Often the best way to get into a new project car is to buy someone else’s neglected or unfinished one — that is, if you can get them to sell it. This was the situation that faced Damion Bush when he found the car he had always wanted: a first-generation Camaro. The car was just like the one his brother, Rex, had owned (and scared the hell out of him with) when Damion was an impressionable 10-year-old. The problem was that Damion was into Jappas, and we guess the owner feared his beloved Camaro project would become a 13B-powered, camo-painted, skid car if Damion got his hands on it.
The car had seen little use since being imported into New Zealand back in 1992 by a guy in Christchurch, who owned it until 1997. He came to the realization that if he hadn’t done anything to it in five years, it was probably time to move it on. The next owner purchased it from him as a project to build for his wife. He stripped the car down, sending it to Kiwi Metal Polishers for a full strip and coating of Keyfos before leaving it to sit on a mezzanine floor in a warehouse for the next seven years. For the last two of those years, Damion tried to coax the Camaro out of his possession.
When the seller finally agreed, the timing was perfect as Damion and his partner Lara had just drawn down some money on the mortgage for home renovations. Unsurprisingly, this became the first of many heated debates on the merits of spending money on the car.
Lara was somewhat perplexed at Damion’s investment when a rusty skeleton of a car shell rolled down the driveway on a trolley. Damion’s dream car it might be, but what about the house? The Camaro was destined to sit for another two years while an originally unplanned garage extension was completed and the renovations on the house finished. While Damion may not have been building the Camaro during this time, he was refining his vision of the finished product. That vision evolved from the basic rebuild he’d originally promised Lara into a full-on custom build.
Of course, this added to the cost of the build, but rather than building another off-the-shelf catalogue car, Damion’s goal was to use as many components as possible from wheeling and dealing, to try and stay true to the old hot rodder’s mentality of using what was available and making it fit. While this may not be the easiest way to build a car, it can be a lot more rewarding, and when trying to build something unique on a budget it is a great way to go.
When the time finally came to start work on the car, the first thing Damion wanted to do was bolt as many panels together as possible so that he could visualize the proportions and where things needed to be adjusted. Once the bare body was together, it needed wheels so he could get the stance right. Damion is mates with well-known Mazda rotary drifter ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett, and has crewed for him for many years, so Mike happily donated a set of three-piece, 18-inch Work wheels to the cause. Better still, the rims came fitted with some of Dunlop’s best rubber!
Having a set of Wilwood front and rear calipers that had passed their race-car use-by date, Damion decided to strip them down and have them re-anodised before they were fitted. It’s what he did next that may horrify some Camaro purists: he had the Chevy stubs and axles re-drilled to the stud pattern of the Mazda-sourced wheels. A set of HQ racing coils and Bilstein shocks were sourced from Ian at Autolign Mt Wellington to get the car sitting at the desired stance. The rear mono-leaf springs were then sent to Snell Springs to be reset by five inches and have an extra leaf added for improved handling.
Finally, the car could be rolled out of the garage into the open. There, Damion could get a good look at the profile of it, as nailing the stance was a key part of the build. It was totally form over function, as at this point it looked perfect, even if the the sump and cross member were just 75mm from the road! With the ride height nailed, it was back into the garage to start on sorting the panel work. At some stage in the Chev’s life, someone had made a mess of replacing the trunk floor, but thankfully the team from DC Trading could help with the required parts. At this point, Damion needs to thank Lara’s cousin, Tony ‘Doc’ Berry, who offered his services in piecing the car back together, and provided what seemed like an endless supply of home brew! The repairs were no easy task, due to the right rear trunk being in pieces, so they had to start from the left door and gap the car from there, around the front and down to the back again to get an accurate idea of where the rear quarter needed to be to ensure good gaps.
The 283 that came with the car was never going to provide enough performance so it was swapped for a 400ci small block, which Damion hooked up to a four-speed Saginaw gearbox. Damion’s good friend Mike Woolliams helped out by giving the top end a freshen-up. He also donated the cam from a 383 while another mate, rotary guru Alec Bell, donated the 780cfm Holley carb. One of the finishing touches was a set of highly polished rocker covers donated by brother, Rex, which Damion promptly painted satin black, much to Rex’s disgust.
The reassembly of the body began again with the experienced help of Rex and his mates when Damion was offered a promotion, which meant his moving to Hamilton almost immediately. This put the pressure on to get the Chev painted ASAP as it was too big an ask to have the crew travel all the way to Hamilton every weekend to work on it. Two weeks after the move, the car was in the booth and was soon looking great in its new coat of black with a ghost stripe across the nose. Not a bad effort for the painter’s first full respray job!
Another mate, Luke, tackled the full custom rewire, complete with new MSD ignition, electric water pump, electric fans, and push-button start. To Luke’s credit, when Damion pushed the start button the engine fired straight up and everything worked perfectly first time. Fellow Camaro owner, Jason Fell of Waikato Motor Trimmer, was chosen to do the interior. He understood the vision for the car, knew what was wanted, and made it even better than Damion could have imagined.
With the car ready to hit the road, it was simply a matter of trailering it to Auckland in torrential rain, which, as you can imagine, was somewhat upsetting. On a positive note, the car flew through cert, WoF, and VIN with no dramas at all. Damion attributes this to the quality of the information in the Low Volume Vehicle Technical Association’s (LVVTA) NZ Hobby Car Technical Manual and his taking the approach of over-engineering anything related to safety and keeping the build clean, tidy, and organized.
The end result of the longer than expected build is a Camaro like no other. It sits right, has plenty of power, and has a perfect interior and flawless paint. Not bad for a rotary lover’s first V8 build, huh?
1967 RS Camaro
- Engine: 400ci small-block Chev, heavy-duty valve springs, anti pump lifters, 383ci sbc cam, Edelbrock Torker 2 manifold, 780cfm Quick Fuel carb, high-volume mechanical fuel pump, MSD 6AL ignition, MSD Blaster SS coil, MSD billet distributor, MSD leads, shorty headers, custom 2½-inch exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers, Affco twin-pass race radiator, electric water pump, hi-flow thermostat, 16-inch electric fan
- Driveline: Saginaw factory 4-speed close ratio box, Exedy heavy-duty clutch, 10-bolt diff, 3.5:1 ratio, custom axles, Moser C-clip eliminators
- Suspension: Custom Bilstein shocks, 2-inch lowered custom HQ racing front springs, 5-inch lowered custom mono-leaf rear with extra leaf, Energy Suspension urethane bushes, Moog ball joints
- Brakes: Wilwood billet master cylinder, Wilwood Superlite 6-pot front calipers, 330mm rotors, Wilwood Dynalite 4-pot rear calipers, 300mm rotors
- Wheels/Tyres: 18x9.5 and 18x10.5 inch Work Bersaglio rims, 245/35R18 and 265/35R18 Dunlop tyres
- Exterior: De-badged, rolled rear guard lips, Spies Hecker paint
- Interior: Subaru front seats, Sparco steering wheel, custom shifter, VDO gauges, Auto Meter tacho
- ICE: Pioneer head unit, 2 x JBL amps, 2 x Infinity Kappa subwoofers, Infinity 6½-inch components
- Performance: Not enough!
- Driver: Damion Bush
- Age: 36
- Occupation: Service Manager
- Previously owned cars: Three Datsun 1600s, Series 1 RX-7, Supercharged Toyota Levin, plenty of Subarus, and other crap cars
- Dream car: Still searching
- Why the Camaro? When I was about 10-years-old, my brother had a ’68 SS Camaro with a really potent 383 Chev in it. It was the most awesome assault on all of my senses, and I promised myself that one day I would own one of those. Now I do, albeit minus the potent SBC!
- Build time: Five years
- Length of ownership: Seven years
- Damion thanks: Doc Berry for all the late nights and home brew, Goose, Bro, Nathan, Michelle, Luke, Tonto, Jason Fell, Dave and Carl from DC Trading, Mike Woolliams, Alec Bell, Mad Mike, Cromie for the moral support, Lara, Kalani, and Sienna for putting up with all the late nights I spent in the garage, and most of all my big brother Rex, who inspired me to build this car, and to build it my way, not how people expect it to be done
This article originally appeared in NZV8 Issue No. 111. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: