Do you remember what choices performance-minded Camaro buyers faced in the mid-’70s? There was the annual disappointment, when—from 1971 onward—performance dropped thanks to ever-stricter federal emissions laws, which led to lower compression in all engines and fewer high-performance engine options. At the same time, the added weight of side-impact door beams and “park bench” 5-mph bumpers did their best to mess up acceleration and handling (not to mention styling). Then there were the first catalytic converters in 1975—plus newly standard radial-ply tires, which boosted the V-8 Camaro Sport Coupe’s base sticker price by more than $300—nearly 10 percent—between ’74 and ’75. (That’s also the time when the phrase “sticker shock” entered the language.) Sure, Camaro still had V-8s available, but the big-blocks and the LT-1 and L82 small-blocks were gone, replaced by the anemic 305 and the station wagon–grade RPO LM1 350, rated at a rousing 165 hp.
There was another option for those wanting a fast and eye-catching Camaro. That involved finding a used one in solid condition, then upgrading it with performance and styling items that magazines like Hot Rod and Car Craft featured back then.
Larry Barnaby’s ’68 Camaro Sport Coupe is a throwback to those modified F-bodies. In fact, said Larry, a lot of work was already done when he got it. “The flares and all that had been done to it,” he recalls of the first-gen he bought from his brother-in-law, after his father—who’d owned the Camaro—did the previous custom work on it.
But first, Larry needed to find a shop that would build it his way. “I had one guy who said he was going to do it, and he backed out,” Larry remembers. “Luckily, the guy gave me the names of five body shops, and the one that interested me was Thunder Valley Customs.” A trip to its White, Georgia, shop convinced Larry he’d found the right place. “I went up there with some pictures, and they loved the old-school thing,” he said. “I didn’t think anybody would want to take the time to do a paintjob like that. I was going to change the color, and they said, ‘If you’re keeping the flares, you’ve got to go old school,’ and they came up with the paintjob that’s on it now.”
Before the House of Kolor Pagan Gold–based paint scheme went on, the ’68’s body needed work, but no major surgery. “It had some rust around the front window like normal, and some around the back, but there was not a lot of rust,” Larry said. “The floorboards and quarter-panels were solid, and one door did have a little bit of rust on it, but nothing drastic.”
Underneath, the Thunder Valley Customs crew upgraded the machine with disc brakes from Right Stuff in front, big-block front coil/rear leaf springs, Monroe adjustable shocks all around, plus they raised the Camaro’s rear end so the Goodyear Eagle–shod 15x10-inch Cragar SS wheels (with 4-inch backspacing) would fit inside the flared—but untubbed—wheelwells.
When Larry bought the Camaro, it had a 454 in it, which Shane Jackson rebuilt into a bored and stroked 496 cubic-incher, filled with 10:1 Probe forged pistons and a Comp Cams hydraulic roller camshaft beneath its all-Edelbrock top end (aluminum “Performer” heads and a model 7115 tunnel ram intake wearing two 600-cfm four-barrels). For classic looks, there’s a set of finned aluminum M/T valve covers and a pair of Cal Custom air cleaners. Backing it is a Hurst-shifted Tremec TKO600 five-speed and a 3.73-geared and Positraction-equipped 12-bolt rear from Moser.
Inside, Larry had a new ididit tilt column and Grant steering wheel, a Pioneer/Kenwood sound system, and ProCar 1400 front buckets installed—but the classic ’70s customizing that was already in the car stayed there. “Believe it or not, the back seat, the door panels, and the diamond-tuck in the middle of the newer buckets—all that is original,” Larry noted.
He added that when Thunder Valley Customs was doing the bodywork, they talked about having the interior upholstered in another material. “But when I took the back seat up to them and we laid it up against the paintjob, that was it,” Larry said. “They changed their minds, and we stuck with diamond tuck.”
That paintjob—and the bodywork beneath it—probably took the most time of any of the work on Larry’s ’68. “It took two guys there two weeks to paint the car,” he said. “It took them about six months or better just to do the bodywork and get everything straightened out,” he added, noting that the build was completed just one year after it started.
Since then, Larry’s Camaro has been an attention-getter wherever he’s driven it. “You get a lot of looks going down the road,” he said. “Even at car shows, you get a lot of looks on it. I liked the way the car looked when I bought it, and I wanted to stick with that look. You just don’t see it much anymore.”
Having a ’70s throwback street machine elicits a lot of intense feelings. “There are a lot of people out there who don’t like this Camaro, but there are a lot who do,” Larry continued. “It was one-off from a lot of ’em on the road, and I just love it.”