Thursday, August 25, 2011

Building The Perfect 69 Camaro

Quest for Perfection

This One Hits the Mark

Story Joe Greeves

When we interview builders about the reason behind a creation, we often hear themes like wanting a good daily driver or hoping to create something new and different. We believe Brian Hall’s initial goal must have been a genuine quest for perfection since his beautiful ’69 Camaro is among the best we’ve seen.

Thanks to his father, Brian grew up loving cars and there was always a hot rod or two in the driveway. As the owner of several collision centers near his home in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Brian works on cars during the day and enjoys building custom vehicles after hours.

Starting with the basics, the original chassis was removed, all of the holes welded shut, seams ground smooth and everything sprayed to match the exterior. Stainless steel upper and lower control arms from Speed Freak were added up front, along with a Flaming River power rack and pinion steering activated by an ididit tilt and telescoping steering column. The Fab 9 rear is a nine-inch unit fitted with an all-aluminum Moser Truetrac center section, 31-spline axles and 3.73 gears, held in place by a RideTech four-link rear.

Advance Plating in Tennessee polished it to a show car shine. A Wilwood polished aluminum tandem master cylinder energizes the 13-inch, four-piston caliper disc brakes from Aerospace Components, complete with an emergency brake integrated into the rear discs. Getting the show-quality chassis rolling are Colorado Customs rims, 20 x 12 with 2½-inch backspacing in the rear and 18 x 8 with a six-inch backspacing up front. Toyo Proxes 35- and 40-series rubber plants the power to the asphalt.

The new RideTech Street Challenge system provides precise control over all four wheels, adjusting the Camaro’s altitude at the touch of a button. All the components are hidden behind the rear panel in the trunk.

Under the hood is a GM 502 Ram Jet crate engine, sending an awesome 502 horsepower to the turbo 400 transmission. Brian chose custom 2¼-inch headers and MagnaFlow mufflers to ensure the appropriate muscle car sound. Cosmetics include the Billet Specialties TruTrak pulley system along with chromed brackets and hood hinges. The engine block and custom valve covers were painted to match the exterior as were the inner fender panels, firewall and the smoothed underside of the hood. Seeing this car on a lift, you realize the underside is as beautiful as the top.

Very little of the original body remains. The rejuvenation process included new GM sheetmetal for the front end, doors, rear fenders, floor and decklid. Unique touches include the unusual steel dash from a 1960 Chevrolet Impala, shortened to fit the car and filled with Custom Classic instruments. The new center console was constructed from hand-formed steel and holds the stereo, A/C controls, air suspension switches and the Lokar shifter that works the B & M-equipped Turbo 400. Brian’s good friend Mike Riggs did the metalwork. The pair of perfectly scaled bucket seats came from a Fiero, re-upholstered and with the headrests removed. Mike from Mike’s Custom Cars created the unique rear seats and is now offering them for sale. You won’t see any carpet in this car. The Platinum Gray leather used throughout the car extends to the floor and headliner. The elegant stitch work was done by Hot Rod Interiors in Mooresville, North Carolina.

To ensure every block on the full custom list was checked, the stereo was next. Using Alpine components, the audio-visual package begins with the IVA-W205 Multimedia Station with its 6.5-inch touch screen in the center of the console. It controls the three trunk-mounted Alpine amplifiers with the pair of PDX 1.600 mono power digital amps driving the twin 10-inch Alpine subs. The single PDX-4.100 four-channel power amp energizes the separated 6.25-inch component sets in the kick panels and the pair of 6 x 9s in the rear package tray. A pair of Optima Red Top batteries, hidden behind the rear trunk wall, provide power for the stereo and the car.

The final step was paint, beginning with Brian’s brother, Todd Hall, smoothing the Camaro sheetmetal and shooting the distinctive Spies Heckler Intense Blue Pearl over a white base. Ryan Young of Indocil Art did the stylized flames with multiple shades of silver and gray.

Future plans don’t include many more modifications. About now, Brian says he has the Camaro just the way he likes it. Plans do include enjoying the car at lots of shows throughout the Southeast.

1967 Pontiac Firebird

Bird of a Different Feather

When Blue Became a Unique Color

Story Jon G. Robinson

Images Al Rogers

In 1967, roughly 31 percent of the new Firebirds made were Verdoro Green. John DeLorean’s wife had discovered the deep, bottle-green on an ashtray during a party at a friend’s house. DeLorean took the ashtray to the Pontiac paint lab, and they matched the new color for the new car.

Because of Verdoro Green’s wild popularity, some of the other colors used by Pontiac for the product line can be considered comparatively rare. Tyrol Blue is a case in point.

“I’ve owned this car for 23 years, and I’ve never seen another one of this color combination,” says Matt Martinelli, who resurrected his Firebird 400 convertible from a dozen boxes he bought from a friend. Martinelli is an automative restoration and collision repair technician at a custom repair facility. Once he deciphered the car’s paint codes, he took great pains to bring its correct Tyrol Blue scheme to life.

Martinelli of Troy, Michigan, has an automotive background. His father Dino designed interior pieces for General Motors in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, specializing in door parts – handles, cranks, lever mechanisms, and hinges. He frequently brought home sporty, new cars, including a ’70 Camaro SS and several Corvettes. Matt was hooked on cars, and his first car – a ’65 Grand Prix – cemented his relationship with Pontiacs.

A close friend had started to restore the Firebird but needed to sell it to buy his family a home in 1988. “It had been sitting in a barn for about ten years out in Capac, Michigan,” Martinelli tells. “The engine had been professionally rebuilt when he graduated high school, and he took the car apart to restore it. The engine sat in his bedroom in a crate wrapped in plastic. The rest of the car was in boxes and milk crates. It was sad, but it was all there. I had to get the top done and redo the whole body. The dash pad is still original. The engine is original to the car. Even the radiator is original to the car, and I just had it rodded out. I had the carburetor redone. The exhaust is not correct right now, but I plan to have Inline Tube, Inc. take the exhaust back to original.”

Martinelli replaced two fenders, made several small rust repairs, and gave the Firebird its final coat of Tyrol Blue at home in the summer of 1995. The ’Bird was finally ready to fly.

The 400ci V-8, capable of 365 horsepower, is equipped with the Ram Air intake system – an option that made the hood scoops functional. Without Ram Air, the hood scoops were only ornamental, and the engine carried an ordinary, dual-snorkel air filter under the hood. Martinelli’s only two modifications to the car have been to add the stock-style, hood-mounted tachometer and the stock Ram Air intake system. Martinelli opened the two covers from the hood scoops, attached the pan to the underside of the hood that guides air to the air filter, and mounted the proper air filter to the carburetor. When the hood is closed, the Ram Air pan comes down onto the air cleaner’s foam border and forms a seal.

“It breathes so much better after putting that Ram Air system on the car,” Martinelli says. “It sounds better. It acts better. You can feel it. It pushes the air right into the motor, and it doesn’t take in all the hot air from under the hood. It made that car run night-and-day better. The pan attaches with five screws right into the crossmembers under the hood. The pan is sealed from the hood with foam, and then it closes down onto the foam around the air cleaner. It works beautifully.”

Martinelli’s Firebird also carries a four-speed Muncie manual transmission and a 3.90 rearend. The car lacks power steering and has drum brakes. These options make it identical to the Firebird 400 convertible Car & Driver tested for its March, 1967 issue. Pontiac introduced the Firebird quite late in the model year, and by the time the first Firebird left the factory, the new F-body Chevrolet Camaro had been on the streets for months. The magazine confirmed that the Firebird was not a rebadged Camaro.

Car & Driver gave the Firebird 400 high marks for its extremely high torque and having the rear suspension to handle it. The Firebird’s lower profile came partly from having only single-leaf rear springs like an early Chevy II, but C&D said the traction bars stabilized the rear axle so well that the rear wheels did not hop around under high throttle as they did on a Camaro. The Firebird 400 carries its engine several inches further back in the car. The editors praised Pontiac for better weight distribution compared to Camaro, but they gave the engine poor marks for serviceability because the engine position pushed the distributor so far back against the firewall.

Martinelli prefers the non-power steering in his Firebird, and C&D liked their test car’s steering for the same reason – responsiveness and quick return to center. The editors described the 3.90 rearend as great for neck-snapping acceleration but “asinine” for normal driving, and Martinelli feels the same way. But both agree that the Firebird is insulated well enough that engine noise is minimal and pleasant compared to some powerful cars.

“I was going to sell it about 10 years ago,” Martinelli says. “I was offering it back to my friend, but my wife took me aside and said, ‘Don’t do it.’ I’m glad she did. I’ve had 65 or 70 cars over the years, but I’m hanging onto this one.”

Firebird: Full Throttle

Jim Wangers is famous in Pontiac circles for his ingenious promotional efforts while he worked for McManus, John and Adams, the company that handled Pontiac’s publicity.

Pontiac announced the new Firebird in January of 1967, and Pontiac management immediately threw a problem at Wangers.

“The Firebird came out months after the GTO,” Wangers recalls. “It was way too late to compete with the Mustang, but Firebird had gone one step better by having that big engine in the smaller pony car. The Firebird 400 was aggressively marketed as a performance car. It performed so well that, to protect the GTO’s performance image, we had to do something to control the Firebird’s performance output. They came out with the stupid idea putting a throttle-stop into every Firebird 400. That enabled them to rate the Firebird 400 horsepower lower than the GTO. It only took five or six weeks for people to discover the throttle-stop carefully hidden on the 400, and people took it off. I laugh now because we seriously thought we could get away with that at that time.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

1971 Torino GT Convertible

Crowned Jewel

A family heirloom gets a makeover

Story Al Rogers

Hakan Yavalar graduated from high school in 1978 and had the fortune to receive a 1971 Torino GT convertible from his father Turk Yavalar. It was a proud day for the Yavalar family.

That 1971 Torino GT convertible has remained in the possession of Hakan since day one. “This car has a lot of memories for me and my family,” he said. “It’s been on a journey with me that started more than 30 years ago on my first job and has continued right up to my current job, remodeling real estate property. This car was once my father’s daily driver. He purchased it new and drove it to work regularly. I have fond memories, seeing him driving off to work at the local construction company with the top down and a smile on his face.”

Young adults get married, then children come along, and a car like the 1971 Torino GT convertible becomes less practical. Often, the decision is made to put it away until the right time comes along to give it a new life or a second chance to be enjoyed with top down and a happy driver behind the wheel. This Torino GT sat idle for 15 years, awaiting a special day.

The Torino is a documented 1 of 16 Maroon Metallic with automatic transmission, 302 V-8 engine, C4 Cruise-O-Matic transmission, with power steering and AM radio. The interior is black vinyl, and the convertible top is white.

In late 2009, Hakan Yavalar started his search for a company to perform a frame-off concours restoration on the 1971 Torino GT convertible. After four months, RK Motors in Mentor, Ohio, became the choice. Hakan Yavalar was impressed with the quality of workmanship, attention to detail and care the RK team put into its award-winning restorations.

The car’s story gets more intriguing with a rather surprising twist. “The son came to us with a simple request, to completely restore the Torino to its glory days,” said Joseph Carroll, president of RK Motors Restoration and RK Motors Charlotte, North Carolina. “The RK team is honored to be a part of this special moment in the Yavalar family lives.” This Torino is a prized possession with only 44,000 miles.

For their part, RK Motors Restoration returned the Torino GT to factory-correct status with the exception of a dual exhaust system per the request of Hakan Yavalar. The team completed the nut-and-bolt concours restoration in a little more than nine months.

This timing allowed Hakan to present the Torino GT convertible to his father at a party honoring Turk Yavalar’s 80th birthday. After owning it for more than 30 years, the son gave it back, returning it to the original owner, his father, as a tribute.

Turk was very surprised. For Hakan, the moment was like stepping back in time as he recalled the day in 1978 when his proud father stood before him and handed over the keys to the car.

Hakan Yavalar has children of his own, grandchildren to Turk. Hakan hopes one day his father will give the family heirloom to one of his grandkids, thus preserving the history of an automobile to be cherished with fond memories for generations to enjoy. A tradition that started 30 years earlier and extending it into the future would please Hakan.

A new chapter in the 1971 Torino GT convertible’s legacy is in the making. Ford Motor Company dropped the Torino brand from its fleet after the 1976 model. The Yavalar family has resurrected it with their family tradition. With a little luck and care, their 1971 will extend the glory of Torino into generations to come.

Front Disc Brake Conversion and Brake Line Replacement

Gimme a Brake

Front Brake Conversion and Brake Line Replacement

Story Larry Weiner

Owning a vehicle with blazing acceleration was a top priority for enthusiasts in the ’60s. Few gave much thought to stopping. Although brake options, such as front discs or drums with metallic linings, were often available, they were generally not at the top of the shopping list.

Many drag racers were convinced that muscle cars equipped with disc brakes weighed more, making them slower. Unlike the bright orange Turbo Jet engines that were accented with chrome valve covers and large open element air cleaners, brakes did not have eye appeal. While they were functional, the disc brakes of the era featured plain cast iron calipers and rotors that were often already rusting when the vehicle was delivered new. The designers at GM, Ford and Chrysler all knew this and cleverly designed their wheels, including the optional rally and mag styles, so that they hid the brakes.

Needless to say, most muscle cars were equipped with basic drum brakes. The brakes on the average and even many extreme muscle cars in the 1960s employed the same small four-wheel hydraulically actuated internal expanding drum brakes that had been the industry standard on nearly all vehicles built for several decades. They were marginal at best when these vehicles were new.

Four decades later, they’re really not up to the task. Speeds on most roads and highways are now higher. People drive less defensively than they did back in the 1960s when the biggest distraction was an AM radio. Today, many drivers are talking on cell phones and text messaging while they are driving, instead of paying attention to the road.

With those thoughts in mind, and in the spirit of survival in the asphalt jungle, it seemed appropriate to upgrade this Camaro to front disc brakes. With the inherent benefits of shorter stopping distances and resistance to fade, disc brakes offer superior performance to drum brakes, especially since the front brakes do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to stopping a vehicle, even one as light as a small block-powered first-gen Camaro.

The disc brake kit we chose is from Stainless Steel Brakes Corp., better known as SSBC. They offer numerous drum-to-disc brake conversion kits, in addition to a comprehensive range of disc brake upgrade kits that go from mild to wild. These include a signature line of lightweight aluminum calipers that are available in single, two-, three-, four-, six- and eight-piston configurations. According to SSBC, they produce bolt-on disc brake kits for over 3,500 different vehicle applications and in excess of 5,000 unique applications.

This particular drum-to-disc brake conversion kit is very affordable, easy to install, and includes every part needed, including a new master cylinder. The single piston calipers are complemented by ventilated rotors, and look very similar to the optional disc brakes on the 1969 Camaro. Likewise, the master cylinder is nearly identical to the one used by Chevrolet on first-gen Camaros that were equipped with disc brakes. Once installed, the SSBC disc brakes have a factory-like appearance and are designed to accommodate stock wheels as small as original equipment 14x6 Camaro Rally wheels.

In preparation for the drum-to-disc conversion, we took a good look at the brake lines on the Camaro. After 44 years of service, they were in serious need of replacement. Because conventional brake fluid is hygroscopic, it absorbs moisture. In essence, the brake lines have been rusting from the inside out for over four decades, to say nothing of the aged and cracked rubber flex lines at the front and rear. One look at the rusty brake fluid in the master cylinder confirmed our fears. Since we were going to upgrade the front drums to disc and install a new master cylinder, it made perfect sense to replace all of the brake lines at the same time.

Follow along with us as we upgrade the Camaro with disc brakes that will make it a more modern vehicle to drive, along with all new brake lines. The combination of both will make it a safer vehicle, and prepare it for many for years of trouble-free cruising.

Order SSBC Brakes and New Brake Lines at

1 Here’s the front brake drum after removing the wheel and tire assembly. Before getting to this point, chock the rear wheels, lift vehicle until the front tires clear the floor and install jackstands under the front subframe.

2 Removing the brake drum exposes internal expanding drum brake components. If the brake drum does not pull off easily, retract the shoes by inserting a narrow screwdriver through brake adjusting slot in backing plate and backing off the adjustment screw.

3 Removing the dust cap exposes the spindle nut and cotter pin. After straightening the cotter pin, pull it out with pliers.

4 Loosen the spindle nut that is threaded on the spindle. As you do, pull the retaining washer away with the nut, allowing the outer tapered roller bearing to become exposed for removal.

5 After removing the nut, retaining washer and outer wheel bearing, remove the hub by pulling it off of the spindle. After the hub is removed, clean the spindle to remove grease.

6 Remove the cover from the master cylinder. Using a syringe or turkey baster, remove as much brake fluid as possible from the master cylinder. Attach hoses to the front wheel cylinder bleeder screws and place the other end of the hoses in containers. Open the bleeder screws and drain all remaining brake fluid. Note the rust color of the brake fluid in the master cylinder, especially in the front bowl.

7 The flexible rubber brake line connects the wheel cylinder to the steel line. The junction is located at the front frame rail where the steel and rubber flexible brake lines are retained by a bracket and U-shaped spring clip.

8 Using quality tubing wrenches, unscrew the male fitting in the hard line from the female fitting in the rubber flexible brake line.

9 Using pliers, remove the spring clip from the frame mounted bracket.

10 Remove the brake shoes and springs and retaining hardware to expose the backing plate and wheel cylinder.

11 Here’s the top backing plate center bolt. Note that it has a retainer that is folded over the bolt shoulders to prevent it from loosening.

12 The folded portions of the retainer must be straightened to remove the bolt. Use a flat blade screwdriver to straighten the retainer and then remove the bolt.

13 Remove the remaining two nuts and bolts that hold the backing plate to the spindle.

14 Install the SSBC caliper brackets so that the caliper will be on the trailing side facing the firewall. Use the special upper spindle anchor bolt and the ½-20 bolts supplied to secure the brackets to the spindle. Torque the upper bolt to 90 to 100 lbs-ft and the lower bolts to 60 to 80 lbs-ft.

15 With the spindle clean, slide the spindle spacer provided in the kit onto the spindle with the beveled side facing inward.

16 After greasing the new inner wheel bearing and race with high-quality wheel bearing grease, install the wheel bearing and grease seal in the back of the rotor hub. Be sure to use the correct tool to install the grease seal and make sure that it seats properly.

17 Install the rotor onto the spindle and install outer wheel bearing after greasing the bearing and race.

18 Install the retaining washer and spindle nut next. Torque the spindle nut to 12 lbs-ft. While turning the rotor, loosen nut one flat and insert cotter pin. If the slot and pin holes do not line up, turn the nut back enough to insert cotter pin. Make sure that the rotor spins freely.

19 Install the cotter pin through slot and bend it. Using a rubber mallet, install the dust cover, being sure to tap on the corners, not the face of the cover when attaching.

20 With pads installed in the caliper, place one of the supplied spacers on each mounting bolt between the caliper and bracket. The pointer illustrates the correct placement of the spacer. Lube the bolts with silicone-based grease, slide the caliper over the rotor and tighten bolts to 40 lbs-ft.

21 With the caliper in place, install the new brake flex line. Secure the end of the flex line with a banjo bolt, using a copper crush washer on either side of the fitting and screw into back of caliper. Temporarily connect the flex line to the 12-point retaining bracket on the frame and secure with the U-shaped spring clip. Turn the steering assembly through a full left-to-right turn, noting that the flex line does not twist or double bend. If there is no problem, use the tubing wrenches to complete the connection.

22 This Camaro was factory-equipped with manual drum brakes and we are upgrading to manual front disc brakes. The SSBC kit includes a larger master cylinder that is a direct bolt-on replacement. Disconnect the two brake lines on the left side of the old master cylinder, using a six-point box wrench, followed by removing the two nuts from the studs that attach the master cylinder to the firewall.

23 The master cylinder and distribution block are removed from the firewall. The master cylinder attaches to the two upper studs. The stock pushrod is reused with the new master cylinder and no adjustment to the pushrod is required.

24 Here’s a comparison of original and replacement master cylinders. The replacement master cylinder from SSBC is larger, and looks much like the master cylinder Chevrolet used on first-gen Camaros with optional front disc brakes. The attachment points for mounting both master cylinders and the location for the brake lines is the same.

25 The original master cylinder was leaking from the rear seal, especially upon removal of the dust boot. It had a casting date of K116, which translates to November 11, 1966, identifying it as the original master cylinder that was installed on the Camaro when it was built by GM.

26 If you do not have a large bench vise, you can bleed the master cylinder bolted on the vehicle by using the brake pedal to push the piston in on the master cylinder. Position the bleeder hoses per instructions and fill the master cylinder to top using DOT 3 or DOT4 fluid. Use DOT5 if all fluid in the entire system will be changed. Once all of the bubbles have been eliminated, remove the bleeder hoses and install the master cylinder cover. Using a six-point wrench, remove the old brake lines that run from the distribution block to the master cylinder and install the new brake lines.

27 This comparison of the original brake lines and the new replacement lines illustrates the exactness of bends, spring wraps, and attention to detail. Be sure to note the placement of the retaining clips on the original brake lines. Carefully remove the clips and reinstall on the new brake lines in the same location.

28 We will install the new brake lines, starting with the steel lines that service the front brakes. The left front brake line starts at the front center port in the distribution block, extends over the steering box and turns left behind the upper control arm, where it meets the left front rubber flexible brake hose at the chassis bracket.

29 The line for the right front brake is long with numerous bends. It starts at the right front port on the distribution block and winds its way down alongside the steering box, behind the front crossmember, up the inside of the right front subframe and terminates at the mounting bracket where it meets the right front rubber flexible brake hose.

30 Routing of a new main brake line starts at the left rear port of the distribution block. When removing the old line, note the location and correct placement of the line in the mounting clips. The brake line is attached to the left side subframes and floor, ending at the mounting bracket that is bolted to the left rear passenger floor. At this point, the steel line screws into the female fitting on the rubber flexible brake hose. The flex hose runs to the junction block that is mounted on the differential. The flex hose screws into the larger of the female fittings on the junction block and is attached to the brackets at both ends by U-shaped spring clips.

31 The new rear brake lines are installed. The left and right steel lines run from the brass junction block to the wheel cylinders located at the top of the drum brake backing plates. Each line is secured to the differential housing by a clip welded to the axle tube. The junction block is held in place with a stamped steel bracket attached to a bolt on the differential cover.

32 With all of the brake lines installed, double check each of the fittings to be sure that they are tight and that the master cylinder is topped off with brake fluid. Open one bleeder valve at a time, starting at the wheel that is furthest from the master cylinder, working your way around to the wheel that is the closest to the master cylinder. At first, the fluid will escape with intermittent air bubbles. When all of the air bubbles stop, and a steady flow of fluid is observed for several seconds, close the bleeder valve and move on to the next wheel. If you need to pump the brake pedal again, close the bleeder before lifting your foot from the brake pedal. After bleeding all four wheels, and continuing to top off the master cylinder, push the brake pedal 20 to 30 times. If the pedal is hard, no further bleeding is required. If the pedal is spongy, repeat the bleeding process until a hard pedal is achieved.

33 A completed drum-to-disc brake conversion. One big plus over the original first-gen Camaro factory disc brakes is that SSBC uses a rust-resistant paint on the calipers and a protective coating on the rotors that will help keep them looking new.

Final notes

After bleeding the brakes, re-check all fittings and connections to be sure that there are no leaks. Check the master cylinder reservoirs to be sure that they are full. Reinstall the front wheels on the vehicle and turn by hand to be sure that the wheels spin freely and do not interfere with any brake components.

Do not drive in traffic until the brakes stop the vehicle at a safe distance without a spongy pedal feel. Brake tests should always be done in an open area. SSBC suggests a 200-mile break-in period to enable the brake pads to “square up” to the face of the rotors for longer life and improved braking before using the brakes aggressively.