A 1987 El Camino Makeover
Lots of things run in the family when it comes to one father and son from the Midwest, including an interest in fixing all kinds of collision damage and restoring old vehicles to their former splendor. And, although each drives a classic car worthy of awards for its pristine condition, you won’t find them showing off their rides unless they can be absolutely sure they’ll be admired from afar.
Retired four or five years now from Bodywerks, the Elko, Minn., collision repair shop he started some 40 years ago, Jim Weitzel has a vintage green, 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280 SL. He originally intended for it to be his wife’s car, but he soon realized that “it was too nice for a grocery store parking lot. She lost it before she ever got to sit in it,” Weitzel says.
Son Jeff Weitzel, who took over Bodywerks when his father retired, feels the same way about a fine restoration.
“I went to [a local car show] and watched all those people who are just clueless … One guy was carrying his kid, and the kid was rubbing his feet on the car!” he recalls with palpable horror. “I could never—I would be standing there watching my car the whole time. I couldn’t do it. I don’t know how those guys bring their cars and just walk away.”
START OF A FAMILY AFFAIR
As an 8-year-old hanging out at a body shop near his home in a Minneapolis suburb, the elder Weitzel figures the owner “got tired of tripping over me” and put him to work; before long he had built his first car, a 1951 Ford, before he was old enough to drive it. Now, Jim Weitzel says, he’s content to restore about one car a year, depending on the work involved. “I don’t have the drive I used to have,” he says. “And if somebody mentions the golf course, I’m gone.”
But as Jim and his wife, Karen, spend winters in Arizona, the retired body man looks for restoration projects to work on back home.
It was in Arizona that Weitzel found an ideal project to work on with Jeff: a single-owner, two-toned 1987 El Camino. The exterior was weather-beaten, and the owner had used it freely as a pickup truck, so the box was full of dings and dents. But it sparked the imagination of Jim’s son, who’d driven another El Camino for about three years. “I’ve always liked them,” Jeff says. “I wanted to start with something that didn’t have any rust on it.”
The younger Weitzel learned the trade just like his dad did. With the family body shop just yards from the home he grew up in, Jeff recalls, “I was tinkering out there for as long as I can remember. I was working on my bikes and anything and everything with wheels and a motor.”
It took about five months for the pair to restore the ’87 El Camino to mint. Much of the labor was spent on cosmetics.
“It’s pretty original, but I added a ground-effects kit,” Jeff says. “I also modified the hood, too—I grafted in hood scoops off a ’67 Chevelle.”
While the body was rust-free, the arid climate had taken a toll on the inside. “Much of the dashboard and interior was dried out,” Jeff says. The father and son redid the carpet, headliner, visors and seats; plus they added a center console and moved the shifter there from its home on the steering column.
Finally, they replaced the two-tone blue exterior with a new, bright silver paint job.
The exterior updates give the car an older look, says Jeff, but the stock 305-hp engine gives it an older feel. This winter he plans to replace the engine with a Chevrolet 350-hp and put a tune-port injection on top of it. Meantime, the family affair seems destined to continue. Jeff’s wife, Dawn, runs the office at Bodywerks, and the couple has two sons: Cole, 6, and Seth, 4. “My 4-year-old is interested in anything with wheels and a motor,” Jeff says. “He could spend all day at the shop, every day.”