How to Build a COPO-Themed Pro-Touring 1969 Camaro

We take a look at what goes into building an LS-swapped first-gen Camaro that can outhandle a modern car.

We often focus on the insane builds from the big-name custom-car shops out there, but for every large shop, there are dozens of small shops churning out some pretty impressive rides. This pro-touring 1969 Camaro was built over the course of two years by Randy Johnson of D&Z Customs ( who does the lion’s share of the work himself at his Wisconsin shop. We’re spooling up a full feature on this retro-modern, COPO-inspired Camaro, but we thought you would like to see how it went from an idea to a show-quality track-thrasher.

Johnson had always been more of a fan of the curvaceous 1967 and 1968 Camaros but was persuaded to build a 1969 when one popped onto his radar. As Johnson told us, “One day, a good friend of mine who had this original Hugger Orange ’69 Camaro project sitting on his two-post lift since 2009, called me up and asked if I knew anyone who might be interested in his project. Seems he needed the cash, since he’d found a numbers-matching DZ 302ci 1969 Z/28 Camaro that he wanted to purchase. I couldn’t think of anyone, so I told him no and went back to work.” But that conversation planted the seed of an idea in Johnson’s head. A call was made, a deal was struck, and soon Johnson had a very clean Hugger Orange 1969 Camaro roller sitting in his shop. Turns out that Johnson has a weakness for orange.

The ’69 was going to be an “eventual” project, since Johnson was in the middle of going through his 1970 Camaro (also orange). But a call from the guys over at Speedtech kicked the ’69 Camaro project into high gear. Seems they wanted Johnson to join their team as a driver, and to be a dealer for their handling wares. The ’70 was pushed to the back of the shop, and he started digging into the ’69. His idea was to build a COPO Camaro with a pro-touring flair. As he told us, “I wanted to do this as if GM had the technology that we have today back in 1969.”

Johnson’s plan was to track the Camaro hard after the build, so safety was baked into the build plan. After installing the full ‘cage, bodywork started on the Hugger Orange Camaro. After all, the car was over 50 years old, so anything could have been hiding under the paint.

Body mods were kept to a minimum so as not to screw up the COPO theme of the build. The biggest area changed was the hood. Johnson wanted the hood to incorporate a heat-extractor and a way to remove high-pressure air under the hood (referred to as air packing). He also wanted the hood to have a factory COPO feel to it.

Starting with a 2-inch fiberglass cowl hood, Johnson began working different angles while keeping in mind that he also had to clear all the stuff in the engine bay.

Once the design was just right, the fiberglass work was finished off and the surface prepped for paint. You can also see the holes that were cut for the corner-mounted hood-pin/latch system.

Johnson also wanted something better than the front spoiler offered by Chevrolet back in 1969. Working with foam, he came up with a shape that was far more aggressive than the stock offering. Once the foam was just right, Johnson was able to create the spoiler in fiberglass. “I just really like having more aero on the front of this brick of a car when I’m trying to go fast on a track,” quipped Johnson.

As we said, the body mods were kept to a minimum, but a lot of work was still done to clean up what came from the factory over 50 years ago. The enduro bumper was shaved and smoothed, and the lower valence was cleaned up by removing the license plate area.

Much of the bodywork was done in areas hidden away on the car, such as adding rear mini-tubs and stiffening up the chassis with subframe connectors. You also can’t see that the Camaro is running Anvil carbon-fiber front fenders.

Other things were done to clean up areas of the Camaro such as the firewall. The factory firewall was utilitarian and built to serve a purpose. It still does, but now it looks a whole lot better doing it.

The 1969 Camaro that Johnson started with was in great shape. That doesn’t mean it didn’t need some basic body repairs, but they were surprisingly minor.

Once all the bodywork was done, with the assistance of Mark Klos, the Camaro was prepped for paint. No fancy paint booth here, but with careful prep, Johnson is still able to turn out some amazing paint work.

And, of course, the chosen color was Hugger Orange. Here you see the color before the clear.

With the paint and bodywork sorted out, it was time to tackle the guts of the COPO-themed Camaro. Here he turned to his new partner, Speedtech, for all the handling bits they offer, such as their Extreme subframe, Signature JRi coil-over shocks, and rear torque arm kit. We’re big fans of their forged 7075 aluminum spindles which allow the use of modern bearing hubs.

Color-sanding and buffing is tedious work, but it’s where show-winning paint jobs really happen.

And here’s the final front spoiler that was made off of Johnson’s earlier foam template. It has a modern feel while still maintaining that OE vibe from 1969.

For better weight distribution, the LS engine’s dry-sump oil tank was migrated to the Camaro’s trunk. It’s also where Johnson mounted the 10-pound bottle for the fire-suppression system. This car will be seeing some serious track time, so items like the rollcage and fire-safety gear were mandatory items on this build.

Here you can see the engine bay patiently waiting for its new engine. The wheel tubs will allow Johnson to run a massive 12-inch-wide front wheel, and they are made to clear the down bars which really help stiffen up the car’s chassis. You can also spy the top-shelf Sweet Mfg power rack and compact Wilwood brake master. Moving the dry sump’s oil tank to the truck along with the Optima battery freed up a lot of real estate in the engine bay.

And the mill chosen for this 21st-century COPO tribute car was the easiest decision of all. Johnson has had a great and long relationship with Mark Rapson at Lingenfelter Performance, so after talking about the project, they entered an order for a 434-inch (4.155-inch bore and 4.00-inch stroke on a re-sleeved block) Spec R Eliminator, 13.1:1-compression engine running a Super Victor intake with EFI. With the right paint and some retro-inspired valve covers, the modern LS keeps the retro-modern theme of the build. Backing up the 434-inch LS is a Tremec Magnum F (since it offers a better shifter location) with a McLeod twin-disc clutch housed in an SFI-rated Quicktime bellhousing.

At this point, the Hugger Camaro was starting to look like a real car, but there was still a long way to go before its first track day.

The Forgeline OE2 wheels had the right look, but Johnson was worried they wouldn’t flow enough air to cool the brakes when running at big road courses, so for those all-out track days he picked up a set of 18×12-inch Forgeline CF1 open-lug wheels.