He told us that it is difficult to remember exactly when he became fascinated with the Chevrolet Camaro, but it began when he was just a young boy. It was always his dream to own one, but not just any Camaro, Gary Keyes of Spokane, Washington, wanted something very special and unique. Ever since he heard about them and began reading about them, Keyes knew he wanted a Dana Camaro.
For the uninitiated, the Dana Camaro was something very special, only about 50 were built. Arguably, the hot rodding craze began in southern California, and not only were old cars being turned into hot rods, but performance modifications to brand new cars had been a flourishing business in the region for decades. SoCal was rife with automotive talent, and it was only natural that one of the original muscle cars, the Chevy Camaro would see the same treatment.
Everyone is familiar with the Yenko Camaro and the COPO Camaro, but before that, production 427 Camaros were the work of Dana Chevrolet, a Los Angeles, California dealership. The guys there were old hands when it came to cranking up the performance on a car. Paul Doski and Peyton Cramer owned the place, Cramer had worked for Shelby American, and the lead engineer on the concept was non other than Dick Guldstrand. Guldstrand was a builder/driver that had already made quite a name for himself in west coast SCCA circles.
Mixing these guys together in a shop with a muscle car created the Dana Camaro. They yanked out the factory powerplant and swung in the killer L72 Corvette 427 big block that cranked out 425 hp in stock form, but a set of Doug’s Headers were standard equipment on the Dana Camaro. The Corvette tri-power set up was also used on some, and you could even get the high-compression Corvette L88 427 as an option.
However, there was a stumbling block in Keyes’ path to owning a Dana Camaro. Only about six of them, with supporting documentation, are known to exist today from the original 50 cars built at Dana Chevrolet from 1967 to 1969, before the factory built COPO 427-powered Camaros began to go into production. These originals are worth as much or more than the house Keyes owned, so that option was outside of the realm of possibility for him. So, Keyes did the next best thing.
Keyes spent years performing exhaustive research, gathering all the historical information he could find on the Dana Camaros, and then began building his own. He began with a 1968 Camaro that had been rebuilt, but was badly cobbled together. Keyes knew this was not going to be an easy build project, but he was determined to create what he could not buy. Over the next five years, he slowly, but as accurately as possible, built his replica of a Dana SS/RS 427 Camaro.
The first step was finding the powerplant. In order to recreate a correct over-the-counter ’68 L71 tri-power 427 Corvette engine, Keyes began with a four-bolt main 439 block with an L71 tri-power intake manifold, a vintage Transistorized Ignition system, and built it to stock spec’s for the L71 engine.
Exhaust gases are drained away through a set of vintage Doug’s headers, and a 2-1/2-inch exhaust system with Cherry Bomb mufflers. The only things that were not exactly to original spec are the L88 camshaft and dual-spring H-slot rockers he added, and the 11:1 compression ratio Keyes built into the engine. A four-core heavy duty radiator helps to keep this smokin’ hot engine running cool.
An M22 four-speed transmission with an 11-inch clutch from Midwest Muncies was used to back up the L71. It carries a vintage NOS Hurst shifter, and the M22 is clothed with a vintage Lakewood scatter shield. Power is then passed to the 12-bolt rear axle that holds a 4:10 Posi through a custom thick-walled driveshaft. The front and rear brakes on the car are the stock GM power disc/drum combination that would have come from the factory.
The chassis was built with bolt-on subframe connectors, vintage Traction Masters traction bars. Keyes also added a heavy duty 13/16-inch front anti-sway bar. Koni shocks on all four corners help to keep car’s ride and handling character as close to the sporty street manners exhibited by the original Dana Camaros as possible.
When it came to rubber, Keyes wanted it to be just right, so he found a set of vintage NOS MT cheater slicks for the rear end. Up front, the car runs Goodyear raised white letter tires. When he is driving the car on the street though, Keyes swaps on a set of custom Hurst cheater slicks so he won’t tear up the NOS MT rubber. All are on stock 6×15-inch steel wheels with”poverty” hub caps.
Inside the car, Keyes went with a Special RS trim package to get the look he wanted. The interior is suited up with custom black deluxe hound’s-tooth upholstery, and a walnut-grained steering wheel on a tilt steering column. Keyes also found a vintage Stewart Warner gauge panel for the car, and set in to that panel are a full complement of vintage Stewart Warner 2-5/8-inch black-face gauges, set off with a vintage Sun SST 802 8,000 rpm tachometer.
The body was fairly straight and clean, so Keyes had minimal body work to do in order to get the shell ready for the awesome Matador Red paint job. However, the hood was another story. The Dana Camaro hood was a dealer item nearly 50 years ago and a very special design with two intake scoops and extremely unique styling. To get it right, Keye’s scoped one out, and did a bit of what he calls “reverse engineering” to create a mold so he could have fiberglass recreation made.
The finished car is as close to the real thing as Keyes could get, and as far as he knows, it is the only accurate re-creation of the Dana 427 Camaro in existence. For the last three years since it was done, he has enjoyed the car as a weekend cruiser with his wife Sandy, and taken it to a few car shows. He has scored a number of trophies for the car, including a Best Restored at Goodguys and a Best Restored at the ISCA-sponsored Spokane Auto, Boat, and Speed Show. His favorite, though was the win for Best of Show at the Seattle-area Camaro Show.
Keyes was involved in every aspect of the Dana 427 Camaro re-creation with as he says, “his hands or his mind” and “used the help of other car friends with skill sets that needed to be done locally.” And he admits that he has many to thank, but especially those who acted as advisors on the build, including Dale Armstrong (whom helped with research), Brian Henderson of Super Car Workshop, Dave Fillion, Frank LaRouche (original owner of the famous Orange Dana 427 Camaro), and Tony Huntimer (Tonys Speed Shop). Keyes told us that what he likes most about the finished car is that, “It is a raw muscle car that is a handful to drive, and it is right on the edge of being streetable.”
For more photographs of Gary Keyes’ awesome 1968 Dana 427 Camaro creation, including many more build shots, check out the Gallery below.