When exactly did the '69 Camaro become a highly valued collector car, worthy of sharing spotlight time with 250 Ferraris, straight-eight Packards, and gullwing Mercedes? The legitimizing of musclecar collecting may seem like a positive development, but when the cars we've spent the past 35 years tweaking, tuning, building, and beating are worth six-figure cash, modifying them might almost seem financially irresponsible.
That's why we feel better when we come across guys who still focus on enjoying the musclecar experience, even if they appreciate the collector aspect. Jim Hughes is kinda like that. As a kid in New York in the '60s, he grew up dreaming and drooling over the SoCal car scene as portrayed in magazines and movies. That was during the late '60s when most guys were either into road racing sports cars or drag racing musclecars. Jim was into both. Today, as a resident of Los Angeles, Jim's tastes remain similar; he still lusts for American iron, though with a functional bent-straight restorations don't hold particular appeal, though neither does slicing and dicing a treasured classic.
He sums up his build philosophy like this: "We perform 'restifications,' which means that the car remains original unless there is a high-quality, well-engineered upgrade available that improves function and enhances the appearance without looking out of place alongside the OEM components." It's a mantra Jim shares with friend and build partner Steve Rindos. Steve has been restoring classic Chevys as a hobby for years, using the exacting standards he deals with daily as an aerospace machinist. The two have completed other projects together previously, most recently, a similar '69 Camaro seen on our April '05 cover. That car-a small-block with an automatic-was to satisfy Jim's desire for the perfect street Camaro, but then he found this one, a numbers-matching, big-block SS/RS. The more exclusive pedigree had its draw, but it was Jim's inner motorhead that was lusting for a fat block.
The small-block car was sold and the Muscatine Coupe acquired, so named for the town in Iowa where it was found. The name grew out of Jim and Steve's attempts to differentiate this project from the previous '69 during the build process, and it stuck, at least in part because it rings with a tone similar to that of the titles hung on some of the most legendary cars from the glory days of hot rodding.
When it came to actually executing the project, Jim and Steve applied their credo by making select alterations to the Camaro to improve the driving experience, like topping the numbers-matching 396 with aluminum Edelbrock heads and intake and adding Hooker long-tubes and a custom 211/42-inch exhaust. But the most significant deviation, and we're told, the one with the biggest payoff, is the five-speed manual-trans conversion to replace the original TH400 automatic.
Other subtle functional enhancements can be found inside, where Cerullo buckets, wrapped in factory-style hounds-tooth, replace the stock front seats for added support, and a Nardi steering wheel classes up the joint.
As it stands, the Camaro manages to sound hairy and pulls hard while remaining comfortable, even over the ratted streets in the Valley, suggesting that Jim and Steve achieved their goal of creating an improved Camaro without straying too far from its origins. There is, however, talk. Could a 572ci crate engine be considered a mild enhancement?