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Driving the Dream

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Cliff Corwith says he didn’t find his dream car—it found him.

The 1998 Chevy Camaro was towed to the shop—Corwith’s Auto Body in Water Mill, N.Y., where he is vice president—after a friend of his family totaled it. He hadn’t been looking for a restoration project, although he always had his eyes open.

When the car showed up in 2001, he realized it was the perfect project. He loves Camaros, and had actually rebuilt eight others in his career in collision repair, which he says started at 8 years old when he began working at his dad’s shop.

The Camaro had been in a front-end wreck. It was a sad sight, Corwith said. The nose needed to be replaced, the airbags had been deployed, and the dash was completely destroyed.

He started by disassembling the vehicle and ordering parts. He made such a large parts order ($10,000)that his parents, who own the shop, questioned Corwith’s decision.

“It was to the point where my own parents were like, ‘Are you sure about this?’” says Corwith, now 38.

He was sure, indeed. He says that restoration projects can be a chance for repairers to show off their skills. Most people don’t understand or appreciate what body men do, Corwith says. To show off a great car that he restored is to display his talents.

“It’s the best way to showcase your work,” he says.

So to him, having spent $20–$25,000 and hundreds of hours of labor on this Camaro was worth it.

After ordering parts, he got to work. He yanked the engine and transmission, tore out the interior, and took off the doors. He also had a lot of cutting to do. The Camaro has a unibody, so he spent a lot of time cutting the frame rail, radiator support and structural parts behind the fender.

From there, his friend helped him with the engine, a 346-cubic-inch LS1 that makes 425 horsepower. The friend, who grew up building engines, rebuilt the motor and sent it to Corwith.

Next up: The paint job. This was his favorite part, he says, as paint is his specialty in this industry.

He says this was the most time-consuming part of the job. He had seen cars painted with DuPont’s Chrome Illusion, a type of paint with prismatic flakes. At the time, Corwith says, the technology was new and few cars had been painted with the product. It’s also expensive—it costs $625 per quart, he says.

But that was what he wanted. He chose a steel blue that, as light hits the vehicle, changes from magenta to gold, depending on the light source and perspective, he says.

It took a lot to paint the car this way. First he primed and sealed the Camaro, then he put down three coats of black, and then he applied five quarts of the chrome illusion paint. He painted every part of the car, including the door jams and under the hood.

“I’m a lunatic like that,” Corwith jokes now.

It took him between nine months and a year to complete the project. The finished product is something he would never sell, he says. He’s sold all his other restorations, but not this one. This one’s the most involved project he’s ever done, and he’s proud of the work he did turning a destroyed vehicle into a dream car. He now takes it to shows where he meets up with friends, who admire his work.

“It’s a really fun thing,” he says. “It’s a neat way to show people what I do.”

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