A Pair of 1969s Rest in Rust

By Steve Magnante – Photography by the Author

In 1969, Chevrolet built and sold 243,085 Camaros. It was the final year for the first-generation (1967-1969) of GM’s reply to the Ford Mustang–inspired ponycar craze. While any Camaro today is prized, adored, and kept in pristine condition as a favorite toy and investment (in equal parts), it wasn’t always that way.

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It may look like a priceless American Racing magnesium Torq-Thrust wheel, but the thin bead of the steel inner rim pops the illusion. This is probably a Fenton five-spoke copy. Much heavier than the one-piece magnesium or aluminum wheels they mimicked, these knockoffs consist of a traditional steel rim hoop with a cast-aluminum five-spoke spider mated to the center. Great lookers, “day two” mods like this were the thing to do. This SS was delivered new with body-colored 14×7 steel wheels with small center caps, unless the buyer coughed up an extra $35.85 for the 14×7 ZJ7 Rally Wheels.

This writer was hatched in 1964 and though not old enough to have driven first-gen Camaros as new cars, I painfully recall being 10 years old and seeing fleets of rusty, crusty, neglected Camaros rattling along the New England streets of my youth. Thanks (?) to the prodigious amount of road salt used in winter time, even GM’s best zinc-chromate body dip was no match for the dreaded tin worm. By 1974, Camaros that saw year-round use displayed deep scars and gashes. My then 10-year-old mind watched countless Camaros wither into dust.

Oh man, those hideaway headlamps are so seductive! Part of the $131.65 Z22 Rally Sport package, which is also known as the mighty RS, these 1969 units incorporate three thin horizontal slits of translucent plastic behind finned metal grates. Aside from emphasizing the Camaro’s wide and low body lines, the slits allowed enough light to shine through in the event of a headlamp door actuation failure, a none-to-rare occurrence. Just 37,773 Camaros got the RS treatment out of the 243,085-car production run.

In this sampling, let’s explore a pair of 1969s that succumbed to the rust monster but somehow managed to hold on as relics of bygone days. In both cases, their owners “have plans” but since brand-new 1969 Camaro body shells are readily available from Dynacorn and similar outfits, perhaps the best route might be to let them sit as warnings to never, ever expose your favorite car to the hazards of road salt!

Spotted in rural Connecticut, not far from Paul Newman’s Ashford, Connecticut Hole In The Wall Gang camp for kids, this Hugger Orange 1969 appears to be a true Z27 Super Sport. The base engine that came with the SS was the 300hp L48 350 small-block, as indicated by the “350” fender emblems. An extra $63.20 could have elevated this one to base SS 396 status via the 325hp L35 big-block.
Though a 1969 Camaro VIN doesn’t confirm anything beyond what engine it was originally built with (third character in VIN is 4 for a V-8, 3 for an inline-six), the presence of items like the “ice tray” hood vents help build a case for true SS 350 status. Though non-functional, these die-cast metal inserts are standard on every SS. Ironically, the über-exotic Z/28 came standard with the same flat skin hood used on lowly six-bangers. Zee buyers had to pay an extra $79 for the vaunted cowl induction hood, which was also available as a step up from this “ice tray” hood on Super Sports.
Another day two addition are these hood pins. Instead of the usual “hair pin” some ingenious rodder substituted double-nutted bolts to keep unwanted fingers away. Though not as effective as the tiny padlocks sometimes used, a thief would waste several minutes spinning away on a 3/8-inch wrench for access. Then again, what to do in case of an engine fire? Precious seconds fiddling with these things could result in total loss. Dig the peeling paint!
Inside we are pleased to see a clutch pedal and factory-original floor shift pass-through hole atop the tunnel. The shiny circular emblem on the brake pedal tells of power front disc brakes, which were included in the Super Sport’s $295.95 price tag. We can’t assume this was a four-speed. The base SS transmission was the floor-shifted, three-speed manual. You paid another $195.40 for a four-speed.
Speaking of economy-minded Camaros, here’s another 1969 discovered in Massachusetts. The base plastic grille’s blue plastic Bowtie emblem contrasts brightly against the Dover White body hue.
Speaking of economy-minded Camaros, here’s another 1969 discovered in Massachusetts. The base plastic grille’s blue plastic Bowtie emblem contrasts brightly against the Dover White body hue.
Though the 1969 production run began with the 210hp 327 two-barrel as the base V-8, the 200hp 307 replaced it mid year. Just five cubes away from the legendary 302, the 307 was a whole different kettle of fish. Unlike the high-revving 302’s 4.00×3.00-inch bore and stroke, the 307 had a smaller 3.875-inch bore and longer 3.250-inch stroke than the 302. Also fitted with small-valve, small-port heads and a two-barrel carburetor (no four-barrel 307s ever), the idea was to favor low-end torque over high-rpm horsepower, the perfect strategy for utilitarian family hauling. The base V-8 costing just $106 more than the base 140hp, 230-cube six. Six-cylinder fanatics looking for more could pay an extra $26.35 for the 155hp 250 Turbo-Thrift six-banger
A big surprise inside: It’s a four-speed! Expecting the base three-on-the-floor or a sleepy Powerglide automatic, this Camaro was ordered by someone who appreciated the man-machine connection only a four-speed can provide. For $195.40, Chevrolet charged an extra $53.75 for the nifty DD55 center console. Dig the four-speed H-pattern plate next to the shifter hole. Most assuredly an M20 wide-ratio four-speed with a 2.56:1 First-gear ratio instead of the 2.20:1 First-gear ratio used in the close-ratio M21 and M22 units, the extra torque multiplication helped improve standing start acceleration and was actually a better around-town transmission.
Missing its Rochester two-barrel carburetor, the original 307 remains underhood. The non-assist brake booster speaks to this car’s four-wheel drum brakes. Front power discs were offered under RPO J52 for $64.25. Also offered but rarely appreciated were JL8 four-wheel power disc brakes. Priced at a whopping $500.30, just 206 Camaros got ’em in 1969. These JL8 Camaros are royalty today. Beware, very convincing reproductions are readily available today.
Like its orange SS 350 cousin, this 307 four-speed suffers from acute rust out. It’s hard to imagine this one as a shiny new car sitting on a dealership sales floor, but it was so.
The original 10-bolt rear axle and leaf springs are missing but the standard passenger-side exhaust pipe hanger remains attached to the rotten framerail. Again, for an extra $30.55 option N10 added dual exhaust to any two-barrel Camaro engine. Just 5,545 307, 327, and 350 buyers went for it. When so equipped, the factory horsepower rating was not changed, though the reduced exhaust back pressure was surely worth 5-10 hp.
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