Every car guy we know, dreams of going back in time and buying their dream car, brand new at the dealer’s office. Imagine sitting down in front of the salesman with a book of options and picking each detail to make the car your own — like a kid in the most expensive candy store possible. You pick the engine, transmission, rearend, interior and exterior colors, sign the papers, and it’s yours.
For the lucky few, that experience isn’t a wish, but rather, a memory they get to carry with them for a lifetime. For an even smaller population, it’s more than just a memory. Fred Ficarra of Seabeck, Washington, bought this 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS/RS brand new in 1969, on his 21st birthday. Decades later, he still has the car, still runs it at the local track, and drives it on the highways and back roads of Kitsap county.
When it was brand new and still had the window sticker on it, I hot-lapped it 18 times at Bremerton Raceway in one afternoon. – Fred Ficarra
A Junior-High School Dream
Fred wanted a Camaro even before they had been designed or announced by Chevrolet. “I was in junior high school when the Mustang was released,” Fred said. “It didn’t matter what the car was going to look like, I was going to buy Chevrolet’s answer to the Mustang.” Fred has always been a Chevrolet guy, and he knew that whatever Chevy came out with to counter the Mustang was going to be fast, mean, and one of the coolest cars ever produced by GM.
Fast forward a few years to when Chevrolet started teasing people with a few little details about the impending release. “We didn’t know what it was going to be called. At first, we thought it was going to be called the Panther. When they finally released the real name, Camaro, we all wondered what that meant since it was not a real word,” Fred said with a chuckle. Later, Chevrolet released a statement saying that a Camaro was a small animal that devoured Mustangs. But, this was long before anyone knew the kind of beast that the Camaro would finally become.
Fred wanted to buy the Camaro as soon as it was announced, but buyers had to be 21 years old to finance a car. Fred had not yet reached that magical age. Financing could be done before that age, but only with a co-signer. That didn’t work for Fred’s situation. “My folks weren’t rich enough to co-sign,” he said. So, his only option was to wait. Finally, in 1969, on his 21st birthday, he went to the dealership and placed his order.
Buying The Car
“I had a ’61 Impala bubbletop that I had painted red. That’s what I wanted, I was going to get basically the same color on my Camaro. But, Chevrolet announced Hugger Orange, and it was like holding up a warning sign.” Fred continued, “At first, I thought I was too modest to drive something like that, everyone would be looking at me.” He was still going to choose red, that is, until he was pulling into the dealer lot. That’s when he changed his mind and decided to go with the Orange hue. He couldn’t be happier with the decision.
Going into the dealership, Fred was prepared. He new exactly what he wanted. The first thing on his list was a 12-bolt rearend with 4.10 gears and Positraction. He felt everything else would be useless if he didn’t have that. Then, he selected the 396 cubic-inch powerplant that was rated at 375 horsepower. He also chose the Turbo 400 automatic transmission.
After the drivetrain was decided upon, he added the RS package to compliment the SS upgrade. He then pulled the trigger and ordered the Hugger Orange paint and added spoilers, Endura bumper, console gauges, an 8-track player, and a parchment vinyl top. “In 1969, you had to know what you were doing to order a really high-performance car from the factory, there wasn’t an actual option for it,” Fred told us.
A Lifelong Love Affair
While everything else in life was met with change, Fred’s Camaro has remained the one constant. The car itself has seen little changes through the years, but it’s always been there. The title has never left Fred’s hands – at this point, we’re sure it never will.
“We didn’t have garages back then, so the car sat outside 24/7,” Fred explained. It was his daily driver until 1975, when he bought a house with a garage. “I was tired of jacking it up to clean the bottom every time I washed it. It was time to get a new car,” he said. Fred bought a brand new 1975 Chevy Monza to become his new daily driver, and the Camaro moved into the garage.
The car lived outside just long enough for the paint to dull to a point where Fred wanted to freshen it up. In 1979, he repainted the car and redid the stripes how he wanted them. Fred prefers the rounded corners of the hood and trunk lid stripes, and he removed the hockey-stick stripe from the sides. The paint on the car now is that same paint from 1979. Decades later, it still looks almost new.
The engine in the car now, was actually a purchase that Fred made before he even bought the Camaro. A friend of his was running the 427 cubic-inch big-block in his race car, but he was running in a stock class as an L78 396 cubic-inch Camaro. Someone found out and he was disqualified. He decided to sell the engine so he could make the car class legal. He was only asking $450 for the block and rotating assembly. That was too good of a deal to pass up, so Fred bought it.
Fred did not like the weight of the 396’s factory heads and wanted to lose some weight. “I told John that I wanted the aluminum heads that were on the 427 engine, and he said he wanted $450 and my iron heads. The last I heard, he still has my original heads on his truck! Those old iron heads were a back-breaker to pull out, even at age 21,” he stated with a laugh. Eventually, Fred pulled the original 396ci engine after it had a catastrophic failure — and at the least likely place possible. Although Fred used his car to race since day one of ownership, the failure happened when the car was idling in his driveway.
The car was idling in my driveway and the engine went bang, bang, bang. I shut it off as quickly as I could, but the damage had already been done – Fred
“The car was idling in my driveway and the engine went bang, bang, bang. I shut it off as quickly as I could, but the damage had already been done,” Fred said. He found that one of the exhaust seats in the aluminum heads had come out and severely damaged the engine. It was going to be prohibitively expensive to rebuild the mill, but he had a nearly ready-to-drive 427 cubic-incher in the garage. He opted to go with the spare engine he bought from his friend, John, years earlier. The car’s been running with that engine ever since.
A Track Car At New, A Track Car At Fifty
“When it was brand new with the window sticker on it, I hot-lapped it 18 times at Bremerton Raceway in one afternoon,” Fred said. All he wanted to do was to get it into the 13-second zone. Unfortunately, the best it would do was mid 14s. The speed was less than 110 mph. The car was experiencing severe wheel hop, which caused a lack of traction. Fred added some traction bars to the rearend and was then able to achieve a 13.31-second e.t. at 108.88 mph.
He raced the car hard while it was still under warranty, and he still races it just as hard. It’s been consistently run at the track in Bremerton, Washington, for decades. He has changed a few things in the time since it was new, and has been able to achieve some very impressive quarter-mile times.
Although he is still running the 427 cubic-inch big-block engine, the original Turbo 400 transmission is no longer in the car. Don’t fear, it’s safe under his work bench in his shop. Now, he is running a Coan-built Turbo 400 with an 8-inch converter that shifts via a manual valve body. Fred has also added an Edelbrock sequential fuel-injection system that is controlled via Bluetooth by an Android tablet hidden in the dash.
After all those passes in its life, the car is pretty well dialed in. “My best time, so far, is a 10.49 at 128.8 mph,” Fred told us. He’s tried, but still hasn’t been able to duplicate it. “It’s a mid-10-second car. It’s just tuning. I’ll get it someday,” he added.
For hundreds of pictures that span decades, check out Fred’s website at ss427.net. For more pictures from our photo shoot, check out the gallery below.