As the project progressed, the car’s rotted-out state didn’t matter. Over time, the plan changed from building a simple ZL1 clone to assembling an all-out g-Machine disguised as a period-correct ZL1 replica. In light of the low-mass motor, Sondles decided to take an aluminum intensive approach throughout the entire car. “We figured that the best way to achieve modern levels of handling and braking was with an Art Morrison aftermarket frame,” Sondles opines. “In addition to a four-link rear suspension, the setup includes aluminum C6 Corvette front control arms and spindles. To take the aluminum theme to the next level, we installed an AMD aluminum hood, valence, grille shell, and fenders. The front clip weighs just 85 pounds, and the entire car checks in at 3,000 pounds.”
Thanks to the Camaro’s low mass, the big-block’s 430 hp provide more than enough grunt to scoot it down the road. The aluminum block has been fitted with a forged rotating assembly, a 211/230-at-.050 hydraulic roller cam, aluminum 290cc oval-port cylinder heads, an Edelbrock single-plane intake manifold, and a Holley 870-cfm carb. Torque gets channeled through a Tremec T56 six-speed manual trans, and a Ford 9-inch rearend. Bringing it all to a stop are six-piston Wilwood calipers squeezing 14-inch rotors.
Although the Camaro’s guts very much resemble that of a high-end Pro Touring machine, both Mark and Sondles wanted to stay away from the overtly racy vibe that’s become the norm in recent years. “Pro Street cars looked cool in their heyday, but looking back we now realize that they were over the top, and that look is now out of style. That’s something you don’t have to worry about when building a ’69 ZL1 replica because these cars looked good back then, and they will continue looking good in the future,” Sondles says. “Instead of cutting the car up, we just wanted to use the pretty lines that GM already gave us. The goal wasn’t building a car that no one’s ever built before, but instead to build a car that has been done before to a higher standard. GM only built two ZL1 Camaros in ’69 with the RS package, one of which was blue with a vinyl top, and that’s the car we modeled this one after.”
From a distance, Mark’s car does bear a striking resemblance to the original COPO Camaro it seeks to emulate. Inspect it more closely, however, and some subtle differences stand out. While the dog-dish wheels look a lot like the factory 15-inch hoops, they’re actually 18-inch Wheel Vintiques billet aluminum units that have been sandblasted and painted to match the body. This not only preserves the period-correct vibe, but also makes room for the giant 14-inch Wilwood brakes. Similar trickery ensues in the roof. That’s not a vinyl top you’re looking at, but rather a textured flat white paint. Furthermore, the Woody’s crew rolled the exhaust tailpipes into the rear valence. “Hot rods weren’t always cultivated out of catalogs like they are today. You had to get creative and work with what you had, and we’re trying to capture that essence with this car,” Sondles quips.
As a car designed to pay homage to the original ZL1 Camaro while simultaneously thumbing its nose at mainstream Pro Touring, what Mark’s g-Machine lacks is just as important as the equipment it has. “We were going to put a spoiler, stereo, A/C, fancy serpentine drive, and a race steering wheel in it, but once I drove the car after it was complete, I told Chris to leave all that stuff off. I just felt that those luxuries would detract from the character of the car,” Mark says. “On a windy two-lane road, the car drives like a modern Corvette but with an old-school big-block rumble. Big-block cars usually nosedive when entering a corner, but this car doesn’t. With big-block power and aluminum suspension components, it can hold its own on an autocross while looking like a period-correct ZL1 Camaro.”
Interestingly, although Mark Clark and Chris Sondles never intended to push the limits of innovation, they’ve created a very unique machine nonetheless. Cloning rare muscle cars is nothing new, and neither is throwing a bunch of money at a g-Machine packed to the brim with modern suspension hardware, however, doing both in one car while retaining all that delicious period-correct flavor is a refreshing twist on both the cloning and Pro Touring formula. The fact that ’69 ZL1s were strictly straight-line machines makes this corner-burning clone even cooler. Only time will tell if GM’s new LS-powered COPO Camaros prove to be as successful as the originals from 1969, but we can only hope that they’ll inspire a new generation of kids that will someday build hot rods in their image.