Classic Car Watch
Alternative Cars

December 1, 2004
By Scott Lewis

I came across a car in the last month or so that made me want to explorer "alternative" cars. What do I mean by alternative? I mean the less desirable versions of cars, or cars that you have to look real hard at to find potential.

For example, the car that got me started was a 1974 Camaro Z/28. Now I know what you are thinking. A Z/28 Camaro is hardly an alternative car. In fact, the Z/28 is special. If you are thinking that then you have not looked at the pictures below. 1974 was almost the last year for the Z/28. In 1974 the government mandated 5 mph impact bumpers. Since the 70-73 Camaro had skinny chrome bumpers (or the super small split bumpers on the RS), 74 introduced the big, ugly bumpers that ran through 1977. As for the last year of the Z/28. Well, it was. They dropped the Z/28 for 75. However, a little movie by the 70's most popular actor gave a lot of fame to a certain black car called the Trans Am. The movie was Smokey and the Bandit. Pontiac sold twice as many Trans Ams in 77 as they did in 76. Chevrolet rushed to get the Z/28 back out there in 77.

The Z/28 didn't look good with those nasty bumpers, and are now the least desirable model years. Pontiac was using molded bumpers since the 1968 GTO. All firebirds from 1970 on have molded bumpers, so it was easier for Pontiac to transition to the heavy molded bumpers that Chevrolet switched to in 1978.

Enough history. I wanted this month's cars to be the models and years that would be less desirable. This should keep the prices down. I wanted to keep all this month's car's to ones priced below $10,000 instead of my usual $15,000. However, the above mentioned Camaro was listed at eleven grand. Let's see if we can keep all the others to a maximum of $11,000.

This is a first. This month every car listed was still for sale when I finalized the list and order. This might be a good indicator of the lack of interest in these orphans. I might be on to something with this idea of a lesser car... for lesser money. 

Enough of my usual babbling, let's get on with this month's cars:

1974 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 - $10,900

74_camaro_z28_blonze_1.jpg (89948 bytes)Description: Matching numbers 1974 Camaro Z28 with the factory high-performance 350 engine and Turbo-Hydromantic 350 automatic transmission in factory correct Bronze Metallic paint with Saddle interior, front and rear spoilers, and factory Rallye wheels. 58,346 actual miles! Factory original CLK-Code 350 engine; still fitted with the original cast iron intake manifold, cast iron exhaust manifolds, Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel carburetor, and chrome dual-snorkel air cleaner assembly. Internal upgrades include 10.5:1 pistons, a 280 duration Crane Cam, and a 3-angle valve job. 3.42 positraction rear end. Center console and factory floor shifter. Power steering, power disc brakes, air conditioning that blows ice cold. Factory power windows, AM/FM Stereo radio, 130 mph speedometer and in-dash 7,000 RPM tachometer.

Value: $ - $14,150 (+%)  

Source: Sports Car Gallery of Beaver Falls

Comments: O.K. This is the car that inspired this month's selection. This cars seems to be priced right about where it should be. In fact, if the description is accurate this car might be a bargain. If you buy a car like this don't expect to sell it quickly. Because of its lower desirability you will have to wait to get what it is worth.

However, the same reason this car would take a while to sell could work in our favor to get the price down. I am not too concerned with price on this one. It is price in the right range for its estimated value, and it is well below my self imposed $15,000 budget.

I would check the engine very carefully since it has been taken apart. However, its low mileage should make this a good car. When I first saw this car I did a little looking for 74 Z28s. I could not find any that seemed as nice as this one. I also noticed that the nice ones had the huge Z28 letter-stripes on their hoods. I like that this car does not have them.

Overall I really like this car. No, it is not the most popular Camaro out there, but that's part of why it's here. What I am supposed to do, look at 69 Z/28s in mint, low mileage condition for $40,000. If this car had a four speed I would call today.

1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme - $8,900

72_cutlass_black_1.jpg (90073 bytes)Description: 2-Door hardtop in gorgeous Ebony black with silver hood and trunk stripes, factory rear wing, and factory Rallye wheels. Very nice car with only 66,533 actual miles! All original 350 4V engine, Turbo 350 transmission, 3.08 rear gears. Power steering, power disc brakes, factory air conditioning blows ice cold and factory AM radio. Excellent bucket seats and center console with the factory floor shifter. Nice body with no dents, no dings, and no waves. Black vinyl top in excellent condition. Nice chrome and trim. Excellent glass and all windows operate smoothly. Very nice car at a reasonable price with low miles that runs and drives perfectly.

Value: $ - $9,325 (+%) 

Source: Sports Car Gallery of Beaver Falls

Comments: Hey, this is a very pleasant looking car. Notice how I said that in a very uninteresting way. I am having a hard time getting warmed up to this car. I really shouldn't have a problem. It has PS, PDB, A/C, buckets and console. It is priced right for a truly excellent car. What's not to like.

Well, it looks unexciting. Almost boring. What is it? I can't quite put my finger on it. O.K. I know one thing this car needs. It needs the Ram Air hood from a 442. That would be my first modification. I would have it painted to match, including matching the stripes that are on the car. That would be a big help. Next are the tires. Yes... I am complaining about the tires. This car screams out for a set of raise white letter tires. We need to get some BF Goodrich Radial TA tires for this car. The big question is would we get new wheels. You can make or break the look of a car with the right or wrong wheels. I would take some pictures of the car and try to "Photoshop" in some different wheels and see how they look. I would also just try "Photoshopping" in the BFG tires on the existing wheels to see how it would look.

Of course, once we get the look down it would be time to swap in some Hotchkis suspension pieces and add some horsepower. To swap or not to swap, that is the question. I could see swapping in a crate 454 big block, but that would blow our budget right out the window. Maybe we could make it a challenge to see how much power we could get out of this "non-performance" 350. Oldsmobile made a Rallye 350 that was a decent performer. Maybe we could do that here, but better with modern technology. As long as we're trying to make the stock 350 work we should try and install a 200-4R overdrive transmission. Might as well help gas mileage if I am going to stick with a small block and not get a manual transmission.

I think we have real potential here. If only I could get a little more excited.

1970 Pontiac Lemans - $10,995

70_lemans_gold_1.jpg (155153 bytes)Description: 350 2BBL V8, automatic, power steering, power brakes, buckets, factory A/C car, correct AM radio, new interior & paint, dual exhaust, PMD Rallye wheels, vinyl top, original books & window sticker, very straight & clean car! Excellent driving car!

Value: $ - $6,600 (+%) 

Source: Fast Lane Classic Cars

Comments: As long as we have an Olds we might as well include a Pontiac. For a new interior it sure looks boring. The colors are faded to different levels. With this car I would install a console and convert the interior over to black to match the vinyl roof.

As with the Olds, we would have to find performance the hard way, but it shares a lot with the Chevelle and other GM twins that we only really have to worry about getting decent power from that 350, or swap in another engine.

I really like the look of this car. I wonder what it would take to swap in a manual transmission.

1972 Buick GS 350 - $10,995

72_gs_350_ram_air_brown_1.jpg (38973 bytes)Description: Ram Air coupe, 350 engine with automatic transmission. Lots of new parts consisting of power steering box and pump, new front end lower ball joints, A/C recharge and works, new belts, new hoses, new water pump, new timing chain, new valve job, new competition cam, new aluminum intake manifold, re-jetted carburetor, and much more.

Value: $ - $11,375 (+%)  

SourceMuscle Garage

: As long as we have an Olds and a Pontiac I couldn't leave out Buick. The GS 350 was the low end of the GS line. 72 not being the best year either. But that's what this month is about. At least this car has Ram Air.

The front seat needs work, so we would just go to buckets and a console. The question will be whether to change the interior to black. With the brown vinyl roof it might not look good with a black interior. I would be a little curious how well the Ram Air 350 could be made to run.

1970 Pontiac LeMans Sport - $8,950

70_lemans_sport_4_speed_white_1.jpg (50178 bytes)Description: 2dr hardtop, very rare original factory bucket seats & console stick shift vehicle, 350ci V8, P/S, A/C, Stage II Rallye wheels, nice paint & interior, dual exhaust, runs & drives like new! Must See!

Value: $ - $6,600 (+%) 

Source: Brockers Beautys

Comments: My guess is that they are correct, this probably is a rare car with that console and stick shift. Is it safe to assume it is a 4 speed? I would think so if it has air conditioning. It is interesting that this car has power steering and A/C, yet it has manual drum brakes. Oh well, that will have to be one of out first upgrades.

The interior of this car is ugly. When I initially saw the car I cringed before clicking on the picture because I just knew is was going to be some lame color. Along with the disc brake upgrade will come a color change to the interior. I would certainly switch it over to black. With a combination of paints, dyes and new components it shouldn't be that expensive to make the switch.

Overall I like this car. It is not perfect, but it is good enough. I would start with the color change, then move on to the brakes. Once we have the car stopping I would work on improving handling, and finally do something to add more power. We could drop in a 400 or 455 easily since they have the same external dimensions. Some people would call this a GTO clone, but I would prefer the term GTO Beater... because I would beat GTOs at their own game.

I might enjoy this car with the 350, so maybe a throttle body fuel injection system would make this car more enjoyable as a daily driver. I see a lot of potential here.

Some of you may be wondering about the price vs. value. Like I said, I think this probably is a rare car with its options. If it is authentic I would think the CPI rating that I base my values on is wrong. CPI doesn't even list the Sport package for consideration in the value. NADA does list the Sport model. If this 350 engine is the 255 hp version then NADA puts this car at about $11,000 for high retail because of the 350, the 4 speed and the A/C. So I think the asking price is fair if this is a rust free car.

So why it this car below the gold LeMans listed above. Well, as much as I want a four speed I really like the look of the gold car with its black vinyl roof to this white car with white vinyl roof. Looks are important. Maybe I would change my mind with better pictures of this car, but as it is I have a hard time putting this car higher on the list.

1966 Chevy Caprice - $8,995

66_caprice_327_1.jpg (163879 bytes)Description: 2 door hardtop, 327 4BBL V8 (275Hp), automatic (Powerglide), power steering, power brakes, rare buckets/console, gauge cluster, AM/FM-cassette, beautiful interior, correct HCH coded block, Rally wheels, 10 bolt rear, correct "Aztec Bronze", vinyl top, pretty original car. What a great find!

Value: $ - $9,525 (+%)  

Source: Fast Lane Classic Cars

Comments: As long as we are including big overweight cars I can look at this early Caprice. I think this is the first car this month that needs air conditioning. Of course that would be one of the first things to be changed. The other would be the transmission. I think I would just go straight to an overdrive tranny. I can't believe they put that Powerglide behind the high performance 327 with 275 horsepower.

Overall I like the looks of this car. I can see a little detail work needed on the interior. I love the console with the gauges. I could see myself driving this car daily with just a swap to a transmission that can take some abuse and cold air blowing a nice Vintage A/C system. And all that should be easy with the starting price.

1969 Chevrolet Nova - $7,995

69_nova_burgandy_1.jpg (92220 bytes)Description: Late Model 350 4bbl V8, Turbo 350 Automatic Transmission. Power Steering, Rebuilt Power Brake System, 10 Bolt Rear End, 15" Polished American Wheels, New Vinyl Top, Older Burgundy Metallic Paint On Straight-Solid Body, Nicely Restored Black Cloth Interior With In-Dash CD Sound System. Runs and Drives Strong and Tight. Drive Anywhere.

Value: $ - $7,325 (+%) 

Source: Memory Lane Motors

Comments: Since the Nova shares a lot with the Camaro this can be an alternative car. So, what is this world coming to when I find a nice Nova that is not priced about twice what it is worth. Did someone at Memory Lane Motors actually take the time to look up the value of this car before they priced it. What a concept. I must be dreaming.

So... what to do. Well, the car does look good. The interior looks plain Nova. This could make for a nice project car. Keep in mind that we are already over value with the asking price. But the key here is that we get into this car with about $7,000 left in our self imposed budget. So we should not have trouble putting in air conditioning, adding power steering, and upgrading to disc brakes. If we are willing to live with the lack of resale value then we can also add in buckets and a console with gauges. Add some suspension pieces (springs, shocks, sway bars, tubular control arms, etc.) for some serious handling and this car can be a nice, fast daily driver. Somewhere along the way we have to decide how important a 4 or 5 speed is, because we may have to work that into the modifications.

I don't know why I am willing to accept this car at this price with all the modifications I would be willing to spend on it. I should have my head examined. Well, at least it should be a lot of fun.

1969 Buick GS350 - $8,957

69_gs_350_black_1.jpg (210256 bytes)Description: West Virginia car, small block V-8, ram air induction, automatic, 500 rims w/new Eldorado tires, power steering, 12 bolt rear end, remote drivers mirror, detailed engine bay is clean, nice trunk w/mat, black bucket seat interior is nice and clean, console, ram air induction hood, GS California trim, solid floors, recent paint has great gloss, starts/runs/drives great!! Straight car w/decent chrome.

Value: GS350: $ - $9,325 (+%) 
            Skylark: $ - $6,225 (+%) 

Source: Jake's Forgotten Past

Comments: This better be a real GS350. Assuming it is, I like this car a little. Clearly they are at the top of the dollar range here, so I would try to bargain it down. We would need to put in air conditioning and get rid of that cheesy console and try and install a correct factory console with the appropriate floor shifter. We will also need to upgrade that non-power drum brake setup for some power disc brakes. Fortunately there is plenty of money left in the budget for these items, but we need to be careful not to put too much money into a car that is already topped out in value.

Black cars can look so awesome, but they also show ever imperfection. I saw orange peal in the paint. This is typical. However, they mentioned "recent paint has great gloss." If the paint was done well we should be able to wet sand this car to look truly outstanding. The quality of the paint and body work under the paint is very important. I wouldn't mind paying someone $500-1000 to color (wet) sand and buff out this paint to make it smooth as glass. I might even be willing to try it myself.

1972 Chevrolet Impala - $9,950

72_impala_conv_402_1.jpg (56813 bytes)Description: Very rare 402 big block car! Automatic, P/Top, P/S, P/Windows, P/B, A/C & C/C. Can-Am white over saddle interior. After market wheels, nice chrome & stainless, dual exhaust. Very clean, drives nice!

Value: $ - $11,150 (+%) 

Source: Brockers Beautys

Comments: This is the month for oddball cars. Like last month's Monte Carlo search, this car would be sacrificing performance for luxury. We have power windows & locks as well as cruise control. All the modern conveniences of late model cars in a car that is over 30 years old. Cool! I love the big block. It gives this car a chance for performance. Although to move this big beast we would probably need to swap in a 454 or 502 crate motor.

Performance not withstanding, this is a cruiser. Gas mileage will suck. But this car was someone's daily driver at some time. If all the weather stripping is in good condition it should make for a decent daily driver now. I would definitely look into a 4 speed overdrive automatic. I wouldn't mind swapping in bucket seats and a console.

Overall this car doesn't need anything, but that wouldn't stop me from personalizing it. I wonder what Chip Foose would do with a car like this on Overhaulin? The white on white color scheme makes this car possible in the hot Texas heat. This is not my first choice for a classic daily driver, but it is an interesting alternative in a month were I am in the mood for something different.

1965 Mustang Fastback - 6 Cylinder - $8,900

65_mustang_fastback_6_plain_1.jpg (35378 bytes)Description: 1965 Fastback with a 6 cylinder and automatic. This car is advertised as a mostly original sheet metal car. When this car came in I thought it had the original quarter panels front fenders and floors. The doors looked like original doors also. I was really impressed that it was so solid. After looking at all the paperwork that came with the car, there was a receipt dating 1988 indicating it had full quarter panels, door skins and new front fenders installed! They used original Ford parts. When you look at the quarter panels, they look like original quarters because they are Ford full quarter panels. (they were available back then for $385 each from Ford). Anyway, the car is a very solid car. The paint is older and showing its age. The interior is also very nice. The 6 cylinder has paperwork that it was rebuilt. It is fast and strong with a two barrel carb and dual exhaust. This is an excellent car to make a resto-mod, Shelby clone, a pro touring car, or just drive it around, since it does drive very nicely.

Value: $ - $17,325 (+%)  

SourceThe Classic Car Shop

Comments: This is the closest thing to a mainstream car this month. After all it is a Fastback Mustang. But that six cylinder is not desirable. I think of it as a challenge. This is definitely a project car. But if it is rust free I could see doing this project. Ideally we could have a driver project car.

I have to hope this car has the 200 ci. engine and not the 170. We will need as much displacement as possible. I would go for a Shelby look and call it a GT-200 instead of the usual GT-350. This car could be a money pit, so be careful.