Just out of high school, Sam Enloe of Peoria, Arizona, found himself surrounded by gearhead friends. He bought a 1989 Camaro off the showroom floor and immediately pulled the motor like he saw his friends doing. Soon after, he found himself working as plant manager of Evergreen Performance and building cars on the side. Evergreen Performance, now called Airaid, kept him busy doing the work he dreamed of doing as a youngster. Being around car parts all day made it impossible to avoid having projects of his own. Sam doesn't do anything just a little bit, even if he intends to.
With a 20-year history of overbuilding every car he has ever owned, he wanted a car he could just drive. The last project, a 1992 Mustang, was supposed to serve as a weekend driver and turned into an over-the-top drag car that had no business on the street. He's had a number of ponies over the years, but never a first-generation F-body. He wanted something new to him, but easy to keep on the road. He looked around at the car shows, print ads, online ads, and eBay for a nicely restored car to call his own.
In September of 2009, a beautifully photographed 1969 COPO Camaro clone caught his eye. It was garnet red with a very immaculate interior, all styled after the corporate order car. Sam and the builder/seller exchanged emails and photos for weeks. It was obvious the seller spent some bucks on professional photography to sell the car; Sam received over 50 high-quality photos. Needless to say, Sam was impressed. He had the car shipped out and when it was delivered a month later it looked just as beautiful as it did in the photos. The truck driver backed the car out of his rig and handed Sam the keys.
Sam's excitement for starting the first drive home was bubbling over. He twisted the key and the big-block fired right up. "This is great," Sam thought. As he put the shifter into first and eased it out onto the road, he felt like something was wrong. He thought, "Even stock, a 454-cubic inch big-block surely should be more powerful than this, maybe it's actually in third gear." Another trial proved that yes, it was in fact in first gear, and it was horrifically under powered. That wasn't the only issue. It was also clear that the fresh gloss-black paint on the front suspension was merely a mask to hide some tired old parts.
There was no smile on Sam's face for the whole trip. Sam booted up the computer and looked at the photos again to see if there was a hint of something fishy that he had missed before. Until you know what you are looking for, the photos made the car look immaculate. He found, however, that they were taken just at the right angle and with the right lighting to give the appearance of a fresh build. That's when the compromises started.
Sam hooked up an oil pressure gauge to check the health of the sadly performing big-block. It showed minimal oil pressure which proved to be its demise only a couple weeks in. "Well, since I have some connections on parts, I might as well build a pretty stout big-block to replace this one," Sam said, "If this is the only money I have to put into the car, I'll still be happy." Fifteen thousand dollars and 700 horsepower later, he had a healthy engine again. In order to get the right clutch discs, Sam had to verify that the transmission was, in fact, a 10 spline wide ratio Muncie as described in the auction listing. Guess what, it wasn't. It was a junky Saginaw four-speed—that wasn't going to work. Sam's justification was that an overdrive transmission would be more fun on the street anyway, so he put in the Tremec TKO five-speed.
Like many old cars, this one had some electrical inconsistencies. Sometimes a switch would work, sometimes not, and same with the taillights and turn signals. Each repair Sam made uncovered another needed repair. After chasing down a half-dozen issues, Sam decided that he just had to replace it all. Armed with an American Autowire kit specific to his first-gen, he started removing the interior parts. That fresh carpet was laid down over a floor covered with dirt and trash. One issue was that the turn-signal switch didn't work and he had to pull the column to chase down the problem. What he found inside was shocking. The entire column was packed with clay, no question the previous owner pulled it out of the wet, muddy ground, wiped it down, and bolted it in with no remorse. At this point, he had lost all faith in the builder's words and conveniently angled pictures. The transmission identification issue could have been a mistake, but this sloppy interior was a product of pure laziness.
"There, the lights work, the engine and transmission work," Sam thought. He started to worry that the rearend might be the next thing to go now that he's got triple the torque. He wanted to pop the cover of the 12-bolt to see what condition it was in and furnish any necessary upgrades. You guessed it; the 12-bolt had 12-bolts on the cover, but it wasn't for a Chevy. This was some oddball early '70s Oldsmobile rearend with the upper control arm mounts ground off and leaf perches welded in their place. All set up to look like a desirable rearend.
"What else could go wrong," Sam wondered, "what about the front suspension?" He was already so deep in the project he had lost count of how much money he had spent. He grudgingly started the inspection of the frontend to see what else he would be buying. That black paint was clearly sprayed over rust, road dirt, and grease. There wasn't a single new part under there. Sam barely touched the pitman arm when the ball joint connecting it to the center link blew apart. He couldn't believe it; he had been driving the car like that the whole time! With the rear suspension already replaced, the front suspension was the only area that he hadn't already completely rebuilt.
"The engine failure was like a loose thread on a sweater. I pulled on that only to find the entire sweater unraveling until there was nothing left. One repair lead to the discovery of another problem until I ended up replacing just about everything," Sam said. When he stepped away from the finished project he realized he had just overbuilt another car, but he didn't care. It wasn't about self-control, it was just bad luck. He ended up with something that's a blast to drive and good looking too.