1968 Chevrolet Camaro - Heavy Mettle

A Commoner Like Us He Dreamed About it, But Gary Keyes Never Thought a Super Car Like a Dana Camaro Would Ever Drop Into His Lap

Chris Shelton May 14, 2013 0 Comment(s)
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If someone with ordinary means can build something so elaborate and so convincing in an average garage then what could a pro with big backing do?

Just as back in the day, the Goodyear F70-15 front tires are production units (Coker Tire) and the rear ones, custom. Hurst Racing Tire, the company founded by Ron Hurst in the '60s and operated today by Steve and Cody Adams, made these in the same matrixes the company used when these cars were new. Recaps are by definition custom but these are special in the sense that they began with brand-new F70 tires. Traction Master still makes the traction bars that Dana specified but the ones on this car were patterned after another pair on a Dana car. The chassis also benefits from a pair of bolt-on subframe connectors.

The collector flanges withstanding, the headers that Doug's Headers produces are almost perfectly faithful to the ones Doug Thorley made for Dana Chevrolet. Keyes' friend Dan Ray walked them the last step by eliminating the three-bolt flanges, extending the collectors, and welding correct four-bolt flanges to their ends. He then proceeded to build a 2 1⁄2-inch exhaust using processes and parts correct to the period, in this case gas welded with four-bolt dump tubes and Cherry Bomb glass-packed mufflers…mufflers that came out in 1968 incidentally. The ceramic finish that Russ Meeks at Finish Line Coatings applied is new but the colors are indeed correct.

Then things got tricky. Remember that thing about Dana making only 50 or so cars and most of those going to the grave intact and how Keyes' car didn't come with any of that Dana-specific stuff? Well because of this '68 there's technically a reproduction market.

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Keyes and Glasstek's Robert Mortensen and Torry Caniglia reverse-engineered the hood shape. From the mold they struck, emerged a hood not produced in some 45 years. Keyes then commissioned Motorhead Jewelry's Andrea Carnahan-Koenig to create new emblems from an original set, a job that resulted in castings that Keyes had plated. "Both were huge undertakings and expensive," he notes.

It's immature if not slightly unethical for a reporter to make biased statements about a subject, but if I've ever had a worthy occasion, this is it. No, it's not as obsessively detailed or ornamented or precious as the America's Most Beautiful Roadster or Don Ridler Memorial Award winners I've shot, but Keyes' Camaro is every bit as impressive. In fact, it may be better than those cars.

More than a legitimate driving car—and a fast one at that—Keyes' is a top-shelf example built by a guy like you and me in a two-car garage not too different than most of ours. You'd swear a pro restored it, but this was a labor largely among friends and with very few exceptions, only amateur hands touched this car. What's more, Keyes' car stands as a piece of history.

Or does it? The twinkle in Keyes' eye suggests otherwise. "What, do you think I can afford a real one of these things?" he implores as his smirk blooms into a full grin. Yep, that's right, Keyes' '68 is a replica. A genuine fake. As authentic as the leather on the car's seats. The stuff about the real parts he used is true but his car isn't a real Dana.

Call us crazy, but the charade makes the car almost more interesting than if it were real. With their special hoods, badges, and high-dollar parts combinations Dana cars are some of the hardest to replicate. At the very least it would've likely been more financially rewarding in the end to copy a more familiar Nickey or Yenko. "Bah," he says, sneering. "Those have been done and the Danas are the rarest of the super Camaros." In fact, he may well be the only one crazy enough to replicate a Dana. Even if another one follows we can't imagine it being any more faithful or built as well than this one. He really did invest himself more than a pro would've.

We know we pissed off some of you, but consider this: at least Gary Keyes is honest about his deceit. In fact, so am I—I merely let you draw your own conclusions. You wanted a little guy to hit it big. We all do. But in an ironic way he has: the car really is that convincing. It took a great deal of mettle but he did it.

The part about the average guy is also true, though. And that gives us something to ponder: if someone with ordinary means can build something so elaborate and so convincing in an average garage then what could a pro with big backing do? Consider that the next time some long-lost car with a miraculous pedigree car crosses the block at a big, fancy auction. Repeat after me as the auctioneer paints his rapid-fire picture with words: things are not always what they seem.

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