Webster's defines an obsession as "an irrational motive for performing repetitive actions against your will." Nothing seems to describe my affinity for Camaros better than that. I guess you could call it Obsessive Camaro Disorder (OCD). I became afflicted with this disease well before I could drive, influenced by my father, Nicholas Trush, and his stacks of car magazines from the '50s and '60s. Those early experiences helped shape my interest in automobiles of all types, but I've always had a soft spot for the Camaro.
Ever since I was 16 and learned to drive, I have always owned an F-body in some shape or form. The first was a '78 Camaro that my parents bought new when I was 7 and that was passed down to my brother who beat it into the ground until he bought a new car. I ended up with it when I was 16. That car served me well for 18 months until it started to fall apart. The second round came in the form of a '78 Z28 with a healthy small-block, a four-speed, and a NOS Powershot system. It was quite a well-known car on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit. I never had the nerve to use the nitrous, as I was afraid of blowing the engine apart. I was only 17 and in high school, and the job I had scooping ice cream would hardly cover the cost of replacing the engine. My third bout with OCD came in the form of a '67 RS/SS with a 396. This was the first true restoration I accomplished, and it was a nice driver, but I still considered it merely a placeholder-I always had my heart set on a '69 four-speed convertible. Little did I know, the object of my desire was about to be dragged into a friend's garage.
I still remember that day in 1990 when my best friend Jeff Hanson called me to come over and see what his father had brought home. I was 19 and working two jobs at the time. Mr. Hanson told me he found a real deal on a '69 Camaro convertible and figured he would finish bolting on the sheetmetal, get it running, and sell it off to make some money. The moment I saw the car, I had to have it. Actually, "had" is an understatement-it became a moral imperative to own this car. The way I saw it, I was meant to have it. I immediately put "For Sale" signs on my '67 and every time I saw him, I begged Mr. Hanson to sell me the Camaro. I am sure if you were to ask him today what the definition of persistence is, he would think of me.
There was a problem with my grand plan though. Not many people were interested in buying my '67, which was the only way I could hope to afford the convertible. I was watching my dream of topless motoring quickly dissipate with every potential buyer who came to see the '69.
Once again, my father stepped in at just the right moment. He decided he might enjoy having an old car again-specifically, my '67 Camaro. I never asked him if he really wanted that car, or whether he just couldn't stand listening to me groaning day after day about how I was going to lose out on my dream car. Days after he took possession of my '67, I bought the '69 convertible. That was over 14 years ago.
This is where the story gets interesting. The convertible was a nice driver. When I went away to college, I drove the hell out of it every summer, working on it when necessary, and always dreading putting it away for the long Michigan winters when I returned to Central Michigan University. It remained a nice stock driver for 9 years. Throughout the years (as anyone who has owned a car for this long can tell you) many experiences, good and bad, help foster your love affair with these vehicles. While most people have great memories, such as meeting their soul mate in their car, or driving cross-country in their '32 roadster, most of my memories are scarier than the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie.
One of the worst was the time I took my car to the St. Ignace car show in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I had just arrived for the weekend festivities, and after driving for 5 hours with the top down and sun beating down on me, I decided that a nice cool dip in the pool was in order. I parked the car, and 20 minutes later I was on my way to the pool when I heard people screaming "Stop! Stop!" I turned around just in time to see a gentlemen in a Model T-this one must have had 11/44-inch-thick steel fenders-careen right into my Camaro. Apparently, the guy was backing out his brother's Model T but didn't know where the brake was. I ended up with a smashed quarter-panel; the T's fender sustained a small chip in the paint.
Needless to say, my weekend was ruined. The whole incident only took a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. I will give credit to the driver though. He was flailing about so frantically trying to figure out how to stop, that at first I thought he had some kind of medical condition. Happily, the owner of the Model T made everything right-note to readers: If someone hits you, it's better if he's a millionaire with his own restoration shop. Sorry Allstate, you lose.
Yes, I have many more warm and fuzzy memories, like when the threads pulled out of the nut on the lower ball joint just as I pulled into my driveway. The car did a Back to the Future II Delorean impersonation-you know, where the tire goes horizontal before take-off? My Camaro dropped on the frame and skidded about 2 feet. The car was hanging halfway in my driveway and halfway in the street with a crunched fender. Ironically, that was the day after I returned from the St. Ignace car show, just 2 years later.
Still, the worst of all incidents resulted in the damage shown in the accompanying photos. To make a long story short, picture a 15-year-old girl with a permit, Grandma in the passenger seat, and my Camaro with a smashed door and another wrinkled quarter-panel. When my wife arrived on the scene, she thought someone had been killed, as I was sobbing uncontrollably on the car. (She still reminds me about that to illustrate how ridiculous I am about this car. Is that the definition of OCD?)
Still distraught, I towed the car to a friend, Jim Bielecki, of JimTech Inc., in Clinton Township. Michigan. We talked over the repairs, and he said, "If I paint that one area, the rest of the car will look really bad." So I decided to go ahead and have the entire car repainted. The lacquer that was on the car was deteriorating and really showing its age. I disassembled the entire car and sent it to Ace Stripping for media-blasting,
I will never forget Jim's phone call to me when the car returned to his shop. It was like a scene from the television crime drama C.S.I. "Jeff, you'd better come down here..." To my horror, my 10 years of driving added to the miles put on by previous owners had taken its toll on the structure of the car. It needed new quarters, floorboards, toe boards, and trunk fillers and extensions. The area under the rear seat had to be completely fabricated, as it had almost entirely rotted away, and replacement panels were not available. The car had to have the rockers repaired as well.
Here's the best part. Apparently Liquid Nails can be an effective rust-hole plug if applied with sufficient sarcasm. We had to remove about a gallon of stuff plugging holes in the shock towers. Worse yet, the rear framerails were barely hanging on. There was also some pretty impressive backyard welding done within the wheelwells using some scrap metal and what looked like an old license plate.
Everyone in the world thinks they have a solid car, but let me tell you from experience, nothing is solid when it meets the dreaded media blaster. That tool really separates solid from rusty. I distinctly remember thinking back to all the times I said, "Oh yeah, it's a solid body" with "perfect floors." I couldn't have been more wrong.
Once JimTech had repaired all the sheetmetal (which took months), the car was placed on a rotisserie for paint. I was originally going to restore the car back to stock specs with an aftermarket cross-ram intake and some other nice pieces. But after a visit to Kyle Tucker's Detroit Speed and Engineering shop, I was hooked. I was bitten by the Pro Touring bug and I decided to take the car in a different direction. This was during the winter of 2000. I wanted the paint to still resemble the original Dover White and Hugger Orange, but I wanted it to pop when the sun hit it. I suggested the Orange Pearl, and Jim added the PPG Candy Orange stripes. It turned out better than I expected, as the car really transforms when the sun hits it. The car is actually pearled top and bottom with shaved wipers for a cleaner look.
When it came to the suspension, being a Project Engineer for GM Powertrain and working at the Proving Grounds in Milford, I have become accustomed to the handling and performance of newer sports cars. I wanted that same type of all-around performance wrapped in the classic style of my '69. I opted to install a complete Hotchkis Performance suspension, including dropped springs, de-arched leafs, hollow 111/48-inch front and 71/48-inch rear sway bars, tubular upper control arms, and solid tie-rod adjusters from Detroit Speed and Engineering. I also added a 12.7:1 quick-ratio steering box from AGR Industries. The car absolutely corners now like it's on rails. The original 15-inch Rally wheels were not going to cut it anymore, so I installed 18x8 and 18x9 Center Line Lazer wheels mounted with Toyo Proxes T1-S tires, 235/40-18 and P245/45-18, respectively. Amazingly, the wheels and tires required one of the longest and most laborious decisions of the entire build.
My Camaro cruised like a new car, but I wanted it to stop like one too. I opted for Baer Track brakes with two-piece Eradispeed 13.5-inch rotors up front and 12-inchers in the rear. I also installed a Hydroboost system from Paul Clark at Hydratech Braking Systems to supply the braking pressure I wanted, which was more than the limited engine vacuum could provide. You'd better have your seatbelt on now, or stomping on the brakes will send you through the windshield.
With the brakes and chassis sorted out, I turned to Tyler Crockett Marine Engines to build a powerful and capable small-block for the car. Tyler delivered a 352ci small-block that puts out 470 hp and 430 lb-ft on his engine dyno-plenty of power to push this Camaro around. I wanted the car to have a unique look to the engine compartment, so I called on Kyle Tucker at Detroit Speed to hammer out a new airbox based on my design and using parts from a used Winston Cup airbox I bought from Muscle Motorsports. Kyle delivered big time, punching out the firewall to allow cool air to come through the cowl vent and into the carb. I also tried to keep the engine compartment as clean as possible, hiding all of the wiring, and relocating all of the ignition components under the dash. Another area that almost everyone comments about is the brushed exterior trim that gives a more modern high-tech look.
The interior also yielded to more modern styling cues. I installed a custom Covans Dash filled with carbon-fiber Auto Meter gauges. I acquired a set of Viper GTS seats, and, believe it or not, had new covers made by Kay in mid-Michigan. The work she does is outstanding. I delivered two stock Viper seats and two rolls of material, and two weeks later Kay calls me up and says "they're done"-all for a whopping $100 total. I gave her $200. (She is my little secret, so don't call me looking for her number.) The seats still retain the original look with the houndstooth material but are bolstered for those open-track days and are comfortable enough to drive cross-country.
In order to drive cross-country, a mere four-speed wasn't going to cut it. I needed overdrive, or better yet, two overdrives. I called on Tyler Beauregard at American Touring Specialties in Las Vegas for a T56 installation kit. The transmission is an LT1-style Borg-Warner T56 six-speed that bolted right in. I chose a Centerforce flywheel and a McLeod clutch with a custom shifter from Detroit Speed topped off with a carbon-fiber shift knob from a European Escort race car. There is nothing quite like blasting down the left lane on a freeway in a 30-year-old car at 75 mph turning 2,000 rpm. It is truly a religious experience.
The 13-inch steering wheel is from Grant. I also relocated the e-brake between the seats, much like a modern car would have, using Lokar E-Brake and cables. When it came time for the top, I called on Jerry at All American Auto Upholstery in Romulus, Michigan, who installed the new top perfectly.
It is hard to believe that what started out as a quickie fix snowballed into a 3-year nut-and-bolt restification completed with equity loans and creative refinancing. OCD indeed. Obviously, I have been to hell and back with this vehicle, and I plan on enjoying it now more than ever. I have touched, modified, painted or replaced literally every part on this car and could not be prouder of the way it turned out. I have realized my goal of having modern acceleration, handling, and braking wrapped in the classic style and attitude of a '69 RS/SS Camaro. I especially commend my wife Kari for putting up with the long nights and literally hundreds of hours I spent in the garage, all while trying to build a house and raising two wonderful kids along the way. She has never been anything but supportive. The memories, both good and bad, make these cars part of our family, part of our history, and part of Americana. I wouldn't trade them or the car for anything.
I still ponder the question of whether my Dad bought the '67 for his benefit or mine. I know deep down he did it for me, I only wish I still had the chance to ask, or at least thank him one more time. Sadly, my father suddenly passed away in November 2000, two years before the car was completed, and he never got to see it finished. The license plate on my car reads 4YOUDAD, which is my small tribute to my father, one of the most talented guys I have ever known, who I miss dearly every day. I like to think he is looking down, smiling, and proud.
Car: '69 Camaro convertible
Owner: Jeff Trush
Engine: 352ci small-block, 0.010-over, four-bolt-main block, steel Eagle crank and H-beam, 4340 steel rods, SRP forged pistons, 11.7:1 compression, Comp Cams hydraulic-roller cam, 244 degrees duration at 0.050-inch tappet lift with 0.600-inch lift and 110-degree lobe separation angle, aluminum World Products Sportsman heads with 2.05/1.60-inch valves, ported Victor Jr. intake with a Gary Williams-modified 830-cfm Holley carb, Hooker 131/44-inch ceramic-coated headers, 211/42-inch exhaust with Flowmaster mufflers and H-pipe, Moroso road-race oil pan and pickup, Optima battery and Detroit Speed battery mount
Transmission: LT1-style T56 six-speed manual, American Touring Specialties install kit, crossmember and hydraulic master cylinder, Centerforce flywheel, McLeod clutch, Detroit Speed-modified shifter
Rearend: 12-bolt with GM 3.73 gears, Eaton limited slip and Mark Williams
Front suspension: Hotchkis dropped springs, hollow 111/48-inch sway bar, Detroit Speed upper control arms, AGR quick-ratio steering box, Bilstein shocks
Rear suspension: Hotchkis dropped multileaf springs and hollow 71/48-inch sway bar, Bilstein shocks
Front brakes: Baer Track system, 13.5-inch two-piece Eradispeed drilled rotors, two-piston calipers
Rear brakes: Baer Touring 12-inch drilled rotors and two-piston calipers
Wheels and tires: Center Line Lazers, 18x8, front; 18x9, rear. Toyo Proxes T1-S tires, P235/40ZR18, front; P245/45ZR18, rear
Paint: PPG Dover White base with Orange Pearl overlaid with PPG Hugger Orange Candy stripes applied by Jim Bielecki of JimTech, Clinton Township, MI
Body modifications: Stripping by Ace Stripping, complete new floor, custom sheetmetal work required to replace upper rear shock mounts, custom subframe connectors-all work performed by Jim Bielecki at JimTech
Interior: Covans carbon-fiber dash insert, Auto Meter carbon-fiber insert tach, speedo and gauges, Grant steering wheel, Lokar emergency-brake handle and cables, Viper seats re-covered in original houndstooth material, top by All American Auto Upholstery
Cost to build: Priceless