It’s a wonderful thing to make good stuff from an absolute steaming pile of junk, especially under less-than-ideal circumstances. Some guys sign the car over to someone along with a check, but then it's left to the whim and talent (hopefully) of the consigned builder. Without that personal touch, something is lost in translation.
Bryan Page isn’t one of those guys. He’s a lot more like you and me. Brian had the right attitude and the extreme patience and persistence to go with the hands that got it finished. It helped, too, that he was a bona fide repo man, a toothy dog that never lets his clandestine raids go unfinished.
He began with something really trashy and backed it up with an equally trashy piece, a sled nearly as sad as the first one. He was confident that he could make one car from two. And that’s just what he did. He gave tangibility to the old saw that “hope springs eternal.”
In the summer of ’95, he found an original ’69 RS/SS 396 in a beat-down barn that was in better shape than the treasure within it. Bryan didn’t think twice. The motor had popped long ago and half its pieces were on cars belonging to somebody else. It was rotted from the cowl panel to the taillights, including frame rails, sub-frame, fenders, doors, and most everything else.
By the time it was on Bryan’s trailer, the car was in two pieces. He hauled it home. He was persistent. Finally, dirty old reality hunkered down within him and refused to move. The car wouldn’t make it. Then serendipity went out to the highway and lay in his path, so to speak.
In ’98, he was in Palmdale, California, helping a friend move into a house he’d just bought. He found this forgotten car sitting dead in the weeds, white with a black vinyl roof, body edged in red. After multiple visits to the house nearby, he caught the gentleman at six o’clock one morning and offered him $500, the amount of his last unemployment check. The guy backed off, saying that someone wanted to give him $1,000. Bryan apologized for waking him up and began to retreat.
Then came the music Bryan so badly wanted to hear. “Hold on,” the man said. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t take it.” After swapping lies for 20 or 30 minutes, he bought the car. It cost another seven bills to have the travesty trucked to Michigan. There, he stripped all that was salvable from the original find and began the resurrection of the second one, the one that had conflict in every panel. “I think the previous owner would drive down the road, see something they hadn’t hit yet…back up…hit it…and then do a victory dance on the roof,” says Bryan.
Though the sheetmetal was rumpled, at least it wasn’t suffering slow-death oxidation. After finishing all of them, Bryan replaced the front header panel and the lower rear section of the left quarter. “There were more than 100 holes in a 10x12 inch area from an old-style screw-in dent puller.” He block sanded it for about 100 years. Finally, the stuff was ready for paint.
Bryan sprayed it with Diamont Torch Red in his buddy’s two-car garage, but assembled it in his own one-car garage. After he’d added the workbench and tool chest, things were beyond tight, severely hampering breathing. Elbow room was so tight he “could only work on one side of the car at a time, push it out and down to the street, turn it around and push it back up the driveway. It got to the point where I hated pushing that car. A few times I got so mad at that thing it almost went to the junkyard.” Four years later, Mr. Page was driving his entity all over the place and loving every minute of listening to its rapping Flowmasters.
That distinct tattoo emanates from a 454, machine work courtesy of Bryant Racing Engines. Page made something out of the components, and to keep cost palatable, he used a GM forged crankshaft with Speed Pro 10.5:1 forgings on stock (but resized) GM connecting rods. Using GM rectangular-port iron castings as the basis of its breathing apparatus, Bryan completed the scenario with a Performer RPM intake manifold and paired it with a Holley 770cfm Street Avenger carburetor fed by the stock fuel pump. Air is drawn from the base of the windshield and in through the cowl induction ZL2 hood and a stock cold-air base fitted with a K&N element. A rumpity hydraulic roller camshaft was a certainty, in this case a Comp 270H serviced by Cloyes double-roller timing equipment.
Page approached the oiling and cooling realms with a stock six-quart sump attended by a Melling pump and a GM 4-row copper core and a Weiand water pump. To fire off the load, he relies on an MSD 6AL box, Pro Billet distributor and Blaster coil. The produce is extracted by ceramic-coated Hooker Super Comps with 2-inch primaries, thence to an X-pipe and through 2½ inch aluminized pipes to the Flowmaster two-chambers.
Bryan got busy with the back end of things, rebuilding the M21 and working it with an 11-inch Centerforce clutch assembly beneath a GM “621” bellhousing. He changes gears up with a Hurst shifter. He massaged the 12-bolt with 3.31:1 gears and screwed them to a limited-slip differential.
Securing the right stance was a must, but rather than expensive aftermarket tubular control arms, coilover adjustables, and the like, Bryan embraced two-inch Eaton lowering springs at both ends of the Camaro. Wheel movement is dampened by KYB gas-pressure shock absorbers, front and rear. All other front end components are stock.
You knew Bryan was a 15-inch wheel man, right? Although the ’69 SS wasn’t available with such a size, the Z28 could have been ordered with 15x7 steelies, but since the chance of finding four of them was slim to none, he did some catalog cross-referencing and discovered that a ’80s Buick LeSabre carried 15x6 wheels. For the rear treatment, he paired them with ’94 Caprice hoops that are an inch wider, snapped on the venerable dog dishes, and called it a day. These prosaic but indispensible wheels spin 215/70 and 275/60 BFG Radial T/A rubber. Bryan burns off velocity with stock 10-inch discs at front and 10-inch ’77 Caddy Seville discs on the back axle.
Again, to hold costs to a minimum, Bryan kept the interior neat, clean and new but absolutely factory-stock save for the Auto Meter gauges nestled within the console pod. He did the upholstery in very familiar vinyl and OE-type carpeting. If it looks too stock for you, too bad. The owner did add one creature comfort, though. A Kenwood audio system to brighten up those gray Michigan days.
Though the Camaro runs tight and turns 11.90s at 115 in the quarter-mile, as you can see it isn’t even close to being a race car. Bryan lets this thing loose all over the place, traveling to Goodguy events in Indiana and Ohio, to local cruises, to work, and yes, even as a grocery getter when the mood strikes him.
“We [wife Valarie and two-year old daughter] drive it everywhere and everyone thinks it’s cool. Let’s just say every place we go has been a memorable experience, none of which included tickets or jail time,“ said Bryan. “I wouldn’t change anything. It’s fun, reliable, and cool.”