When Wesley Johnson's uncle by marriage, a pilot for the famed Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, gave his '68 Camaro project the nickname "Resurrection," he knew he had to bring it back to life, even if it did take more than 20 years. With its pearlescent silver paint, flawless interior and spotless original 327, this '68 Camaro stood out at the '11 Vegas Super Chevy Show. We pulled the owner over for a few snaps and a bit of intel.
Wesley Johnson is like the majority of those reading this magazine. He's been around cars since he was knee-high to a grasshopper, or a few feet taller. When he was eight, his father had a small shop in Connecticut where he and his brother helped out.
"When he called for a 5/16ths open end, you'd better know which tool to hand him," said Wesley, or Wes as he is known in certain circles.
As he got a little older, Wes acquired a '68 Ford Fairlane, and started working on his Mom's car to make sure she could get back and forth to work. Then he signed up for auto mechanics while attending high school in North Carolina.
"After a few breakdowns, an engine change, and making foolish mistakes like putting diesel in the Fairlane, I just had to learn about cars," said Wes. "I also had the privilege of working with two of the best men I know, the Gainey brothers. They took me under their wing and showed me how to do my first engine swap."
Wes would become even more proficient as a C-130 aircraft mechanic in the United States Air Force, serving some 40 years, 17 of them overseas on bases like Ramstein, Germany, and Mildenhall, England. But before he left he found the '68 you see before you, albeit in its naissance.
"I found my car in the classified ads," said Wes. "It had a backfire and the body was rust free, with damage to most of the panels, and partially raped of all molding and trim."
With duty calling on the other side of the pond, Wes put the car in storage and ventured forth to Europe, where he would rise through the ranks from H-60 helicopter superintendent to chief master sergeant, by the time he retired. Working on whirlybirds is no mundane task, every day the pressure was on as the pilot's lives were literally in Wes and his co-worker's hands. One time, one of the mechanics dropped a piece of chewing gum in the fuel line of a Chinook and it ended up flying into space.
Tall tales aside, Wes did more than wrench on birds in the Air Force. The military actually has a venue for servicemen to work on their personal cars.
"While I was overseas, I painted cars at what we called ‘The Hobby Shop,'" said Wes. "It was a place where anyone could service cars, from oil changes, to full-out restorations. That was where I painted my first car. I painted everything from Porsches to VW's to an all-out racecar. That's what sparked my interest in building a muscle car."
Not long after his plane's wheels hit the tarmac, Wes got busy smoothing and painting the firewall on the Camaro, before shaving the side-markers and gas cap, then applying the RM pearl silver to the now gorgeous body. Next on the list was that tedious chore of the wiring harness, then the glass install. Of course at some point during all this he pulled the motor.
The previous owner built it, but Wes has papers showing that it's line-bored and decked, and further warmed up by a 284 duration Crane cam with a .480/.480 lift. As mentioned before, the motor had a backfire when he bought it.
"The guy who I bought it from thought it had a bad valve that was causing it," said Wes. "I said ‘no problem' and bought it like it was."
Wes saved a bit of coin taking on the glitch. Before yanking the motor to rebuild it, he changed the plugs and set the timing. It ran great at first, but after moving the car in and out of the garage it started backfiring again. This went on for months and Wes didn't mind as he was caught up doing the bodywork.
Eventually, I got tired of the hassle it was causing just to start it," said Wes. "When I checked the timing it was obvious that the distributor caused the motor to jump timing. I went down to the speed shop and bought a $6.00 distributor hold-down clamp…problem solved!"
Wes then painted the block, changed out all the gaskets, added a Performer RPM intake, a 670 Holley carb, ported and polished heads, along with a few other goodies like the Edelbrock RPM Air Gap intake. "I decided with the motor running this strong, I could hold off on the rebuild until I can upgrade to an LS" he said.
In a moment of clarity, Wes installed the glass, then got to work on the AirRide Shockwave system with RideTech tubular A-Arms fore and RideTech four-link aft. While the car is obviously bagged, Wes took from his experience in Germany when setting up the stance.
"I adopted a lot of styling cues from the Germans. They would take any car, especially BMW's and Mercedes, drop them as low to the ground as possible and stuff the wheel wells with as much wheel/tire as they could. But by law the tires had to maintain clearance in every direction," Wes said. "They did this without tubbing the car and using precise backspacing of the wheels. I did this to the cars I owned in Germany dating back to the late '80s. So when I built Resurrection, I went after the same concept, hence the 20X10s—no tubbing, no rubbing. My goal was to create a muscle car with a little elegance. I really didn't think it would get this much attention."
Those 20x10s out back are Foose Nitrous with a 6.75-inch backspace, while the fronts are 18x8.5 with a 6.00 backspace. The rims are wrapped with Bridgestone Pole Position 960s measuring 275/30/20 in the rear and 235/40/18 out front.
With the stance sorted, Wes sent the seats to be custom-wrapped by Eddie Ramos and got to work finishing cabin. The retired sergeant set forth fabricating a custom center console, relocating the inner door handles, and installing Electric-life power windows.
We have to say, Wes is a darn fine builder, and one who knows how to make his uncle-in-law proud, the Tuskegee airman who bequeathed unto him this car's nickname many years ago, from one soldier to another.