Restoring a car back to actual factory-correct finish is an art form and like Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Alfred Gockel, these true artists are rare. Automotive restorers must reach for the same high watermark regarding attention to detail on every part of the car. One can't perform an exact restoration on the body and interior and not reach the same level on the engine. Of course, not every person with the desire to restore possesses the required knowledge of a true restoration artist. Perhaps learning little bits, pieces, and details about real restorations as outlined here may help you to appreciate some of the finer details the next time you see a restored Camaro.
This month we'll touch on restoring the outside of first-gen Camaro engines. If you constantly keep your nose buried in a car magazine you've read a boatload of articles on rebuilding engines with hot rod parts. When it comes to restorations, anything goes inside the engine. Once it's assembled, only the outside is visible, and there lies casting numbers and details in the block, heads, and intake manifold. Also visible are the valve covers, hardware (nuts, bolts, clamps, washers, and plugs), hoses, accessories, carburetor, distributor, water pump, etc. Let's not forget about paint and finishes too.
When it comes to correct hardware kits, AMK Products is the most complete single source. They've worked extremely hard with top restorers to deliver the correct length, finish, and size hardware to match a multitude of engine size and optional equipment combinations as well as body, interior, and chassis. You'd be amazed at the level of detail all the way down to the small markings on the screw and bolt heads. Paragon Reproductions also sells specialty hardware not available from AMK for the same-year Corvettes that cross over to Camaros (since the engines were built in the same plants).
You may think this restorer got lazy or sloppy painting the engine before it was assembled. Well, that couldn't be further from the truth. When these engines were built at the plant (Flint or Tonawanda), they weren't painted until after they were partially assembled. The level of assembly varied depending on the engine and the plant. For instance, there have been survivor small-blocks found with 2-inch-wide tape over the exhaust ports, meaning this specific engine line was painted without the exhaust manifolds installed. The '69 COPO cast-iron 427s had engine paint on the exhaust manifolds close to the head, which meant those engines were painted after the exhaust manifolds were installed. The typical engine was assembled with oil pan, rocker covers, water pump, coolant bypass hose (on big-blocks), and intake manifolds. In the case of manual transmission-equipped engines, the clutch assembly and bellhousing was typically installed before paint as well. There was a cover, or covers, placed over the parts they didn't want to paint and then the entire assembly was sprayed. Due to feathered paint edges on some accessories and different parts being painted, the evidence shows that these engines were painted by a human, not a machine.
Special thanks to: Super Car Workshop, Brian Henderson, Joe Swezey, and Tony Lucas.