The old expression about “having one’s cake and eating it too” is puzzling. As comedian George Carlin once quipped: “What good is a cake you can’t eat? What should I eat, someone else’s cake instead?"
Nick Spriggs feels the same way. Just take a look at his ’69 Camaro, which lets him have it both ways. On the surface, it looks like a moderately modified muscle car, with modern rims, low-profile tires and a fresh coat of paint. Only the license plate hints at the secret filling inside. Cut through all those special layers, and you’re in for a big surprise.
Instead of a 396 or the ultra-rare aluminum ZL1, the hood conceals GM’s new LSX block pumped up by a Kenne Bell twin-screw supercharger, good for 760 horses, as the license plate proclaims. But mondo power is not the only thing that sets this car apart.
The chassis is fully revamped from stem to stern, using Detroit Speed and Engineering’s subframe connectors and control arms, and Baer brakes. As a result, this old Camaro handles like a car that’s a fraction of its age.
How Spriggs came up with this kick-ass combo dates back to his youth. He’s had a thing for ’69 Camaros since the age of 16. But considering he’s now 42, that means when the ’69 was in its heyday, he was still a little tyke playing the sandbox. What drew him to this particular year as a teenager?
“One of my best friends in high school owned two ‘69s, one an original 302 Z-28 in Le Mans blue and the other was a big-block drag car,” he recalls. “At the time I owned a ‘69 Chevelle with a 454 and Turbo 400 transmission.” He had that quintessential muscle car from 1982 to 1993, but sold it to pay for his bar-review classes after graduating law school. Predictably, after passing the bar and starting to work full time, he had neither the time nor money for any play cars.
But the legal profession has been good to him, and he never forgot his high-school buddy’s rides. Fast forward to October 2001, when he began buying a string of ‘Vettes, which gave him a taste for high-tech handling (we’ll be catching up with his customized Corvettes for our sister magazine, Corvette Milestones). Spriggs also developed an appetite for Mercedes and Ferraris, but the siren song of muscle cars kept ringing in his ears.
During his search for a car to buy in early 2007 he was considering ’63 to ‘67 Corvette coupes and ‘69 Z-28 Camaros, but then he made a fateful contact that prompted a slight detour: “I ran across a restomod/Pro-Touring Camaro on E-bay and traded e-mails with the owner discussing the pros and cons of restomod versus all-stock Camaros.” That was the clincher for Spriggs.
“I decided that I would rather build one exactly the way I wanted it, instead of the way someone else thought was best,” he explains. “The simple concept that I wanted to stick with was to use the best available drive train and suspension components, while keeping the interior and exterior as true to stock as possible. What I didn’t like about all of the Pro Touring cars that I had seen was the radical makeovers of the interior, which seemed to make the car less of a ‘69 Camaro to me.”
To implement his enhancements, he began scouring the internet. “I searched AutoTrader.com looking for a donor car for my project,” he notes. “I was looking for one that was essentially complete to help cut down the number of parts and amount of labor to get the car in top shape.”
Spriggs found a 1969 Camaro dressed up like a Z-28 in black paint with silver stripes, powered by a 396 four-speed with a 12-bolt rearend. “The car was in Pennsylvania, but it was the cheapest big-block, four-speed car that I could find,” he admits. “So I bought it and had it shipped to San Diego.”
Before the car even arrived Spriggs felt that it was probably too nice to cut up for a project, so he found a parts car in Riverside, once again through AutoTrader, which was a plain small-block, automatic in Le Mans blue. “The car literally still smelled like wet paint when I bought it,” he says. “It looked nice but between the leaks and oil burning it ran out of oil in the 150 miles I drove it back from Riverside.”
Spriggs then acquired a second donor car and dropped it off with Randy Clark and Sean Dell at Escondido Hot Rods and Custom Stuff (HR&CS). He came across this well-respected shop while looking for an authorized dealer for Detroit Speed and Engineering and Vintage Air.
“When I dropped the car off with Randy and Sean, I was leaving for a three-week trip to Europe to participate in the Gumball 3000,” he recalls. (The Gumball rally runs throughout Europe where 120 cars travel 3,000 miles in seven days.)
Upon his return, every piece of the car had been disassembled, media blasted and epoxy primered. Sean and Spriggs went over the final selections for major components which included Detroit Speed & Engineering front sub-frame and rear quadra-link suspension.
Turn Key supplied the engine package, a Kenne Bell supercharged, 452 cubic-inch LSX block fitted with Air Flow Research Cylinder heads, and backed by a beefed-up T-56 Viper case six-speed transmission. A carbon fiber driveshaft links the tranny to Ford 9-inch rearend rated for 1,500 horsepower.
“Sean and I also selected the HRE 897 forged aluminum wheels with brushed centers and polished outer rims in 19” x 10” for the front and 19” x 12” for the back,” Spriggs adds. To bring that rolling stock to a crisp stop, they agreed on Baer 14-inch rotors with a six-piston mono block 6S system.
“When I first spoke with Randy he told me the normal timeframe for a project of this type was 12 months which was fine with me,” he notes. But then they decided to have the car ready in time for the SEMA show, less than six months away. The project moved along with amazing speed considering the amount of bodywork and custom fabrication required to make all of the aftermarket components fit within the factory sheet metal.
The biggest challenges were getting the air-to-water intercooler for the supercharger and the air conditioning condenser and the radiator to all fit cleanly on the core support. The next challenge was to get the Kenne Bell 2.8L supercharger and intake hardware to fit under the stock cowl-induction hood. Also the transmission tunnel had to be removed and rebuilt to provide clearance for the T-56. Raising the transmission tunnel then required modifying the factory console to fit in the reduced interior space, along with a Hurst shifter.
“The guys at HR&CS did an amazing job of making all of these components fit together seamlessly,” Spriggs acknowledges. “The more amazing part is that they were able to do all of this in basically five months after the car was disassembled.”
One of the primary considerations during the entire build process was making sure this car could really be used and driven like a normal car. One of the main reasons to use a modern fuel-injected engine was for the reliability as much as for the power. Likewise the transmission, rearend, brakes and electronics are all designed and built for everyday use.
“The car has over 1,000 miles on the odometer and is a pleasure to drive,” Spriggs beams with a bit of blue heaven. Can you blame him? He not only has his cake and eats it too, but there’s also icing on it!
Hot Rods & Custom Stuff