In 1969 the Chevrolet Camaro was selected to be the Official
Pace Car of the '69 Indianapolis 500. It was a repeat performance of their
selection for the 1967 rendition. For the 53rd running of the race at Indy,
Chevrolet knew the car had to be striking— and, indeed, the Dover White and
Hugger Orange Official Pace Cars that were out in force at the track that day,
were, indeed, just that.
Future collector, restorer and muscle car historian George Lyons, a budding
Camaro enthusiast at the time, never could shake the indelible image of that
gorgeous pace-setter, and a little over a quarter of a century later would seek
out his very own '69 Camaro Pace Car. And what he eventually stumbled across in
a suburban Cleveland garage while on his quest was one of the most coveted of
the all the '69 Camaro pacers— a 100 percent complete, rust-free version that
sported the ultra-rare L89 motor.
While historians can't agree on an exact number, the popular
opinion is that only seven to ten of these 375HP versions were ever produced.
We recently sat down with George, a frequent contributor to
The BLOCK, to find out how he procured this insanely rare, high profile Camaro,
and restored it to the immaculate assembly-line quality machine you'll see in
the photos today.
Going back as far as 1975 I had great success advertising in
larger city newspapers, in the cities surrounding me, including Pittsburgh, PA,
Cleveland, OH, and Buffalo, NY. I would advertise in the wanted section for
particular types of cars, different collectible cars. And, of course, most of
the success I had with this was well before the growth of the Internet. Back in
2001, I'd advertised in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I was looking for early
Camaros, and I listed them by model: Z-28s, Super Sports, good cars or good
One day, I got a call from a gentleman that described a 69
Indy Pace Car Camaro Convertible, and I was immediately interested by two
things he told me: It was a 396 big-block car, and it came out of Arizona. He'd
purchased the car and brought it back with him to Cleveland, though he'd never
really done much with it. I told him, of course, I was very interested, and
made the trip to Ohio the following day. I knew it was a good bet that I'd
probably see a good, solid, rust-free car, being that it was coming out of
when I first saw the car I was thrilled with the condition,
as far as being a great core car for a restoration. As I expected, there was no
rust, deterioration, modifications, or damage. But, overall the car was in
somewhat tired condition: very poor amateur repaint, tired interior and
convertible top, and fairly tired mechanicals— but the car was 100% complete.
And it just got better the more I looked… Not only was it a 396; but it was a
375hp car, the high-performance 396 paired to a 4-speed. So, then I checked the
engine numbers only to find out that this was a "Code JJ" motor,
which is not only a 375 but also the ultra-rare L89 Aluminum head car.
I was absolutely astounded to discover that. I'd only ever
seen one other one in my life.
The word is that Chevrolet built a total of ten, which may
have included the three that were used at the speedway as pace cars and backup
cars. But, we do know the number is between seven and ten as the total build
number of these L89 Pace Cars.
I can tell you once I saw the car and inspected it; I was
determined to own it. Once I found out what it was, I mean, there was no
question I was going to own this thing
I brought the car back to Erie, PA, and immediately began to
sort out what I'd bought. I immediately decided that the car warranted a
complete, ground-up rotisserie restoration with the highest degree of skill and
new old stock quality parts. It was certainly a car that deserved to have the
money spent on it, as it was such a big opportunity with it being an L89,
4-speed pace car.
In addition to the documentation I received with the car, I
tracked the car back to the original selling dealer, Lamb Chevrolet in
Prescott, Arizona, who are still in business today. I went so far as to visit
that dealership on a trip out west, and spoke to the original selling dealer's
son, who actually remembered the car. He recalled they got two pace cars, one
automatic, and then this monster. I also discovered that it'd changed hands once
or twice in the Prescott area.
It was a wonderful car underneath the paint, and, actually,
as restorations go, this was fairly easy. Though, it did take about a year to
complete. We really worked hard to restore the car to a correct assembly line
level of finish and detail. We weren't trying to "over-restore" it,
just trying to get the fine details right. We wanted to achieve the same paint
quality, overspray, plating and assembly techniques that would have been used
by the Camaro plant, when the car was built new.
We tried to build it to be an exact representation of what
this car looked like in 1969. We really tried to use as many new old stock,
factory GM parts as possible with this restoration. What reproduction items
that are on the car, were things that were simply not available new.
I spent a good deal of time sourcing some of the best parts
I could find to do the restoration. And, ultimately, I believe I achieved what
I sought out to do with this car. It's an all-correct, original drivetrain car,
and the mechanicals are completely rebuilt to stock specs. And it performs very
strong. I've driven the car very little since it's been finished, but it runs
and drives just like a brand new car. In the end, I couldn't have been happier
with the way this restoration turned out.
by George Lyon
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