Dan Nickel of Marshall, Wisconsin, still remembers his first crush--it began the same day he got his driver's license. The object of his affection was a killer '69 Z/28, and he fantasized about driving it to and from school. Unfortunately, Dan and the Z/28 came from different worlds, and he ended up spending his high school years with a clapped-out four-wheeler instead.
Dan never forgot that first Camaro. A few years after high school he even briefly hooked up with an '80 Z28 just because it reminded him of the '69. That didn't work out, and Dan took a long break from car crafting until 1999 when everything came together. Armed with a supportive wife and some hard-earned savings, Dan found a venerable first-gen Camaro and began building his version of the ultimate street machine.
Like most projects, what was supposed to be a simple paint job took on a life of its own and turned into a complete ground-up restoration. After the body was stripped to its shell, Dan enlisted Musclecar Restorations in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to remove and replace all traces of cancerous sheetmetal caused by years of exposure to Wisconsin's salty winter roads. Six months later, a mild small-block 350 was dropped between the fenderwells, and a Richmond five-speed was mounted for comfortable cruising. Dan's still trying to decide whether to drop in a mega-horsepower crate motor or to perform a fuel-injection conversion. What started out as a high school crush has bloomed into an ongoing love affair.
The factory interior has been meticulously restored except for the original front and rear
CAR CRAFT Q&A
Car Craft: Some people find project cars in old barns. Where did you locate yours?
Dan Nickel: Actually, it was in the classifieds, but it might have been cheaper if I did find it in a barn.
CC: What condition was your Z/28 in when you bought it?
DN: Let's just say I should have probably started with another chassis. We had to replace the framerails, parts of the firewall, the front frame supports, both doors, rear quarter-panels, the trunk, and the floorpan.
CC: How difficult was it to transplant the Richmond five-speed?
DN: Really simple. I only had to relocate the crossmember an inch and it bolted right in with the stock driveshaft.
CC: Any foreseeable updates?
DN: I'd like to do a fuel-injection conversion or maybe drop in a 500hp crate motor. Oh, and definitely redo the original seats!
CC: Why? The seats look great.
DN: They may look great, but you'd feel differently after riding on them for five hours from Marshall to St. Paul.
The freshened 350ci small-block features a mild rebuild with performance enhancements that
Car: Dan Nickel's '69 Chevy Camaro Z/28
Engine: 350ci small-block Chevy
Heads: Cast-iron GM double hump, 2.02/1.94 intake/exhaust valves
Induction: Edelbrock Performer RPM, Holley 650-cfm carb
Camshaft: GM LT-1, 205/207 degrees duration at 0.050-inch lift, 0.447/0.459-inch lift
Power (est.): 300 hp
Transmission: Richmond five-speed, Centerforce clutch, Hurst shifter
Rearend: GM 12-bolt, 3.31:1 gears
Suspension: PST bushings, PST 2-inch drop springs, PST shocks, front; PST leaf springs, KYB shocks, rear
Brakes: GM 11-inch discs, front; GM9.5-inch drums, rear
Wheels and tires: 16x7 American Racing Torq-Thrust II with Yokohama P205/55R16 radials front; 16x8 American Racing Torq-Thrust II with Yokohama P245/50R16 radials, rear
Paint: PPG Hugger Orange with black stripes by John Balow at Musclecar Restorations in Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Cost to build: Too much