If Ford hadn’t kicked off the pony car craze with its massively popular Mustang, the Camaro would possibly never have existed, the corporate suits at Chevrolet believing their trick turbocharged Corvair was up to the challenge of out-selling a glorified two-door Falcon. They were wrong. Mustangs were selling off the showroom floor faster than Ford could get them off the assembly lines, and it took two-and-a-half years before the Camaro made its debut, complete with the biggest small block Chevy ever built ” the new for ’67 350. However, the folk from Dearborn had anticipated the move and offered the new Mustangs with optional 6391cc (390ci) big blocks, forcing Chevrolet to put the 6489cc (396ci) large block onto the option sheet.
The Camaro went on to be a huge success, both in terms of sales figures and as an extremely popular car for people who like to mess with cars. With the possible exception of the ’32 Ford and the tri-five Chevys, there has never been an automobile as revered as the Camaro. I know it’s a tough pill to swallow, but all you Camaro fans owe Fomoco a huge debt.
Bloody Car Dealer
Russ McIntyre (his name is Russ, not Russell: he doesn’t even have a middle name; he’s the stripped-down budget model) and his much better half, Karen, are known for having a big garage stuffed with very cool cars. Russ is one of those organised people who has both the knowledge and skill to make a living working on other folks’ cool cars. Affable and easygoing, he loves Chevys, especially ’55s, ’32 Fords and early Camaros. Oh, and 100E Ford Prefects. Karen likes what Russ likes, as long as it’s not a Corvette.
Russ’s dad had a ’55 Chev. Young Russ knew that one day he’d have one, and he did, a ’55 four-door Bel Air he bought off an equally young Lez Herst. Needing the money to buy a house, he sold it, and it’s still out there performing street and strip duties, now owned by Darren Van Ness. Eventually Russ replaced the empty spot in his heart with a shmick ’55 sports coupe. The McIntyres also once had a mint red and white ’68 RS/SS, which ” you guessed it ” had to go down the road in order to finance a new business. They vowed to buy another as soon as it was fiscally viable.
Knowing of a fully loaded, low-mileage RS/SS that was not for sale, Russ cheekily asked for first option if it ever did come on the market. Seven years later the then owner, Todd, made the call, and asked if Russ was still keen ” a silly question as it turned out. Being a generous bugger, and already having the sports coupe and a steel ’32 truck he’s owned forever, Russ bought the Ash Gold Camaro for Karen, planning nothing more than to drive the Rallye wheels off it.
Russ never could leave well enough alone though, and after a while thought he might take the engine out over a weekend and pull it down to check out a slight piston rattle it had developed. But the more he looked, the more work it seemed. “I thought that since the motor was coming out we might as well go all the way. It was a tidy car anyway and I’d never tried to do a restoration before, although it didn’t turn out to be a true resto anyway ” more a resto rodding, as I added a few bolt-on things Chevy should have,” Russ said. “I like to make things better than they were, and I have a new respect for people who do restore things to stock, it’s bloody hard. Even though you can buy anything for a Camaro, I don’t think I’d like to do another one.”
Once the 396 was removed and dispatched to Taylor Automotive for rebuilding, the disassembly began in earnest. With the help of good friends Chris and Darryl, the ’68 was reduced to a naked shell in just one weekend. Parts were not plucked off and discarded willy-nilly though, every piece was methodically bagged, tagged and put away in the designated Camaro parts area. Diagrams were included in most bags if the reinstallation looked like it might be problematic. Then all the metal parts were sent to be media blasted by Joe at Kraftwork Media, and returned to Russ in a bright and shiny paint-less state. Paul from Vehicle Facelifts did a little bit of panel work, which included replacing the entire right rear quarter after the stripping revealed some less-than-pristine Californian panel work involving a slide hammer and a bucket of bog, “but she’s mint now,” Russ says with a smile. The floor pan was in excellent condition, but uni-body cars can be a bit too flexible, and liberal application of the throttle (especially with a torquey old big block) can cause mystery dents around the B-pillar area, so Russ stiffened it all up with a pair of sub-frame connectors.
Man can multi task
While the body was being beaten and the motor was being machined, Russ organised the rebuild of the rest of the drivetrain. “The standard TH400 was rebuilt to stock but with a shift kit to make it a little less mushy; the 12-bolt diff was sent to Diffs ’R’ Us to be checked out and they had to fit a new posi, as the old one turned out to not be in there. For safety’s sake I added a c-clip eliminator kit, as the axles are the weakest link in 12-bolts. Then I rebuilt the rear drums with new parts throughout, did the same with the front discs, the new suspension bits were ordered and I spent my nights and weekends hanging bare metal stuff up and taking painted stuff down.” Dean Coley, a world famous spray gunner, would drop round every night after work, pick up a gun and etch prime whatever panels Russ had prepared that day, before trotting off home for his well-earned dinner. The next day, Deano would return to prime and paint those same panels. “It was a 10.8 by 4.8-metre shed and it was full of wires strung with Camaro parts,” says Dean, laughing, “and I thought they were never gonna stop coming.” Some of the more minuscule parts Mr Coley squirted were new body panel bolts. They were covered in POR15, as it does not chip when the bolt is tightened. Dean also got the job of recoating the RS/SS’s shell in a fresh coat of Ash Gold once Paul had finished beating on the ’68. Like every other piece of the car, it was etched primed, primed and painted, and then every square millimetre was cut, polished and then triple polished again with Carnuba wax before any glass, emblem or chrome trim was replaced. “That way dirty fingerprints wipe off, it has the same finish under badges, and gives it that brand new look to it,” explains Russ.
Only hardcore Camaro purists might notice the bumble bee stripe is painted on, rather than being the factory decal, and it comes down a little closer to the 396 badge than the original sticker. “I think it looks better,” Russ says. Once it was all re-under-sealed and painted, it was time for the Camaro to be made whole once more, and again Chris and Darryl fronted up to help reassemble it. “If it wasn’t for them it would’ve taken a lot longer. They were here every weekend for a year and a half.”
The McIntyres think their cars should handle, so the refurbished 12-bolt third member was slipped back under on the original leaf springs, with new bushes and a pair of adjustable Konis. The front suspension went back in with a mixture of Nolathane and rubber bushes, another pair of Konis, a pair of “chunkier” Kings springs and a 25mm sway bar to replace the factory 16mm one. Russ fitted 15 x 6 Rallye wheels as he felt they fill out the wheel arches better than the 14 x 6s the car came with. “They look heaps better,” he reckons. The bumpers were rechromed, the hood vents were perfect and just detailed and refitted, but every other piece of chrome or stainless was replaced. “Chucks Restorations was just starting out back then, and most of my car came in from the States in Chuck’s hand luggage. Thanks, Chuck.”
Performance over Originality
The 396 was rebuilt as close to stock as Russ could bear it. The block was bored .030 over and hypereutectic pistons fitted. Terry Lockley cleaned up the only set of oval port heads Russ owns, and added stainless Ferrea valves. A mild Crower cam was added to the mix. The ignition looks stock, but the Chevy distributor houses a Pertronics electronic deal, the same as Russ likes to use in all his cars: “They’re trouble free.”
L-78 Camaros came with alloy intakes and 750 vacuum secondary carbs. Russ’s isn’t an L-78, but, “I couldn’t bring myself to bolt on that stock cast iron monstrosity. It weighs more than most Japanese cars. I used an alloy one and painted it; used a Holley too. You can’t see it under the air cleaner,” Russ said defensively. A set of Hooker headers dumps the exhaust gasses into a 2.5-inch system. The original Ivory Gold interior was in quite good nick, but having gone this far the McIntyres decided it wasn’t going to cut the custard. A reproduction interior kit was ordered, and once again Chuck’s suitcase was bulging with Camaro parts for Russ. Another mate, Colin Trotter, got the job of fitting it, “and it was a lot more work than I anticipated,” Russ said. “It’s the details like changing gauge lenses, painting the centre console, and making the original door handles, locks and a million other things look brand new, but it does make a huge difference.” Russ is a huge David Bowie fan, so the sound system had to be up to scratch. The gold ’68 uses a Custom Autosound unit that looks exactly like the original static hisser, but plays something from Russ’s extensive Bowie CD selection, all hidden in the stacker in the immaculate trunk. Only not very often. As mentioned, Russ and Karen do have other cars and the Camaro doesn’t get used quite as often as it might. Karen likes things clean and tidy. Russ jokingly says she won’t cook because she doesn’t want to get the oven dirty. So, “because Russ and all the boys did too good a job, it’d be a shame to use it too much. Besides, Russ pinched the wheels for that stupid Corvette he’s restoring,” says Karen, laughing. So much for not resto rodding anything else then, eh Russ.
1968 RS/SS Chevrolet Camaro
Engine: 6489cc (396ci) Chevrolet, .030 overbore, hypereutectic pistons, mild cam, oval port with stainless valves, Edelbrock dual plane, 750 vacuum secondary Holley carb, Pertronics ignition, Hooker headers, 2.5-inch exhaust system
Driveline: Stock TH400 with shift kit, 12-bolt Chevrolet diff, 3:36 gears, posi, C-clip eliminator kit
Suspension: Koni shocks, King springs, sub-frame connectors
Wheels/tyres: 15×6-inch Rallye wheels, 225/65R15 BF Goodrich TA tyres
Exterior: Panelbeating by Vehicle Facelifts, Ash Gold paint by Dean Coley
Interior: Ivory Gold Deluxe upholstery, restored original wheel, factory stirrup shifter, gauge pack, tell-tale tach, tilt column, fold-down back seat, air conditioning, rear window demister, Custom Auto sound head unit
Russ and Karen McIntyre
Age: 43 and 30-ish
Occupation: Owner/ operators, ACME (American Car Maintenance & Enhancements)
Previously owned cars: Bulk
Dream car: ’55 Chev coupe
Build time: Two years
Length of ownership: Seven years
Russ and Karen thank: Deano (the fab painter) Coley, Chris Coley, Daryl Carter and Steve Benge