CHAMPAGNE ON A BEER BUDGET
L78 Camaro sports the rarest color of all
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...