America is a country of doers. We have the unused gym memberships and still-wrapped-in-plastic college textbooks to prove it. As a society that demands using things for their intended purpose, it’s no wonder high-end street rods have a way of bunching up people’s undergarments. Some would say that spending a decade’s worth of mortgage payments on a car that’s never actually used as transportation is just nuts. Naturally, those quick to judge how another man spends his hard-earned money must be chronic practitioners of hitting the treadmill and driving their project cars. Hypocrisy aside, posers have always comprised at least a small percentage of every branch of the enthusiast population, whether it’s street rodding, Pro Street, or Pro Touring. As a hobby that’s in a perpetual state of flux, recent years have seen a convergence of two distinctly different build styles with the street rodification of muscle cars. Nathan Powell’s big-block–powered ’69 Camaro—built by Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop in Gadsden, Alabama—is one of the latest examples. Although it is yet another ’69 Camaro, you’ll probably end up liking the car more than you care to admit.
For Nathan, his car-building proclivities have come in a series of phases. As a kid, it started with Tri-Five Chevys and bubbletop Impalas before his tastes shifted to muscle cars. During that time, he owned everything from ’69 Camaro SS 350s to Chevelles, to a variety of Chevy IIs. “When I was 13, I pulled the straight-six out of my ’63 Nova and dropped in a small-block. I caught the muscle car bug after that and was always on the lookout for Camaros and Chevelles,” he says. For a short while, Nathan defected to the street rod camp, but eventually came to his senses and got back in the muscle car game. “I was at a muscle car show 15 years ago and saw some cool street rods so I thought I’d give them a try. I had Alan Johnson build me several ’32 and ’33 Fords, but after a while, street rods just weren’t as interesting to me anymore. I always wanted to build a ’69 Camaro like the one I had in my younger days. It’s like going back to your first love.”
JHRS’ custom bumpers look like an integral part of the Camaro’s design rather than afterth
In a world where the bar is set so high, street rodders expect perfection and nothing less. As such, Nathan’s goal was simple. “I called Alan Johnson and told him that I wanted to build the baddest ’69 Camaro that had ever been built that could actually be driven on the street. It had to have a big-block with at least 700 hp, a six-speed manual trans, and modern suspension and brakes,” he says. A legend within the street rod community, Johnson was more than up to the challenge. Whenever Johnson crosses over into the muscle car arena, the results are truly spectacular. Who can forget the ’71 G-Force ’Cuda, a JHRS creation that rocked the Pro Touring community with its 870hp Hemi, aluminum C5 Corvette suspension, and custom carbon-fiber body panels? Finding the builder was the easy part, however, the path to locating the ideal Camaro was littered with jalopies and cars that had been modified the wrong way. Finally, he found a stock RS/SS four-speed car in South Carolina that fit his needs perfectly. “The car was in outstanding condition. All it needed was a small patch panel on the left quarter-panel.”
It’s hard to tell with the engine in place, but the firewall has been stamped with the sam
The mint body enabled Johnson to focus all his efforts into executing his creative vision for the build. “Nathan made it very clear that he didn’t want any froufrou stuff on the car. He wanted something very subtle that you’d have to look over several times before noticing the small details while retaining the essence of a ’69 Camaro,” Johnson says. “Although Nathan has many street rods, he’s not into polish or chrome. This Camaro is all business, and that’s how the car is supposed to look.”
As intended, the Camaro doesn’t look much different from the typical high-end Pro Touring build at first glance. The car boasts big wheels, a mean stance, and nice paint, but so do lots of other Camaros. It’s not until walking around the car a second or third time that all the small things start catching your attention. Take the bumpers, for instance; they just blend so much more seamlessly into the contours of the body panels than the stockers, complementing the car’s lines instead of clashing with them. The front and rear bumpers aren’t merely reshaped stock pieces, but rather completely new units that were fabricated from scratch. “The bumpers are recessed into the body, and their ends tuck up tightly into the fenders and quarters. They fit like enduro bumpers,” Johnson says. In addition to the custom bumpers, JHRS built a one-off rear roll pan and relocated the fuel filler to in between the taillights.