project car. The kit includes the g-Machine bolt-on subframe (Part #7701), Camaro body bushings (available in billet or urethane), subframe g-Connectors (Part #5601-20), g-Connector center support (Part #5601-32), a driveshaft safety loop (Part #TCP-DSL-01), side motor mounts (available in LS, SB, BB or V6 style), a transmission crossmember (Part #7951-5916F10002), g-Machine headers (available for SB or BB), rack & pinion steering (available in manual or power), steering column components (for manual or power), tie-rods (optional bumpsteer tie-rods available) and the choice of Street Machine A-arms or g-Machine A-arms.
Also rounding out the kit are billet balljoint covers with screw-in balljoints, a hearty anti-roll bar (Part #916155), g-Machine sculpted spindles (Part #916186) and VariShock coil-over shocks with VariSprings.
We documented the complete upgrade in the article titled: Blank Slate: Chris Alston Chassisworks Front Suspension Upgrade. With our new parts all bolted up, our editorial crew really can’t wait to get out there and put this modern classic to the test – stay tuned.
June 7, 2013: Wrapping up The RHS-Backed, 720HP LSX 502
We wrapped up our LME stroker mill in grand style by adding a bullet-proof top end to the short-block. The 502 cubic-inch foundation has a great history of reliability on the track and on the dyno, so it was an obvious choice. Picking the top end to mate with the proven performance block was a tad more difficult. There are so many great choices, even within RHS family lines. Because we were building this engine for the street, drivability was a key factor in all of our choices.
RHS aluminum LS7 cylinder heads are popular for their flow capabilities. RHS CNC-machined and equipped them for a hydraulic roller camshaft. Oversized Ferrea valves were also a part of the deal. The heavy breathing cylinder heads made it easy to mate up fast flowing intake manifold. We selected FAST’s 102mm LSXR manifold because of the low to mid torque range while carrying horsepower all the way through the upper powerband.
To see all the goodies and why we chose the components we did, check out the article titled: Engine Build Part 2: Wrapping Up The RHS-Backed, 720HP LSX 502.
March 21, 2013: Blank State Gets Stopping Power
The inspiration for our classic Camaro comes from SCCA Trans-Am racing of the late ’60s. Because we wanted to copy that level of road racing, it’s a given that you need top quality brakes to effectively scrub off speed to enter the corners later and exit faster.
To put the racer’s heart into our driveline, we selected Chassisworks/Wilwood brake set for our front and rear brakes. Chassisworks produces a kit specially designed and fabricated for the 1969 Camaro. The brake components are specifically selected to offer significant braking performance for cars that have significant power – just what we were looking for.
On the front we installed Chassisworks’ g-Street 14 Kit (Part # 8323) complete with 14-inch directional-vaned, slotted rotors, billet hats and hubs, caliper adapters,and optional red powdercoated six-piston calipers.
For the rear we chose a kit built for the weight transfer of road racing. The rear 12.19 Kit (Part # 140-7140-D) offers 12.19-inch vented rotors with parking brake, billet aluminum park brake/caliper bracket and optional red powdercoated four-piston caliper.
You can catch the full story on our brake install here: Project Blank Slate: Our ’69 Camaro Gets Chassisworks/Wilwood Brakes.
March 21, 2013: ACTing up with Advanced Clutch Technology’s Twin Disc Kit
Higher horsepower engines require higher horsepower drivetrains. A stronger clutch assembly is more than just adding a stronger pressure plate to the mix. Advanced Clutch Technology (ACT) defines the torque capacity of a clutch as depending on three parameters. Clamp load, surface area and the coefficient of friction all play a role in the strength of a clutch. Knowing that a traditional single disc clutch can hold up to 500 lb/ft reliably, a twin disc can double that amount and hold up to 850 lb-ft without a problem.
Switching to a twin disc clutch can mean tradeoffs in smoothness or pedal effort. ACT’s twin disc kits beef up the torque capacity without the tradeoffs of traditional twin disc upgrades. Looking for a stock-like pedal feel with smooth engagement, we wanted to upgrade to a clutch kit that would be satisfactory in street use but have SFI certification, surface area and clamping power suitable for road racing. After all, we planned on putting our Camaro out on the track.
Our kit featured the 26 spline discs to mate with our T-56 TREMEC transmission. A robust 10.5-inch disc diameter provides the surface area needed for a higher torque engine and all the hardware needed to install the clutch kit. This was exactly what we were looking for to transfer power into motion!
Our gearbox selection was based on the intended purpose of the project car. In Southern California, a slushbox automatic tranny is great for the traffic crowed freeways. For road racing and autocrossing however, a manual trans is the only way to fly.
We selected the TREMEC T56 6-speed manual to bolt behind our big inch LSX. The nice thing is, American Powertrain has worked out all of the specifics with an install package specifically designed for our swap.
The TREMEC T-56 The transmission uses a hydraulic clutch and the entire case, including the bell housing, is made of aluminum. Equipped with a synchromesh made up of brass synchros for GM and Ford applications, the transmission also features internal stops which render stopbolts on the shifter mechanism unnecessary.
What’s not to like about a lightweight gearbox that is rugged enough to handle the rapid gear slamming on a road course and still deliver highway speeds with six gears? Read the full article here: Project Blank Slate: Our ’69 Camaro Gets A Tranny And Clutch.
March 19, 2013: Bolting in the Muscle
Bryan Neelen and his crew at LME put together a mill that would work well in a street car but could also car up some corners in a road race capacity. A broad power curve with the ability to spin 6,500 rpm was our goal.
Highlighting our LME LSX engine is an RHS Aluminum LSX block, Lunati Crankshaft and Connecting Rods with Wiseco custom pistons and Total Seal piston rings. COMP Cams joined the party with a custom grind camshaft and LME topped it off by including an ARP 12 point engine bolt kit for LSX engines.
For extra street cred and big power, LME added set of heavy-breathing RHS aluminum LS7 cylinder heads with oversized, Ferrera valves (2.20/1.61-inch intake/exhaust valves) and 69cc chambers. Matched it with a FAST 102mm LSXR manifold to maximize low- and mid-range torque and we were thinking about setting some records.
Our shop dawgs couldn’t wait to bolt the new muscle into the engine bay so we let them plug it in but it would be some time before we actually got to play with it.
February 26, 2013: Brute LSX Muscle and 502 Cubic Inches. The Short Block Build
The first basic question that any project build has to deal with is: Show or GO? Where do you put your resources first? If you want something nice to look at and want to risk scratching a nice paint job, you work on the exterior first. If you want a project car that looks like hell but sounds like a jet fighter, you do what we did and order a 502 LSX engine from Late Model Engines.
Planning an engine build is one of the most detail-oriented projects in the entire build. With a market that has performance parts for everything under the sun, getting the right combination of engine parts can be challenging. We rounded up the ultimate “think-tank” and worked with LME to plan out a package that was guaranteed to smoke some rubber.
The foundation of our short block build centered around RHS‘s 9.75-inch tall-deck aluminum block. RHS’s tall deck block with outside priority main oiling allows us the rod clearance for a 4.6-inch stroke and cut down the windage effects in the bottom end.
We have some other performance tricks in store for our big cube beast. A dry sump lubrication system, Lunati stroker crank and 6.3″ lightweight connecting rods topped off with Wiseco 11.5:1-compression pistons.
To gain an upper hand in the rev department, we went with a COMP Cams custom grind, hydraulic roller ‘stick with 254/266 degrees duration and 0.660/0.660-inch lift at 0.050 on a 114 LSA.
We’ve also gone with a set of COMP Cams short travel hydraulic race lifters that are purpose built for higher engine speeds.
ARP, Clevite, and Total Seal also feature prominent roles in our build. For engine management, we opted for the F.A.S.T. XFI unit. This combo promises an eye-popping 720 horses and 669 foot-pounds of torque at 5300 RPM.
February 21, 2013: We Finally Get Rolling
After months of making plans, discussing powerplant options, talking transmissions and chassis cures, we finally were rewarded with our first actual component installation. There’s nothing like a new part to energize a project build, and we hit the jackpot with a set of Forgeline wheels.
Traction is a touchy subject. Any racer can tell you that there’s only so much traction available at any given time, and when it runs out… it’s gone. Getting a grip on traction management goes a lot deeper than tires, shocks and chassis. Wheels also play a significant role in helping manage the traction available.
We worked with the technical team at Forgeline to determine the best combination for an autocrossing, road racing, Gen 1 Camaro. Serious thought was given to the braking options and chassis upgrades. It was almost as if we were reverse engineering the build from the wheels back to the engine.
We ended up with 18 x 12 inches wheels for the rear and 18 x 9.5 inches for the front. Looking for style as much as effectiveness, we selected the SC3C Concave style wheels for the muscular look to match the performance level of Forgeline’s custom made-to-order three-piece wheels.
Finally, we were rolling again. This time we were rolling along with quality.
October 12, 2012: Getting Balanced with ATI’s Super Damper
A last minute upgrade to our monster LSX engine build called for ATI Performance Products‘ Super Damper. We wanted a damper that had the SFI 18.1 rating while reducing and eliminating torsional crankshaft vibrations. Putting our road racing Camaro on the autocross course was going to subject the engine to rapid acceleration and deceleration. The Super Damper is exactly what we needed in a high horsepower engine running at high RPMs to take corners at higher speeds.
The complete development of the engine package, along with the selection of ATI’s Super Damper will be presented in a future article at a later date. If you want to read about our inclusion of ATI’s Super Damper, READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.
June 28, 2011: Event Planning
Our project car was still waiting for shop time so we did the next best thing… bench racing. We covered the bench racing session in our project car update: Autocrossing Events We Should Attend.
Dreaming of tackling the course at the Del Mar Nationals Goodguys Custom Car Show was double trouble for us. The event is held in the Spring and returns to Del Mar in the fall for the Fall Del Mar Nationals. At both of these events, three classes of vehicles are timed as they go through the autocross course. Because our Camaro is newer than 1955, we would participate in the Street Machine class. Certainly we could get our project car done in time to meet the fall deadline?
June, 2011: Finding Our Look
In June we found ourselves thinking about paint schemes for the Blank Slate project car. After all, we working with a blank slate. Project update “Mulling Over Paint Scheme Ideas,” took us into the realm of race Camaros and professional autocross car’s exterior looks.
It occurred to us that many of the well known Camaros used variations of the factory colors in a new original exterior paint scheme, while a few of the very best sported a single color where they would fit in with other plainly painted cars in the pits. The plain look deception was quickly dispelled when these cars took their turns dominating the autocross course.
In the end, we decided to wait before committing to a single paint scheme. We still didn’t know if sporting a “sleeper” type average exterior look or something a bit more wild would suit our vintage Gen 1 Camaro.
May, 2011: Planning
Our build team were elbow’s deep in other project vehicle builds which allowed us to spend our time doing a little research on building a road race/autocross Camaro. Our project car update, “How To Create an Autocross Camaro,” examined the subject by interviewing the Pros like Steve Rupp and Mary Pozzi. We found out what makes Rupp’s “Bad Penny” ’67 Camaro and Optima’s “One Lap Camaro” the top performers in their field.
October 12, 2010: Taking Delivery and Deciphering What We Have
Our bare hulk project car rolled into the garage with little more than the previous owner’s story. We decided to take a closer look at the information available, which boiled down to the VIN tag and Cowl tag, to figure out what we could about this once proud Camaro.
Understanding where the car started would give us some ideas on where we wanted to go with this build.
Decoding the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) was not a difficult task. Chevrolet kept pretty decent records in their Southern California assembly plants.
The first two digits in the VIN identified the chassis as being a Chevrolet Camaro (1= Chevrolet, 2= Camaro). The third digit lets us know that the original car came with an 8 cylinder engine. The 37 that is next in line tells us the body was a coupe and not the convertible with the number 9 signifying the chassis as a 1969 model. The letter L identifies the chassis as being assembled in the Los Angeles assembly plant with the final 6 digits representing the vehicle serial number.
The Camaro serial numbers in 1969 started at 500001 and continued sequentially. Our project car represented the 25,193 Camaro ordered and built in 1969. Considering that a total of 243,085 Camaros were assembled in 1969, we had a good feeling about getting one of the early ones.
The Cowl Tag
More information was available from the cowl tag, which is located on the firewall in the engine compartment, on the driver’s side. We were able to identify that our project car began assembly on the 3rd week of February in 1969. The cowl tag also clued us in on the Ivory/Black interior with Hugger Orange exterior color codes. Sadly, we found out that our project car was a standard car with no extra options. It began life as a plain Jane bare bones Camaro.