The old adage goes, “find a penny, pick it up, then all day you’ll have good luck.” So if your last name just so happens to be Penny, like our subject Cole Penny, you’d think you’d be blessed with great luck. Unfortunately for Cole, however, project cars don’t seem to know the meaning of the term “good luck.” When he acquired his ’69 Camaro he—like many before him—had visions of grandeur for his beloved first-gen F-body, but little did he know, he was starting down a path the would take years to complete, but would culminate in it shining like a new penny.
When Cole initially acquired his first-gen, he tells us that the car was already in pretty good shape. However, the car wasn’t running or driving and definitely needed some work to get it back into operational condition. He found a trusted restoration shop who offered to get the car going again, and make some upgrades in the process too, for a price. After agreeing to the terms, the build began and he started counting down the days until he could drive it. And then he waited. And waited. And waited.
Flash forward several years and thousands of dollars later. The car was finally “complete” and ready for Cole to pick up. Excited to get the car back, he rushed to the shop and brought the car home. The problems that ensued after, however, were completely unexpected. Problem after problem plagued Cole and the car. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed, but after years and countless dollars, expectations were high and the reality was a far cry from what Cole envisaged. Needless to say, he wasn’t happy with the results and began seeking out another shop to bring the car on-par with his expectations.
As Cole searched for a new, more dependable shop to take on the task of making his dreams a reality, he continued to add to his plans for the car. Ironically, Cole located a capable shop with a sterling reputation exactly one block away from his office building and the irony continued with its name; Born Again Restorations. This was the new lease on life the first-gen needed.
Cole took the car to the shop, told them of his past experience, and asked if they were up to the task of paying attention to each and every detail on the car. The team at Born Again was more than up to the task and told Cole that with as much work as they planned to do with the car, it would be best to basically start from scratch—so the entire car was blown apart and rebuilt from the ground up.
The Long Road Back
After the car was taken down to its most basic, the Born Again crew first started on the body work. The firewall was smoothed using a Detroit Speed firewall fill plate that was then blended into the original. The rest of the car was then smoothed and sharpened in the appropriate areas to give the F-body a subtle but aggressive look. The car was sprayed with a Matador Red Mica hue and then accented by matte charcoal stripes and other finishing touches.
Just about every panel and component on the car was either reworked or replaced from stem to stern. At the rear, you’ll find a Fesler carbon fiber wing that fits the lines of the car perfectly. Fesler was also used for the glass, which sits flush with the car, as well as the door handles, taillights, foglights, door vents, strikers, fender struts, and trunk hinges.
The car was then minitubbed to allow it to tuck a massive set of Nitto NT05Rs measuring in at 345/30R19 at the rear. Up front, the car is rolling on Nitto NT05s measuring 265/30R19, all of which are wrapped around Forgeline RB3C wheels. The bumpers were then smoothed and tucked and the car was fitted with a two-inch cowl induction hood for good measure.
For the headlights, the team at Born Again improvised by using a pair of Truck-Lite LED lights to give the car a more modern look. They then used a set of Ringbrothers headlight rings to finish off the front end of the car. Under the hood, you’ll find a set of Anvil carbon fiber inner fenders that keep the engine bay immaculate while taking some heft off the front end.
Under the Hood
For motivation, an LS3 was given the nod, but not just any old LS3. The Gen IV motor was punched out and stoked to 418 cubic inches using all forged components. Toping off the short-block is a set of 245cc Trick Flow heads prepared by Brian Tooley Racing. Naturally, a bump stick from BTR was chosen to tickle the valves and measures in at 243/262 degrees of duration and .624/.612-inch of lift, all ground on a 114+3 lobe separation angle.
A Fast LSX-R 102mm intake tops off the build and is fed by a Nick Williams 102mm throttle body. A set of Stainless Works 1 7/8-inch primary headers whisks away spent exhaust gases and funnels them into a Stainless Works X pipe backed by a pair of their mufflers for good measure. All together, the combination gives the Camaro a nasty idle that even its big-block brethren would be envious of.
As a little insurance, the 418 has been fit with a nitrous kit from Nitrous Outlet for good measure. After all, you never know when you’re going to need a little shot in the arm these days. However, the large-cube engine still makes a pavement-pounding 540 horsepower at the two massive rear tires without the giggle juice, and thus has never needed to be activated.
The whole shebang runs on E85 using an GM E38 ECM which enables the car to run a flex fuel system and can blend seamlessly from pump 91 to E85—depending on what’s on tap at the local Gas n’ Go.
Backing the mill is a T56 Magnum couple by a McLeod RXT clutch which sends power out back to a 12 bolt rear end. The pumpkin is stuffed with a set of 3.73 gears and 31-spline axles splitting torque through an Eaton posi.
Left In Suspense
Underpinning the car is a full compliment of Ridetech handling goodies including airbags, coilovers, StrongArm A-arms, and TruTurn steering components. A set of Hotchkis sway bars keeps the Camaro’s body level in the turns while a set of subframe connectors keep the body rigid. The F-body can be raised and lowered at will via a controller in the cockpit but is usually kept at a standard ride height. The system gives the Camaro a menacing stance and brings its ride and handling capabilities into the 21st century.
To reign in some of the first-gen’s giddyup, a set of Kore 3 Z51 binders were selected and paired with a set of Hawks brake pads. A Wilwood master cylinder modulates the entire system while Lokar e-brake cables keep the rest of the system clean but functional.
The interior has been just as updated as the exterior by Cole and the guys at Born Again. The front seats have been replaced with a pair of Corbeau GTS leather and suede buckets. The rear seat has been recovered to match and the car has also been fitted with a state-of-the-art sound system.
All of the once plastic interior pieces have been covered in leather or suede and soft-touch materials. This gives the interior of the Camaro a much more modern look and feel and helps separate it from other lesser examples.
A Classic Thunder Road gauge cluster working in tandem with a set of AutoMeter Ultra-Lite gauges keep tabs on the 418’s vital signs and again modernize the interior of the almost 50-year-old car. The Camaro has also been fit with a Vintage Air A/C system which allows for the engine bay to stay as sanitary as possible without depriving its occupants of the modern amenities it so admirably and seamless integrates into its design.
On To the next One
At the end of it all, Cole finally received the Camaro he had always envisioned in his mind. Everything about the car is nearly flawless and was the talk of the show at this year’s LS Fest West. He even let me move it for our photoshoot and it was possibly the scariest moment of my entire life. The car is built sturdy but knowing how much time and effort went into its creation puts it on par with a Lamborghini.
Cole says he loves the car, and loved getting to be a part of building it. But alas, every project must come to an end and eventually another project catches your eye. For Cole, that has become his 2013 Camaro ZL1 which he recently twin turbo’d and is currently putting down 1,000+ ponies to the rear wheels.
With a new project taking up his time, he decided to say goodbye to the car the had consumed more than half a decade of his life. But, on the bright side, he found an owner that is currently in the process of rebuilding the car yet again with an even crazier build. We can’t imagine how, as this car is possibly one of our favorite first-gens of all time. But that’s what we love about this hobby, there is always room for improvement. And hey, maybe Cole will have better luck with his new project. After all, we all know how lucky Pennys can be.
100 percent rust free body, smoothed, sharp body lines. Matadoor Red Mica with matte charcoal accents.
Fesler Flush Glass
New window glass, lightly tinted
Smoothed DSE firewall
Anvil carbon fiber wing
Fesler door handles
Smooth rear bumper
Euro front bumper
Ring Brother headlight rings
Fesler foglight assembly
Trucklite headlights and fog lights
Spoilers by Randy valance
2-inch cowl hood
Fesler door vents
Fesler Fender struts
Fesler Trunk hinges
Anvil Carbon Fiber inner fenders
Eddie Motorsports Hood Hinges
DSE mini tubs
DSE wiper motor
LS3 418 with 550 miles controlled by a E38 processor tuned by Custom Tunes by Carl. Makes 540 rwhp on e85, 520 rwhp on 91
Fast 102 intake
Nick Williams 102 throttle body
Brian Tooley Racing Trick Flow Specialties 245 heads, BTR springs, ti-retainers.