February 23, 2013

A Camaro promise kept

Toni Baker’s attraction to Camaros was instantaneous.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Toni Baker’s name.

Toni Baker’s attraction to Camaros was instantaneous.

"I saw one at a car show when I was 13 and I said, ’Dad, that’s what I want,’ " she recalls.

Being a confirmed car guy, her father, Bruce Philbrook, kept that in mind when it came time for her to start driving.

"I bought her one when she was in high school," he said. He repainted the ’69 Camaro white, as per her wishes, and added a few other touches to it.

"It was my daily driver, rain or shine," says Toni, who was in love with the car. She was still driving it when she and Brandon Baker were married.

But the time came when Toni’s Camaro had to give way — to a house.

"Tears came to my eyes," she said of the decision to sell her Camaro. "I’ve tried to buy that car back. It was pretty nice," she said.

“It looks exactly the same as the day we sold it," Brandon said.

Both her husband and her dad promised her that someday, they would build her another Camaro.

Eight years ago, they set out to keep that promise after Toni found a ’69 Camaro on Craigslist.

"The car had been rolled. It went over more than once," said Philbrook.

"She had a rough life," agreed his son-in-law.

They bought it anyway, along with another ’69 Camaro that had burned, and a ’68 Camaro parts car.

"They were all basket cases," Philbrook recalled. They hauled all the bits and pieces home to Wichita for what would be a 7-year project.

They started from the chassis upward, putting in new floors, quarter panels, wheel houses and a roof. The front subframe was rebuilt.

"It’s basically a new car," Philbrook said.

A 5.3 liter fuel-injected V-8 engine out of a Chevy pickup was bought, along with a 4L60 automatic overdrive transmission, a 10-bolt GM rear end and a complete wiring harness, from a salvage company in Lee’s Summit, Mo. An LS1 intake manifold was added and the car’s computer reprogrammed.

"It’s got a highway gear in it," said Brandon Baker, which is good, as the plan is to take it on extended road trips.

Philbrook did all of the body work, including shaving the drip rails and molding in the Detroit Speed custom tail lights, as well as the front and rear windshields, while Baker shot the Sikkens Viper Red paint job.

"I wanted it to be white — I’m a plain Jane kind of girl — but my painter husband did not approve," says Toni, who now admits the brilliant red paint looks pretty great.

A set of 2-inch dropped spindles in front and 2-inch lowering blocks in the rear brought the Camaro’s profile a little closer to earth, while a set of 18-inch Coys wheels and power disc brakes were fitted at each corner. For rubber, the builders chose hefty Nitto 275/40ZR/18’s to fill the rear wheel wells and 235/40ZR/18’s for the front wheels.

The Camaro features a deep rumble, thanks to a Kevin Kaiser custom exhaust system.

Probably the most radical change is to be found inside, though, where Philbrook removed the stock dashboard and replaced it with a more stylish 1959 Impala unit, skillfully narrowed to fit. The five instrument pods look right at home in the car and attract a lot of attention, Baker said. An underdash panel was created to house the Hot Rod Air air conditioning vents and controls.

Stock Camaro bucket seats and a rear bench seat were recovered with a reproduction upholstery kit by John Bezinque. A custom fiberglass center console was fabricated to locate the Lokar floor shifter, stereo head and oversized cupholders.

A polished tilt steering column and billet steering wheel round things out, channeling inputs to a Unisteer power rack and pinion setup.

So did her hubby and dad fulfill their promise?

"It’s a beautiful car, and it shows all their love and their hard work," Toni Baker says proudly.

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