Ron Cherry: Back in a ’67 Camaro driver’s seat again
When Paul Caselas was 14 years old, he bought his first car, a 1967 Camaro. It had a 327 cubic inch engine with a Powerglide automatic trans.
Although he couldn’t drive it on the street at that point, he let his auto shop teacher drive it. But Paul was not satisfied with it being stock, so he souped up the engine and swapped the auto trans for a Muncie 4-speed.
Although he liked the car, he upscaled to a ’70 Corvette LT-1 by the time he was 17 after getting promoted from bag boy to checker at the supermarket where he worked.
Over the years, Paul kept his thumb on the performance-car pulse. He worked at aftermarket performance parts stores, then bought a Corvette shop in the Bay Area at only 25 years old, specializing in dyno-tuning for ultimate performance.
By the 1980s, he was into the early aftermarket electronic fuel injection, a passion that has continued to the present. After moving to the Foothills in 2009, he started working with the Mustang Corral, which lasted for seven years.
“There’s only so many Fords a Chevy guy can work on,” he said.
Over his 40 years of working on cars, he’s built about 1000 engines.
“People think I’m exaggerating,” he said. “But I used to save the cam spec cards on all the engines I built and toss them in my tool box. About 10 years ago, I couldn’t close the lid, so I took them out and counted them. There were over 800 cards then.”
And for the future? He’s considering partnering on a fuel injection installation/ performance tuning shop.
“There seems to be a need up here,” he said. “I work on cars that guys put a lot of money in the engine and it doesn’t run right. You have to think outside the box. It’s usually a weird thing someone did wrong on the engine that’s the problem.”
Time for a ‘fun’ car
As far as personal cars, Paul has had many, everything from street to strip to autocross. But in 2014, he didn’t have any “fun” cars.
“I let my wife know that now that we were finished putting the kids through school I was ready for a classic car,” he said. “I couldn’t afford my favorite, a ’63 Vette split-window, so I settled for my second favorite, a ’67 Camaro, my first car.”
And he found one in San Diego for sale on Craigslist. It was for sale by a dealer on consignment.
“I made the deal over the phone,” Paul said.
The original owners in Kansas had given it to their son who drove it to San Diego when he went in the Navy. When he became engaged, he decided to sell it to finance his nuptials.
It was in very good condition, with a 327 cubic inch engine with a 2-barrel carb matched to a Powerglide automatic.
It was painted Marina Blue with a Bright Blue Custom Bench interior. That interior was very unusual (for a Camaro), a split bench seat with a fold-down center armrest and a column-mounted shifter. It had few options, but did have power steering.
“It was a nothing car,” Paul said. “I’ve got the original Protect-O-Plate to prove it.”
But it was what he wanted.
“The paint was 80 percent original,” he said. “I wanted a car that looked good from 20 feet so I didn’t have to put a ton of money in the paint job. The previous owners did a good job of keeping it up.”
When Paul showed up in San Diego to pick up the car, the dealer was surprised. But he wasn’t into classic cars.
“Where’s your trailer,” he asked. “I told you this was an old car and the brakes aren’t good. The car’s 50 years old!”
But Paul was not bothered.
“I drove it home,” he said. “The brakes were pretty bad, so I kept a big following distance, but it was fine.”
Although he originally planned to leave it completely stock, he said, “I got bored.”
After pulling the engine, he bored and stroked it to 357 cubic inch, put on an Offenhauser cross-ram intake and converted it to electronic throttle-body fuel injection with eight LS injectors. For spark, he went for eight LS coils instead of a distributor.
“It’s a hybrid that thinks it’s an LS engine,” he said.
For the trans, he changed to a 6-speed manual from a ’96 Vette. Up front, he used Speedtech spindles with 13 inch disc brakes and upgraded the suspension and anti-sway bar.
In the rear, he went for a Ford 9 inch posi rearend customized for his Camaro with lowered leaf springs to drop the car 3 inches in back.
Although he did not cut into or repaint the body, Paul did get an SS hood and spoilers front and rear. For improved lighting, he installed LED sequential taillights and Hella headlights.
Inside, he left the original upholstery, only putting in new carpets and dash pad. However, he did make some improvements. Gauges are now Dakota digitals, sounds are from an Alpine 5.1 surround-sound stereo and cooling is from a Vintage Air unit.
“Basically, I left the Camaro stock, but with a few changes” Paul said. “It’s my version of leaving it alone.”
All this work was done economically, relatively speaking.
“I tried to build a reasonably-priced resto-mod. I did all the work myself and bought parts on eBay,” Paul said. “I’m sure it still added up.” He paused and chuckled. “But I’ll never add it up.”
Although he has been building cars since he was 14 years old, in one way this Camaro is unique.
“In the past, I would build a car to autocross, to drag race or to take on trips,” he said. “This one will do everything. I can take it on autocross or on a trip to Yosemite.”
It’s like his high school hot rod has grown up and Paul is in the driver’s seat.
Ron Cherry’s books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, “The St. Nicholas Murders,” is a Christmas mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.
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