Sailors had scurvy, medieval peasants had bubonic plague, and car guys have this thing called the jalopy blues. The affliction goes something like this: Buy a cheap project car. Get overwhelmed by rust repair. Lose time. Lose money. Lose interest. Repeat. It’s a vicious cycle that you know is going to play out every time a $2,000 Camaro or Chevelle stares you in the face, but by golly, a man can never have too many yard decorations, can he? Unfortunately, the jalopy blues sentences its victims to watch like chumps from the sidelines while everyone else lays patch on cruise night. Don’t be that guy; be like Randy Robison, a wise hot rodder who had the foresight to buy a nice car up front. By playing it smart, Randy saved a bunch of money in the long run, and was out hunting Mustangs in the time it takes to vacuum all the cobwebs and rat carcasses out of a typical jalopy.
Speaking of Mustangs, Randy wasn’t always a man of the Bow Tie persuasion. In fact, his ’70 Camaro shares garage space right next to his ’69 Mustang fastback. Ever since high school, whether it was a muscle car or a late model, a coupe or a fastback, a drag car or a street car, Mustangs have always been the one constant in his hot rodding endeavors. After struggling to crack the 450hp mark with a fully built 392ci small-block Windsor in his Mudstain, however, Randy stood mesmerized as he watched nearly stock LS-series motors make even more power. “I read this article in Car Craft where they put a mild cam and a single-plane intake manifold on a junkyard 6.0L motor and made 483 hp. From that point forward I wanted to do an LS swap very badly, and a good friend of mine who works at Mast Motorsports kept egging me on,” he recalls. “The great thing about LS motors is that whether you get one out of a truck or a Corvette, they all have tons of power locked away in them. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on an LS2 or an LS6. Much cheaper iron truck motors have the same power potential, too.”
Even as a misguided Ford guy, Randy had enough taste to appreciate the sweet lines of the early ’70s Camaro. “My trans builder had a ProCharged second-gen drag car that had a really nice stance. ‘Wow, those cars look very nice when they sit right,’” he admits. Thus the search began, and Randy found what appeared to be a good candidate while scouring Craigslist ads one day. “I called to inquire about a red ’70 Camaro that was for sale, and it turned out that I already knew the seller through a mutual friend. He said that the red car needed more bodywork than I was comfortable with, but he mentioned that he also had a blue ’70 Camaro that was in much better shape. With two young kids to chase after, I can’t take on a full restoration project anymore. The blue car was perfect because it didn’t need any bodywork, it already had a nice paintjob, and it didn’t hurt that it was an original Z/28 RS car.”
With no restoration work to fiddle with, Randy jumped right into the fun stuff. The goal was to build a street machine with excellent driveability that he could also hustle around the autocross. To accomplish this, he pulled a 6.0L iron LQ4 out of a 3/4-ton Chevy pickup truck, and swapped it into the Camaro. Taking cues from the aforementioned Car Craft article, he spiced things up a bit with a Chevrolet Performance 219/228-at-0.050 hydraulic roller cam, a single-plane intake manifold, and a set of Hedman Hedders. Although he considered opting for EFI, Randy’s calculations determined that a ProForm 750-cfm carburetor matched with an MSD 6LS ignition controller was $500 cheaper. “By the time you change the cam and headers in one of these motors, you have more power than a Corvette. I thought about upgrading to some rectangle-port L92 heads, but since they don’t give you much extra power until high-rpm where I don’t do much driving, I stuck with the cathedral-port heads instead,” he explains.
On the suspension side of the equation, Randy was so impressed with the Camaro’s handling right out of the box that he didn’t want to mess with a good thing. As such, the mods are limited to QA1 coilover up front, Hotchkis leaf springs out back, and a set of subframe connectors to stiffen everything up. Although he’d like to put a four-link in the car one day, for now Randy is a very happy camper. “The first time I drove this car around the autocross I was shocked. The stock suspension geometry is so good that it handled so much better than my Mustang,” he raves.
After tallying up all the receipts, Randy figures that he has roughly $24,000 into the entire project, and $20,000 of that total represents the purchase price of the car. Granted that’s a hefty chunk of cash, there’s no question that it saved an even bigger wad of money in the long run. Start with a $2,000 jalopy, and the cost of the new quarters, floors, fenders, hood, trunklid, interior, glass, and miscellaneous trim bits could easily double the amount of money Randy has in his second-gen. “The key to taking this approach is finding a car with a solid history. All I had to do was put an engine and drivetrain in it, then hit the gas,” he says.
As the tale of this second-gen proves, it’s not always about how much money you spend, but rather how wisely you spend it. So don’t be lame, be like Randy. And the next time the jalopy blues come knocking, kick it square between the legs.