The Life and Times of an O.G. Pro Street '69 Chevy Camaro
A Pro Street Chevy Camaro comes home to its original owner/builder, and warm fuzzies ensue.
The year was 1969 and Rod Saboury was a high school senior living the good life in his quiet hometown of Manchester, Maryland. Teenage Rod enjoyed building sweet hot rods, telling us "I had a '32 two-door sedan pushed by a stout 283ci for a while and then moved on to a '38 Ford coupe during high school." He had tweaked and modified the Blue Ovals into good performers out on the local byways, but after a time Rod wanted something more modern, more in tune with the times, and wanted it stuffed with some choice factory performance options. What he wanted was a new Chevrolet.
"I was always enamored with the Corvette; it was the car that really did it all for me," says Rod. So it was only natural that he would check out the Chevy sports car first. Once Rod had the finances needed to procure his dream ride, he took out his trusty '38 and headed over Jerry's Chevrolet in nearby Baltimore to check out what was in stock. "No doubt the Corvette was what I was after, but after getting up close and personal with one I realized there was no possible way to get my drums into the car. That was a big issue." (Rod played drums in numerous local bands.) The '69 Camaro, however, offered a little more room.
Rod says he "really liked the look of the Camaro; the stripes, the stance, and the aura of the high-revving 302 in the Z/28." Basted in LeMans Blue with white sport stripes and a black interior, this particular Z/28 was the best option for the hot rod-loving musician. Even better, the dealership offered him $300 off the $4,200 price tag in exchange for his trusty and well-worn '38 Ford. It was a no-brainer—the Z/28 was coming home with Rod.
Once back home, Rod became enamored with his four-speed muscle ride, and often tested its high-revving small-block. "We had a lot of cool cars in our high school, and a group of us would play hooky and hit the 75-80 Dragway in nearby Monrovia," says Rod. By then he had made some small mods to the Chevy, tweaking it to his liking and sending the ride deep into the low 13s in the quarter-mile. Rod developed an appetite for speed and it was a thirst that he needed to quench regularly.
After high school, Rod still jammed on his drums, but he also got more serious about racing. "I started hitting the track steady, racing it in SS/J stick," he told us. The car quickly morphed, getting a host of modifications. "I kept the 302, but added headers, an off-road cam with lifters, Torker intake, and a cowl hood. I also added an all-aluminum Chrysler Hemi-four speed trans behind the Chevy motor and I pulled the original rear and added a Dana 60," states Rod.
With those changes came experimentation. "I constantly changed the gears out back now that the Z was solely my race car," says Rod. Starting with 5.13s, he progressively moved on until he was running 6.50s in the Dana. "That was as far as I could go, and with every change the car got faster. I was hitting 9,800 rpm and running low 11s at 121 mph through the traps. It sounded like a badass bumblebee," says Rod.
Rod went on to set an NHRA record with the Z/28, which he held for exactly one round of eliminations at Maple Grove Raceway. He also went on to win at Englishtown that same year, pulling off an overall win in the SS/J class. Rod had a blast running the Z/28, but as the decade drew to a close, this chapter for the Z/28 also came to an end.
In late 1979, Rod parked his prized Camaro, finding a way to get the car into the basement of his house through two large doors he installed. Then, after two years of letting it sit, he decided that he would take his dormant ride to the next level and started collecting parts to make this Chevy into the baddest Pro Street ride on the planet. Though the Pro Street movement was still in its infancy, Rod knew he could trailblaze a path for others to follow.
Rod stripped the Chevy to its bones. The metal was in reasonably good shape, since it had been stored in the winters and not run year 'round. He narrowed the frame rails out back, narrowed a new 9-inch rear end, and tubbed the body to fit some big rubber drag meats. Up front, he kept the car's suspension mostly stock, and then prepped the car for a new powerplant.
Rod started fresh and went with a '72 small-block V-8 that was punched out to 358 cubic inches with a 4.040 bore and 3.480 stroke. He kept the compression at a low 8.7:1 and topped it with a set of ported aluminum Brodix heads and a polished BDS 6-71 blower. Internally, there are forged Mahle pistons, Scat rods, and an Erson hydraulic roller cam. An MSD tach-drive distributor provides spark and custom headers ditch the spent gasses. Rare Larson Engineering valve covers and an Enderle bug catcher from Lee Weller's Top Fuel dragster give the powerplant extra bling where it counts. Rod assembled the engine, and world-renowned engine guru Charlie Garrett did all the needed machine work. Backing up the engine is a Silver Sport Transmission (SST) five-speed manual mated to a Ford 9-inch with 3.73:1 gears and a spool.
The interior got some accent work on its original upholstery. Rod's good friend Dave Bennett added a red stripe to the seats for a custom feel, but otherwise the dash, door panels, and headliner are original. He also kept the rear seat, something anyone who knows big-power Pro Street cars would consider a feat. Rod built his own safety cage and added necessary gauges to keep track of the engine's vitals.
A custom paint job was ordered up, and local Butch Nieves applied a lacquer candy finish in House of Kolor paint: Brandywine over a silver base. He also applied the period-perfect graphics to the hood and flanks. Out on the corners, Weld Draglite wheels were installed: 15x4 up front and 15x14 out back. They were shod in period Mickey Thompson bias-ply tires: 26x6 front and 31x18 rear.
The work took about two years to finish and Rod jokes that he built his hot rod "right next to my washer machine." He took his completed ride to the 1983 Street Machine Nationals to give the competition something to worry about. However, 1984 would turn out to be Rod's year when he won Best Engine, Best Interior, and Best Overall Car at the same event held in Springfield, Illinois. "It made it worth all the effort I put into the car, winning these prestigious awards," says Rod.
Once Rod hit the pinnacle of achievement in his favorite class, he decided he just couldn't do any better with the Z/28 and figured he'd sell the car to pay for other projects he had in mind. It didn't take long for Rod to find an excited buyer who ponied up for the stunning Camaro. With little fanfare the car was sold off, and Rod went on to the next chapter in his Bowtie book, which was building his world-famous and over-the-top black split-window '63 Corvette. Plastic Chevys would take over his life for the foreseeable future, though he never did forget about the stealthy Camaro that got him to where he was in his life.
From the early '80s to the present day, Rod's achievements are well known in the Chevy world, with him setting six world records and winning two world championships out on the strips of America with an assortment of Corvettes and GM products. However, when he stopped racing a few years back he felt the urgent need to bring his Camaro back home. Luckily, he sold it to a man not far from his homestead and on occasion Rod would stop over and check out the Camaro, which he admits was well taken care of.
"I actually bugged him for 25 of the 34 years he had it to sell it back to me," says Rod. Recently, the gentleman finally budged and offered the Camaro back to Rod at a fair price. "He hadn't had it out of the garage in years and when it came out into the sun for the first time in decades he said he forgot how beautiful the car really was," says Rod. Once the deal was done, the Camaro was welcomed back into the Saboury garage with open arms, and a few ideas to make it even better.
Right away, Rod got to work on the car. "I pulled the motor and Mark Small went over it and freshened it where needed. With the help of Legacy Innovations we put a Detroit Speed Equipment front clip in with power rack-and-pinion and hydroboost Wilwood discs. We also put a set of Wilwoods out back with the ladder bars and QA1 coilover shocks," says Rod. A huge Ron Davis radiator with twin fans keeps this beast cool even on hot summer jaunts for ice cream. The mechanical injection was now gone, and in its place Matt Corish installed a Joe Blo Speed Shop EFI setup that is built into a 1-inch plate sitting between the Camaro's blower and the hat. Haltech engine management sees that the engine works to its peak performance. All these changes have boosted the small-block's output to 621 horsepower.
Now that the Camaro is back home, Rod knows it will never leave his possession again. "It's the first new car I ever owned and it's always been in my life, even when it wasn't in my garage. I'll never sell it. It's with me and my wife, Tina, for the long run," says Rod.