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El Camino Worth Fighting For

By Richard Hagensen

How did you start this project?

I purchased this car from my son. He had rebuilt the engine for the ‘73 El Camino that granddad had given him. The ‘73 had a lot of rust issues. He went to a farm sale and purchased the ‘78. It needed some body work but was a driver. He got in a small fender bender but the car was still a driver. He decided he wanted something newer. After making a deal on a car that fit him, it was left at the house. We lost our farm and I wanted a project to work on. I had always been interested in restoration of old cars. The Model A was my favorite. I figured that pulling out the dents would be a starting point to doing other projects. A neighbor gave me a ‘79 Malibu which I used as a parts car. I purchased a book written by Larry Lyles, “Revive Your Ride” which gave lots of tips on how to he did body work, step by step. With this as my guide, I was moving forward. El Camino, means the path. This is where I got the title of my thread. This was the beginning of a reverse father/son project.

What has been the most difficult part?

The most difficult part for me is finding quality parts. I have purchased used parts that looked good, but after installing I find hidden rust spots and body filler spots and I couldn’t make them work. I purchased an aftermarket door, two front fenders, and tailgate. It took four aftermarket fenders to get two decent ones. With two decent fenders, I had to work hard to make them fit by grinding metal so the hood would close. I had to cut spot welds to get the front of passenger fender to line up with the front clip. I bought door rail seals that don’t seal. It is very hard to get vendors to take responsibility for their poor products and get refunds. I also had to learn the skills to straighten them out. My son told me that GM sold the press that made body parts when they failed to make the part correctly. These presses were sold to overseas companies. The aftermarket overseas companies are where the parts came from. The way he explained it to me, when the presses failed, GM would change body style. Example: 78-81 El Camino body parts are the same. In ’82 they are different.

Why you enjoy it:

I enjoy challenges and learning new things. I’m a true perfectionist. What that means is if I can’t do anything well, I don’t do anything.  This car has proven that isn’t the case. One body man told me a story about an employee that quit on him and went to work for Charlie Hutton. This employee came back and told him that in Charlie’s shop he didn’t have to be so particular. So this body man jokingly says he is better than Charlie. This body man left dents in a new panel he installed, which I repaired, therefore I’m better than him. LOL.  The painter I hired had left a few places where primer showed. So, I used my spray can and covered those up. The painter made the comment to me that I had did a great job on getting the metal straight. I still like both men—both taught things I needed to learn and make it mine.This project is valuable to me to explain to others what they have the potential to do by asking questions and learning.

What are your goals?

My goals are to get the interior complete and get the Black Knight decals on. We are also planning to change the rear gears, they presently 2.42’s and we are going to 3.73’s. The reason for the decals is to make this car into a Black Knight clone. My son and I thought that since the ‘73 was a Super Sport we thought that the Black Knight approach would add class. For those who don’t know, ‘78 was the only year they were made. After that we might take it to the local car show and, if my son wants to take it to drags on weekends a few times, we’ll do that. This car is going back to my son.

Do you have any advice?

My advice to others would be:

  1. If it’s your first time at body work, purchase the Larry Lyles book “Revive Your Ride”
  2. Make a plan that fits your budget and what you have to work with
  3. When things get frustrating, take a break, ask questions, don’t quit
  4. Check with different people online—that helps you learn a different solution for the same problem
  5. Ask local professionals for advice
  6. Be willing to offer dollars for advice—it’s part of an education; it has a cost.

Follow Richard’s thread to see many more pictures and to follow along on his progress!

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