Ron Cherry: Real El Camino guy
February 16, 2018
To date, Richard Mayer has built two El Caminos, one being a '69 he converted to four-wheel drive and, most recently, a '70. He is currently working on a '71 for a friend of his. He also has a '71 sitting in a field that he plans on building.
"I'm going to build it and then I don't know what I'm going to do with it," he said. "It's just too good to part out."
He's become an expert on these third-generation (1968-1972) car-pickups. But he wasn't always an El Camino guy.
A love for cars
With a 40 year history with cars, Richard has gone through several phases. He was into building cars for the drag strip and running them for about five years.
"That started getting too expensive," he said. "So I got into building cars for the street. It was a lot more fun."
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He started building hot rods, like the '29 Ford Model A and '34 Chevy he still owns. But these had their own issues.
"You get to a certain point, and you can't find the parts you need," he said. "You have to build them yourself."
So he decided to look for a car with parts readily available, like a Chevy muscle car.
"I wanted to build a Chevelle, but I couldn't find one for a decent price," he said. "I found a '69 El Camino I could afford. You can buy parts for them."
The third-generation El Caminos were built on the same frame as the Chevelle sedan and station wagon, sharing many of the same parts with the bigger selling Chevelles. These included many body parts forward of the bed, interior, running gear and suspension. Both used and aftermarket parts are plentiful.
After finishing his '69 El Camino, Richard looked for a new project. It's a gearhead thing. About four years ago, he found a '70 El Camino looking for a new home.
"It had sat in a garage for sixteen years and was in pretty bad shape," he said. "It had a 350 CID engine that didn't run and an auto trans. The whole front was smashed in. It also had some rust in the quarter panels, but not bad."
However, the price was right and it had potential, so he bought it.
Time to build
First, he tore it apart, getting rid of the engine and trans. A friend had pulled a 454 cubic inch out of his '73 Chevy pickup when it showed no oil pressure, thinking the engine was shot. He dropped in a new engine and found it showed no oil pressure when he fired it up. The gauge was bad. However, he had the new engine already in and didn't need the old one.
"He told me to just come and get it," Richard said.
So he picked up the engine and dropped it off at Hall Bros Racing to rebuild. They bored it .030 inches over, put in a Comp cam and changed to aluminum heads. On top, they put a dual quad intake with FiTech electronic fuel injection. For a spark, they installed an MSD ignition system.
The trans came from a local hot rodder who had purchased a 6-speed from a '95 Vette, intending to use it on a car he was building, but didn't. After pulling the Chevy 10-bolt rear end, Richard opted for a Ford 9 inch with a 3.50:1 ratio.
"I couldn't find a 12-bolt Chevy, so I bought it on eBay from a guy who modified them to fit A-body Chevies," he said. "I like the 9 inch Ford more anyway since it's easier to change the gear ratios in it."
He bought QA1 coil-over-shocks for all four wheels and installed them, along with Wilwood power disc brakes. He kept the stock steering.
The body was a bit of a challenge. Richard replaced the front group, going for a big-block hood and a Billet aluminum grill, and the bumpers. Cleaning up the engine compartment, he moved the battery back to a storage compartment in the bed.
After he repaired all the body damage and rust, he had it painted 2016 Corvette Long Beach Red and the bed floor sprayed with a bed liner. He also put in all new glass, changing the rear window for a slider to access the bed from the cab. For wheels, he chose five-spoke Coys in black chrome.
Inside, Richard built a center console, which made stock bucket seats too wide. He found a pair out of a Honda Prelude that would fit at a Pick-N-Pull. Roman's Upholstery in Auburn redid the seats, door panels and carpets as well as upholstered the console.
Keeping an original look, Richard installed a stock SS dash with full gauges, including a tach. For sounds, he went for a Pioneer system with AM/FM/Bluetooth and four speakers. Creature comforts include power steering and air conditioning.
It only took about a year and a half for Richard to finish his '70 El Camino. He had the help of a friend for some of the work, but basically did everything himself except for paint and upholstery.
"I kept at it pretty good," he said. "I put a lot of time in that car."
Once he finishes the '71 he's doing now for a friend, he'll start on his own '71. But what will he do with it?
"I can't seem to get rid of them," he said with a chuckle. "They pile up."
So what's next? Richard has a '69, '70, and '71. All he'd need is a '68 and '72 and he'll own one of every year third-generation El Camino made. Time will tell.
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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