I can look back on our ’76 Camaro project car—the one we call g/28—and realize that I’ve learned a lot of lessons. The first lesson I learned—one that thankfully was absorbed before buying that Camaro—was to start out with a clean, straight, rust-free canvas. This allows you to get rolling in the least amount of time. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s having a project car in paint jail! With that thought in mind, I located a relatively mint ’76 on recycler.com for $2,300. Outside of having a straight body with serviceable paint, the other “must” on my list was that it run, and this one just barely did.
The first thing we did to it way back in 2004 was to get the Camaro riding on the right wheels. The first part of that idea is that they should stylistically fit the car. When choosing wheels, it’s important that the visual mass of the wheel—the spokes and rim—support the lines of the car. If the spokes are narrow, willowy, or frail-looking, the car will overwhelm them. If the wheel design is heavy looking, or even completely solid, they steal the show from the car.
It helps to know what the end point of the car will be. If you just start tacking junk on before you know what your final look will be, it’s going to be tacky. If you can’t afford an artist to do a rendering, at least have a good “look” set in your mind. That extends to tire sizes—both tire width and tire height. Before buying any wheels and tires, get a tool like the Wheelright from Percy’s. It’s under $100, and will allow you to check many potential wheel and tire fitments first. Ask around on your favorite forum to find out what works too. I recently discovered that a 325-wide tire will fit on the rear of my ’75 Laguna—that important piece of information will make that car look awesome, and it cost me nothing.
Once you get the right wheel and tire on the car, don’t be afraid to move things around. I cut several coils off the front springs to get the ’76 Camaro to look just right. I knew I was going to put a killer suspension on later down the line, so I had nothing to lose by setting the ride height low. As you see the car in this picture, the only things that had been done to the car were the Weld wheels, Falken tires, and cutting the front springs. I got just as many great comments from the Camaro back then—with the right wheels, tires, and stance—as I get these days with all the crazy stuff done to it.
In the early days of this project, I knew I had an uphill battle with many things to conquer. There would be the engine build, the transmission swap, the suspension upgrade, the big brakes, the interior redo, the body and paint, and many other small details. But the thing that kept me going in the early stages was having a driving car that looked the part. So if you’re thinking about taking on a hot rod project, I suggest you buy something that runs, buy something that is straight and painted (even badly), and get the wheels, tires, and stance sorted out ASAP. You’ll have way more fun in the long run!