Second Generation Camaro Owners Group - How to Begin Your Camaro Restoration

This section contains general Camaro information. It also includes how to find and check a car once you've decided you want to partake in the fun.

See: Project Car Selection | Preparing for Restoration/Restification | RPO Option List | Spotters Guide

Assuming you don't already own a Camaro, this section will help you find, check and buy the best Camaro you can. If you already own a Camaro, this section offers advice and tips on how to go about restoring your car.

How to find a Camaro
So you've decided you'd like to own one of the greatest automobiles ever designed and built. Now you just need to find one. Before shopping, try and have an idea of what type of Camaro you'd like. The Camaro came in many types and styles over the years. The Camaro could have been originally intended as economical transportation such as a 6 cylinder Sport Coupe, a fancy-comfy model, like the Type LT or Berlinetta, or a fire breathing race car - like a Super Sport or Z28.
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Have an idea of what options & features you'd like (4 speed trans, Air Conditioning, T-Tops), and what your budget is. You can find plenty of information about the Camaro via this site. Check the Camaro information section on this site, in addition to the spotters guide to get an idea of what's available and what it generally looks like.

To begin shopping, grab your Sunday big city/Metro newspaper and look in the Camaro section. That's pretty simple. You can also go online and check the classifieds for other major cities in your area. The Camaro you want might happen to be across town, or it might be across the country - and currently not be listed "for sale".

You can also find cars via this site. Check the swapmeet section. You can also find a prospective candidate via many of the other internet based car selling sites. Many of them have nice "Camaro" sections.

This process takes time, patience, being in the right place at the right time, and a little bit of money. If you have your mind set on buying a Forest Green 1970 RS/SS 396 4 speed - it'll take a while to find this, verify it, and pay for it. If you see a 1978 Z28 Camaro in your local paper for $500 and this is what you're interested in, go check it out.

Some Camaros require careful scrutiny. These would be the "special" cars, which tend to be priced higher. It's not uncommon for sellers or previous owners to clone or outright fake a Camaro model to fetch more money than a regular Camaro would be worth. These would often be Camaro Coupes that have "Z28" or "SS" badges on them and are being sold as, and priced as "Z28's" and Super Sport model Camaros.

Information on scrutinizing the various Camaro models can be found here. Information on verifing a "numbers matching" car can be found in the decoding section.

Some Camaros require travelling a distance to inspect the car. Before buying a plane ticket or taking a couple days off from work to travel a couple hundred miles - ask some questions. Ask the seller to provide pictures or a video of the car. Obviously, if you're buying a $500 basket-case - you know up front what to expect. Don't expect a video of this car. Just show up and if it meets your criteria, buy it and haul it home. If you're hunting down the elusive 1970 RS/SS 396 4 speed car, you'll want to ask some questions before you schedule your trip. You can save yourself a lot of grief, aggrivation and money this way.

In some cases, you could ask members of the message board who are local to the car you're interest in to check it out for you and give you an opinion. Look at pictures of the car. Look below at the section "How to check a Camaro" and ask some of those questions. Hopefully the seller will give you honest answers (yes, it smokes like a chimney when you start it - it's got 300,000 miles on it...). Ask to see reciepts for any work that's been done recently. Question (to yourself) why the work was done. It's ok to be skeptical. Remember "a fool and his money...."

Some Camaros require transportation back to your home. Depending on what you're shopping for, you might not be able to drive it home once you buy it. Plan ahead.

Your budget. When buying any old car, it's often times smart to allocate a portion of the purchase price for "unforseen repairs". If you spend every last dime you have on your car and it needs $1000 in repairs, you're hosed.

How to Check a Camaro
Step #1: Make sure the seller can legally sell the car to you. Otherwise you're wasting your time.

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Camaros, while special are like any other old car. It's a piece of machinery and it will wear out, break and fall apart over the years. Here are some guidelines on what to look for when shopping for your camaro. It's best to inspect your car during the day when you can clearly see everything. Also, bring a trusted, but disinterested friend. Someone who's not afraid to tell you the car is a pile of garbage (assuming it really is).

To quickly size up your car break the process down into sections:
Body - Rust is a serious problem with these cars. It can form any and everywhere. Check the exterior carefully, look for rust bubbles coming through the paint, especially low on the body. Open the door and check the bottom of the door. Check the lower 1/4 panels. Check the bottom of the car along the rocker panel and bottom of the fenders. Leaves and dirt often form behind the fender and rot it out, along with the firewall. Check the trunk. Water sometimes collects here and rusts the trunk out. Get under the car and look at the floor, trunk and rear frame rails. Any damage on the rear frame rails is often a deal breaker as these are structural and expensive to replace. Accident damage.
Sight down the car - is it straight or wavy? Are the body panels gapped properly? Is the glass all present and in good condition? Side windows are expensive. A windshield is $150 and readily available.

Wrap a tissue around a flat magnet and place it on various places on the car body. A magnet won't stick to bondo (body filler). Any car with an excess amount of bondo on it will fail the magnet test.

Interior - vinal rips and plastic trim dry rots and warps. A lot of this is clearly visible. Check the difficult stuff. Move the carpet back and look at the floor. Is it rusted out? Are the guages faded, headliner falling down? Is the dashboard warped or cracked? Fortunantly, most of the interior pieces can be obtained so they can be replaced. You can generally budget $1000 - 1500 for a complete interior. This would get most of an interior that's completely ruined or missing. This doesn't include labor, if necessary. The object here is to get as much car for your money.

Features - power windows - work? Wipers? Lights? A/C? Functional? Cold? Does the horn work? Turn signals? Is the turn signal crisp, or is the stick about ready to drop off the steering column? Wiring - by stressing all the electric gizmos in the car this will check the wiring. Also give it a good visual inspection. Look for hack jobs, where wire is spliced and taped up. Look for melted wires. Check the condition of the fuse block. Are terminals jumped with a paperclip or is there a good fuse in there? Mechanical - Steering, brakes. Suspension. Exhaust.
Again, you want as much car for your money as possible. But for all practical purposes, plan on replacing all of this stuff over time. Obviously, if it's in good shape, you can live with it for a while, but if the exhaust falls off the day after you bring it home, it needs to be replaced. Power Brakes: Start the car and press the brake pedal. It should be firm and not fall straight to the floor and have the "BRAKE" light come on. Set the parking brake and see if it'll hold the car. Suspension: Does the car sag? if so, the springs are shot. Are there air shocks holding the back of the car up? Or helper springs or raised shackles? Shocks are $40/set. Replace the current set, unless they're obviously brand new. You can bounce the car to test the shocks just to see if they're good. Tires - are they bald? What does a set of tires cost? Put a floor jack under the front cross member and jack the car up. Wiggle the tires. Side to side, and top to bottom. They should be tight. Wiggle the tires and look for movement in the steering linkage.

Engine - when you show up - is it warm? Or cold. You want it cold. A warm engine means the current owner fired it up before you got there to make sure it would start, and to blow out any oil that might have seeped into the combustion chamber. When you fire up the cold engine, notice if any blue smoke blows out the tail pipe.

Transmission - does it shift smoothly? Does it function without making clunking noises? Is the fluid burnt? A rebuilt trans is $500, plus labor.

Road Test?

Overall spiffyness - do you like it? Does it have the stuff you're looking for on it? Can you work with it? Can you live with it? Can you afford it?
The outcome of your inspection will help you determine a value of the car. Keep in mind, anything missing, broken or otherwise unfunctional will need to be repaired. You should factor the cost of these repairs OUT of the price of the car. Figure - if the car is worth $5000 to you, but you gotta spend $500 in repairs - offer $4500.
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Some broken things can be overlooked or fixed relatively easily. But there are some items that will be deal breakers. Major structural rust, severe accident damage. A lot of this depends on your skill level and expectations. IF you want to drive the car without much fuss, a couple little problems might eliminate this car from consideration.

Purchasing, Insurance, etc...
Also Grading and values.
I don't subscribe to the general grading system, 1 - 5. The car is either nice, or it's junk, or somewhere in the middle. A 3 car to me might be a complete pile of crap to you. If it's junk, call it junk.

Values: Are subjective. I don't like to set values on other peoples stuff, so I usually don't comment on the value of something. If something is worth $10,000 to you and that's what the seller wants, then give him $10,000. If it's worth $5000 to you....

A generalized price guide can be found here.

Types of "Restorations"
There are various types of "restorations". These will be determined by the overall condition of your car, and your expectations and intended usage of the car. A full frame off restoration is when you completely disassemble the car and rebuild it so it's "like new" when you're done. A rolling-restoration is when you fix the car while you keep it in driveable condition. Usually scheduling work around several weekends over the course of time as your budget permits or as you hunt down the required parts. A "restification" is when you restore a car to your personal tastes. This is generally when you modify a car, change it, soup it up or change the color. A "concourse" restoration is when you do a frame off restoration and make sure every bolt is plated exactly as it should be, your spark plug wires are the correct date code, etc... some folks get into this.

Some cars are already restored. Or don't need to be restored. They could be original and well maintained cars. Just put gas in it and go. These cars are generally expensive to buy.

Some cars need to be refreshed or cleaned up and detailed. They're used but complete.

Some cars "need some work". These cars are beat. Some major component(s) or area(s) of the car needs to be replaced, repaired or rebuilt, but they should be structurally sound and for the most part should be complete.

Face it - some cars need a lot of work. These are usually called "basket cases". These should still be salvagable at least. If you decide to tackle this type of car, make sure you have the budget, patience and means to see this through. This would usually be classified as a "frame off" restoration.

Something that's not salvageable or cost effective to restore is generally considered a parts car.

Other Resources
While this site is pretty decent and comprehensive, it might not tell you everything you need to know. If you haven't already done so, you should sign up on the club message board to get help with almost any aspect you need.


Last updated: 10/20/2011
Author: MadMike Maciolek

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