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Big Red 1969 Camaro: A Classic Muscle Car

Check Out This Classic Big Red Camaro!

Updated September 27, 2018

Featured in John Oliver’s documentary Big Red Camaro: Driving Fast & Taking Chances, this 1969 Chevrolet Camaro has risen to legendary status. Its story began back in 1987 when Dan Gottlieb and his son RJ decided they wanted to build a car together that would propel them into the world of racing. For RJ, the starting point was clear; he recently noted, “The ‘69 Camaro was always my favorite American muscle car, so that’s why we picked that model.”

Big Red Camaro 1

So, over the course of about a year, the pair put together a 1969 Big Red Camaro Z28 with production chassis and a Lingenfelter 540ci big block that quickly was known for hitting speeds of 200 mph and above. The original Big Red’s time in the spotlight was short-lived, however. At Ensenada, Mexico for its La Carrera Road Race debut in 1988, the spunky Camaro met its demise. While in the lead going 140 mph, problems arose from the inability of the stock chassis being able to handle the stress of racing, and Big Red careened off the road and crashed – leaving little to salvage save the engine and rear end.

Big Red Camaro 2

Fortunately, neither RJ Gottlieb nor Chris Kaufmann, who were inside Big Red at the time of the accident came to any harm. It didn’t take long for work to begin on a second version of Big Red, which would be even better than the original, thanks to learning from mistakes and enlisting Bob Osborne’s help. This time, the muscle car’s build team opted for a stronger stock car tube chassis than the Camaro one that didn’t hold up under racing pressure.

Big Red Camaro 3

The team outfitted the newest incarnation of Big Red with a full 1969 Camaro body on the outside to achieve the appearance of a stock Z28 while still being able to withstand the rigors of racing at 200 mph and upwards. Also, Larry Mollicone was able to tweak the original dry-sump 540ci aluminum Donavan engine to where it could put out 800hp and 750ft-lbs of torque. Big Red also gained a Jerrico four-speed transmission, Koni shocks, and twin-caliper vented disc brakes.

Big Red Camaro 4

Big Red soon went on to win the next La Carrera Road Race. In 1989 at the second Silver State Classic Challenge, RJ  Gottlieb set the speed record of 27-minutes, 54-seconds over 94-mile stretch at the age of 19, and that record stands today. Later, Big Red spent eight years on display at a Laughlin, Nevada car museum, but that’s not the end of the plucky Camaro’s tale.

Big Red Camaro 5

Eventually, Big Red found its way back to racing, undergoing countless engine and suspension upgrades. Today, it has three different motors that can be swapped according to a particular race’s requirements – the reworked 540ci Donovan “Peanut Motor,” single-quad, 598ci “Bullet Motor” capable of producing 975 hp and 810 ft-lbs of torque, and an ultra-powerful dual-quad 598ci “Monster Motor” that puts out 1,050 hp and 875 ft-lbs of torque. Big Red has even made an appearance in the fourth Fast and the Furious movie. Who knows where the future will take this classic American muscle car in the years to come?

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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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