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Reality Resto - Saving a Camaro Convertible

It is said that every car has a personality and that the personality develops further with every experiance you have with that car. This '69 Camaro Convertible illustrates this concept very well. See why this car had to be saved and lovingly restored for

By Jeff Trush, Photography by Anders Oldeholm, Jeff . Trush

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.

By Jeff Trush
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