Michael Manning has owned 22 first-gen Camaros. Twenty-two. Does this qualify as love? Lust? Obsession? Business? The reality is that it’s a mad combination of all four.
Way back when, he’d buy an F-car, fix it up and sell it, while keeping some of the better, more unusual parts for himself. Sometimes he’d buy one for a keeper, a project, or a daily driver. Michael remembers buying a ’69 Z/28-RS for $1,400. And we’re not talking junk, either. It was a nice car. Then there was a ’68 Z/28 for $2,400.
“There were so many Z/28s. I had three as parts cars,” he related. “I found a flip-flop purple one with scallops on the side and Cragars. The only good part was the DZ302, which I kept.”
A lot of people don’t own 22 cars in an entire lifetime, let alone the same basic one over and over again. Of course, you’d be crazy to characterize this ’69 as “basic,” and it’s not all that similar to any of the previous 21. Michael, the president of American Autowire, a company that makes wiring harnesses, accessories, and parts for vintage vehicles (specializing in those from GM), started with a simple plan this time around: “I wanted to build a nasty, sinister-looking café racer that would be comfortable on the street as well as the track,” Michael informed us. “It was to be an all-business approach with nothing on the car that was not functional—no chrome or bling.”
From the looks of things, we’d say mission accomplished. Sure, the faux louvers on the hood don’t add any performance, but they (like the door handles) have a more muted finish. The wheels, Fiske Profil 13s, are enormous (18x12 rear, 18x10 front), but their dark finish makes them appear smaller and look like something off a road-race Corvette. They’re wrapped in BFGoodrich KDW tires, 335/30ZR18 rear and 275/35ZR18 front, and hiding behind them are Corvette ZO6 14-inch rotors and calipers. A set of Detroit Speed mini-tubs allows the 335s to fit. Even the lugs and wheel studs are tricked-out.
Keeping all this sticky rubber glued to the asphalt is a complete front and rear Detroit Speed suspension system (DSE built the entire car). Michael says this ’69 was one of the vehicles used by Kyle and Stacy Tucker when Detroit Speed was developing its hydroformed front clip. Said front clip uses tubular A-arms and DSE twin-tube double adjustable coilovers, while aft is Detroit Speed’s QUADRALink rear suspension and DSE double-adjustable twin-tube coilovers. A set of DSE subframe connectors tie everything together and aid handling.
A stock dry-sump LS7 GM Performance Parts crate engine supplies 505 hp and a broad torque curve—perfect for those days spent on the road course and autocrossing. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome, according to Michael, was the GM dry sump oil tank. There was no way to make it work in the Camaro, so a Petersen tank was purchased and fitted into the front inner wheel housing where the battery would be mounted. This necessitated moving the battery to the trunk, which proved to be a good thing for weight balance. The engine is mated to an ’05 T56 six-speed from D&D Performance of Michigan and a 9-inch with 3.70 gears and a True Trac Posi.
The ’69s dash was reworked and the factory humps over the speedo and tach removed. “It makes it much easier to read the Auto Meter Phantom II gauges,” Michael says. A Vintage Air climate control system keeps the F-body’s occupants comfortable, as do the leather Recaro Specialist seats (the rear seat was recovered to match the fronts). A six-point DSE roll cage adds a measure of safety and chassis stiffening, while tunes come from an Alpine CDA9886 head unit and blow through JL Audio speakers. The interior was built by Chuck Hanna of Hot Rod Interiors and custom touches are everywhere and too numerous to list in a single article.
The paint is a metallic titanium off the late-model Chrysler color pallet. Again, it works well with the overall stealth/no-bling theme. All the bodywork and paint was done by Michael Neighbors at Detroit Speed. For the most part, the exterior appears stock, but there are subtle upgrades. The door handles have a brushed finish and the front and rear bumpers have been sectioned and narrowed to tuck tighly into the body. The color of the brake calipers matches the valve cover. Turn signal lights on the front quarters. It just goes on and on.
Since its completion, Michael has been enjoying the heck out of it on road courses, autocross courses, and on the street. He’s definitely not afraid to take it out for a spin. It’s everything he wanted in his latest first-gen. Which brings up a point: What’s car number 23 going to be like?