Some guys, you just can't please. Marcel DeKerpel's '67 El Camino packed enough punch to make the cut for our Apr. '06 "Put to the Test" dyno thrash. The 350ci small-block that Marcel had cooked up for his orange hauler, which we listed as a 383, pumped out 297 rear-wheel horsepower, accompanied by 316 lb-ft of torque. We called Marcel a month or so afterward, looking for the full story, but the thing was already in pieces. "The paint still didn't have enough life," he tells us. And so it started. "I thought, since I'm gonna do the jambs, I'll have to take the fenders off, so the engine will be easier to get to..." Six months later, we're back to check out the new combo. Marcel has honed his skills on a number of vehicles over the years, getting a varied enough education to make him something of a jack-of-all-trades. The El Camino in question came into the picture when a friend brought it around, looking to trade for a pickup Marcel had built. "I was told it was in pretty good shape," Marcel recalls. "He said it had a 383 stroker with a small oil leak." It also had a smoothed firewall. The El Camino's imperfections actually appealed to Marcel: "It's an excuse to start taking everything apart."
The engine-which turned out to be a 350, not a 383-was junk, the victim of a faulty boring job. And that slick firewall? "Yeah, it looked smooth," Marcel quips, "'cause it was under an inch-and-a-half of Bondo-I must have taken 2 inches off the width of the car." The Elky got a 350 and a paint job, done by someone else, that Marcel didn't really care for. When the '67's tailgate got scratched at a show, Version 2.0 went into development. "One day I was playing around with the car," Marcel remembers, "and after a few hours it was all over the shop." The body came off the frame, both were painted Skittles Tangerine-by Marcel this time-and he added the hot little 383 we mentioned earlier.
Of course, bigger plans were already brewing, beginning with the 454 sitting in Marcel's shop, which was what he's really wanted to drop in to the Elky all along. "A big-block has always been my goal," he told us. "It's got the power, torque, and sound." After working out some cam break-in issues by springing for a hydraulic-roller setup, Marcel created his dream powerplant. But-stop us if you've heard this one before-he didn't stop there. As a matter of practicality, a taller hood was needed for air cleaner clearance. More important to this story, however, is the fact that Marcel could still see imperfections in the body and still wanted a paint job with more life. That was it-time to go frame-off again.
Now, we do appreciate the fact that Marcel went down to bare metal to make his Elky's body perfect and laid on a coat of HOK Tangelo to make it an eye-catcher as well. Remember, though; with this guy, getting ready for paint is only the first domino to fall. We really dig what else Marcel did while he was at it, all in the name of drivability. Which is where he wanted to end up when he first scattered this El Camino across his garage floor, and the third time was the charm. "I'll take this car anywhere," Marcel declares. And seeing the effect it has on him, he probably will.
Starting with a 454 core, Marcel tapped Morris Automotive in his hometown of Fontana, California, for the machine work and balancing before assembling the goods himself. The '78-vintage block received a 0.040-inch overbore and an Eagle cast crank working a 4.00-inch stroke, making for 460ci. The rods are shotpeened and resized Chevy items, 6.135 inches long; the pistons Clevite hypereutectic with floating pins and Speed Pro chrome-moly rings. When topped with Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum oval-port heads, compression comes in at 9:1. A Comp hydraulic-roller cam sporting 0.510 inch lift and 230/236 degrees at 0.050 is the brain, and Comp 1.7:1 roller rockers and pushrods work the valves. Induction consists of an Edelbrock Performer 2-0 manifold and a Performer 750-cfm square-bore carb topped by a modified Walter Prosper air filter. An MSD Pro Billet distributor and Blaster 2 coil burn the mix, while Hooker Super Comp headers running through a Magnaflow X-pipe and mufflers take out the remains. The tranny is a Bowtie Overdrives Level 3 700-R4 running a BTO lockup converter and a B&M cooler. The original column shifter works just fine for Marcel, but the original 3.08:1 open rearend is due for upgrading. Output? I guess we'll have to wait for the next dyno thrash to find out.
It's hard to beat the look of Classic Torq-Thrust II wheels, and Marcel DeKerpel's Elky wears them well. The hoops measure 17x7 inches and are clad in Ultra HPR rubber, 245/45-17 at each corner. The brake system still makes use of the original rear drums and the stock master cylinder, but is nicely updated with 12-inch front discs and a prop valve, both by True Connections.
J&R Upholstery in Rialto, California, covered a set of Scat buckets in black and gray tweed; the headliner and door panels got similar treatment plus leather inserts. On the other hand, Marcel stuck with his DIY ethic for the rest of the digs, creating the custom dash panel (fitted with Auto Meter gauges), console, and speaker box. The steering column was rebuilt with GM components and topped with a Boyds' steering wheel. Massive tuneage comes from a Pioneer CD/stereo running through a Kenwood active equalizer and two U.S. Acoustics amps out to a pair of Audiobahn subwoofers and a quartet of Pioneer speakers. Believe it or not, it all runs through the stock wiring harness.
No half-measures were tolerated here, as Marcel and his cousin Antonio Martinez took the Elky panels down to bare metal for a good reworking. While they were at it, all exterior side trim and emblems were shaved, the stainless window trim was polished, and new trim for the bed (coated with Herculiner) was sourced from True Connections. The cowl hood, installed to clear the air cleaner on the new big-block sitting beneath it, is from Goodmark. HOK Tangelo stands out in a crowd; Marcel sprayed the pigments himself, then used Energy Suspension body mounts while rejoining panels and rails.
This frame-off go-round for Marcel was marked by substantial improvements. After the skeletal undercarriage was sandblasted and painted flat black, the suspension was endowed with some handling prowess by way of a Hotchkis Total Vehicle System. Up front, that means control arms teamed with Hotchkis 1-inch drop springs, swaybars, and tie-rod sleeves; True Connections 2-inch drop spindles and Gabriel shocks are also part of the mix. Out back, Hotchkis lower and adjustable upper trailing arms, 1-inch drop springs, and swaybar work with Monroe shocks.
Except for some specialty tasks, like powdercoating, upholstery, and engine machine work, Marcel DeKerpel did all the work on his '67 Elky himself, in his own garage. He credits wife Virginia's saintlike patience for helping him get the job done.