They say that hope comes in many forms, but for some reason those forms are never specified. In contrast, hopelessness has a very distinct form, and it looks a lot like a $3,000 first-gen Camaro. Seriously, how nice can a dirt-cheap ’68 Camaro that’s rockin’ a 21-year-old paintjob possibly be? A pudgy convertible body loaded with 3,970 pounds of mass doesn’t bode well for performance potential, either. Understandably, that’s a conclusion most hot rodders would draw when presented with these facts, but Dallas Williams begs to differ. He just happens to own a pudgy, two-ton, $3,000 first-gen Camaro convertible with a 21-year-old paintjob that’s anything but hopeless. With what amounts to a $100-per-month budget, he’s managed to build a big-block–powered terror that rips the quarter-mile in 10.86 seconds at 124 mph. Whenever he’s cruising the streets in his Camaro, the only thing that’s hopeless are the suckers trying to keep up.

For a total cost of $32,000, Dallas has built himself a 10-second street machine strapped with a 555ci big-block that’s just as comfortable cruising the beach as it is disposing motorized street vermin. It’s not show car perfect, but that’s part of its appeal. This is a car you can drive from the desert to the coast in brutal SoCal traffic without worrying about chipping the paint or pegging the temp gauge. Spread out the total dollar amount invested in the car over the 26 years Dallas has owned it, and it breaks down to $103 per month. Granted, money isn’t flowing like it used to, but take it easy on the cheesy puffs and iTunes downloads each month and—bam—there’s your $103. As is often the case with budget builds, Dallas kept costs down by getting his hands dirty and relying on his buddies for help.

Considering that you can hardly buy a half-decent first-gen Camaro for $20,000, the bulk of Dallas’ costs savings comes from the fact that he bought it at the right time, which in that case was 1987. “Getting this car was all my dad’s idea. I was riding along with him when I was 15 years old, and we saw a beat-up Camaro on the side of the road with a ‘For Sale’ sign on it,” he recalls. “My dad always had Mustang fastbacks and Corvette Stingrays in the driveway, so there was no way he was going to let me drive some generic commuter car to school. Honestly, I don’t know if I had much of a choice in the matter, but I was just thrilled to have a car. We brought the Camaro home for $3,000, and got to work on it right away.

Although the Camaro was less than two decades old at the time, it was still far from presentable. With his 16th birthday right around the corner, Dallas and his old man got busy rehabilitating the tired F-body. “The fenders were primer gray, and the rest of the car was blue. The 327 that was in it barely ran, so my dad and I pulled it out and swapped in a Pep Boys 350,” Dallas recalls. “To get it ready for high school, we put a $300 paintjob on it that didn’t look good until you were standing 50 yards away. The top didn’t work either, so it wouldn’t go up. On cold mornings my friends and I would freeze on the way to school, but we didn’t care because we thought we were cool.”

With what amounts to a $100-per-month budget, he’s managed to build a big-block–powered terror that rips the quarter-mile in ...

A minimum wage budget made speed parts tough to come by during high school, but that all changed once college rolled around. Dallas admits that he wasn’t much of a speed junkie until one compelling romp in a Tri-Five. “I went for a ride with my dad’s friend who had a ’55 Chevy with a stout 355 roller motor. He got on it a few times, and I was like ‘Man, I really like this,’” he says. “After one ride in that car I was hooked, and asked a buddy of mine to help me hop up my 350. I went to his house after class to work on the motor, and together we redid the heads, and swapped in new pistons, a high-flow intake manifold, a new carb, and a bigger cam. When the rebuild was complete, the car ran 13.90 at 106 mph at the track through a Muncie four-speed manual trans.”

After saving up some coin, Dallas did the responsible thing by dumping it all into his Camaro. He stroked the small-block to 383 cubes, and gave it a fresh supply of air courtesy of some AFR cylinder heads. The new combo pushed the car into the 12s, but repeated abuse eventually took its toll and the motor, as oil pressure woes forced its retirement. Down but not out, Dallas turned to older, wiser, and more experienced hot rodders for guidance. “I joined a local car club called the Old Farts Racing Team, and became good friends with Kenny Asche and Mike Todorovitch, both of whom helped get my car to where it is today,” he explains. “The body was in fairly good shape, but I wanted to replace the floors, and patch the doors and quarters. Kenny took care of the fabrication and metalwork, and Mike laid down some fresh paint.”