Do you ever wonder what happens to those gaudy, triple-plated, turntable-style show cars when they get old and outdated? If they're lucky, they get reborn as real-world street machines like David and James Wolk's slick, silver 1973 Chevrolet Camaro.
This particular F-body became a showstopper shortly after it rolled out of the showroom in the mid-'70s. Dubbed the River City Hustler, it earned its ISCA trophies by flaunting the flashiest fashions of the era: chrome-plated suspension components; brilliant maroon paint with airbrushed murals (including the obligatory naked women) on the doorjambs and floors; and red crushed-velour, diamond-tufted upholstery. It also boasted a chrome-laden, radically built solid-lifter small-block, M22 four-speed, and 4.88:1 rear gears. But we'd be willing to wager that it never performed a burnout or a power shift.
As the '70s gave way to the '80s, the Camaro lost some of its mojo and eventually wound up on the auction block. One bidder at the auction was a salvage yard owner from James and David's hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas. He had intentions of buying a '32 Ford that was also on the auction run list. "He was in a bidding war with another bidder he knew," David said, "and the other bidder won. The winning bidder immediately made a comment that the salvage yard owner couldn't afford the Ford anyway. That comment made him furious. To prove he could afford it—or any other car at the auction—he bid on the next car, the River City Hustler. He bid it to over $20,000 and won."
Like many purchases made in spite, the salvage yard owner ended up having little use for the show car. "On weekends, he would roll the Camaro out of the shed so everyone could see it," David said. "After that first summer, he lost interest and the Camaro just sat in the shed. Within a few years, most guys forgot about it."
During the 20-plus years the Camaro sat in storage, David and James Wolk were earning reputations as talented and resourceful hot rod and custom car builders. David jumped into the traditional custom car scene as a teenager in the late-'80s by chopping the top on his '50 Merc, and he's had a string of neat homebuilt customs and hot rods ever since. James cut his teeth on a couple of first-gen Camaros (including a '69 Z/28 that he still owns), but began focusing on street rods a few years later. By the late-'90s, the brothers had formed Wolk Design LLC, an automotive project company that focuses primarily on their personal project vehicles, traditional hot rods, and custom car parts.
David and James got to know the salvage yard owner in later years and ultimately ended up buying the River City Hustler a few years before his death. A far cry from its show-winning days, the car was filled with mouse and rat nests, the paint was faded and cracked, and the hi-po drivetrain had been unceremoniously replaced with lo-fi parts. Fortunately, with so few miles and such limited exposure to the elements, the body was extremely straight and rust-free—the perfect foundation upon which to build.
Though they didn't need to cut the body, the Wolk boys opted to carve into it anyway, just to tweak its lines a bit. Starting at the front, they installed '70 RS split bumpers, molded '69 Camaro parking lights into the pan below, recessed the grille, and added a chin spoiler. They also filled the side marker lights and grafted a '69 Ford Torino GT scoop into the hood. Moving to the rear, David and James fit a '67 Camaro bumper in place of the original, modified the molded pan to accept a recessed license plate and exhaust ports, installed standard taillight lenses in all four light housings, and installed an exposed fuel fill cap on the taillight panel. All of these modifications are so well executed and integrated that most observers would be hard-pressed to notice them, which is a compliment in our book. The body was ultimately covered in Axalta silver and matte-black paint, ably sprayed by James and David.
While all of that custom bodywork was being done, the Wolk brothers also treated the second-gen to some suspension upgrades—minus the flashy chrome plating. A '76 Trans Am gave up its 10-bolt rearend and disc brakes, and was hung using 2-inch dropped springs. Up front, Heidts dropped spindles, lowering springs, and narrowed tubular A-arms delivered a great balance of a stealthy stance and improved handling. Coys C-55 wheels (18x7 front, 18x8 rear) and BFGoodrich g-Force Super Sport rubber fill the wheel openings and grip the pavement.
The Wolk boys decided not to replicate the high-compression small-block from the car's River City Hustler days. They opted instead for simple, reliable performance from a '70's-vintage 350 equipped with an Edelbrock intake and carb, HEI ignition, and custom cowl-induction breathing. Basic black and brushed-aluminum finishes give the mill an understated appearance. Kent Seeler rebuilt the Hurst-shifted Borg-Warner Super T-10 four-speed that backs the small-block. And, for those second-gen fans who are wondering, the use of a Mustang fuel tank allowed the dual exhaust to be routed so the pipes could exit through the rear pan.
Inside the Camaro's cabin, the crusty crushed-velour gave way to black OEM-style door and side panels and cloth seat upholstery to match the lightly used Recaro buckets scored on eBay. Vintage Air climate controls and Sony tunes make road trips more comfortable. And can you place that two-spoke steering wheel atop the stock column? It's from a '70s-era Dodge Challenger but looks right at home with a Chevrolet horn button.
You can tell from talking to David and James that they truly enjoyed transforming this former show queen into a distinctive, clean, and fun-driving street machine. Considering its car show roots, the brothers thought the Camaro deserved a name. "Discussions of its show car history and auction purchase led to several name choices," David said. "We also wanted to register a year of manufacture license plate with the DMV. We found a 1973 Kansas plate with the number X 32 from the salvage yard owner's old license plate collection. Knowing the car's history, that plate stood out to us, so it wasn't long before the Camaro was christened Project X 32."