It's not like you need a car magazine to tell you times are rough, but when message board thugs can no longer gouge helpless daddies for Hannah Montana tickets like they used to, it certainly reinforces the pervasiveness of the situation. What's more, rumor has it that Dr. 90210 is running a buy-one-implant-get-the-next-implant-free special. For hot rodders, in a hobby funded entirely by disposable income, spending it on project cars may seem a bit counter intuitive. That's why the timing of Troy Day's story couldn't be more appropriate. He built an entire car--a big-block-powered, 11-second '69 Camaro at that--for what many '69 Camaro owners spend on paint and body work alone. By simply doing his thing, he's now sitting on a fat pile of equity. So if passion alone isn't enough to keep those wrenches turning given the current economic climate, the prospect of possibly making a few bucks in the process should definitely help the cause.
In total, Troy has a hair over $15,000 into his project. That's including the purchase price of the car five years ago. Even if he's only reporting half of what he actually spent on the car, his potential profit margin still looks pretty good. "When I was going through the process of getting my car insured after it was finished, the agent appraised my car at $45,000," he recollects. "I was stunned. I said `the only reason I'm telling you that I only have $15,000 in the entire project is because you already signed the papers.' I built this car to have fun, not to make money, but finding that out was certainly a nice surprise."
A Camaro man to the core, Troy's love of F-bodies goes way back. His first car was a 355-powered '78 Camaro, which was later succeeded by a '68 RS/SS, an '89 IROC, and another '69 Camaro unrelated to his current ride. Through the years, he honed the skills necessary to build his latest project on a ridiculously miniscule budget. "My dad was a mechanic, so I picked up a lot of stuff by working in his shop as a kid," he explains. "I've done lots of reading and research, but most of it is just putting your inhibitions aside, getting your hands dirty, and learning from your mistakes. I don't really enjoy body work and don't mess around with rebuilding transmissions, but I love doing engine, driveline, and suspension work."
After making a few bucks on his '68 RS/SS, Troy took advantage of his connections to score a sweet deal on his '69 Camaro. His friend was about to get married, and the soon-to-be bride made him sell his Camaro for a fancy new SUV. "We worked on that car together for a long time, and I even helped him mini-tub it," says Troy. "Since we were buddies, he agreed to sell it to me for $2,300 with the understanding that I'd sell it back to him if he ever wanted it again in the future. Everyone tells me that it was a screaming deal, but the car was very rough. The fenders had to be replaced, the floors were shot, the passenger door had a bunch of rust, and just about every body panel was dented. The seats and the headliner were the only parts of the interior that were in decent shape, so I had to replace everything else."
Despite the enormity of the task at hand, Troy says that he completed all the body work for $1,500. After tracking down a good used fender and spending many hours with a hammer and dolly, he got the body somewhat straight. From there, it was a matter of climbing a steep learning curve. "I learned things the hard way through trial and error," he admits. "If you weld an entire body panel on all at once, the metal will warp, so you must spot-weld it first. It helps to have a couple of buddies to hold a panel in place for you, or you'll realize it's crooked only after you've attached it. Also, you have to mix paint exactly like the manufacturers suggest, because if you try to be cheap and use too much reducer, the paint will bubble on the primer. People tell me how good the body work looks all the time, but honestly, I took some shortcuts because I really don't enjoy block sanding and laying down primer. I'd much rather build engines. Instead of stripping the entire car down and addressing paint runs, I half-assed my way through most of the process. I'll just chalk it up as a learning experience, and use what I learned to attempt more of a show-quality paintjob next time."
Working with go-fast parts is Troy's true calling, and this time around he had to have a big-block. Interestingly, for a car with such a distinct street/strip flavor, his original plan was to build a Pro Touring cruiser. "I've done Pro Street Camaros before, so I wanted to put a 572 and a six-speed in this car, but that stuff costs a little more than I'm willing to spend, and you need a good job just to pay for gas," he quips. Having gone as quick as 10.7 in the quarter with a 427 small-block, he's learned a few engine building tricks over the years. This time around, plans called for a budget 489 based on a production 454 block, a Scat cast crank and I-beam rods, and SRP 10.5:1 pistons. To further cut costs, he opted for a Crane 246/254-at-0.050 hydraulic flat-tappet cam, and matched it up with an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake, a Holley Dominator carb, and a set of second-hand ported rectangle-port iron heads. "I've gotten a lot of good info from magazines, but not all of it is true. I read a story that said oval-port heads are the hot ticket, so I tried out a set. On a street car like mine, you end up losing too much torque down low. I think it's best to talk to people at the track to see what they've tried, and find out what works and what doesn't."
Although an intense regimen of hands-on wrenching contributes largely to its budget-busting proclivities, it represents just part of the battle. Troy reminds us that it's just as important to spend money wisely. "I've wasted lots of cash going the overkill route in the past, and I won't do it again," he says. "I dished out $3,200 on new crate 9-inch rearend for my first '69 Camaro, but didn't really need that strong of a rearend for that car's setup. For this car, I'm still getting by with a factory 12-bolt, 30-spline axles, and a mini-spool. I welded the axle tubes to the differential, and welded up some cross bracing to the housing for extra support. The car is mainly used for cruising, with some occasional racing on test-and-tune night, so it's held up fine. I have a friend who builds very stout transmissions out of his garage, and he put mine together for $500."
Granted, Troy's cost-cutting techniques are most evident in the big-ticket items, but they've been sprinkled in every aspect of the buildup as well. In lieu of costly steel braided fuel hose, Troy runs aluminum hardlines underneath the car. For skinnies, he uses a set of 165R15 radials originally intended for old VW Bugs. "I don't think 11-second Camaros are what the tire designers had in mind, but they're rated at 120 mph, work great, and only cost $80 brand new," he retorts. Speaking of tires, thanks to the DIY mini-tub job and monster 12.5-inch-wide slicks, the suspension setup is very simple, yet effective. With the exception of 90/10 drag shocks and springs off of a six-cylinder Camaro, the front underpinnings are bone stock. Out back, the only tweaks are Hotchkis leaf springs and Competition Engineering traction bars. Nonetheless, the car is good for respectable 1.64-second 60-foot times.
By the time this story prints, there could be a new government handout on the way--this time for those of us who actually pay taxes--intended to stimulate the economy once again. Who knows if it will work, or if it will even happen, but most of us can pick up a few pointers from Troy Day's Camaro. Buying low, keeping costs down, and selling high when the time comes is a solid business model in anyone's book.
As purchased, the Camaro had carpet out of a house. Troy kept the seats and headliner, but
Troy admits that the first DIY mini-tub job he did on his first '69 Camaro was ugly, but h