Feature Article from Hemmings Muscle Machines
March, 2006 - Daniel Strohl
The closest aftermarket catalog, left flipped open, inspires thoughts aplenty of stuffing in a hotter camshaft, of swapping in a new wood-rimmed steering wheel, of a thumpin' stereo able to shame the local baggy-pants crowd.
Your heavy right foot, $3 per gallon gas and the wife's harping over the checkbook conspire to pressure thoughts of yanking the numbers-matching big-block under the hood in favor of an EFI small-block. Or, conversely, the siren call of the 1320 begs for a tunnel-ram intake, traction bars and big slicks.
Thomas Kazanji, then, must know some sort of temptation-negating voodoo.
Aside from the paint it wears, a handful of service parts and a pair of headers (though justified; more momentarily), Kazanji's 1968 Camaro Z/28 differs in no way from when it left the dealer floor. And what a dealer it was.
Berger Chevrolet in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had one of the busiest high-performance parts departments in the nation and, like Baldwin-Motion, Yenko, Gibb, Dana and Nickey, it sold many high-performance cars.
Dale Berger, 67, became general manager of his father's dealership in 1964. His high-performance parts department was doing about $60,000 a month in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
"That was just our parts department," Berger said. "Back then, we were selling bare V-8 blocks for $113, a cylinder head wasn't any more than $50, and we sold headers for $100.
"In 1965, we built a new building down near all the shopping malls and business took off like a rocket. We had a high-performance-oriented salesman named Mike Wawee, who lived these cars and was out and about at night, went to the drag strips on weekends, and was promoting our business. We sold a lot of Camaros, and I was close with Pete Estes at the time and we were allocated more Camaros than other dealers. At any one time we had 10 to 15 Camaros on our lot."
And those Camaros rarely left Berger as Chevrolet intended. While Berger never offered packages that grouped certain high-performance items as his contemporary supertuners did, the dealership made it awfully easy to take your new Camaro over to the parts counter and fit it, a la carte, with all the performance goodies your wallet could handle.
The car's original owner, Kenneth Spyke, ordered the Z/28 with a Hurst shifter, Sun tachometer and Ansen scattershield, as he stated in a letter to Kazanji years later. Berger himself said he remembers the day Spyke picked up the car at the dealership because Spyke immediately set his first child's baby seat in the back, putting a small rip in the blue vinyl.
"I was king of the road," Spyke wrote. "There was none quicker."
But after Spyke's second child arrived a couple years later, he sold his beloved Camaro for $2,100 to Jim Polisky in Filer City, Michigan. Polisky's brother Tom, who built hot rods and other fast cars at the time, fostered Jim's interest in hot cars, which turned to Z/28s the moment he saw one light its tires. But Uncle Sam asked Tom to serve his country in Vietnam, where Tom died in August 1968.
Jim Polisky thus decided not to go away to college and instead stayed with his family in Michigan. His parents, using the money that probably would have gone to his college fund, decided to help finance Polisky's first car. Polisky chose Spyke's Z/28.
Polisky raced it on the streets over the next few years, turning the odometer up above 43,000 miles, before he had his own kids and decided to retire it. Rather than sell it, as Spyke did, he put it in storage and figured he'd get around to it sometime in the future.
Meanwhile, Kazanji, who owns and runs Redz Auto Collision and Restoration in White Plains, New York, had seen many high-quality muscle car restorations go through his shop over the years, when he decided it was time he had a supercar of his own in 2002. Though he thought of looking for a Yenko, Gibb or Nickey, he decided to narrow his focus to Berger products and came across Polisky's classified ad.
Polisky, tired of storing the car and anticipating a costly restoration, decided it was time to let it go. Kazanji, after a couple of calls, booked a flight to Michigan the day after Polisky said it was still available.
"It was September 11, 2002," Kazanji said. "I was the only idiot in the airport that day, but tickets were cheap, so whaddayado?"
He bought it and had the car trucked back to White Plains, where he had to decide what he wanted to do with the car. The Le Mans blue paint with white rally stripes remained original ("I think the previous owners maintained it by waxing so much that they waxed through the paint," Kazanji said), as did the bucket seat interior. The engine ran, the car drove just fine, the carburetor leaked a bit, but all the Z/28 and Berger items remained on the car.
"It was a hard decision to make," Kazanji said. "I thought about leaving it original and untouched, but being that I own a resto shop, it was hard to leave it when all the cars that leave the shop are supposed to be mint."
So Kazanji decided to split the difference and go for a partial restoration, using as many existing and original parts as possible.
He started by disassembling the car--not by ripping and slashing, but by careful prying, knowing he'd use a lot of the same parts later, such as the weatherstripping. He then hand-stripped the car using Captain Lee's spray strip to look for any significant markings and to record the color of the primers and sealers.
The body went out to American Dry Stripping in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which blasted the shell and subframe using olivine, a fine soft gem mined in the Carolinas.
Upon its return to the shop, Kazanji sealed all the seams with Duramix and 3M seam sealer before he had his friend and employee, Tommy Anunziato, pound out a few dents on the roof, trunklid and a couple of other "typical areas" then lay about half a gallon of Evercoat Rage and Evercoat Polyester filler to make everything smooth. Kazanji said he would have preferred to do it himself, but "if I would've done it, I'd still be doing it. Tommy has the speed over me."
Throughout the bodywork phase, Kazanji primed with Spies Hecker red brown 3255 etching primer and gray 8590 surfacer, the latter a GM-approved refinish material. The 3255 base seals the base metal, Kazanji said, and the 8590 allows you to do bodywork on top of it rather than on the bare metal. Kazanji finished the bodywork with four coats of gray 5310 high-build primer.
Kazanji then block-sanded the primer with 220-, 320-, 400- and 600-grade wet sandpaper before he primed it again and sanded with 400-, 600- and 800-grade wet sandpaper. He sprayed four coats of Sherwin-Williams Le Mans Blue lacquer, using a Sata Jet 90 spray gun backed with a Curtiss air compressor in his shop's Devilbiss Expert 2000 full downdraft heated paint booth. He then baked the paint for 30 minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit and let the car sit for a couple of days.
"I started block sanding with 3M 600 then 800 wet sandpaper," Kazanji said. "After cleaning the car with DuPont Final Wash, I painted the car with another four coats of lacquer and then baked it for 15 minutes at 120 degrees.
"I painted the car with the doors on and the trunklid installed, like the factory. All the other parts I painted off the car with four more coats of Le Mans Blue."
He then taped and painted the two rally stripes using a stencil kit and Sherwin-Williams White lacquer.
He then block-sanded again with 1500-grade wet sandpaper followed by 2000-grade and polished the car with a Makita variable speed polisher, 3M white foam pad and 3M compound. Finally, he hand-glazed the entire car with Kar Kraft glaze.
Not done yet, he decided to depart from the factory paint procedure by blacking out the undercarriage after he painted the rest of the car rather than before, as GM did.
"If I painted the black first, there would be too much buildup, so I did it reverse for a cleaner look," Kazanji said. "I taped up the body and painted the floorboards and wheelwells with DuPont Chroma Premier Single Stage with a flattening agent added. The firewall I painted a slight bit glossier. After all the blackout was complete, I mixed up some Le Mans Blue and sprayed some on the rear wheelwells and floorboards with overspray duplicated from pictures I took at the beginning."
Kazanji said he stuck with the lacquer because he wanted to finish the car the way Chevrolet did in 1968.
"My car has areas that are not glowing with shine, but that's the way they were," he said.
Inside the car, he found that--aside from the Spyke-installed rip in the rear seat, which hadn't grown much over the decades--it remained in excellent condition, so he simply scrubbed and reinstalled the original carpet, headliner, door panels, dash, column, console, seats and weatherstripping.
While the Z/28 came with front and rear bumperettes, Spyke removed them shortly after he bought the car, boxed them and left them in the trunk, where condensation eventually pitted them. Kazanji sent the bumperettes, along with the potmetal taillamp housings and acorn nuts for the rear spoiler to Paul's Chrome Plating in Evans City, Pennsylvania--one of two chrome platers he often uses in his regular restoration work.
Kazanji made sure not to send out the Berger dealer plate that came with the car, thus its current pitted condition.
"I was afraid to send it out," Kazanji said. "I've seen those plates go for $1,500, so without it, I would have probably been money ahead to have just parted the car out."
Kazanji sent the Z/28's Muncie M-21 four-speed transmission to D&L Transmission in Huntington, New York, to have it cleaned and rebuilt. A new Hayes clutch went between it and the 302-cu.in. V-8--complete with a GM aluminum intake and Holley 800cfm four-barrel carburetor--that Gary Sharkey at the Performance Engine Shop in West Babylon, New York, rebuilt with new bearings and gaskets.
One facet of the car stymied Kazanji, though. A set of rotted GM headers, claimed as authentic Berger installations, hung off the 302.
Knowing that Dale Berger remained in business throughout the years, Kazanji brought the car to Berger's attention. Through Berger, he got Spyke's contact information as well as confirmation that the car did indeed come from his dealership with the scattershield, tachometer and Hurst shifter. But the headers confused Berger as well.
"One thing that seems to be in question is the headers," Berger wrote Kazanji. "(Spyke) doesn't remember headers being on the car when he took delivery.
"There is one thing I know for certain. If the car has the headers, that didn't provide for the air injector reactor (a.k.a. the smog pump). We did not install them. We were not allowed to modify or change the emissions on any vehicle that was to be driven on the street. If, however, the car has the smog pump-type headers with the air lines going to the outlet manifolds on the headers, there is a good chance that we installed them."
Kazanji said he figures the car came with regular exhaust manifolds, but that Spyke bought the headers over the counter and installed them himself.
The headers had rusted far too much to be of any use, so Kazanji ditched them in favor of a pair of Jet-Hot-coated Hooker 15/8-inch-diameter headers backed by a full reproduction exhaust system from Gardner Exhaust in Rhinebeck, New York. NOS spark plugs, new plug wires and new battery cables joined the engine underhood, as did the original air cleaner that Kazanji had Dale Berger sign.
Kazanji then shod the original 15-inch Chevrolet Rallye wheels--painted with Sherwin-Williams silver lacquer on the front and a minor bit of silver-green overspray on the back--with the original trim rings and center caps and a set of Goodyear E70-15 bias-ply tires sourced through Kelsey Tire.
Kazanji's meticulousness during the restoration comes through clearly on the underside of the Z/28. He left all the natural-finish components--steering box, knuckles, tie rods, pitman arm, center link, driveshaft and leaf springs--in their unfinished state and managed to use all the original coil spring tags by first removing the springs, then spinning them around the springs to the end, where he could take them off without ripping them.
"I have no idea how they stayed in good condition after 40,000 miles," Kazanji said.
Kazanji wrapped up the restoration by September 2003, even using the original front brake rotors and pads, and has since hammered the show scene, taking Best American Car honors at the 2004 Greenwich Concours Show, as well as People's Choice at the 2004 National Muscle Car Association nationals and Best Chevrolet at our own Musclepalooza II.
Because of all the showing at various events, Kazanji has put about 50 miles on the car since he finished it. Not a lot, no, but he did say the smell of rubber in the air at Lebanon Valley Dragway this past Memorial Day has tempted him into thinking of stuffing some big tires under the rear flanks and giving the 1320 a try at Musclepalooza III.
"All my friends thought I was crazy to do this car," said Thomas Kazanji, 45, of Mamaroneck, New York. "They said, 'Why take such a nice, original car and go through it?'
"But I like things mint. If you come to my house, you gotta take your shoes off before you come in--that explains a lot. Besides, this satisfies me and it attracts a lot of attention.
"At many points, though, I hated working on that car because when I own the car, I want everything to be perfect, and I'll take the time to do it that way. I'd come home from working on it and tell my wife, Patti-Lee, that I just wish it'd fall off the lift. But she gave me great support throughout this whole thing, and I probably wouldn't have finished it if it weren't for her."
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