Dave & Connie Gagnon’s ’69 Camaro Terrorizes the Street & Strip
By Chuck Vranas – Photography by the Author
The life of a race car starts with an owner’s vision to compete successfully in a particular class at a dragstrip. From there, it’s built to the highest level for optimum performance and safety to prepare for a life of hard-core use. As these cars evolve to squeeze out every ounce of performance, sometimes they change hands to new owners who continue to personalize them, with some even seeing occasional street duty. The immaculate ’69 Camaro SS laid out across these pages, owned by Dave and Connie Gagnon of Bristol, Connecticut, is a perfect example of its breed. There’s something to be said about a high-performance power couple who share seat time in a radical street ’n’ strip terror.
For Dave, it all started alongside his dad with his first car, a ’69 Chevelle at age 16. The pair regularly took the car to compete at Connecticut Dragway, fueling a long path into the world of drag racing with a car that would see plenty of street ’n’ strip time. Other cars followed as the years passed, with the most memorable being a ’69 Camaro built solely for the dragstrip. Connie’s passion for high-performance Chevys started as well from an early age, with memories coming from growing up in the street racing scene. After a few years, the itch came back for another hopped-up first-gen since the drag car had been sold. A search eventually led them to the SS at hand, which came with great history and story to tell. Having been pro built as a strict drag car by Sheppard Race Cars (SRC) in Covington, Georgia, it had passed from its original owner, Johnny Walker, to Scott Pierce who was working to convert it for street/strip use. While the car was in need of some finish work, it was a perfect platform for the couple to bring a competitive track car back onto the street. Upon review, it was obvious that the SS had been extremely well-crafted and loaded with fine details. Of course, it was time for Dave to fuse his personal touches into the build to help prepare it for the track where he hoped to bring the car into the 8s in the quarter-mile.
Let’s take a look into what makes the F-body so bitchin. SRC updated the rear suspension with a custom-fabricated chromoly 9-inch packed with a Strange HD-Pro aluminum centersection filled with 4:10 gears spinning Drag-Race 40-spline, gun-drilled axles. It’s suspended in place by a combination of RJ Race Cars Pro-Series double-adjustable ladder bars matched to Strange double-adjustable coilover shocks, custom SRC Panhard bar, and matching subframe connectors. Up front, SRC started with a modified factory subframe to accommodate a larger oil pan as well as updating the steering to a Flaming River rack-and-pinion. A set of exclusive SRC chromoly upper and lower tubular control arms meet David Lemmond’s Race Shop spindles deftly matched to Strange double-adjustable coilover shocks. When it’s time to drop anchor, a Wilwood dual master pushes fluid through stainless lines to 11-inch forged Dynalite Pro-Series vented rotors with four-piston calipers up front and Strange 11-inch slotted rotors and two-piston calipers out back. A set of Weld Racing AlumaStar 15×3.5 front, 15×12 rear wheels wear Mickey Thompson ET Front sized 26.0/4.0-15 and Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial Pro P315/60R15 tires, respectively.
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Wanting to work his very own special brand of voodoo on the big-block, Dave went straight to Carlquist Competition Engines (CCE) of Oakville to turn up the heat. To start, a World Products Merlin IV cast-iron big-block was machined to 598 ci and filled with an Eagle forged 4340 steel crank linked to Callies Ultra H-Beam forged 4330 rods capped by Wiseco forged 15:1 pistons. A special-ground solid roller CCE cam rocks a heavy beat, while Brodix BB4-Xtra aluminum heads custom-ported by CCE make endless power. To deliver the knockout punch, a Sonny’s/Brodix single-plane intake breathes deep though a FAST 2,000-cfm billet four-barrel throttle body matched to Holley Terminator X 120-pound injectors with Wilson Manifolds ’rails and a Pro-Flow Nitrous direct-port progressive dry system. It’s managed by a Holley HP EFI system, with all final tuning handled by Paul Albino. An MSD distributor lights the fire with hot gases moving through a set of Lemons headers to an owner-fabbed stepped 2½- to 2 3/8-inch exhaust with Dynomax Race-Series 5-inch bullet mufflers. Other cool bits include an Aeromotive A1000 EFI fuel system, K&N air cleaner, Moroso-fabricated aluminum valve covers, Powermaster alternator, Afco radiator, and an Optima battery. It’s all good for a tire-melting 966 hp with 815 lb-ft. To move the dynamite, an ATI T400 SuperCase packs and ATI converter, Meziere True Billet flexplate, trans brake, and reverse manual valve body linked to a PST carbon-fiber driveshaft.
There’s nothing better than starting your build with a rust-free, straight body. When it came time to bring a fresh look to the SS, Dave tells us that Walker, the original owner, dismantled the car to finesse every inch of factory sheetmetal followed by fitting a Glasstek cowl induction fiberglass hood while also dialing in the gaps. He then laid down a flawless coating of Diamond Garnet Red gloss to set the vibe and bring it all back to life. Upon reassembly, the freshly re-chromed bumpers and polished trim were then installed and complemented by a bevy of factory N.O.S. bits, including the grille and lights.
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Inside, the car puts safety first with a full rollcage allowing the car to be NHRA certified to run in the Sportsman Class. The factory dash retains its original gauges accented by a number of dials from Auto Meter, including an MSD shift light. A rosewood steering wheel mounted to the factory tilt column carves the course with shifts flying through a Hurst Quarter-Stick. While the seats wear their original, nicely preserved threads, a Simpson five-point harness adds safety complemented by fresh black loop carpeting. It all sparks to life through an American Autowire kit that has been updated by Dave and Albino.
The completed car sees plenty track time at Lebanon Valley Dragway in New York as well as at New England Dragway in New Hampshire where it consistently runs in the 8s at 165 mph in the quarter-mile. Street time is definitely a fun time as well where Dave and Connie regularly hit plenty of cruise nights, and to us that’s as good as it gets.
Owner: Dave & Connie Gagnon, Bristol, Connecticut
Vehicle: ’69 Camaro SS
Type: World Products Merlin IV cast-iron big-block
Displacement: 598 ci
Cylinder Heads: Brodix BB4-Xtra, aluminum
Rotating Assembly: Eagle forged 4340 steel crank, Callies Ultra H-Beam forged 4330 rods, Wiseco forged 15:1 pistons
Valvetrain: Jesel Sportsman-Series shaft rockers
Camshaft: Carlquist Competition Engines solid roller, custom grind
Induction: Sonny’s/Brodix single-plane intake, FAST 2,000-cfm billet throttle body, Holley Terminator X 120-pound injectors, Wilson Manifolds Pro-Flow Nitrous direct-port dry system
Exhaust: Lemons headers, 2¼- to 2 3/8-inch exhaust, Dynomax Race-Series mufflers
Output: 996 hp
Transmission: ATI T400 SuperCase, ATI converter, Meziere True Billet flexplate
Rear Axle: Sheppard Race Cars (SRC) fabricated chromoly 9-inch, Strange HD-Pro aluminum center, 4:10 gears, Strange Drag-Race 40-spline gun-drilled axles
Steering: Flaming River rack-and-pinion
Front Suspension: SRC chromoly IFS, David Lemmond’s Race Shop spindles, Strange double-adjustable coilover shocks
Rear Suspension: RJ Race Cars Pro-Series double-adjustable ladder bars, Strange double-adjustable coilover shocks, SRC Panhard bar
Brakes: Wilwood 11-inch forged Dynalite Pro-Series rotors and four-piston calipers front, Strange 11-inch rotors and two-piston calipers rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Weld Racing AlumaStar 15×3.5 front, 15×12 rear
Tires: Mickey Thompson ET Front 26.0/4.0-15, Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial Pro P315/60R15 rear
Upholstery: Factory black vinyl
Gauges: Stock and Auto Meter, MSD shift light
Steering: Stock tilt column, stock rosewood steering wheel
Carpet: Black loop
Shifter: Hurst Quarter Stick
Paint: Diamond Garnet Red
Hood: Glasstek Cowl Induction, fiberglass