e love hearing stories from car owners who still have the ride they drove in high school and through college as their only means of transportation. Rich Dandolo purchased this ’70 El Camino back in 1982 - the year after he graduated high school. "I really wanted a ’69 but this one had a freshly built big-block and the price was right, so I bought it," Rich explains. "It was originally brown with a black vinyl top and brown interior. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great-looking, either."
To give it some personality, Rich dressed it up in Centerline wheels and BFGoodrich T/As—the “go-to” combination at the time. It was the ’80s when most muscle car guys would have their cars emulate what they saw in magazines and on dragstrips across the country. Some more minor upgrades followed in the interior and the car carried on as his daily while training as a machinist in an apprenticeship at NASA/Ames Research Center.
Enthusiastic about upgrading the car, Rich began gathering N.O.S. body panels—fenders, doorskins, bumpers, trim, and the like with the intention of getting the Elco looking fresh. At the same time, Rich had the idea to build the car in Pro Touring style well before the moniker existed. “I was looking for a way to run 17-inch wheels and sticky tires, and I wanted the car to corner well—not just do straight-line stuff, but there weren’t many options back then, and the wheels I did find were out of my price range.”
About the same time, the big-block developed a rod knock, so it was parted out for some scratch to help fund building a potent small-block to motivate the hauler. Rich armed it with Brodix Aluminum heads and a host of other high-performance bits to stay in line with his idea of building a unique (for the time) muscle car. Today, that engine still sits on an engine stand, but that’s a story for another time.
Heading into the early '90s, Rich was still on his original quest to build a road-handling ride. "I found a company called HO Racing that offered handling packages for GM A-bodies," Rich states. "I had to have it all, and when I looked into big brake packages, I thought I'd be able to convert the current system using NASCAR racing brake parts, but I bit off more than I could chew and progress on the car stalled."
Rich held onto the car along with numerous boxes of N.O.S. sheetmetal and shuffled it all from carports to neighbors' garages and rental homes before he was able buy a house in 1997 where the parts sat in the garage and the car on jackstands until 2009. At that point, Rich was able to get it to a local shop with the intention of installing a cantilever suspension and an LS engine. Apparently the Elco was low on that shop's priority list, so it sat with very little progress until 2018 when it was rescued by Gary George of Gary's Rods and Restorations in Watsonville, California. "Thankfully Gary took pity on my project," Richard reveals. "I explained my vision to Gary, and with his suggestions we devised a plan to get the car where it is today.
Under Gary's watch the El Camino received a stroked LS3 dolled up in classic Chevrolet valve covers and a matching Holley air filter that sits atop an Accufab Racing throttle body and Holley port injection intake manifold. The LS coils were relocated under a pair of custom covers and do so without hiding the engine's muscular aura. A Vintage Air front runner drive system spins a Powermaster alternator and Vintage Air A/C system.
Spent fuel escapes via a pair of Stainless Works headers and Gary's custom-fabricated 3-inch stainless exhaust, while a set of Borla mufflers allow the 550hp LS to announce an aggressive tone coinciding with the car's powerful appearance.
A TREMEC Magnum six-speed transmission is backed by a McLeod twin-disc clutch and provides Rich the opportunity to shift on his terms—not a pre-determined rpm range offered by an automatic. The ensemble enables tactful launches, high-rpm gear changes, and excellent street manners while sending power to a Strange Engineering Fab9 rearend via the South Bay Driveline driveshaft.
Underneath, the frame behind the driver's compartment was modified to make room for the double-rail section and trick cantilever suspension system armed with Fox coilover shocks with remote reservoirs. Up front Global West lower control arms work with SPC adjustable upper control arms dampened by Fox coilover shocks with remote reservoirs bolted to the frame tubing.
Race Line wheels are wrapped in asphalt-gripping Michelin Pilot Sport rubber, which puts the high-end suspension system to task. A set of Baer brakes offer excellent performance braking to bring this beast down from speed forthwith.
The interior's period-correct looks include a stock dash fitted with stock-appearing, high-tech Dakota Digital gauges. Digging in further reveals a collection of custom 3-D - printed bits designed with classic GM style combined with modern overtones. The floors are foamed and contoured to hide the lower rollbar supports for a more continuous flow. DJ Designs is responsible for modifying the Procar by Scat seat frames then stitched on the black leather upholstery, which jives perfectly with the Black Daytona carpet. Paying attention to detail, Danny at DJ's employed magnetic panels voiding the use of screws for a clean appearance. The Vintage Air A/C system keeps Rich cool on those hot summer days.
Finally able to utilize all the N.O.S. sheetmetal Rich had been holding onto for years, it all looks right at home showcasing the brilliant Axalta Viper Red paint and GM 10 White rally hood stripes. But what really sets this car apart is the hand-fabricated bed cover. The piece sends Rich's Elco to the next level while at the same time flaunting the talent and skill embodied by the crew at Gary's. Going that extra mile gives Rich's car a unique look all its own.
Rich confesses he's yet to put extensive miles on the car but marks winning First in Class at the 2023 Grand National Roadster show as a major highlight thus far. "As soon as the car is dialed in and all tuned up, I look forward to taking it on long trips and local cruises," Rich says. "Having owned this car for as long as I have, it's absolutely amazing to see what the crew at Gary's Rods and Restorations were able to accomplish with this car/truck. This thing has been with me for a very long time, so finally having my vision of a road-handling El Camino come to fruition is amazing. I can't thank Gary and his team enough for making this all happen, and doing so way beyond my wildest expectations.
OWNER: Rich Dandolo, Santa Cruz, California
VEHICLE: 70 Chevy El Camino
TYPE: Chevrolet Performance LS3
DISPLACEMENT: 416 ci
COMPRESSION RATIO: 10.7:1
BORE: 4.070 inches
STROKE: 4.0 inches
CYLINDER HEADS: AFR Aluminum
ROTATING ASSEMBLY: Nodular iron crankshaft, powdered metal connecting rods, hypereutectic aluminum pistons
CAMSHAFT: Custom grind
INDUCTION: Accufab Racing 4150 throttle body, Holley single-plane intake manifold
EXHAUST: Stainless Works headers, Gary's Rods and Restorations 3-inch stainless exhaust, Borla XS mufflers
ANCILLARIES: ARP studs, Chevrolet Performance valve covers, Holley air filter housing, Holley aluminum fuel cell, Taylor plug wires, SPAL dual electric fans, Powermaster starter, Optima YellowTop battery
OUTPUT: 550 hp and 500 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: TREMEC Magnum
CLUTCH: McLeod twin disc
REAR AXLE: Strange Engineering Fab9 housing, Truetrac limited-slip differential, 3.70 gearset, Strange 31-spline axles
CHASSIS: Modified factory
FRONT SUSPENSION: Global West lower control arms, SPC upper control arms, Fox double-adjustable shocks with remote reservoirs, 500-pound springs, Global West sway bar, Borgeson steering box
REAR SUSPENSION: Cantilever suspension system, Fox double-adjustable shocks with remote reservoirs, 250-pound springs
BRAKES: Baer 14-inch rotors, six-piston calipers front and rear, Wilwood 1-inch bore master cylinder
Wheels & Tires
WHEELS: Race Line (18x9 front, 19x12 rear)
TIRES: Michelin Pilot Sport; 255/40R18 front, 345/30R19 rear
UPHOLSTERY: Daytona Black carpet, custom black leather door panels, center console, seat covers, miscellaneous 3-D printed parts
INSTALLATION: DJ Designs (Hayward, CA)
SEATS: Procar by Scat buckets with modified frames by DJ Designs
DOOR PANELS: Magnetic
ROLLCAGE: Gary's Rods and Restorations
STEERING: Ididit steering column, GM SS steering wheel
INSTRUMENTATION: Dakota Digital
HVAC: Vintage Air
WIRING HARNESS: Painless Performance installed by Gary's Rods and Restorations
BODYWORK AND PAINT: Gary's Rods and Restorations
PAINT: Axalta Viper Red, GM Code 10 White SS stripes
GRILLE: GM N.O.S.
TAILGATE: '68 El Camino
BEDCOVER: Custom aluminum by Gary's Rod and Restorations
WHEELTUBS: Custom by Gary's Rods and Restorations
HOOD: GM N.O.S. cowl induction