There are primarily four general directions to take when it comes to refurbishing a classic Bow Tie. One is to rebuild it with modern motor and underpinnings, etc., otherwise known as a resto-mod. The second is a full-on crazy hot rod/street machine. The third is a ground-up restoration with correct parts and matching numbers. The last way to go is where John O'Gorman's Camaro SS L78 lies, somewhere in between these styles, but definitely leaning more toward the latter.
There were 600 of these 375-horse, 396 cars made in 1970, and John knew that made his valuable and rare. They were the last full-bore, high-compression big-block Camaros made.
The original owner, Butch Mundy, bought the car new in Laharpe, Illinois, in the spring of 1970 from Fred Gibb Chevrolet. "I met Butch at a Fred Gibb Memorial car show in Laharpe," says O'Gorman. "He told me that when he got the car he asked the dealership if they could remove the smog pump. They said that they couldn't do it but offered to loan him the wrenches and pointed to the dumpster."
Some guys just don't waste time.
Butch owned the car for a couple of years, then sold it to a kid in the adjacent town who supposedly drag-raced it with a 427 ZL1 motor. The car ended up in the Grand Junction area where a guy named Steve Barstow purchased it, then had it titled in '79.
"Some friends of mine bought the car for the motor because they knew how much I liked second-gen Camaros," says O'Gorman. "We knew it was an L78 when we saw the 7,000-rpm tach and a partial build sheet on the top of the fuel tank. I had to have it."
This was in 1998. When he got the car home to his shop in Colorado, O'Gorman liked what he saw even more. The only rust was on the dash corners and a small spot on the rear quarter-panels. In case you're wondering what shop he took the car to and what he does for a living, O'Gorman works at--surprise, surprise--Automotive Restoration Services.
Apparently, the F-body had been painted about four times, but the interior was all original and had never been taken apart. The seats and dash were faded and the odometer showed 43,565 miles. Not too high for a car that was 28 years old at the time. It would be five more years until the car would be restored to its current condition.
In the midst of the restoration, O'Gorman says he went on a little treasure hunt for other build sheets. "There was one under the driver's seat which was almost complete except for the dealer corner was missing. I found a second in the pillar post but it was no good either. Then, when I took up the carpet--jackpot! Here was a perfect build sheet with a 1970 nickel stuck to it listing all options and Fred Gibb as the dealer. Right then I knew I had to try to restore this car back to the way it was built."
In 2000, O'Gorman started collecting parts like new-old stock fenders, hood, front and rear bumpers, grille, etc. What wasn't gotten from Chevy was rechromed by Angel of Foothills Powder Coating in Golden, Colorado. None of the body is reproduction--all the panels are factory.
The motor is from Chevrolet as well. O'Gorman found an over-the-counter replacement CE block with correct heads, GM Winters intake, and Holley carb and exhaust. Engine builder Larry Christenson at Camaros Plus got hold of the high-compression Rat, then blueprinted and balanced it.
The four-speed tranny that handles this is a primarily stock 1970 Muncie M21 unit. Other stock items of note are the brakes and suspension.
"Larry Christenson was really helpful with finding matching numbers stuff," says O'Gorman. "But if I were to do it over again I'd pay a little more attention to doing a better job the first time, with nuts and bolts and dates and things like that."