By Charles Krome
Life sure is funny sometimes. Today, for example, I was driving on home and caught a glimpse of a beautiful first-generation Chevrolet Camaro SS on a trailer, right there on my street. My first thought was that it must be a Woodward Dream Cruiser extending his/her stay in beautiful suburban Detroit. But when I knocked on the door to ask about taking pictures, I found out differently: It turns out one of my neighbors happens to be a car restorer specializing in muscle cars. And it also turned out that this wasn’t just a first-gen SS—I’d hit the jackpot: It was a 1969 rocking the big-time 396 V8.
Dean had originally restored this classic for a customer about 10 years ago, and had bought it back from the guy just two hours before I stopped by—that’s what you call good timing.
The Camaro is essentially stock; Dean had to swap out the original mill for another, and while he was at it, he put in bigger cams and headers at the customer’s request. The performance bump here is about 10-15 extra ponies, bringing horsepower up to the 390s, with +400 lb.-ft. of torque. Managing that power is a four-speed manual transmission, topped with a cue-ball shift knob. There’s about 88,000 miles on the odometer, but the car had been sitting for a couple of years before Dean purchased it.
Now, the story behind the story here, for those who aren’t among the Camaro elite, is that Chevy’s muscle car had been introduced in 1967, and by 1969 was ready for a bit of a refresh. Well, it got that and more, including a Hurst transmission, new engine choices, revised, bolder sheet metal, and the proverbial much much more. The thing was, the second-gen Camaro was due in 1970. And despite that vehicle’s late launch, which stretched production of the 1969 model longer than expected, the latter’s lifespan was still just that one “year.” Needless to say, that makes the ’69 Camaro pretty popular with collectors today, and the SS especially so.
Ready for some numbers, now? Using some collector sites for reference (Oldride.com, Firstgencamaro.com), I can see a 1969 road test of a Camaro SS with the 396 by “Car Life” magazine turned up a 0-60 time of 6.8 sec., a 0-100 run of 15.6 sec., a quarter-mile e.t. of 14.77 sec. at 98.72 mph. Top speed: 126 mph. And back then, you could get into a car like this for as low as $3,023.
But the most shocking statistic has to do with the car’s production run. Amazingly, Chevrolet built 243,085 Camaros in 1969, including some 36,309 units of the SS, and correspondingly fewer with the 396. But 243K Camaros? To put this into context, that’s about 25,000 more vehicles than either Hyundai or VW sold in the US during all of 2009.
As I said to start this, life sure is funny sometimes. Enjoy our gallery below.