Andy Vitale didn’t want to have to buy a pickup, so he got a new El Camino instead.

One of the really great things about the car enthusiast world is that pretty much anything goes. Your ride doesn’t have to be something from the classic muscle car era to be truly enjoyable and special. MCR has been privileged to work on and restore all sorts of unique vehicles. This is especially true now that some of the classic muscle cars are approaching 50 years old or more and are getting harder to come by. It’s also true that the younger generations are more attached to cars from the later 70s and into the 80s now.

Andy Vitale bought his 1981 El Camino in 1983 with just 12,000 miles on it. At the time it was a near daily driver though it was rarely driven in the mid-west winters. Andy used it like a truck but appreciated the fact that it drove like a regular car.

Jump ahead to 2018 and Andy’s El Camino has gotten tired and in need of a refresh. He met the MCR team at the World of Wheels show in Minneapolis that year and started to discuss with them what options might work best for him.

The way Andy figured it he either needed to fix his El Camino or buy a pickup. He doesn’t really like pickups and he really just wanted another new ’81 El Camino so he delivered the car to MCR and asked them to make it new again. Well new again with a little more power and some upgrades.

It originally came with a terribly anemic 229 cid V6 that was rated at a measly 95 HP so a 350 crate motor/trans package was ordered from GM which came complete with computer and harness. The 333 HP small block and 4L65 trans combo was a complete turnkey plug and play setup. Since the power level was literally tripled, the rear was also upgraded to a 3.55 GM 12-bolt.

Since this was going to be a driver and exact originality is not a concern, MCR used materials such as powder coating on the suspension parts and frame and undercoating on the bottom of the car to help it to stay looking good while standing up to general road conditions much better than original factory finishes.

Yes, this is a 1981 Malibu with a pickup bed in the back. Andy very much likes to be able to drive it like a car but use it as a pickup.
Andy fully intends to use his new ’81 as a truck so a spray-in bed liner was applied help keep it nice looking out back. MCR came up with a way to color match the bed liner material to the factory body color and will be able to touch up the bed from time to time as needed to keep it looking new. Note that MCR did not paint the bed liner material. They colored it before it was sprayed on so the material is body color all the way through.
Of course the wheels and tires were upgraded (17 inches front and rear) but the original center caps were retained. Brakes were upgraded to Wilwood discs.
The two tone paint scheme, Camel Beige and Pastel Sandstone, is the original factory look. Air shocks were added to the rear so Andy can make adjustments based on the weight of load he’s carrying any given day.
Andy wanted to retain the car like ride so the front suspension was rebuilt mostly stock though the parts were power coated along with the frame to keep everything looking nice and relatively easy to clean. The underbody also got a coat of aftermarket undercoating to protect it from the elements.
Besides power, the one thing the original V6 seriously lacked was a decent exhaust note. Headers, performance mufflers and a true duel exhaust give this El Camino the sound of a real classic car without being too loud to enjoy the sound system.
The seat, carpet, door panels and dash pad were restored to the factory look.
Interior upgrades include a Grant wheel and a Dakota Digital dash.
The 95 HP V6 just had to go. In its place MCR dropped in a Ram Jet 350 crate engine from GM. Fuel tank and pump were of course upgraded to accommodate the engines EFI system. Stainless headers were added and the A/C was upgraded to 134a and note the Wilwood master cylinder. The power increase is relatively substantial but drivability will remain awesome.


Muscle Car Restorations, Inc.

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