Paint jail. The specter always lurking in the corner, peeking over a fence, hiding just below the lid of a trash barrel. Your plan seems simple enough. You do the procedures needed to get the car to the painter but you still assume the worst. Doug Derkacht, a building contractor in Tenino, Washington (about 20 klicks south of Olympia where they brew beer), did not escape being dragged through this thicket of thorns.

Doug told us: "My plan was to get the car in paint and then proceed with the suspension as soon as I had it back at my shop. I was so disappointed with the job that I bought some aircraft paint stripper and within a week I had it back to bare metal. I was discouraged, depressed, and ready to get rid of it. Instead, I decided to write it off as a learning experience-and started my search for a new painter."

Maintaining and continually reinvesting in his business, raising a family, and being fiscally conservative precluded any sort of four-wheeled fun. Now in his mid-40s, Doug discussed the situation with wife, Pam. She'd had some recent medical issues "that opened our eyes to how short and precious life really is. She shopped for a new baby grand piano and I went shopping for my Camaro."

After several very rusty disappointments, he found it four hours north of Tenino, a '73 LT still sporting the original paint and interior. Now, he had his palette. Its engine wasn't original but it was still viable. Though Doug could have entertained nasty high-horsepower, he didn't see the need. The car was bound to be a cruiser and all the raw materials were readily at hand. Instead of lurching towards the hottest double-throwdown pieces in the aftermarket, he stuck with a rebuilding regimen that was more or less what he needed.

As in any full-on resuscitation, the Camaro was peeled down to its core, and as the exterior work proceeded, he began seeing red flags. "There were many little things during the paint process that soon became an arm-long laundry list. I knew the project was beginning a long plunge into the void and where it would probably come out was a scary thought. I had the engine and transmission rebuilt, stripped and painted the subframe. The inner fenderwells, core support, hood hinges were powdercoated black with 40 percent gloss."

In the end, Doug got his piece the way he imagined it would be. Perseverance, haggling, and humor helped get him through. But there was more. "I give credit to my dad for getting me started in the hobby when I was a teen. When I was 17, he sold me his '73 Nova and then showed me the basics. I also give lots of credit to nastyZ28.com, a huge info resource for any second-gen Camaro. Finally, I thank Pam for the 100 percent support she gave during the 3-year slog.

"I was beginning to think that maybe she just liked it when I was out in the garage!"

Chassis
At the nose of the car, Doug scoured the control arms and fixed them with new bushings and performed the rest of the schedule with fresh ball joints, inner and outer tie-rod ends, centerlink, idler arm, and Pitman arm. He replaced the stock springs with Hotchkis 2-inch drop coils then intruded on wheel movement with Edelbrock Classic IAS shocks. The spindles, steering box, and the front antisway bar are stock. The rear suspension features custom four-leaf springs, shackles, bushings, and hardware. Doug built custom spring pockets that eliminate the factory rubber pads and provide a positive connection between leaf and leaf pocket. For the sake of the stance, he slipped in 1-inch lowering blocks and at last finished the assembly with a brace of IAS shock absorbers.

Interior
Doug laid down a layer of RAAMmat sound deadener (especially effective for audio installations) and carpet with additional sound cancelling built in. Doug is fronted by a varied tableau, where all the parts and pinpoints effortlessly before his eyes. The main attraction is the custom dash insert he built and had powdercoated in (textured) silver vein. Auto Meter Sport Comps bring it all into focus. Door panels striped with blue and reflecting black ABS are fitted with first-gen door pulls. A new dashpad sets the backdrop for the tilt steering column and a Grant wheel. All the seats were done over in black vinyl and the requisite blue centers. In a wise move, Doug installed Morris Classic Concepts three-point belt conversions on the front seats. In all, clean and pin-neat, restful on the eyes, and restful on the ears, maybe. Sony FM/CD head with 52 watts per channel. Rockford Fosgate 6x9 150-watt rear speakers and two 4-inch Pioneer speakers mounted in the original location.

Drivetrain
For the most part, this engine represents about 85 percent of the hot rodding market in terms of dollars and sense. So long as you don't overly harass cast parts they'll remain faithful. Doug's friendly engine man cleaned up the bores of the 350 block with a 0.030-inch punch; he cut 0.010-inch from the journals of the cast crank. Here, Federal Mogul pistons combine with Speed Pro rings and forged steel connecting rods. Decks of the pistons are flat and combine with 76cc combustion chambers to produce a cat-pee friendly 9:1 compression ratio. The valvetrain is COMP throughout: hydraulic-roller with a 0.460-inch lift and 268 degrees of duration at 0.050, pushrods, 1.6:1 roller rockers, valvesprings, et al. A Cloyes double-roller timing chain joins GM crank snout with a COMP Cams gear. Oiling is advanced via a stock oil pan and the traditional Melling high-output pump, and coolant is regulated by a Flex-a-Lite S-Band fan pulling 3,000 cfm. Though the iron cylinder heads live with 1.94/1.50-inch valves and 76cc combustion chambers, they get the message out. A neat Black Mountain Precision 1-inch cogged belt keeps the ancillaries awake. A sensibly sized 650-cfm Carter four-barrel (with custom drop lid) jams through an Edelbrock Performer RPM and a hopped-up HEI blows 50,000 volts. For the final phase, ceramic-coated 15/8-inch-primary Hooker Super Comps hustle the dreck through a 21/2-inch tract. Greeting moderate grunt is the Turbo 350 replete with a Stage 2 shift kit. B&M products include the Mega shifter and a 12-inch converter that stalls at 1,700 rpm. A rebuilt stock 'shaft dilutes the grunt in an antique 10-bolt that was rehabbed and re-geared from 2.73 to 3.42:1. Positive traction included.

Body
Classy Chassis in Olympia stripped the carcass inside and out, down to naked metal. They fit and installed new lower fender patches and a taillight panel. To repair the damage done by another shop, Classy smoothed out a new roof skin. The remainder of the panels are GM factory stuff. A couple of coats of epoxy primer laid the base for three coats of K38 acrylic urethane and the entire surface was blocked with 150#. Once those coats hardened, two more of K38 went on and then blocked with very fine 400#. Classy swept the paint gun back and forth, applying the DuPont GM Code 70 Metallic Blue. Where necessary, these guys introduced the black hood and deck stripes (with pearl ghosting down both sides).

Wheels & Brakes
Until the time is right and the budget less tight, the Camaro's stoppers are rebuilt originals, rear drums and all. To go with the medium blue exterior, 17-inch Hot Wheels Sixty-Eight five spokes, 8- and 9-inches wide, respectively. Rubber corresponding includes P235/45ZR and P285/40ZR BFG g-Force T/A.

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