There is love and then there is passion. Guillaume Bourdeau has a passion for second-generation Camaros, so much so, that he built one from scratch. Well, almost. If he had the necessary machine equipment, he would have built the engine and the rear differential gears as well, and all in his home garage. In 2000, Guillaume bought a 1972 Camaro Z-28. It looked as if it had done hard labor. “It was used as an old drag car, typical, trashed-up muscle car for the time, but it had retained a very solid foundation to build upon, with some heritage,” remembers Guillaume. The car was a combination color of a tart’s red lipstick and black.
He striped it down to its birthday suit and rebuilt it to its authentic suit of armor. No laptop gadgets or hand-holding accessories, like fuel-injection. This is the real McCoy. Now you may be thinking, big deal, most muscle cars were like that. But there are only fifty-four Z-28’s equipped with a Muncie M22 transmission originally exported to Canada in 1972. This is one of them.
This is not a car you take for a funeral procession. This is built for speed. When the 327-cid small-block engine is turned on and it is red-lining at 7,300 RPM’s, the rumble can be felt on a seismic graph. The Z-28 was Chevrolet’s answer to a racing car disguised as a street car. “The original engine was long gone,” explains Guillaume. “I put in my own engine that I purchased back in 1988. It has been built and rebuilt many times. It’s a very reliable and sturdy engine, and I’ve learned so much working on it.”
We are lucky to even have Camaros on the road. The UAW strike at a GM assembly plant in Norwood in 1972 disrupted production for 174 days, sacrificing over 1,000 incomplete Camaros. Some at GM seriously considered dropping the Camaro and Firebird brands, especially when these models were not meeting the new stringent emission, safety and fuel mandates. Fortunately, Camaro had rabid-like followers that convinced the top brass at GM that Camaros were viable commodities.
Guillaume has restored other Camaros including a ’69 Camaro 396 SS/RS, a ’69 396 Chevelle SS, and a ’71 Camaro, but nothing took as long as the Z-28. “It’s taken 14 years – on and off – in its restoration,” confirms Guillaume, who looks like a combination of Warren Oates and James Coburn, flashes his trademark smile. The car is like a mobile piece of art and I’m standing beside the sculpture. The satisfaction is palpable. “The car drives beautifully; very solid & stable, handles extremely well given the age and overall design perimeters I had to work within. Power is matched to the rest of the driveline and handling potential. It was an original 255hp 350ci, Z28 car, now a custom de-stroked 333ci engine making 542hp on 91 pump gas!!!”
“The hardest parts to restore were the body panels and gaps since the original parts weren’t very well built,” explains Guillaume. “The majority of time was spent on wielding and hand fabrication.” The reconstruction of the fabrication is so good it is seamless – as good as, if not better, than assembly-lined production. Guillaume put in 128 hours just on cutting, sanding (and cursing) a fully functional cowl induction steel hood and scoop into place. It is perfection. That is master craftsmanship, something Guillaume is passing down to his son, Justin. Other challenges were the cylinder head port work and suspension set up, fortunately I got some experienced help: Mark Cuillerier on bodywork, Andrew Libby on mechanical, former NASCAR team engineer, Yves LaFrance for engine guidance and machining, and Luc Lalancette at Total Race Supply for the critical mechanical components.
One of the first things you notice is the brilliant pearl candy blue hue that helps emphasize the racing white stripes. It looks edible and not surprising since Guillaume is a licensed autobody technician and painter. Surprisingly, Guillaume hasn’t entered any competitive shows with it, but he does enjoy the Cruise Nights when he is able to discuss astute questions and how the car brings back such nostalgic moments for so many. I ask what the car means to him. He pauses to let the question sink in. “A couple of things: the ultimate satisfaction of doing the best you can do, regardless of talent level or expertise, and enjoying, not only the finished product with family and friends, but the pride in your own perseverance. And the people you meet along the way. The insight, advice, opinions shared. I know I owe a few – okay a lot – of people some aspirin because I know I gave them headaches. Hell, I gave myself headaches. The “Hobby Car” group as we became known, is the best type of people to be around. The passion they bring is contagious. The experience with this car has taught me to appreciate so much at different levels. And I’m very grateful.”
How do you see the future of classic cars? I ask Guillaume. “I think the classic car market is very strong and will continue to grow in interest. Just look at the value of such cars for the past 20 years. Subsequently, the classic car market prices are starting to get out-of-control, alienating those who could continue the interest. When you add the cost of repairs, restoration, labor, materials, and rare parts, it’s becoming a ‘high-end’ game. I guess that’s why the OEMs are coming out of the factory brand new, with warranties, and enough ‘granny’ options not to get the average driver into trouble. But they can’t replicate the true classic cars. That time, unfortunately, will never come back.”