Beast Mode Engaged: This Garage-Built Camaro’s Performance is More Than Skin Deep With the Entry from Schwartz Performance
The challenge of building a Pro Touring machine that not only looks good but performs well is one that many have undertaken, and one where more than a few have failed. Not so in the case of Casey Underdahl, who took this 1969 Camaro from a shell to the completed, beautiful example of style and performance seen here. Although the car started out as a complete body—advertised as ready for paint—once Casey and his father, Barry, dragged it from Georgia back to Barry’s garage in Minnesota, it was discovered that the previous owner had slathered its firewall, roof, stock foot boxes, and window channels with a mixture of body filler and seam sealer to hide the holes in the underlying steel structure.
“The car was built by my dad and I in his three-car garage, and the project sort of evolved as it went along,” says Underdahl. “When we found rust holes in parts of the floor, we just decided to fabricate a whole new floor. The same went for the majority of the body. It may look like a Camaro on the outside but it’s far from it underneath.”
And that’s perhaps the most interesting facet of this car—that it was built by a pair of hobbyist builders in a garage. Unlike other cars that took part in the 2016 Falken Tire Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge, which were sorted out, professionally engineered shop cars, Casey Underdahl’s Camaro is definitively the penultimate garage build.
“I actually lived with relatives for the duration of the project, and still continue to live with my uncle in order to be able to afford the car. I couldn’t have even begun to start a project at this level without my dad’s knowledge, fabrication skills, and tools. I definitely appreciate all that he’s done,” says Underdahl.
Despite the “garage-built” tag, Underdahl’s machine is as clean as can be, with a ton of custom touches that help to set it apart from the pack. Underdahl tells us that the fine details often go unnoticed by onlookers, as the overall package is so close to its Camaro roots that they don’t pick up on the items that took he and his father thousands of hours to integrate into the car’s construction.
One area where he decided to go with a proven design is with the selection of a Schwartz Performance G-Machine full-frame chassis.
“We had the ability to build an entirely-custom chassis and suspension, but I opted to go with the G-Machine chassis because I wanted to have something to start with that I knew would work right out of the box, and it definitely has,” says Underdahl. “Jeff and Dale Schwartz have been great to deal with from a customer’s perspective.”
When Schwartz Performance originally released their G-Machine chassis design for the first-gen Camaro platform, there was nothing like it on the market, and even today, their creation stands apart for a number of reasons. One important distinction is the use of the full-frame configuration, which Jeff Schwartz says provides substantial benefits, not the least of which is enhanced ride quality without sacrificing performance.
“The engineer who initially designed our chassis, Kevin Laatsch, was the founder of Pathfinder Chassis. He’s no longer with us but he helped us do the initial design. Put simply, we had a racing chassis designer engineer the chassis. My personal background is road racing, and my daily drivers were always Cadillacs. I liked the ride quality of my Cadillacs and the performance of my sports cars, and that’s what we designed into the chassis. I wanted the best of both worlds,” says Schwartz.
Much of the improvement is achieved through the use of a triangulated four-link rear suspension configuration in place of the stock leaf springs, a unique A-arm design up front, and custom-valved triple-adjustable shocks that use tall springs. The company adds rack-and-pinion steering; their own spindles; and super-stiff, integrated splined sway bars at both ends—these ensure the car tracks flat through the corners while soaking up road surface irregularities with aplomb, just like a Pro Touring machine should.
The bolt-in full chassis design created by Schwartz Performance sits inside the factory framerails, then bolts to the stock Camaro chassis and body in the rear, so minor floorpan modifications are required to install it—but the improvement in performance in all areas is well worth it.
“In the front suspension, we have an upper control arm, and then we have a lower control arm and a strut bar that bolt together to form the ‘A’ of the lower arm. This configuration allows plenty of adjustment—we can easily center the wheels in the wheelwell visually, perfect the wheelbase from side to side, and adjust caster using one of two different methods,” says Schwartz. “Every adjustment in the front is a separate adjustment, unlike a car with shims.”
This Camaro is the lone entry to the 2016 Falken Tire Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge that wasn’t built by a shop. The father-and-son build by Casey and Barry Underdahl is an amazing machine with loads of performance and incredible good looks, and it performed on par with all of the professionally built cars. That’s a testament to the talent the Underdahl tandem poured into their Camaro and the engineering skill put forth by the folks at Schwartz Performance.
“I decided on the name Beast Mode because my intention was to build a car that meant business and had no frills. It was intended to be serious. The car doesn’t have air conditioning or a stereo, just crank windows and a healthy naturally aspirated 427, and I like it that way,” says Underdahl.
|What Makes It Handle|
|Schwartz Performance G-Machine Full Frame Chassis.|
|Schwartz Performance needle-bearing control arms and spindles. RideTech 16.50-inch triple-adjustable coilover shocks with remote reservoirs. Schwartz hollow, splined sway bar with nylon bushings.|
|Power rack-and-pinion system.|
|Baer 6P Pro+, 14-inch rotors.|
|Schwartz triangulated four-link system. RideTech 14.50-inch triple-adjustable coilover shocks with remote reservoirs. Schwartz hollow, splined sway bar.|
|Falken Azenis RT615K; 315/30/18 front & rear.|
|Forgeline GA3; 18×11 front and 18×12 rear (6-inch backspace)|
|$18,950 with brakes and options.|
|How’d It Stack Up?|
|Slalom Average Speed||100-Yard Dash||Road Course Lap Time|
|Schwartz Performance 1969 Camaro||40.3 mph||5.12 seconds||01:18.3|
|2010 Camaro SS||42.1 mph||5.76 seconds||01:25.9|
|Schwartz Performance’s Jeff Schwartz, who drove the car in the 2016 Falken Tire Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge at Auto Club Speedway in California, hadn’t even laid eyes on Casey’s Camaro prior to the event. He didn’t set up the suspension, dial in any of the details, or have any chance to determine the chassis setup. In effect, he was going in blind. Casey Underdahl’s Schwartz Performance G-machine Camaro bettered the SS substantially in the 100-yard dash and on the road course, turning in a best lap of 1:18.34, a tick under 8 seconds quicker than the 2010 benchmark car. The LS7 engine pushed the Pro Touring machine deep into the 5-second zone in the 100-yard dash, but the lack of testing and setup time caused the car’s performance to suffer during the slalom testing section. With more seat time and suspension tuning we’re confident the ’69 Camaro would have bettered the 2010’s performance substantially in this portion of the test.|