George Suviate grew up in the Musclecar Era, in the Mecca of hot cars, in the loins of Southern California. He was sodden with testosterone, of course, and would have loved to vent some of it through his throttle foot. He dearly loved Detroit Iron, but could not afford it. Over the years, his yen progressed to rabid. George was a beat cop back then, but eventually emerged as a detective working traffic, so he became intimate with the legacy of over-amped driving, had smelled the blood and the gasoline.
Like a good cop, he soldiered on, waiting for the day it would all end and he could begin another life-this one with the object of his desire. He finally sated his passion nearly 20 years ago. The '71 El Camino you see here is George's first and only hot rod. He found it at the Pomona swap meet in 1990, threw down eight grand, and drove his piece of history back home. It was white with black stripes and had a 396 in it. Though it is badged an SS, George isn't sure if the car is authentic or not, but he couldn't care less.
For a decade, he drove it the way he bought it. Then things become vague. He found an itinerant Argentinean car painter who applied the burgundy metallic, laid the requisite stripes on the cowl hood, and then disappeared into the annuls of posterity. "I can't remember the guy's name or what happened to him," said George, "and I apologize for that." It doesn't matter. The man's work lives on and still stands way up 10 years after the fact.
"I always loved muscle cars and being retired, I was lucky enough to afford to build one of my dream cars. While I was at Original Parts Group one day, I asked if they could recommend somebody to redo my El Camino. They told me Mike Saiki [CHP July '07, "40 Days in the Hole"] of Motivational Engineering was my man. I called Mike and told him what I was looking for, and three months later the El Camino was finished. It turned out better than I had ever expected," gushed George.
No wonder. Mike is a racer and an engine builder. His Corvette runs high 8s and he won Limited Street in the Pacific Street Car Association championship-five times. George liked that but didn't need anything resembling a race hog: "I just wanted a dependable motor with decent power, not a drag race piece with limited drivability." For the machining and building expertise, Mike has his own go-to guys: block work by Team C, transmission work by Steve Sharp, rearend prep by Tom's Differentials, and engine building by his own two hands.
Mike built George a big-block in the image of an SS 454 Camino, a mild 460-incher that puts out an estimated 450 hp and at least as much grunt-just the ticket for cruising, driving, and having fun. It's a hot rod he could really use without worrying about the usual traps (overheating, abysmal fuel mileage, etc.), just like a sensible driver should be. To George, it's about being seen with a smile on his face rather than worry lines upon worry lines. He'd already got way too many of those from his cop years.
In fact, there is nothing on the car that any one of us could not do. Since the aftermarket has responded so well with parts and pieces unique to the second-gen Chevelles (including the El Camino), all Mike had to do was bolt them in place (the seats were custom-built, though). Regardless of the fact that custom work wasn't necessary to build the dream, the process consumed big dollars.
George cruises the same streets he worked as a detective, but now he does it with a smile on his mug. And being a retired dude, he's free to drive his El Camino whenever he likes, which is every day of the year. The rest of us can only hope.