Story by Benjamin Hunting. Photos by Oskar Bakke and Fabian Wester.
I’ve always been a muscle car guy, but never a Camaro guy. I think at some point in our lives, gearheads into the golden generation of high performance American iron shift themselves into one of three camps: Ford, Chevy, or Mopar, with the remainder scattered to the winds of Oldsmobile, Buick, AMC, and Pontiac. For me, it was Mopar, with images of Chargers, ‘Cudas, and Super Bees dancing in my head through my teenage years until it became abundantly clear by the time I got my driver’s license that the age of affordable barn finds and 60-point drivers for $3,500 were long since gone.
When I got the call from the team at AsianDate.com and AnastasiaDate.com to drive their pair of 1969 Chevrolet Camaros from Stockholm, Sweden, to Las Vegas, Nevada, in this year’s Gumball 3000 Rally, I was nevertheless intrigued. The prospect of piloting a muscle machine through the narrow streets of some of Europe’s most beautiful capital cities was too appealing to ignore. There was also the element of adventure, or should I say, morbid curiosity: would a team relying on 38-year-old metal be able to make it 5,000 miles across two continents?
The answer to that question turned out to be more complicated than I would have thought.
A Runner, And A Racer
Filling out the paperwork to get insured on each Camaro prior to the event revealed that I wasn’t the only one who had contemplated the severity of what we were asking our vintage rides to accomplish. “These cars are old, powerful, and quite hard to drive,” was the exact phrasing from our Swedish support team, Ryska Posten, followed by a reminder that a “good (but legal) pace” was required at all times while behind the wheel.
A phone call with an executive from the team’s sponsor – and major Camaro enthusiast – Anthony Volpe, further defined the lay of the land. It seems that both cars had been assembled as Z/28 clones with full aero specifically for the Gumball 3000, but using vastly different design philosophies. The red Camaro featured a modern four-wheel disc-brake setup matched with an updated suspension, especially up front, along with a 420-hp, 383 cubic inch small block Chevy V8 under the hood backed up by a five-speed manual transmission.
The yellow car, on the other hand, was bone stock everywhere but the engine bay, where a 540-hp Sprint car 383 c.i. V8 resided. This created an unusual situation: the quickest, most powerful member of our team also had the worst stoppers (with the original drums at the rear), vague manual steering, and a four-speed Muncie gearbox that ensured ultra-high revs at Autobahn speeds. It’s almost like a rival had snuck into the shop in the middle of the night and secretly swapped engines in an attempt to send the occupants of the yellow ’69 to an early grave. I guess it’s slightly less nefarious than snipping brake lines – but not much.