George Suviate grew up in the Musclecar Era, in the Mecca of hot cars, in the loins of Southern California. He was sodden with testosterone, of course, and would have loved to vent some of it through his throttle foot. He dearly loved Detroit Iron, but could not afford it. Over the years, his yen progressed to rabid. George was a beat cop back then, but eventually emerged as a detective working traffic, so he became intimate with the legacy of over-amped driving, had smelled the blood and the gasoline.

Like a good cop, he soldiered on, waiting for the day it would all end and he could begin another life-this one with the object of his desire. He finally sated his passion nearly 20 years ago. The '71 El Camino you see here is George's first and only hot rod. He found it at the Pomona swap meet in 1990, threw down eight grand, and drove his piece of history back home. It was white with black stripes and had a 396 in it. Though it is badged an SS, George isn't sure if the car is authentic or not, but he couldn't care less.

For a decade, he drove it the way he bought it. Then things become vague. He found an itinerant Argentinean car painter who applied the burgundy metallic, laid the requisite stripes on the cowl hood, and then disappeared into the annuls of posterity. "I can't remember the guy's name or what happened to him," said George, "and I apologize for that." It doesn't matter. The man's work lives on and still stands way up 10 years after the fact.

"I always loved muscle cars and being retired, I was lucky enough to afford to build one of my dream cars. While I was at Original Parts Group one day, I asked if they could recommend somebody to redo my El Camino. They told me Mike Saiki [CHP July '07, "40 Days in the Hole"] of Motivational Engineering was my man. I called Mike and told him what I was looking for, and three months later the El Camino was finished. It turned out better than I had ever expected," gushed George.

No wonder. Mike is a racer and an engine builder. His Corvette runs high 8s and he won Limited Street in the Pacific Street Car Association championship-five times. George liked that but didn't need anything resembling a race hog: "I just wanted a dependable motor with decent power, not a drag race piece with limited drivability." For the machining and building expertise, Mike has his own go-to guys: block work by Team C, transmission work by Steve Sharp, rearend prep by Tom's Differentials, and engine building by his own two hands.

Mike built George a big-block in the image of an SS 454 Camino, a mild 460-incher that puts out an estimated 450 hp and at least as much grunt-just the ticket for cruising, driving, and having fun. It's a hot rod he could really use without worrying about the usual traps (overheating, abysmal fuel mileage, etc.), just like a sensible driver should be. To George, it's about being seen with a smile on his face rather than worry lines upon worry lines. He'd already got way too many of those from his cop years.

In fact, there is nothing on the car that any one of us could not do. Since the aftermarket has responded so well with parts and pieces unique to the second-gen Chevelles (including the El Camino), all Mike had to do was bolt them in place (the seats were custom-built, though). Regardless of the fact that custom work wasn't necessary to build the dream, the process consumed big dollars.

George cruises the same streets he worked as a detective, but now he does it with a smile on his mug. And being a retired dude, he's free to drive his El Camino whenever he likes, which is every day of the year. The rest of us can only hope.

In fact, there is nothing on the car that any one of us could not do. Since the aftermarket has responded so well with parts and pieces unique to the second-gen Chevelles (including the El Camino), all Mike had to do was bolt them in place (the seats were custom-built, though). Regardless of the fact that custom work wasn't necessary to build the dream, the process consumed big dollars.

George cruises the same streets he worked as a detective, but now he does it with a smile on his mug. And being a retired dude, he's free to drive his El Camino whenever he likes, which is every day of the year. The rest of us can only hope.

Force
The idea was to provide good low-end torque with the utmost in reliability and drivability. Mike Saiki's Motivational Engineering in Carson, California, sent the '70 454 cylinder block and the rotating assembly (stock steel crank, connecting rods, and Speed-Pro 9.5:1 forgings) to Team C in nearby Bellflower for the massage. Team C bored, decked, and honed the block, then dynamically balanced the internals. With the cylinder case on the engine stand, Mike assembled said rotating parts within, and slid in an Isky 270-HL 'stick (270 degrees duration, 0.510-inch lift, 114-degree L/C). In its entirety, the valvetrain is composed of stock GM items. A double-roller timing gear connects it to the crankshaft. Mike finished the bottom end with the stock oiling system and capped it with a stock pan. For street chugging, Mike looked no further than stock oval-port (with a little clean-up work) cylinder heads fitted with stock valves. Fuel is imported the old-fashioned way with an Edelbrock 750-cfm carburetor on a matching Edelbrock Performer intake manifold. The lid is a Billet Specialties piece. Jolt issues furiously from an MSD HEI distributor with 36 degrees total, and crispy critters are extracted by Doug's Headers and thence into a 3-inch custom exhaust system amplified by Flowmaster 40s. Mike used ARP fasteners throughout, many of them polished by George. For the back half of the powertrain, Mike enlisted his local agents: Steve Sharp, in Torrance, built the Turbo 400, matched it with a TCI 10-inch converter (2,800-stall speed) and a B&M Quick Silver shifter, and hooked it to a B&M cooler. The stock driveshaft links to a 12-bolt axle as amended by parts (Eaton limited-slip differential and 3.08:1 gears) from Tom's Differentials in Ponderay, Idaho.

Inside
Comforts for the creature? Ah, yes. George puts hands on a leather-wrapped B.A.D. billet steering wheel and Auto Meter gauges sunk into a Covan's Classic instrument panel, all of it underwritten by an M&H reproduction wiring harness. A Hot Rod Air HVAC system blows temperate on those sizzling September nights, and most every part of it has been deftly tucked out of sight to diffuse the clutter factor. George has a bent for modernity and remade the seats to look more like the ones in late-model cars. That steering column is an ididit tilt-wheel number. George's aural satisfaction alternately wafts and bangs hard through Kenwood components: AM/FM/CD player, bass amp, 61/2-inch speakers, mid-range, and tweeters. The system is capped by a 12-inch woofer and George likes to crank it!

Skin
Since this is the second go-around with the Camino, the paint and body had been completed more than a decade prior and was therefore unmolested. "The car is a driver. It has some minor chips. The paint still looks good as is," offered George. And he's right. Can you see those flaps from here? So the metalwork was really beneath the skin. George flattened and smoothed the firewall and hid as much of the wiring as possible. All air conditioning and heater hoses were run up under the fenders. For safety's sake, he also applied LED taillights and HID headlights so he could see the road better as the sun goes night-night.

Bones
For its mission as a happy remembrance and a joyful place to be, the El Camino got some mild but pertinent chassis upgrades. Classic Performance Products provided 2-inch drop coil springs all around and KYB gas-charged shock absorbers at every corner. Body roll is tempered by Hotchkis tubular antisway bars (13/8-inch and 15/16-inch) and the corresponding rear lower control arms. George pirated a quick-ratio steering box from a '69 Camaro and called it quits.

Wheels/Brakes
For the stopping proposition, George put CPP Big Brake kits (13- and 12-inch rotors) at either end of the Camino. Those five-spoke Torq-Thrusts were welded into George's memory decades ago, so he would do with nothing less for his hot rod. At 17x8, the modest Americans take the "just-right" Falken 245/ZR45 and 275/ZR50 skins.

  • «
  • |
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • View Full Article