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Custom built 1969 Camaro convertible

The Modern Day Rule of Zeus

John Machaqueiro - February 16, 2012 10:00 AM

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We wanted to have the largest engine possible that would fit underneath the stock Camaro cowl hood.

When Paul Carlevale decided to build his ’69 Camaro, his desire was to create the ultimate sleeper.

No stranger to high horsepower, his Lingenfelter Viper is far from anything that will put anyone to sleep. That one is all about getting in your face.

It was, in fact, that Viper that actually led him to build the Camaro. Whenever the Viper needed work, Carlevale took it to the local Dodge dealer. He met Dave Donmoyer, who usually turned the wrench on the car. The two shared an interest in fast cars. At some point, Carlevale expressed the idea of building a custom ’69 Camaro. Discussions and ideas between them eventually evolved into plans.

After a few intense brainstorming sessions, a concept for the Camaro was nailed down. Donmoyer points out that, “We wanted to have the largest engine possible that would fit underneath the stock Camaro cowl hood.” They needed to find a donor and Carlevale owned a few ’69 Camaros, with one of his convertibles the likely candidate. After some deliberation, though, they decided that all new sheetmetal would be the best starting point. Luckily, this ended up being a fairly easy decision for them. At the time that all the planning was taking place, Dynacorn had just introduced their reproduction Camaro bodies. For Carlevale, there was only one piece to the puzzle left. He needed to give the Camaro a name, something he did with all his cars, and so Zeus was born.

With the bulk of their plans in place, they started acquiring the parts for the Camaro. Carlevale suggested to Donmoyer that it might be a good idea to invest in a building and start a business. This led to the creation of Carlevale Custom Cars in 2007. Donmoyer assumed the active role of running the shop. A small group of specialized fabricators, along with paint and body specialists, were also hired to staff the facility. With the Camaro build going full blast, the project became a collaborative effort with input from everyone in the shop.

The idea of building a sleeper never escaped them. “Paul wanted the Camaro to look completely stock when buttoned up,” recalls Donmoyer. Looking stock meant that any modifications couldn’t be so over the top that they destroyed the car’s classic lines, yet the goal was to build a full-tilt custom. Part of those subtle changes involved accentuating the curves on the Camaro, so every panel was massaged. As a result, the front clip was welded to the frame and unibody. The bodyline grew a full 5/16ths of an inch, so the door handles were shaved.

Another trick piece they created was the rear spoiler that seamlessly integrated with the trunk lid and quarters. They also had new bumpers and side view mirrors machined from billet aluminum. After all the custom fabrication and bodywork was completed, the Camaro received a few generous coats of black PPG paint, alongwith subtle burgundy stripes, which were then bathed in numerous coats of clear.

The interior was another area of focus, yet there was a clear departure from the traditional Camaro interior. Instead of just installing a stock-looking reproduction interior, they decided to fabricate custom panels from steel, which were then covered in a rich two-tone leather scheme. The front seats are actually from a Viper, while the rear units were custom made. The most imposing part of the interior is perhaps the beautiful Lenco Transmission shifter. A Budnik steering column and Auto Meter gauges, along with a Vintage Air system, added some extra visual bling to an already impressive custom interior.

The same attention to detail can also be found underneath. While planning its construction, part of the goal was to solid-weld all the underbody pans and also add tubing to increase the structural rigidity in order to handle the massive horsepower planned. Part of that intricate tube structure can be seen in the interior of the car, where it has been wrapped in leather. The addition of a Martz Chassis subframe was also instrumental in providing additional structural rigidity. Keeping all this evenly planted at all four corners meant investing in some serious rolling stock. A set of Budnik aluminum wheels wrapped with Michelin Pilot Sport rubber gets the power to the tarmac, while Wilwood brakes bring it to a stop.

While the idea of keeping it stock on the exterior was always a concern, the opposite applied under the hood. The sight of the massive powerplant is actually quite deceptive in appearance with its dual four-inch induction tubes, mistaken for turbo inlets. However, power is generated without any forced induction. Carlevale wanted to keep it old school, and Donmoyer, being an engine guy at heart, delivered with a 707 cubic-inch, fuel-injected Donovan mill stuffed with JE pistons and crowned with a set of Brodix Big Duke aluminum heads. Running on pump gas, it has cranked out over 1,300 rear-wheel horses on the dyno. Dialed back for added streetability, it currently puts out over 940 horses at the rear wheels. Mated to the Lenco transmission, and backed by a Gear Vendors Overdrive unit, it efficiently delivers all that power to the Dana 60 rear. The induction system on this Camaro is testament to the high level of engineering and fabrication capability at Carlevale Customs. Those deceptive tubes actually route air to the engine via a clever adaptation of the existing headlight buckets. As with those pieces, the sum of the custom parts and the attention to detail is what sets this Camaro apart.

The end result of all the hard work put into this car is a combination of style and brutal performance that delivers on all fronts. It is not a trailer queen. It is driven regularly, yet it rakes in awards at every show it is entered. It has become the best business card that Carlevale Custom Cars has to showcase its work.

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