With a 450hp big block and four on the floor, this stunning Camaro isn’t so much a cruiser as a bruiser.
It was a sparkling autumn day when I was called out to go on an adventure of Stand By Me proportions. I drove to a secluded spot in South Auckland to meet up with the photographer, and the vehicle’s owner, Shane Ushaw.
After waiting for the man of the hour to arrive, I finally saw it in all its glory. Amidst the war-torn Beirut backdrop of our industrial photoshoot location was a simply stunning example of a ’69 SS Camaro drop-top. It shone and sparkled so much I had to rub my eyes like a child in a Christmas movie who’d just been given his first bicycle. It was beautiful. I approached the car with wonder and automotive lust, and then quickly ran from it as photographer Dan yelled at me for walking in front of the lens. So I decided instead to quiz the owner about his mighty fine piece of American muscle.
Having owned more Camaro hardtops than he can remember, Shane purchased this convertible in 2004. What really started its major rebuild, though, was a small incident involving a fence, a bit of grass and some dented pride.
Rather than repair the car back to its pre-incident condition, Shane saw his misfortune as the perfect chance to make the drop-top something truly special.
Shane explained that the accident with the fence was actually a blessing in disguise, and he’d always intended to do up the SS, though admittedly not to this level.
Unfortunately this car build not only owes its modifications to that fence but also to Shane’s late wife Donna, who tragically passed away three years ago. Donna loved the car and, before her passing, it was destined to be hers. As the car was part way through the build process when she died, Shane set about building this dream car as a tribute to her.
The four-year build started with the body being completely stripped back and sandblasted.
Knowing the guys from Davies and Naylor, Shane could be sure they would look after the car’s panelwork to a condition that can only be described as better than showroom. Countless hours were involved, but the results speak for themselves, as the body work is flawless.
After the detailed panel session, Shane had Aaron Robertson set about coating the shell in a deep metallic blue. Gone are the previous white stripes and roof, and in came the tougher-looking black replacements.
This example of the SS was originally a four-speed manual, but the owner before Shane had decided for some ungodly reason to replace the box of cogs with an automatic transmission. Shane was having none of it, and set the world right by swapping it back to a stick shift. For a while he had a 427ci motor from his 10-second drag car sitting in the engine bay, and that was how the car first hit the road. “It was a bit too wild, though; it was just everywhere,” he says. No surprises there.
So rather than risk damaging the now pristine machine, the 427 was replaced with a milder 454ci big block. Colin from Compression Technology worked the engine out to 461ci and filled it full of fruit, including a mild cam to make it sound the part. Sitting atop this is a pair of four-barrel Edelbrock carbs.
Shane isn’t exactly sure about the power this car puts to the ground, but he guesstimates that it’d be somewhere in the region of 450hp. That’s a lot in a lightweight car like the Camaro.
It hasn’t been taken down the quarter mile since all the work has been done, but in its earlier untouched state it managed to pull a 14-second run, complete with small block 350 mated to an automatic transmission.
Shane reckons that the SS has “quite long legs”, noting that it’s really more of a tourer than a drag car. It should still put in a fairly decent time down the strip, however.
The Perfect Package
Shane basically wanted a car that could be driven and enjoyed. He likes his hearing, so went with a quieter exhaust system. It rumbles like it means business and opens its throat when the right foot is flexed, but it never shouts loud enough to annoy the neighbouring suburbs. It’s a refined ride that oozes style.
Of course, Shane wanted the full package, a car that was able to stop and go around corners too. The suspension is standard but built from completely new parts, and oddly for a car of this era, it has a very responsive, firm ride. The sticky Federal rubber wrapped around the American Eagle 17-inch rims could have something to do with that, too.
Stopping is taken care of by the Baer disc setup, with 330mm rotors up front and 300mm at the business end. Rest assured the car can easily drop from warp speed to the legal limit, should the driver spot one of those pesky policemen.
The style slithers its way from the bodywork to the interior cabin. Shane has held back not a single greenback while filling the cockpit with original, new parts imported from the states by DC Trading and Chucks.
Kelly at Stitches Upholstery was the man who assembled the interior and recoated every fabric surface, including constructing the new roof. Even the sponges in the seats are brand-spanking factory parts. Pretty much every piece of this SS has been replaced with a boxed and wrapped version. It really is like a brand new car, it’s just a shame they’re not being built like this these days.
1969 Chevrolet SS Camaro – Specifications
Engine: 461ci (7554cc) big block Chev, hypereutectic pistons, ARP fasteners, 224/ 234 deg dur. at .050, sealed power cam, stainless valves, Edelbrock C-66R twin four manifold with two Edelbrock 660 carbs, Mallory ignition system with 10mm spiral core stainless leads, Headman headers Procoated and twin 2.5-inch system, Summit vacuum tank
Driveline: Richmond Super T-10, Centreforce with Lakewood scatter shield, rebuilt 10-bolt posi
Suspension: Gas shocks all round, 25mm front sway bar
Brakes: Baer disc brake package, 330mm rotors front and 300mm rear
Wheels/tyres: 17×8-inch American Eagle alloys, Federal Super Steel 235/45R17 and 255/50R17 Federal Super Steel tyres
Vehicle exterior: B4 Blue and Black by Davies and Naylor Panel and Paint, painted by Aaron Robertson
Interior: Fully retrimmed by Stitches Upholstery, SS wheel and Hurst Shifter, Alpine CD player with four speakers and Alpine sub
Performance: Approx 450hp (336kW)
Shane Ushaw – Owner Profile
Age: Old enough to know better
Occupation: Solo dad
Previously owned cars: The Hulk and a few (heaps of) others
Dream car: Jacksons COPO or a Hemi Cuda
Why the convertible: Right place at the right time
Build time: Four and a half years
Length of ownership: Six years
Shane thanks: Compression Technology (09 239 0188) for engine building and mechanical work, Davies and Naylor Panel and Paint, Aaron Robertson for paint ” thanks for going that extra mile, DC Trading for importing parts, Chuck’s Restorations for importing parts, Kelly at Stitches Upholstery, Tony at Steelie Gears, Pete at PK Auto Electrical. “A special thanks to my late wife, Donna Ushaw, who passed away on January 8, 2008. You never complained when I turned up with a new project or broke one of our toys, we all miss you very much.”
Words: Karl Burnett Photos: Dan Wakelin