Car of the Week: 1974 Chevrolet Camaro

{Editor’s Note: Since Tim Reid can certainly tell the story of his 1974 Camaro restoration better than anybody else, here is his tale behind this week’s OldCarsReport.com “Car of the Week}

By Tim Reid

In 1974 I was 12 years old.  I had watched my dad buy many cars over the years, have a little paint and body work done to them, clean them up, drive them for a while and sell them.  Being in this environment every since I can remember has given me a love for cars (old and new). 

I have many work-in-progress projects (1964 El Camino, 1965 Chevy Truck, 1947 Ford Super Deluxe, 1952 Chevy).  I also have many completed projects (1974 Camaro, 2006 Corvette, 2008 Cadillac CTS, 2008 Silverado Z71 crew cab, 2007 Chevy Avalanche, 1998 Corvette, 2004 Hyundai Tiberon).  The inventory changes constantly.

In 1974, my dad was looking for a car to fix up for my older brother to drive when he got his driver’s license.  We made the trek down to Indianapolis to a place we had been many times before, Wrecks Inc.  Their saying was “We Meet By Accident”.  We spent a couple of hours looking over the hundreds of cars they had. My dad had settled in on a 1974 Camaro that was hit in the front.  As usual, it took about an hour of wheeling and dealing for them to come together on a price. We loaded it on the trailer and headed back home.

Once we got a car home, the norm was to tear it down to see exactly what parts were needed, then start calling the local salvage yards for parts, and decide whether we would be better off buying new parts or used part. The tear-down was complete within a day or two, but that’s where the process came to a screeching halt.  While looking for parts, another deal was found, and the ’74 Camaro got pushed back in priority. After all, it was two years before my brother would get his license.  The car was eventually pushed to the back of the priority list over and over again. 

Fast forward to sometime around 1999, my dad was selling his house in the Chicago area and didn’t have a place to keep the Camaro so he sold it to a friend of his who had a body shop. 

Fast forward again to 2004.  My dad called me one day and said his friend with the body shop was retiring and wanted to know if I knew anyone interested in buying the 1974 Camaro for $1,500.  The car was still not finished.  I talked it over with my wife and 14 year-old-son Tyle. I told Tyler if he would help restore the car, it would be his driver when he turned 16. We traveled to the Chicago area to pick up the car. Little did I know my dad’s friend would also give us plenty of extra GM parts. We had the back of the truck, the inside of the Camaro, and the trunk of the Camaro filled up with extra parts that he had accumulated over the years. 

We got the car home, and started the tear-down all over again.  There had been some work done, but during the long trip home, I had decided we would do a complete restoration on the car. We removed all the interior, glass, doors, trunk lid, front-end, bumpers, engine and transmission from the car.  The car had been stored inside most of its life, so it was in excellent shape for a 30-year-old car. It still had the original Uniroyal Tiger Paw bias ply 14-inch white lettered tires, with the Rally wheels.  Surprisingly, they weren’t dry rotted at all. The wheels had a little surface rust in a few places. 

We tore into the engine. Once the heads were off, I was glad we decided to go through the engine. There were mice droppings on top of most of the pistons. I sent the engine off to be checked and rebuilt. I also sent the transmission off to be rebuilt. 

While those jobs were being done, we started on the bodywork. We stripped the car down to bare metal, and marked the imperfections. The doors had a few door dings from sitting in the garage at home but, amazingly, there was not one bit of rust on the car. We did what little bodywork there was and primed, blocked and sealed everything. We decided to do something a little different with the hood, so I took it and the two mirrors to a friend of mine in Piedmont, Ala. I told him to surprise me, with some flame/fire on the hood and mirrors.  He did just that.  He put the Chevy bowtie in each of the valleys in the hood, and has fire rolling out from under the bowties all the way up the hood.  He also put some ghost flames in the center of the hood. The mirrors look like they are literally on fire.  He did an amazing job.

We started assembling the engine after it came back. We decided to paint it the original Chevy orange color, but then we clear-coated over the orange. We painted all the brackets with high-gloss black, and the master cylinder with cast blast paint. 

I painted the car with the front-end, doors, and trunk lid off. We painted the firewall the same color as the car (it normally was a flat black). While that was drying, we stripped all the inner structure of the front end and painted it high-gloss black. 

Then came the long, slow process of getting the car put back together and lining everything up. We finally got it all put back together, and started the most enjoyable part of restoring a car — wet sanding (anyone that has done this knows I am lying).  A little side note, when I was 13 years old I would wet sand complete cars for $6. No wonder the owner of the body shop kept me busy. 

It was this time when Tyler informed me that he wasn’t going to drive the Camaro every day. He knew we had gone way overboard for this car to be a daily driver.

We got the engine and transmission put back in the car, installed the windows, and buffed the car. That is truly the point where you can see the results of all the work put into restoring a car. We left the original Tiger Paw tires and wheels on the car. We only drove it to the close car shows (10 miles or less), and trailered it to the rest. We’ve won many trophies over the last few years, but it has really been a topic of conversation at the car shows. Just this last year we replaced the original tires and wheels with some Foose wheels and Firestone tires.

Today, we have ‘74 Camaro with 5,000 original miles. It has original interior, original glass (except the windshield), original weatherstrip (except the trunk), original wheels and tires. The car has ceramic headers and stainless steel Magnaflow exhaust.  The bumpers were sent off to be re-anodized. We upgraded the windows to power windows and the door locks to power door locks.

I would like to say I completely restored this car by myself, but I had help from many friends in the areas I’m not as comfortable with. Steve Baskins of Baskins Tire did the wiring, Magnaflow exhaust and installed the Firestone tires. Cecil Bing rebuilt the transmission, Frank Morgan assembled the engine, and Al Marion did the flame work.


 


 

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