A Top Down Family Affair

It all started with an oil spot that turned into an oil leak that soon became an oil lake. So it was for Eric and Cindy Senior of Santee, California. The ’69 Camaro they purchased from an online auction site had been delivered from its previous Michigan owner. “It started life as a nice little X11 small-block car that had been transplanted with a 396. Our original plan was to restore it sometime in the future,” Eric said. But when oil started to flow from the seals like a Texas gusher, Cindy decided it was time to accelerate the couple’s plans.

The Senior family is no stranger to Chevrolet performance, not in the least. They own three additional first generation Camaros as well as a Chevelle and an El Camino, leaving little doubt they love the Bowtie experience. All of this previous experience was fair warning that they knew what was ahead once the car was in the garage. However, the twist in the plot made this Camaro the most ambitious build the family had ever taken on.

Bright HID headlights are hidden behind a custom-made billet grille. The bumper was dripped, stripped, primed and painted to help with the monochromatic Pro-Touring look.

Getting the ponies to the pavement ends at the 345/30-20 Michelin tires filled with Colorado Customs 20×12 Lazaer Wheels. Stoppage is supplied by Wilwood slotted and drilled rotors and four-piston calipers.

Once the engine was pulled and rebuilt, they decided to give the Norwood-built car a full, body-off, every nut and bolt rebuild with one notable change, the 396 would be archived in favor of a 502 big-block. As Eric revealed, “Plans change.” But, that was only the beginning.

When momentum picks up its pace, it’s hard to stop the velocity. This was the case once the build of this drop-top Camaro got rolling. The car was completely disassembled right down to the fender ID tags. The body shell was sent to get the acid bath treatment. The frame was sanded and smoothed before being powder coated. Upon its return to the Seniors’ suburban neighborhood garage, the family began building the rolling chassis. By this time, it was decided to go all out in the Pro-Touring style. The GM 12-bolt rearend was narrowed by 2 inches and upgraded with an Auburn Posi unit with 4.11 gears. Hotchkis drop leaf springs were employed and relocated inward. The tired factory front spindles were discarded in favor of 2-inch drop units from Superior. Speedtech upper and lower control arms were also added as well as a Hotchkis front sway bar and QA1 coil-over shocks. Earl’s Classic Chassis Works-fabricated custom subframe connectors were added just prior to installing the AGR power steering box. Wilwood drilled and slotted rotors with four-piston calipers were next to be bolted up.

When momentum picks up its pace, it’s hard to stop the velocity. This was the case once the build of this drop-top Camaro got rolling.

The original rear seat was kept, but the front buckets were replaced with BMW M3 units. A custom console was made, and then the entire package was covered in black leather with red stitching. Note the carry-over accents on the door panels and console.

The Dart 540 big-block was fitted with a Whipple 3.0L supercharger, Brodix heads, Lemons headers, MSD distributor and tons of polished components. Greg Scott gets credit for the build, while JBA Racing of San Diego provided the tuning.

With the chassis ready to roll, Eric and Cindy had Greg Scott Racing Engines build a Dart 540 big-block. Brodix heads were bolted into place over TRW pistons. Billet Specialties valve covers and wire looms dress the heads. A Whipple-supercharged intake with 2,100-cfm throttle body was called upon to feed the need for speed. Spark is supplied via an MSD Pro-Billet HEI distributor.

This is when all of the engine jewelry was added in the form of a PowerMaster polished alternator, polished GM power steering pump, polished shorty water pump (reverse rotation), polished Vintage Air compressor, Proform chrome-plated starter, Zoops pulleys and brackets, and braided lines and aluminum fittings. Just for fun, a Snow methanol system was added. F.A.S.T. EFI computer controls help keep a handle on the power. Lemons headers were bolted up as the entire power source was ready for the next phase of the project.

To move the energy to the rear wheels a Tremec TKO600 five-speed with McLeod twin-disc clutch, Keisler hydraulic throw-out bearing and a Dynotech aluminum driveshaft were assembled.

Every mile in this well-put-together ride, however, is a happy mile. When asked about any oil leaks, Eric replied, “Not a one. I guess this turned out to be a spotless build.”

Digi-tails LED brake and turn lights were used inside Marquez billet taillights.

The body, now primed and ready for paint, was reconnected to the chassis. Custom engine bay panels were created and the firewall was smoothed. The original cowl-induction hood needed to be reworked to fit the supercharger that would lie beneath it. To do this the hump was raised .5 inch in the front to 1 inch at the cowl. As this was taking place, the front and rear bumpers were stripped, smoothed, sealed and primed. The side marker lamps were filled and shaved, as were the door handles, locks and emblems.

Staying with a GM color, the Torch Red paint with Tuxedo Black stripes were applied by Pat’s Custom Cars. After an extensive cut and buff, a custom billet grille was crafted protecting HID headlights. The lower splitter was color matched to the stripes. Marquez Billet taillights featuring Digi-tail sequential lighting were carefully secured. One of the more unique tricks of the Camaro build was the addition of Buick LaSabre power side mirrors.

The radical convertible was coming together nicely. With the body painted, chassis sorted and driveline in place, world-famous exhaust man Ed Hanson fabricated a custom 3-inch system with crossover flow.  Eric then installed a special stainless steel fuel cell with an Aeromotive high-velocity pump and multi-stage filters.

Armando’s Auto Upholstery built the new trunk panels covered in leather with red stitching to match the interior. There are two hidden side compartments that house the Snow methanol system tank and battery. Behind the large panels are the audio components.

The interior was a blank canvas. The flat factory buckets were set aside for BMW M3 seats with integrated restraints. All of the stock gauges, audio and controls were gutted and saved for future projects, as was the steering column. For this ride the Detroit Speed dash was fitted with Auto Meter instrumentation, Vintage Air vents and a custom console with built-in navigational system. A Flaming River steering column and wheel were installed. The next stop was Armando’s in the Seniors’ hometown of Santee. It’s here where the black leather with red stitching was sewn up.

Completely hidden from view are the Pioneer audio components. All of the amps, crossovers and subs were installed in a compartment behind the rear seat and forward of the abbreviated trunk space. Armando’s was also tasked with creating the leather-covered trunk panels. Hidden compartments also conceal the Optima battery and methanol tank.

For the rare occasions when the top may go up, the car was treated to onyx European cloth. However, most of the time the rags and rails are covered by a custom black leather boot.

The shifter was custom made as were the boot trim and aluminum cup holder. Built-in Pioneer AVIC audio and nav systems were wired in.

Auto Meter Nexus gauges fill the Detroit Speed dash.

Tires and wheels put the exclamation point on all Pro-Touring-style rides. For this Camaro, Colorado Custom Lazaer wheels and Michelin tires were mated. Fronts are 18×8 alloy on 245/40-18 rubber. Rears are a steamroller fitment of 20×12 style on 345/30-20 tread.

The Senior family’s ’69 Camaro convertible has been on the road for the past few years. “I can’t say it’s a long-distance traveler. At 4 miles per gallon, it only has a range of about 50 miles, so you have to plan your route with gas stations in mind,” Eric said. Every mile in this well-put-together ride, however, is a happy mile. When asked about any oil leaks, Eric replied, “Not a one. I guess this turned out to be a spotless build.”

The first generation Camaros are among the most beautiful shapes to ever come out of the American auto industry. With the trim, emblems and handles shaved away and the addition of modern GM side mirrors, the Seniors found a way to improve the look of the original Hugger convertible.