GM originally designed the...
GM originally designed the aluminum 427 to compete in the Can-Am road racing series during the mid ’60s. According to some estimates, only 90 copies of the motor were ever built for production cars, 69 of which ended up in Camaros. A few years back, Chevrolet Performance brought back the aluminum Rat as a limited-edition crate motor. A similar unit resides under the hood of PHR’s own Project X.
GM has lost its mind, and speed freaks are loving every minute of it. The company’s prudent response to the global recession and astronomical fuel prices is a supercharged 580hp ZL1 Camaro. Sounds good to us. Better yet, GM recently unveiled plans to build 69 COPO Camaros strictly for NHRA Stock Eliminator and Super Stock competition. It’s as if the car guys took over the joint, busted into the boardroom, and gave shareholders the middle finger. While the plan is ballsy, it’s far from innovative. In fact, the moves are a direct rip-off of Chevy’s 1969 playbook. Even so, there’s nothing wrong with that, because what was a great plan then is still a great plan today. During that year, Chevy dropped 69 all-aluminum 427ci big-blocks into COPO Camaros ordered up with the ZL1 option. Just like today, the goal was to mop up in Super Stock. The original ZL1’s success in NHRA competition was the stuff of legends, and it made quite an impression on kids growing up during the muscle car era. Mark Clark was one of those kids, and memories of Chevy’s factory ringers have inspired him to build a car that looks a lot like a ’69 ZL1 on the surface, but packs a fully modernized Pro Touring bite.
In the spirit of the NHRA...
In the spirit of the NHRA Super Stock COPO machines from 1969, the interior of Mark’s Camaro is a bare-bones proposition. Creature comforts are nonexistent, and Mark Clark decided to rip out the aftermarket steering wheel for a stocker once the build was complete. The seats look like stock units, but were actually pulled out of an HHR and covered in vintage houndstooth upholstery.
Let’s just get this out of the way up front. Mark has done quite well for himself over the years, and spent a pretty penny commissioning Woody’s Hot Rodz (www.WoodysHotRodz.com
) to build him a ’69 ZL1 clone. Nevertheless, he’s far from your typical rich wanker. He came out of the womb with a transbrake button in his hand, and grew up idolizing guys like Bob Glidden and Lee Shepherd during the glory days of professional drag racing. Not content with merely watching from the stands, Mark competed in NHRA Comp Eliminator, Super Gas, and Pro Stock, winning the ’86 Keystone Nationals in B/Altered.
Due to his affinity for drag racing, when Chevrolet Performance announced plans to build a run of limited edition all-aluminum 427 big-blocks, Mark had to get one. Back in 1969, in what’s arguably the most infamous magazine road test of all time, Super Stock & Drag Illustrated ripped an 11.64-at-122 mph quarter-mile pass in a 427-powered ZL1 Camaro piloted by Funny Car hero Dick Harrell. Considering the car’s only mods were a set of headers, a bigger carb, slicks, and ignition timing and valve lash tweaks, this blazing performance instantly elevated the aluminum Rat to legendary status.
Although the concept behind...
Although the concept behind the Camaro was to keep it looking as close to the original ZL1 as possible, the Woody’s team enjoys throwing in some subtle tweaks here and there. For a cleaner rear profile, the rear valence was notched in order to tuck the tailpipes closer to the body.
With a fresh aluminum 427 sitting in his garage, Mark had to figure out what to put it in. “I started bouncing some ideas off of Chris Sondles at Woody’s Hot Rodz, and considering the history of the aluminum 427, it only made sense to build a replica ’69 COPO Camaro ZL1. I had recently come across an original ZL1 with blue paint and the RS package at an auction, and decided to model my car after that one,” Mark says. After hatching a plan, the next step was finding a suitable car. “While standing next to Bobby Alloway at a car show, I mentioned that I needed a ’69 Camaro for a new project we were working on,” Sondles recalls. “He said that he had the perfect car for us sitting at his shop. It was originally a small-block SS car, but all that remained was the roof, firewall, and inner structure. Everything else was rotted out.”
Perhaps the biggest clue that this isn’t an original COPO is the car’s mean stance. The Art Morrison chassis affords an aggressive ride height while retaining full suspension travel. Since a big cowl-induction hood might ruin the lines of the Camaro, Woody’s Hot Rodz opted for a low-profile intake manifold. The “RS” badge that should be centered in the grille has been replaced with a Bow Tie.
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.
Type: Chevy 427ci big-block
Block: Chevy aluminum bored to 4.250 inches
Rotating assembly: GM 3.760-inch forged crankshaft, rods, and 9.5:1 pistons
Cylinder heads: GM 290cc aluminum oval-port castings with 2.19/1.88-inch valves
Camshaft: GM 211/230-at-.050 hydraulic roller; .510/.540-inch lift; 110-degree LSA
Valvetrain: GM timing set, valvesprings, retainers, locks, and 1.7:1 rocker arms
Induction: Edelbrock single-plane intake manifold, Holley 870-cfm carburetor
Exhaust: custom 1.75-inch long-tube headers, dual 2.5-inch mufflers
Cooling: U.S. Radiator Desert Cooler and electric fan; GM water pump
Output: 430 hp at 5,800 rpm and 444 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm
Built by: Chevrolet Performance
Transmission: Tremec T56 trans, McLeod clutch, Hurst shifter
Rear axle: Ford 9-inch rearend with 31-spline axles, 3.70:1 gears, and limited-slip differential
Front suspension: full Art Morrison frame, sway bar, and steering rack; C6 Corvette control arms and spindles; Strange coilovers
Rear suspension: Art Morrison four-link and sway bar; Strange coilovers
Brakes: Wilwood 14-inch rotors and six-piston calipers, front and rear
Wheels: Wheel Vintiques billet, 18x8, front; 18x10, rear
Tires: Bridgestone 245/40R18, front; 275/40R18, rear