CHAM­PAGNE ON A BEER BUD­GET

L78 Ca­maro sports the rarest color of all

Muscle Car Review - - Contents - By Scotty Lachenauer

Fran­cis Jen­newine needed a hot car in a hurry. It was the fall of 1969, and the 19-year-old Navy ser­vice­man, on short leave from wartime duty, knew what he wanted. It had to be a Chevy, with a 396, and built with all the horse­power the en­gine could muster—375 ponies to be ex­act.

Well, there was one other thing. He didn’t want a full­size car like the 1965 Im­pala SS he was trad­ing in. So he lim­ited his model search to Chev­elle, Nova, or Ca­maro, in that or­der. He pulled to­gether his re­sources and made a trip to H&B Chevrolet in nearby Charleroi, Penn­syl­va­nia, to see what was in stock.

Fran­cis was told there were no Chev­elles on the premises, but they did just get a new-for-1969 Ca­maro SS.

“That’s all well and good, but I want one with the 375 horses,” Fran­cis stated.

“Lucky for you, that’s what it’s got,” replied the sales­man.

With that ex­change, an ex­cited Fran­cis was led to the wash bay where the new­bie F-Body was get­ting its first bath.

“I locked my eyes on the sil­hou­ette of a car in the wash bay,” he re­mem­bers. “I saw the color. Never seen one like it, and it def­i­nitely caught my at­ten­tion.”

This F-Body was a to­tal sleeper, dressed down with painted steel wheels and dog dish caps, and miss­ing some of the avail­able ex­te­rior adorn­ments. And then there was that color, Code 63 Cham­pagne Metal­lic, a rare hue and one that hit a base-clearing grand slam with young Fran­cis.

The deal-sealer was when the young­ster got to start the car. He says, “The sound of the en­gine and how it made the an­tenna rock back and forth—well, that was it.” He laid down his hard-earned cash and signed the pa­pers.

Fran­cis was im­me­di­ately smit­ten with his new ride. “I kept think­ing to my­self, at about $3,500 it didn’t seem like a lot of money for a car built like this.”

And it cer­tainly was “built.” From the L78 en­gine to the M21 four-speed trans­mis­sion and 12-bolt rear, this car was a prime­time, no-holds-barred, street-brawlin’ race ma­chine.

When you’re a young speed ad­dict, you’re gonna test the lim­its of your new car. “I had the nee­dle pinned sev­eral times,” Fran­cis re­calls. “The laser-straight roads in the back­woods of Florida near

“At about $3,500, it didn’t seem like a lot of money for a car like this”

where I was sta­tioned were per­fect for see­ing what this car could do.”

It was on one of those late night runs that the Ca­maro had its first mal­func­tion. “Go­ing back to the base late one night from my buddy’s house I had the car pegged, and then it threw the fan belt.”

That was the first but not the last time it would do that. Af­ter the third lost belt in just a few months, he took the car to a lo­cal shop. “I found out the har­monic bal­ancer and crank pul­ley were out of align­ment,” Fran­cis says. “Once we fixed the is­sue it never hap­pened again.”

Though he loved his ride, Fran­cis de­cided af­ter lit­tle over a year that he re­ally wanted a Chev­elle. So he went back to

H&B and turned in the Ca­maro with 19,000 miles show­ing on the odome­ter. In re­turn he picked up a new 1970 LS6 Chev­elle. Well, we can’t say that was a bad idea.

In the years that fol­lowed, the Ca­maro led an in­ter­est­ing life, be­ing handed off to more than a dozen own­ers over the next 40 years. It was dur­ing this time that it first ap­peared on Brian Hen­der­son’s radar. Brian co-op­er­ates the Su­per Car Work­shop in La­trobe, Penn­syl­va­nia, with part­ner Joe Swezey. They work on some of the most de­sir­able mus­cle cars in ex­is­tence.

You can’t be a well-built Chevy in the Pitts­burgh area with­out Brian knowing your where­abouts. So it’s no sur­prise that Brian has been aware of this par­tic­u­lar Ca­maro since 1980. He has seen it passed from owner to owner, at one time sport­ing four-wheel disc brakes (with a biz­zaro Hy­dro­boost brake sys­tem). Brian even saw it shipped off to a new home in Texas. But that was not the end of the story.

Brian’s good friend and fel­low F-Body lover Barry Cough­lin was look­ing for a hot Ca­maro. Just by luck, Brian was scout­ing the web one night and came upon a red 1969 Ca­maro for sale in Texas. Due to a few key mod­i­fi­ca­tions (the brakes gave it away), he knew this was the Ca­maro he had known since his teenage years. The Cham­pagne-col­ored car had gone through a slight meta­mor­pho­sis, but Brian had no doubt that this was the same car from H&B.

“He lo­cated the orig­i­nal en­gine in Florida”

Barry took Brian’s ad­vice and bought the car. Af­ter own­ing it for sev­eral years, he sold it to Brian. Happy to have it back in the Pitts­burgh area, Brian did what he does best and started a full restora­tion. First he col­lected as many N.O.S. parts as pos­si­ble, and then be­gan the tear­down, with ev­ery step care­fully doc­u­mented. It was a slow process, as Brian was al­ready loaded down with cus­tomer cars.

We should note that the orig­i­nal en­gine was miss­ing. Some­time early in its life, the mo­tor was pulled, sold, and re­placed with a stout 427. Dur­ing his time of own­er­ship, Brian fol­lowed up on a tip and lo­cated the orig­i­nal en­gine in Florida! The owner had the com­plete L78 mo­tor still un­der wraps and in very good shape. He had bought it 40 years ear­lier hop­ing to put it in his 1957 Chevy. (The kicker: He still had the Chevy as well, not able to fin­ish the trans­plant in the four decades he owned them both!) Brian bought the mo­tor and re­united it with the Ca­maro.

Dur­ing the restora­tion, Barry met with Brian when he came to town scout­ing a Chev­elle LS6. Af­ter that deal fell through, Barry hit Brian up with a big ques­tion: “Hey, can I buy that Ca­maro back from you when it’s fin­ished?”

Brian wasn’t sur­prised that Barry wanted the car back, and he was open to sell­ing it. So Barry bought the car while it sat on the ro­tis­serie, and Brian and Joe got to fin­ish the car for their good friend.

Su­per Car Work­shop doesn’t do any­thing half­way. The car was metic­u­lously re­stored to as orig­i­nal as pos­si­ble. The hard­est parts to source were the orig­i­nal Uniroyal Tiger Paw white-let­ter tires. They are not re­pro­duced, but Brian was able to find a mint set of used tires. The paint and body­work were done by Jamie Cooper and Joe Grif­fith at Su­per Car Restora­tion in nearby Cly­mer, Penn­syl­va­nia. Joe Ze­oli and Dave Reed at A1 Ma­chine han­dled the en­gine re­build, re­unit­ing the parts that Brian had res­cued from Florida.

To­day Barry is the keeper of a truly unique car, sport­ing a rarely seen color with one of the bad­dest mo­tors that Chevy ever put in its pony car. Like Fran­cis said, there is cer­tainly a lot of bang for the buck with this Ca­maro. We’re for­tu­nate that it was saved and re­stored so we all can see what im­pressed that young Navy ser­vice­man so much back in 1969.

n Prob­a­bly the most strik­ing fea­ture of this 1969 Ca­maro SS is the stun­ning Code 63 Cham­pagne Metal­lic paint. Only 0.5 per­cent of the Camaros sold that year sported this paint code, the rarest color of­fered on Camaros that year by far. n The orig­i­nal...

n Orig­i­nal owner Fran­cis Jen­newine took de­liv­ery of his car with a ba­sic in­te­rior: two-spoke steer­ing wheel, no con­sole, and ba­sic black vinyl bucket seats. He spent his money in­stead on the driv­e­train of this bud­get brawler. n The XT-code steel...

n H&B Chevrolet in Charleroi, Penn­syl­va­nia, opened a sep­a­rate Sports Depart­ment to cater to those buy­ers look­ing for high-per­for­mance Chevy mus­cle. It was staffed with “qual­i­fied sales per­son­nel who speak their lan­guage.” We only wish these old ads had...

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