If you’re into the automotive hobby, chances are you were introduced to it by a family member or had friends who were into building cars. Hugo Santana falls outside the normal course gearheads follow when it comes to how he was introduced to the automotive world. You wouldn’t know that when you look at Hugo’s amazing 1969 Camaro because it’s a flawless Pro Touring build.
Hugo grew up in a small Mexican village and moved to the United States when he was 11 years old. Hugo was into horses, rodeo bulls, and roosters when he was younger. While Hugo was in middle school, he fell in love with lowriders and traditional hot rods. After he discovered the lowrider and hot rod culture, Hugo started building his own lowrider bikes to be a part of the scene.
Hugo’s dream car growing up was the classic Chevy Impala. He would build Impala model cars with his cousin and try to make each one different. Eventually, Hugo moved on to Model A hot rods, along with other pre-war vehicles from the 1930s and 1940s. When Hugo picked up his first Chevelle, a 1967 model with a hulking 468 cubic-inch big-block, his focus changed to Chevrolets.
Hugo had found his passion in anything mechanical or automotive, but his family didn’t understand the new obsession.
“No one in my family was into cars and they saw it as a waste of money. So, as a teenager, I got a lot of crap from my older brothers and parents about being into cars. My first classic car was a street/strip 1967 Chevelle. I learned a lot messing with that car thanks to the help of my friends who were into cars and knew what they were doing,” Hugo says.
After the Chevelle, many other cars came into Hugo’s life, including his current Camaro.
“This Camaro was actually my first Camaro, I’ve had a few more since, but I’ve known this car since I was a kid, as it was owned by my cousin’s husband. It was a huge reason I was motivated to get more into muscle cars versus lowriders, because after riding in that car I just wanted to race and go fast,” Hugo explains.
Hugo built and rebuilt his 1969 Camaro several times after purchasing it from his cousin’s husband. The car was at a level he was happy with and he considered it to be done. So, it was moved to the side burner and Hugo tore into his next project, a 1970 Chevelle that was going to become a Pro Touring-style race car. Well, Hugo fell in love with the Chevelle as it sat and just couldn’t bring himself to cut the car up.
The project focus would change again for Hugo, and the Camaro would soon be going back under the knife.
“The Camaro tore up a balancer and I really wasn’t happy about the situation. A week after that happened, a friend and I had the motor out, then next thing you know I had mini tubs and a cage installed in the car. From there, I contacted Nick from Speedtech Performance to get recommendations on some other parts, and things started to happen in a hurry,” Hugo states.
Hugo’s new mission was to build the Camaro into a car that he could drive to the track or to an autocross event, race it as best he could, and then drive it home. He wanted to build a car that was fast enough to be competitive but was very reliable on the street.
The Camaro’s transformation has been extensive, to say the least. A set of Speedtech Extreme subframe connectors were added to the car to compliment the chromoly roll cage. The front suspension is based around a Speedtech Extreme subframe, control arms, springs, sway bar, and JRI shocks. A Sweet Manufacturing steering box and IDIDIT steering column round out the front suspension modifications. In the rear, a full Speedtech torque arm suspension was bolted into the Camaro, along with a Speedtech sway bar, panhard bar, and Dutchman 9-inch floater rearend. JRI shocks were also used in the rear of the Camaro.
Hugo needed an engine that would be cost-effective, but still make the level of horsepower required for a build like this. An LS-based engine made the most sense since Hugo didn’t need massive power to scoot around the autocross course. The 6.2-liter LSA engine has been warmed up with a camshaft from Cam Motion, valve springs and pushrods from Brian Tooley Racing, and ARP head studs. The engine is still controlled by a GM ECU. A TREMEC six-speed transmission was bolted to the engine, along with a McLeod Racing clutch, and Improved Racing transmission cooler.
The Camaro’s body has been tastefully modified to help it perform well on the autocross course. Big Kid Custom Rides took care of making sure the custom carbon fiber front chin spoiler, rear diffuser, and Blacktech Project Forged Carbon hood would look at home on the Camaro. Bryce Green laid down the custom Sherwin-Williams shade of gray.
Inside the Camaro, you’ll find even more well-executed custom touches. Chipped Performance took care of the wiring and integrated a Bluetooth sound system, along with Dakota Digital gauges into the instrument cluster. DJ Designs used suede and black leather as the materials for the interior. The rear seat was deleted, and the OEM front seats were replaced with units from Recaro. Hugo provides his steering inputs to the Camaro thanks to a Sparco steering wheel.
“The car has a great balance of comfort and purpose-built design thanks to DJ Designs. I absolutely love it. This build motivated me to start my company, Blacktech Project, because I wasn’t happy with the quality and fit of the current carbon parts available. This car was an inspiration for our first generation Camaro line as shown in the finish of the forged carbon fiber on this car,” Hugo states.
A car of this caliber isn’t easy to build on your own. Hugo really stepped up his game to learn the skills required to crank out such an outstanding build.
“The most challenging part of this build was learning new things whether it was assembly of different style suspension, or new fab skills I had to learn. I had a lot of help early on from friends and attempting to do it all in my tiny garage was a pain. Cost obviously was a big obstacle too. This project went from replacing a $400 balancer to rebuilding an already built car and bringing it to a new level,” Hugo explains.
The Camaro has seen plenty of street miles with Hugo behind the wheel. Hugo has made numerous 400-plus mile trips with the car and has not had any issues. Hugo says the adjustable JRI shocks and Speedtech suspension make the car super easy and comfortable to drive. The only changes Hugo has planned for the car is a slight exhaust adjustment, but outside of that, Hugo thinks the car is just too nice to change. He’s looking forward to taking the car on numerous trips and entering as many autocross events as he can.
Hugo Santana has followed an interesting path into the high-performance automotive world. He jumped into something foreign and worked hard to create a really awesome ride. The level of work that Hugo put into his 1969 Camaro is top notch and it shows how dedicated he is to the craft of building cool rides.