No matter the project, whether big or small, there are bound to be some setbacks. Sometimes, they are as simple as a missing screw or a misplaced socket. Other times, setbacks can be something as major as a blown engine or a small electrical fire. And, unfortunately, sometimes they can be something horrific, like finding your precious El Camino atop two refrigerators on the side of the road with no engine, transmission, or wheels on it. Such is the case here, with Joshua Hanna's gorgeous 1986 El Camino, which is a story more about overcoming the odds than getting it right the first time.
To fully grasp the heartache that has been this build, we need to jump all the way back to April of 1999, to a scene involving a one-owner El Camino sitting atop two refrigerators on the side of the road. Yes, it hurts to even picture it … stolen from the original owner, the 45,000-mile El was missing its stock wheels, 4.3-liter V-6 engine, TH200 three-speed automatic transmission, and a substantial part of the steering column, but otherwise remained intact, although obviously in despair. The original owner, who had cared for the El Camino from day one was heartbroken, and took the shell home to sell it off.
Enter Brian Griffith, a college student at the University of Florida, an El Camino fan who happened to be working on a '79 at the time. "I heard about the car and went to look at it. By this time it was sitting back under his carport with some junkyard rims. Other than the missing parts and mismatched rims, the car still had all original paint, a topper, a clean interior, and low miles."
For 700 bucks and a tow truck ride home, Brian was the new owner of the El Camino. It didn't take long for the young enthusiast to drop an Oldsmobile 307 engine (from a 442 project Brian was working on), a refreshed 200-4R transmission, and 8.5-inch rear in the '86. With some 442 wheels and a new steering column, the El Camino was back on the road and ready for action.
Well, not so much action, that might not be the right word … mainly it was just moving boxes from Gainesville to South Florida after college, then being used as a work vehicle delivering big screen TVs, large appliances, tractors (!), and other large equipment for a local big box store in the area. But finally, all of the hard work paid off, and Brian was in a position to restore the El Camino instead of deliver parts in it. And what he did first was restore the exterior of the Chevy, stripping down the body to bare metal before painting it Sport Gold Metallic over black, and installing a set of polished IROC wheels to complete the look. Brian also made some interior modifications, and turned the El Camino into a solid daily driver and weekend car show cruiser. However, it was around the summer of 2002 that disaster struck. Okay, Brian struck. The back of a boat. On a trailer. And managed to destroy the hood, bumper, core support, radiator, grille, and headlights on his newly painted ride.
Never one to give in, the front clip was pulled and Brian took the downtime as a perfect opportunity to replace the tired Olds 307 with a rebuilt 355 Tune Port Injection engine from a newer-model Camaro. Along with the motor, Brian also rebuilt the transmission, and installed a newer rear end out of a Monte Carlo with a set of 3.73 gears and Positraction. The front clip was repaired, repainted, and Brian was back on the road with a fresh motor and some great paint. Then life got in the way, and the El Camino found itself parked in the driveway for "about two years," which ruined all of the black paint and most of the roof.
This brings us to 2010, when Brian decided it was time to sell the El Camino to finance other projects. As luck would have it, Brian's brother-in-law, Joshua Hanna, happened to be looking for a new project after finding out that his '81 Malibu project was a little worse for wear than he anticipated. The two struck a great deal, with the body and rolling gear of the El Camino going to Josh, while the TPI engine stuck with Brian. Finding a new engine was easy, since Josh already had an 0.030-inch over 350 ready to be installed. Complete with a stock GM crankshaft, a set of aftermarket connecting rods, and 0.030-inch over pistons, Josh's 355 was a stout street motor thanks to a set of L98 cylinder heads and a custom Comp Cams solid-roller camshaft. Topped with an Edelbrock Air Gap intake and a Quadrajet, the little 355 found a nice home in the El Camino, and made great power thanks to a set of Hooker long-tube headers paired to a Flowmaster 40-series exhaust. Of course, Brian took the transmission too, so Josh built himself a 200-4R four-speed transmission to back the 355, which he upgraded with a Boss Hog 2,800 rpm stall converter.
And then Josh had someone stop short on him while driving home from work! Which destroyed the front clip again, taking the grille, headlights, and bumper with it. Although, this time, the car was still drivable and Josh took the insurance money, along with some cash of his own, and set out to put the El Camino back on the road. This time, Atlantic Coast Collision in Margate, Florida, took care of the paintwork, stripping the whole car down and reapplying the same Sport Gold Metallic and Black paint scheme. Just days before the 2012 Super Chevy Show at Palm Beach International Raceway, the car was completed and Josh was ready to roll for the big two-day show.
After two long days at PBIR, Josh was driving home with his show car trophy in the back when "tragedy struck again" and Josh found his brand new front end about three-feet into the backside of a brand new Camaro. "The paint wasn't even fully cured yet!" The wreck, which was the worst yet, took out the entire front clip, including both front fenders, the hood, and the front bumper. But it only made Josh more committed to getting the El Camino perfect, and it was back to the body shop for even more work.
What you see before you today is the result of that hard work, with a beautiful paintjob over the perfectly straight bodywork, and subtle yet aggressive Goodmark steel cowl hood. With everything apart, Josh also took the time to refresh the interior of the Elky, adding new black carpet from ACC, along with a new dash cap, dyed lower panels, new seat covers, and a fresh headliner.
Josh also rebuilt the rear end while the El Camino was down, and upgraded the suspension, adding a set of B-Body 1-inch drop spindles, Hotchkis front A-arms, Suspension Techniques air-lift 2-inch drop springs front and rear, KYB shocks, and Hotchkis sway bars all around. The front brakes were also upgraded to 12-inch disc units from an Impala, which would hopefully keep the El Camino's nose far away from would be obstacles.
But obstacles are just part of the game for Joshua and Brian, who have overcome every single one each time they have appeared in the road (and yes, we mean that both literally and figuratively). The El Camino you see before you today is the result of much heartache, but it is also multiple trophy winning show car that Josh can drive any day of the week and turn heads in. It's also a Super Chevy feature car worthy of the ink, and a great family heirloom that has a story worth telling.
Next up, Josh plans to upgrade to a 383 engine and hit the drag strip, but that's a story for another time. Let's try to keep it out of the body shop this time, OK guys?