No event in our lives holds as many hopes and expectations, or as great a potential for a crushing letdown, as buying a used car-except for maybe a date with a supermodel (tip: always find out what she models). If you're anything like us, you love the excitement of looking for that next project. We buy all the typical publications: The Recycler, Auto Trader, Hemmings Motor News, and the like, and we scan the Internet. As we're doing our research, visions of rust-free, dent-free Camaros dance through our heads. We find a couple of Camaros that fit our imaginings and make arrangements to take a look at them, but, unfortunately, they rarely live up to our expectations.
We were recently on the hunt again, this time for a First-Gen Camaro. So we went through our regular routine and-eureka!-finally found just what we were looking for. Follow along as we detail what our routine is and pass along some tips we've found that make the entire process easier and more rewarding.
Set Your Goals
Before you can even start a successful Camaro search, you need to set some parameters. How much money you can afford to spend will dictate the type and condition of the Camaros you can reasonably look at. Can you afford to buy one that's fixed up and ready to enjoy as is, or do you need to find one that will need some work and parts that you can purchase as money allows? Never spend all your money buying the Camaro; after all, it's a used car and unexpected repairs are inevitable. Nothing is worse than being unable to drive your new Camaro because you don't have the money to fix a problem.
How much of the work can you do yourself? Do you have the garage space and tools necessary to do the work? If you'll need to farm out a lot of the labor, then you must realize that a large portion of your budget will be allocated for that. One of the biggest problems first-time builders have is that they arrive at the middle of a project and then run out of money, or enthusiasm, or both. A tried-and-true practice is to estimate your expenses and then double the amount. Also, keep in mind that these half-finished projects can be a good buy as long as the work has been done well and meshes with your goals. You don't want to have to redo a lot of the work.
It's also essential that you consider the type of Camaro you want. Be true to yourself: It's your money and you're the one who's going to drive and cherish it when it's done. If your dream Camaro is a Third-Gen with a six-cylinder, then by all means build it. But do so with the knowledge that when the time comes to sell, it might take a while, and you might not realize a return on your investment. After you've set the year and model you want, devise a profile of what you expect it to do for you after the buildup. If it will be a daily-driver, then a blown-injected, alcohol-burning big-block might not be the best choice.
Other important factors to consider are the parts you're going to have to replace. If you have a fresh engine and transmission sitting in the garage, then look for one with no engine or an engine that's not running. It makes no sense to pay for parts that are going to be replaced during the buildup. In my case, I knew I'd be replacing the entire drivetrain, so the most important thing for me was to find a Camaro with a clean body and a straight subframe.
Camaros are everywhere. Typically, it shouldn't be necessary to travel too far to find what you're looking for unless you want an ultra-rare model. The obvious place to start is the newspaper classified ads for the local and surrounding cities. Most areas are covered by some kind of a specialty publication, such as The Recycler or Auto Trader, which cover a broader territory than the local paper. Several nationwide publications, such as Hemmings Motor News and Old Car Trader, are also available if your search has come up empty. The problem with these publications is that they list ads from around the nation, so you need to be prepared to travel.