1968 Camaro - The Plan
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Classic Car Watch
1968 Camaro - The Plan

March 11, 2018
By Scott Lewis

For those of you that followed my search for a classic car, you know I found a 1968 Camaro. If you want to catch up on the search read this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this.

The Car

My 1968 Camaro is a base level Camaro, with 72,213 miles (as of yesterday when I filled the tank). It is a 3 or 4 owner car, like in Star Wars, depending on your point of view. The original owner had it until he passed. He left the car to his son. The person that I bought the car from bought it from the original owner's son. It would take a deep dive to determine if the son ever had the car titled in his name. If not, then I am the 3rd owner. Let's go with that.

The car has almost no options on it. Is is so low optioned it has a 3 speed manual with a column shifter, nicknamed Three on a Tree. This is how a 68 Camaro came it had a 3 speed manual and was not ordered with a console. The car is equipped with a 327 ci V-8 with a 2 barrel carburetor (210 hp in 1968 ratings, likely 140 hp by today's methods of rating power). There were only two lower engines available, both inline 6s. That means this car has the entry level V-8 available in a 1968 Camaro, along with the entry level transmission.

The color for this car is called Corvette Bronze. This was only available on the Camaro in this year, 1968. The car has had one "respray." You can see the tape lines under the hood and in the trunk area which lets you see where the new paint ends and the original paint begins in those areas.

Project Camaro

I am slightly conflicted with this car. On the one hand it is so original. It still has the California Smog Pump (and early emissions control device only used in cars delivered to California) that is still functioning. I feel bad modifying it. Should I leave it stock and enjoy it as-is? On the other hand, it is a perfect blank canvas for a project.

There are a few items that absolutely need attention. The shifter bumps into my right knee when shifting into 1st and 3rd. A column shifted manual transmission is quaint, but impractical. I will put in a floor shifter. And while doing that I will get new carpeting (the carpet in there now is very faded). This starts down the modification route. While the carpet is out I will add DynaMat sound deadening material.

While doing some driving to Cars & Coffee and later to look for a location to photograph the car at sunset, it is apparent the car needs new shocks. That is a replacement item. Or is it? The car has manual drum brakes as well (the entry level brakes for this car (remember, almost no options). I will put disc brakes on it. I need for it to be safer to drive.

Here is where it all starts. How much is enough? At what point am I the guy that "cut up" a perfectly good classic?

I have a little delay before I get started. It turns out I will be entering the car in a car show. No... it is not a Show Car. It is a driver. However, the car show itself is unique. It is going to be in a car show celebrating the 50th Anniversary for the Tower of the Americas in downtown San Antonio. The tower was built in 1968, and they are having a car show for cars from 1968 only. Hey... mine fits. The downside to that is I won't be taking it there. I will be in Dallas on the day of the show, so I will be entrusting my car to Vault Auto Services to take it to the show and display it.

The Plan

My plans for this Camaro are two fold...

1) Slightly improve the appearance of the vehicle without altering its stock nature. This means only making changes that the factory would have done.

2) Improve the overall drivability of the car without impacting its reliability or appearance as a nearly stock vehicle. The areas I will focus on are: Braking, Handling, Comfort & Power. Improving all of those together increases drivability.

The ultimately goal is to make sure this car can be driven any time, any where. I would like to take it on Hot Rod Power Tour.

Simple! Not really.

I do not know everything I want to do to this car... yet. Fortunately, I cannot afford the vast majority of what you will read about below. Budget will constrain many things. It will take quite a while to get this car finished... if that will ever be possible.

I am very concerned with spending money twice. For example, the suspension is mildly in need of a rebuild. The steering is a little lose, and the shocks definitely need replacing. P-S-T makes a Polygraphite front end kit that includes Upper & Lower Ball Joints, Upper & Lower Control Arm Bushings, Sway Bar & End Link Bushings, Idler Arm, Inner & Outer Tie Rod Ends & Sleeves and Upper Control Arm Shafts. However, if I want to upgrade to tubular control arms they come with new bushings and ball joints, making a comprehensive rebuilt kit unnecessary. If I add power steering, it will happen with new tie rod ends and such, also negating the P-S-T kit.

For the moment, let's take a look at the ideas for this car... keeping in mind the two objectives above.

Appearance

I wish this was simple, but not even the appearance comes easy. I could leave the car as is, but it needs to look "tougher." It is a Muscle Car (I know, it is really a Pony Car, but it gets lumped in with Muscle Cars all the time).

The vinyl roof has a tiny bit if rust under it. It will have to be removed, the rust repaired and a new vinyl top installed. I do not have an estimate for that, and any estimate will be hard to do since there is no real way of knowing how much repair is needed. It should be repairable without painting the car. There is currently no rush for this.

To improve the looks of the car I want to install a factory rear spoiler. That should be relatively easy and it can be painted to match. A factory front spoiler would also be easy, especially since it would be flat black and not even need painting. Of course... I have to add a factory style cowl induction hood (factory for 69 Camaros) and get it painted.

I could stop there... and maybe I will. However, I really like the look of the Rally Sport option with its hide-away headlights. They make kits for this, so that helps.

There are some issues with converting to an RS. It is not just the grill and headlights that change. Since the RS grill does not have turn signals, those go into the valance panel below the bumper. I do not know if I can buy those lights and brackets and cut a hole in the existing valance. I have seen photos of the valance panel part and it seems to show mounting hardware for these lights. I might need to buy that panel and have it painted to match. The same happens at the rear. The taillights on the RS were also different. Instead of having the red/white (brake/reverse) light in the taillight panel, you get an all read taillight and the reverse lights were moved to... you guessed it... the rear valance below the bumper. Again, can I just cut a hole and install the lights? Or do I need a new panel that must be painted. The most comprehensive kit I have seen costs $1,874. That is a lot of money to change the look of the car. This will not happen quickly.

Wheels and tires also help make the look of the car. If we keep goal #1 in mind it mentions, "without altering its stock nature." I would love to install 17 or 18 inch wheels in the same factory Rallye style on the car now. We will get more into wheels and tires in the performance section below.

The last item on my wish list for the exterior appearance of this car is stripes. When I bought the car there was a Z/28 Stripe Stencil Kit in the trunk. This allows a painter to lay out and paint stripes like the factory did. Simple enough. However, this is the one area I might consider deviating from stock. I work with a restoration shop, and the painter there has done ghost stripes on some cars. I definitely want to talk to them about doing that on my car at the time they are painting the hood and spoiler to match the rest of the car.

I am also going to want to make changes to the interior of the car. It needs new carpet, which will include DynaMat sound deadening. I am still trying to decide if I want a factory style console. Initially I thought yes... including the 4 gauges at the end of the console. Then add a Tick-Tock-Tack (a tachometer with a clock in the center) to the main gauge cluster. But I also like the clean, uncluttered look of the interior as it is now. I will be researching custom gauges that fit in the stock location with a stock appearance, but include more actual gauges. I might want to update the interior to the deluxe interior with houndstooth seats. That has its own pluses and minuses. No decision is easy.

Performance

Improving drivability goes hand in hand with improving performance. Back in the day, when I was a teenager just getting into cars, kids all hopped up the engines of their cars with no regard for braking or handling. Wow, we were dumb back then. I plan to increase the overall capabilities of this car in reverse from the old days.

I look at drivability with the following categories:

Brakes -- Steering -- Suspension -- Comfort -- Power

Brakes are the first item that will get upgraded. Next will be steering and/or suspension improvements with power increases coming last. Comfort items can be done along side most of these, and don't really need any other prioritization other than cost.

Keeping in mind goal #2 and its claim to, "improve the overall drivability," I am going to move the shifter to the floor. The Three on the Tree is charming, and quirky. However, it makes driving more difficult. A friend said, "If you are going to do that install a 4 speed while you're at it. It is a total bolt-in."

I don't think so. Doing a little digging, the transmission in the car now has these gear ratios: 1st=2.54, 2nd=1.50, 3rd=1.00. A Muncie M20 (wide ratio) that could bolt-in has these gears: 1st=2.52, 2nd=1.88, 3rd=1.46, 4th=1.00. In a nutshell, this just provides a gear between 1st and 2nd compared to my current transmission. I just assume wait until I can afford to install a 5 or 6 speed transmission and get overdrive.

By moving the shifter to the floor, it does not really change the "stock nature" of the appearance. However, it will have a huge impact on drivability. So it is the first change I will make. Since the carpet kit for the car is only $150 I am going to do that too. Of course that means adding DynaMat to the car. At this point I will be considering adding DynaMat inside the doors, trunk and other places. That might turn into a fun and labor intensive project.

Wheels & Tires

I initially wanted to get 15 inch Rallye Wheels with BF Goodrich Radial T/A tires. That would greatly improve the Muscle Car look I want. However, the BFGs are an old technology. They are a basic all season radial. I would prefer a good summer performance tire.

I am leaning heavily toward a 17 inch Rallye wheel. That is not perfect either. The Trim Rings that are made for 17 inch Rallye wheels are only 1-1/2 inches deep. The trim rings on the car now are around 3 inches deep. Does this matter? That is the #1 thing keep me up at night.

A few people told me to go to 18 inch wheels. There are two strong reason I am probably not going to do that. 1) They do not make trim rings for 18 inch Rallye wheels, and 2) I am concerned that having a shorter sidewall (the overall diameter will not change, the tire would be lower profile) will upset the ride comfort too much. Remember goal #2, is looking for overall drivability, not pure performance. Comfort is also part of that goal. I think I will get 17 inch wheels.

As for tires... that is easy! I created a spreadsheet to calculate the overall diameter of the tire based on its size. I plugged in the the tires on the car (205/75-14) and came up with 26.1 inches. The seller told me these wheels were not original, and the speedometer is off by about 10%. So it is likely the car originally had a slightly short tire.

I decided to get as close to 26 inches as possible without going over. In the rear I will put 17x8 wheels with 245/45-17 tires that yield a diameter of 25.7 inches. Close enough! Going with a 17x7 wheel on the front, I can get 225/45-17 which gives an overall diameter of 25.0 inches. I might consider a 215/50-17 tire that bumps the diameter to 25.5, keeping them closer. But since I want a little downward rake, the 225s should be fine.

I can get BF Goodrich G-Force Sport Comp-2 tires in these sizes for $502 (as of 3/11/18 on Discount Tire's web site). Sweet!

Brakes

The brakes were dependent on the wheel size. Going with 17 inch wheels, I looked up the brakes on Wilwood's web site. Front brake kit 140-7675-D requires a 15" wheel, but recommends checking clearance. A 17" wheel should not be an issue. This kit includes 4-Piston Calipers with Black Powder Coating and 12.19-in Dia. slotted and cross drilled rotors. Brake kit 140-7149-D is a match for the front kit. I would love to buy both of these at the same time. However, these are not cheap. I will also need a new master cylinder, as well as brake lines, and parking brake cables. The cost for everything... including replacing all the hard lines throughout the car... is approximately $2,600.

Since I need to buy the wheels and tire first (which I expect to cost roughly $1,700), I cannot afford to do the brakes all at once. I am going to install the front brakes initially, and save up for the rears.

I need to reach out to Wilwood and ask about power brakes. Their master cylinder does not include a power booster. Do I need one? Does their master cylinder work with one? Do they recommend one?

Steering

I am pretty sure I will be upgrading to a power steering system. More choices and issues arise here. Most power steering kits either aren't complete, or do not come with quick ratio steering boxes. There are a lot of options, but none seem to be perfect.

I do not know if I will be building this piece-meal. Getting the necessary power components and a quick ratio steering box separately. I think it might come to that.

Of course, any steering components not replaced as part of the conversion will be replaced too. I don't want 50 year old steering components to limit the ability of the car. I priced a complete steering linkage kit for only $309. I may just do that at the time of the front brakes. Maybe with this I might like the way the car drives with the manual steering.

Suspension

This is going to be the biggest conundrum. Remember the goals, to improve drivability. I am not going to be racing the car. I can't image tracking it or even auto crossing it. All of those would have a suspension system too harsh to enjoy on the street. I do want handling that compares to a modern car. At the least, I want my 68 Camaro to handle as well as a Camry.

Steering and cornering go together under this suspension category. However, there is a huge difference between converting manual steering to power vs. getting modern levels of steering feel and performance.

The car must drive safely on the highway among all the idiot drivers out there. I also want to take it on Hill Country drives, like the Texas Twisted Sisters. This means serious upgrades.

I showed several suspension options to my restoration shop owner. He said that double adjustable shocks are not worth it. Single adjustable shocks adjust bounce and rebound together. Only serious racers need to fine tune bounce and rebound separately. It is unnecessary on the street. He also mentioned that I would not feel a difference between coil-overs (shock and coil spring as one) and regular springs and shocks... unless I plan to actually use the adjustability of the coil overs to change ride height.

But when he saw the Detroit Speed kit I had listed, he said I should save for that. It's $3,800! Ouch. I will likely go that way eventually, but I am still on the fence. Do I need that much suspension. Hotchkis has a TVS kit (Total Vehicle System) that I can get for less than half the price. What to do?

This is the area I will likely spend "throw away" money. Meaning, I will buy some things now and end up replacing them later. For instance, I can't afford to do the suspension now, but I can afford to buy a couple of 2" drop spindles for the front of the car and install them with the disc brakes. I will have to replace those spindles with the originals (cleaned up, of course) when I put on the Detroit Speed or Hotchkis kit since they both include a 2" drop.

Driving the car I notice that the front takes longer than it should to settle down on the highway over bumps. It needs shocks. The suspension kits come with shocks. I expect to buy shocks soon and install them with the front brakes. I might... might... look at getting a basic sway bar kit. For $300-500 I could get a pair of bolt-on front & rear sway bars that will help. How much? I don't know. I will put the shock and sway bars aside when I install a full suspension kit.

Air Conditioning

No where in my Appearance and Performance sections does providing the most comfort come into play. Air Conditioning.

I have to add air conditioning, likely sooner rather than later as it is summer for 9 months out of the year in San Antonio. I was told not to do the A/C until I make up my mind on the engine. Why? If I decide to do an LS swap, it would be a completely different A/C kit than for the Gen I small block engine. I hadn't thought of an LS swap, but it might be easier in the long run to swap an LS with a matching 6 speed, than go through the trouble of swapping a 6 speed onto a crate motor and adding fuel injection. A complete swap from a single donor car would likely result it the best drivability.

Also, a Vintage Air system will cost about $1,500 for the main kit. It will need a couple of items to fully get it running. I am not sure how much of the labor I can do myself, before needing to pay someone to do finish it. I expect to need somewhere between $2,000-$3,000 to get the A/C up and running.

Since I plan on getting wheels and tires so that I can start the brake upgrade, A/C will have to wait until next year. I will suffer through 100+ degree heat this summer.


Power

Long term I will likely consider a crate motor. Nothing crazy, 350-400 horsepower max. I want drivability, not maximum power. Fuel injection will be part of that drivability. This is a big ticket item. I may want to add a little power to the current engine in the mean time. Surely an exhaust upgrade to give the car a nice sound is in the cards. I believe I could install a Holley Sniper Fuel Injection system on the current 327, and still be able to use it on a crate motor. The Holley system is rated to 650 horsepower, more than I need.

Here are my basic engine choices:

1) Mild upgrades to the stock engine. This is the least costly... unless it puts too much strain on the engine and it requires a rebuild or replacement. Hence...

2) A Gen I small block crate motor that will pretty much bolt in place of the original engine. The prices for these range from $2,400 to over $6,000 if I want to go nuts. I would like something in the middle with an engine for about $3500-4000. Or...

3) An LS engine swap. This might be worthwhile if I can a complete LS engine with 6 speed manual transmission and all the computers from a Camaro that was in an accident (that did not effect the engine). How much would an LS swap cost?

LS swaps are fairly common today. In fact, it is almost a cliché to swap an LS engine in an early Camaro. I should buck that trend and stick with the Gen I small block that I can paint orange to look original. This will all come later, so I can decide on it in a couple of years.

Conclusion

As you can see... I have a lot of options.

I plan on purchasing the 3 Speed floor shifter and carpet kit soon. I am still wrestling with the wheels, but will be reaching out to Wilwood soon for the info to start the brake upgrade.

Stay tuned!

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