Posted by: Phil's Classic Chevys | January 4, 2014

THE PACE CAR’S HISTORY COMES TO LIFE!

I recently received a contact that suggested that I might be the owner of a Camaro Pace Car that was previously owned and restored by a fellow from the Philadelphia area.  Frank, the individual making the contact, suggested I check the vin number that he had supplied in his email.  It was an exciting possibility, so I immediately checked, and, much to my satisfaction, THE VIN NUMBER MATCHED!   Car collectors are always interested in discovering the history of their cars, and Frank had potentially given me that opportunity.

In my response to Frank, I clearly indicated how happy I was to hear from him and how much I wanted to talk further.  Frank’s response was equally enthusiastic, and he expressed a willingness to tell me all about the car.  He not only seemed like a good guy, but, also, a knowledgeable Pace Car afficianado.  This was going to be fun!

One unique feature of my Pace Car is that it has a column shift.  Most Pace Cars were ordered with a console, so column shift cars are very rare.  Frank found this website by every so often searching for 1969 Pace Car with a column shifter.  Eventually he found mine.

Frank bought the car in 1981 and owned/restored it over a twenty year period.  The car was originally sold in South Dakota.  The owner prior to Frank had owned it for five years.   When Frank bought the car, it was sitting outside, in primer, surrounded by overgrown weeds.  Clearly, it was in need of significant restoration.

THE RESTORATION BEGINS-PART ONE

The Camaro that Frank purchased in 1981 was vastly different than the current one.  It’s twelve year life had left it in primer, in a field, exposed to the elements, and in need of a lot of work.  Fortunately the car still had it’s original drive train, interior and body panels.  However, the interior was badly worn and the body exhibited a significant amount of rust.

PHOTO 1 (CAR IN FIELD)

Frank began by replacing the floor pans and finding a donor car for replacement of the doors.  The fenders, rear quarter panels and trunk are GM replacement parts purchased from the local Chevy dealer.  It took four replacement cowl induction hoods to find one that fit Frank’s exacting specifications.  The original rear spoiler was reused, and a new trunk floor was welded into place.  When removing the spoiler from the original trunk lid, the original Hugger Orange stripes were exposed which allowed Frank to eventually duplicate their correct size and location on the restored car.

Frank cleaned the underside of the car and painted it chassis black.  He was also able to find the original build sheet under the rear seat.  The build sheet is a document that follows the car down the line and tells the assembly line workers what options to put on the car.  It is a great way to verify a car’s authenticity.  According to Frank, although he was able to find the build sheet, it was badly deteriorated and unable to be saved.

PHOTO 3 (UNDERSIDE OF CAR)

It was time to move on to the mechanical aspects of the restoration.

THE RESTORATION CONTINUES-PART 2

The car’s drivetrain was as it came from the factory in April of 1969, but showed the effects of twelve years of driving.  The engine was torn down, inspected, pistons replaced, the rear seal replaced, and the valve seats hardened.  The engine was then carefully examined and reassembled.

The original Turbo-Hydromatic 350 transmission was removed, inspected, and found to be in good shape, and the original linkage was replaced.  The original twelve bolt Positraction rear end was also checked and found to be fine.  The rear 3.55 gear ratio was verified.

The Pace Cars all came with cowl induction hoods.  The cowl induction principle took advantage of the increased air pressure at the base of the windshield (cowl) that allowed a greater volume of air to reach the carburetor through a raised opening in the back of the hood.  The cowl induction package increased the 350’s horsepower from 295 to 300.  A solenoid operated flapper opened to allow the higher pressure air to enter when the accelerator pedal was floored.  During restoration, Frank replaced the flapper and repaired its operation.  The sound of air rushing into a cowl induction hood when the go pedal meets the floor is music to any Chevy guy’s ears.

Frank stripped any old paint, primed the car, and then added a base coat of original Dover White paint.  He then added the Hugger Orange Z-28 style stripes (the Pace Car is the only non-Z28 Camaro to have the factory dual stripes), and then clear coated the car.

PHOTO 4 (CAR BEING PAINTED)

The interior required significant work including new seat cushions and covers, carpeting, and dash rehab and repair.  New door panels were installed along with a new white convertible top.  Frank was also able to find an original Delco AM radio just like the one that came from the factory.  The radio still works great.

PHOTOS 2(INTERIOR PHOTOS)

RESTORATION COMPLETE, THE CAR GOES BACK ON THE ROAD.

We all have fond memories of our old cars, and Frank’s experiences when the Pace Car restoration was completed should bring back some of our own.

He took the Pace Car to the Camaro Nationals and waited in line while the judges approached his car.  While waiting his turn, Frank watched judges discussing the authenticity of a firewall grommet in a car three or four before his.   The experience turned him off to the process but didn’t keep him from eventually getting the car certified by the Pace Car Registry.

Frank called his car a “chick magnet” and frequently filled his car with friends and headed for the Jersey shore.  He was also a participant in an occasional stop light drag race.  In one instance he was leading a competitor heading into a curve in the road.  With competitive juices flowing, he refused to back off and hit the curb at high speed.  The impact launched his passenger out of his seat and caused his knees to dent the glove compartment door.  I have been temped every once in a while to straighten the door, bit it won’t happen now.  The story is too good.

While he owned the car, Frank had many offers to buy it.  He rejected them until 2001.  By that time his interests had gravitated to street rods, and he had found someone in Wisconsin who wanted to trade a street rod for the Pace Car.  Frank drove the car to Ohio and met the street rod owner for the trade.

I bought the Pace Car from the Wisconsin owner and drove it home.  Ironically, it’s probably now located pretty close to where Frank traded for the street rod.

Since I have owned the car, it has needed little.  With the help of a good friend, we rehabbed the vacuum headlight door system and got the headlight washers operating again.  Because they were chipped, I had the rocker panels and front valence stripped and repainted.   I also spruced up the instrument panel and engine compartment and cleaned the interior.

I have also been tempted to add a console and move the shifter to the floor.  I won’t be doing that now for two reasons.  The fact that the rarity of the column shift brought the previous owner to me is the first reason.  Secondly, a photo of the car’s interior appears on page 138 of a book entitled “The 1969 Camaro Reference Book.”  I wouldn’t want to make a liar out of the book’s author.

The entire experience of talking to Frank about the car has been a lot of fun.  His enthusiastic retelling of the Camaro’s story was not only informative but contagious.  I can’t wait to get it out next spring!

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