200,000-mile 1969 Camaro is proof your car is bored
Not everyone with a vintage car is willing to treat it like any other vehicle. Fewer still are willing to put 200,000 miles on a 1969 Camaro.
When we saw this photo on social media, we knew there had to be a story behind it. We asked the Camaro’s owner, Dominick Saad, to fill us in. Here’s the story of one family’s beloved and well-used ride, mostly in Dom’s own words.
Dom’s father bought the Camaro in 1989 for just $1500. It sat around, for the most part, until Dom approached his 16th birthday. His dad gave him the car, and the two worked on it together, “along with help from some of his friends who knew more than we did,” Dom says.
The car was originally equipped with a 307-cubic-inch V-8 and a Turbo 350 three-speed automatic transmission. The Saads and their friends removed the original powertrain to be rebuilt and sent off the body for paint. The Cortez Silver car was resprayed in its original color, this time with black stripes. Dom got his license in 2011 and used the refreshed Camaro as his daily driver.
“Not even a year later, in 2012, I was on the highway with a buddy heading to grab some food, and we crested a hill and found traffic at a complete stop. I slammed the brakes and was almost stopped when a heavy-duty crane truck lost control next to me and swerved into me from the side, pushing me into the car in front of me, and pushing him into the truck and boat in front of him.”
The collision wasn’t Dom’s fault. However, the at-fault driver fled the scene, causing a bit of drama and dragging out the process of getting the Camaro sorted. Since the damage was entirely cosmetic—the alignment didn’t even suffer—Dom had a few months to drive the car before it was treated to repaint number two.
“I decided to make the best out of a bad situation and started having some of my buddies at school sign the car, much like you would a cast on a broken arm,” Dom says.
Teachers at his school signed it. So did strangers at gas stations and grocery stores. Dom began to leave a Sharpie on the car’s hood when he parked it in public; to his delight, he’d come back to new signatures every time. Today, the signature-filled door and fender are hanging in his garage.
Once all the accident paperwork was sorted, the Camaro finally went in for bodywork. After three months at the body shop the car returned, this time with a color change: Fathom Blue with white stripes. Dom quickly realized the work hadn’t been done well. The paint chipped and bubbled. A large section of filler on the quarter panel began to delaminate.
“At first I was livid,” Dom says. “I was of the typical, ‘can’t have a single scratch, needs to shine always’ mentality back then.” However, as the car began to show more and more flaws, his stress about maintaining a perfect car melted away. A new philosophy emerged: “Why worry about all this that I can’t do anything about? Just drive the damn thing and have a blast!”
That was ten years ago, and Dom has been racking up the miles on his Camaro ever since.
Dom also changed his attitude towards how he modified his Camaro.
“As a teenager, I thought modifying everything was the cool thing to do, so I began changing things, adding chrome and aftermarket parts,” he says. However, he learned that those custom parts aren’t necessarily carried by every mom-and-pop auto parts store, so a busted component could lead to a major hassle. What every store does carry, on the other hand, are factory replacement parts, especially for first-gen Chevy small-block engines.
A few years ago, Dom did a semi-restoration of the Camaro using factory-correct parts, including a wiring harness, factory gauges and woodgrain dash, rebuilt brakes, and new bearings and axles in the rear end.
“Though I still wish the car did look a bit better, I’ve found it much more enjoyable to just drive and enjoy it versus worrying about looks.” —Dominick Saad
After the 700-R4 transmission left him stranded 450 miles from home one day, he went a bit overboard. “I wanted to make sure that never happened again, so I basically built a drag [racing] transmission to go in a less-than-300-hp car!”
“Not only was I starting to really like the look of it more, but I also liked the reliability a lot as well. I realized there was plenty of performance to be had even with factory-correct parts,” he said.
The Camaro is currently powered by a 350-cubic-inch small-block engine, along with the aforementioned 700-R4 four-speed automatic and the factory 10-bolt rear axle with 2.73:1 gears, perfect for highway cruising. The 350 is dressed in period-correct “day two” Z/28 parts. The intake and valve covers, both aluminum, are GM-factory. The Camaro’s even running points ignition.
Dom still has the Camaro’s original engine. He plans on getting the 307 back into the car with a good set of camel-hump heads plus all the Z/28 goodies currently on the 350.
“Of course, the car will never be badged a Z/28, as it isn’t one and isn’t trying to be one. I’m just taking advantage of the Z/28 parts being higher-performance yet still ‘factory correct,’” said Dom. Since he wants a cruise-happy car, he’s building the drivetrain for reliability and efficiency, not massive power. When he reinstalls the 307 engine, he’s hoping for around 300 hp.
“Back when the 350 in [the Camaro] now was newer, I would cruise around 25 mpg on the highway at 80 [mph] at just under 2000 rpm.” He tweaked and tuned a custom-built Holley double-pumper carburetor over the course of about three months to get those results, but the effort was worth it.
“Driving has always been a form of therapy for me, so if anything was going on that was making me mad or sad or whatever, it could pretty easily be cured with an aimless drive somewhere.”
The car also served well as an adventure vehicle, especially in the mines, lakes, and ghost towns of Dom’s native state of Nevada. “The car has probably seen more Nevada back roads than many trucks have!”
“I think in the summer of 2016, there was not a single weekend where we didn’t take the car on some sort of day trip somewhere,” Dom said.
They didn’t stop at day trips, either. The Camaro has been to Vancouver in Canada’s British Columbia, Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, California, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
The Camaro is no longer the commuter it once was. Dom now lives in Idaho and owns several other vehicles, including a company truck that he drives for work. Still, he makes sure the Camaro gets weekly exercise, all year long. Dom refuses to garage any of his vehicles: “I always figured you can’t take ’em with you when you go, so enjoy ’em while you can!”
He has a few secrets to keeping his car alive over 12 winters. The first is being lucky enough to drive in areas of the U.S. where roads aren’t treated with salt. He also has a strict regimen of undercoating the car each fall.
It may not be his commuter, but the Camaro remains Dom’s go-to road-tripper. When we spoke to Dom, he had just returned from a 4800-mile, 11-day trip from Idaho to Arkansas, up via the northern route and back via the southern one. The car performed beautifully as usual—and it’s nowhere near retirement.
“We will be doing a very similar trip again next year, and eventually I would like to have driven the car in all provinces in Canada, and all the U.S. states with the exception of Hawaii. It’s also a huge goal of mine to drive it up to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, and get it up into the Arctic Circle!”
It doesn’t take a whole lot of horsepower and perfect paint to enjoy a car. In Dom’s case, it might just take an extra or two set of ignition points.