Homebuilt 1971 El Camino with 400ci Small-Block and Award-Winning Looks

By John Machaqueiro, HOT ROD

"I was originally looking for a first-gen Camaro," is the way that many of our conversations start when we sit down and talk to car owners, and sure enough this was how it started with Kirby Hanna. In 1987, at the age of 16, that was his wish. A 1971 Chevy El Camino is what he ended up with. He notes, "I couldn't find a Camaro. My brother told me about this El Camino for sale." At $1,500, it was priced just right for a teenager with limited funds. What he purchased was a car that was rusty in all the usual places, like the quarters, doors, fenders, and the bed floor. The upside was that it was mechanically in decent condition with a warmed-over 350 small-block wearing an aluminum intake, Holley carburetor, and a set of headers. It also had a beefed-up Turbo 350 and a 12-bolt posi rear with 3.73:1 gears. It was daily transportation for about six months. For most teens, the as-is condition of the car would have been perfectly acceptable. Kirby had other ideas.

Reviving the body on the El Camino would probably be a daunting task for most youngsters his age, but he had it covered. At the time, he was working at a body shop as part of his high school co-op program, and his uncle Glenn did bodywork and paint as a side business. Having those resources to rely on he was able to hang a new set of aftermarket quarters and repair all the rust in the doors and fenders. Much of that work was done by him and his uncle in a rented garage that conveniently had a paint booth installed, which came in handy when the 1985 IROC Z Bright Blue paint was applied. Once it was wrapped up, it became his daily driver until a week prior to his high school graduation. That week, the exuberance of youth got the best of him and the outcome was some front-end damage to the car.

The outcome of that fateful occurrence once again sidelined the car, but it reinforced his commitment to keep it and rebuild it. It ended up parked in his parent's driveway where it was eventually torn apart to a bare shell. The body was separated from the damaged frame and a donor car was purchased as part of the rebuild plan. Kirby's new direction with the El Camino was to once again replace more sheetmetal and paint it all in a Turquoise color. He eventually managed to get the body put back together and mated to the replacement frame, and he got it as far as painting the firewall and engine in the new color. As the build slowly progressed, creeping into the mid '90's, adulthood came knocking with a wife and kids to add to the equation.

With adult life thrust upon him, priorities came into play and the car ended up mothballed. He does point out, "I was continually buying parts at swap meets for it." To his credit, right after the accident, he had the foresight to order up an all-new front clip, rear quarters, and doorskins from the local Chevy dealer. At that point he was also working full-time at a collision shop, which further helped him hone his body and paint skills. As the years rolled by, the car sat dormant, however, progress was made on the propulsion side. On the engine stand was a new 400ci small-block built up with a forged rotating assembly and a set of ported RHS Pro Topline cast-iron heads. A streetable Bullet Cams bumpstick and Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold topped by an 850-cfm Holley double-pumper were his choice for the top end. The new plan included a Muncie M22 close-ratio four-speed, which would send the power back to the GM 12-bolt rear packed with Richmond 4.11:1 gears.

As 2010 rolled in, his life had moved forward to the point that he could get back to putting the car together. A little older and wiser, Kirby had a rethink on what he wanted to do and decided on a more traditional look for the El Camino. That meant taking the body off the frame once again and repainting everything in a stock appearance. This also prompted the replacement of the bed floor, which is the only aftermarket panel on the car, and one that he admits was a real challenge to install. Along with that replacement, all the new sheetmetal was hung. From there it went off to Superior Paint & Collision in New Holland, Pennsylvania, where Kirby rented the paint booth to lay down the final color coats. The paint choice was inspired by the color of his daily driver, a Dark Toreador Metallic 1998 Chevy pickup. Using Superior's paint system, he was able to mix that shade and add pearl to it.

It was a long five years of evenings and weekends spent in the garage that culminated with the car finally breaking cover in 2015. Since then, the suspension has been enhanced with some UMI Performance and QA1 hardware, and a set of Champion Wheels Speed Series wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson Sportsman tires added at all four corners.

With the El Camino back on the road, he is once again enjoying driving the car. The added benefit of the quality of the finished product is that it is now also an award-winning show car, which is an activity that he and his wife enjoy doing together.

Tech Check

Owner: Kirby Hanna, Leola, Pennsylvania

Vehicle: 1971 El Camino


Type: GM 400ci cast-iron small-block

Displacement: 6.6 liters

Compression Ratio: 10.8:1

Bore: 4.125 inches

Stroke: 3.750 inches

Cylinder Heads: RHS Pro Topline cast-iron (ported and polished)

Rotating Assembly: Scat forged crank and Pro Sport H-beam 4340 forged connecting rods, SRP flat-top forged aluminum pistons

Camshaft: Bullet Cams custom-grind solid roller

Induction: Holley 850-cfm double-pumper carb, Edelbrock Victor Jr. aluminum intake manifold (port matched to cylinder heads), K&N air cleaner

Ignition: MSD Billet distributor, Blaster 2 ignition coil, and 6AL digital box; Moroso Blue Max Spiral Core plug wires

Exhaust: Hedman Hedders headers, 3.0-inch stainless steel system, Flowmaster Series 50 mufflers

Radiator: Stock Chevrolet brass four-core

Ancillaries: Billet Specialties valve covers, March aluminum pulleys, Weiand aluminum water pump

Machine Work: East End Speed (Ephrata, PA)

Assembly: Kirby Hanna

Output (at the crank): 600 hp


Transmission: 1971 Muncie M22 four-speed, Centerforce 11-inch clutch

Rear Axle: GM 12-bolt, Richmond 4.11:1 gears, Eaton Truetrac limited-slip, Strange Engineering 33-spline axles


Front Suspension: UMI Performance upper and lower adjustable control arms, 2-inch drop spindles, QA1 Pro Coil adjustable coilover shocks, UMI Performance sway bar

Steering: Stock box

Rear Suspension: UMI Performance 2-inch drop coil springs, QA1 Stocker Star shocks

Brakes: Stock rotors, single-piston calipers, front; stock 10-inch drums, rear; stock dual master cylinder

Wheels & Tires

Wheels: Champion Wheels Speed Series 15x3.5 (1.75-inch backspace) front, 15x8 (4.5-inch backspace) rear with X Beadlock

Tires: Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R 26x7.50-15 front, Sportsman ET Street Radial 275/60-R15 rear


Upholstery: Seats done by Roger Hoover, headliner by Sam Ellingsworth, Custom Rags (Glenmoore, PA)

Material: Black cloth and vinyl

Seats: Stock GM

Steering: Stock Super Sport wheel, stock column

Shifter: Hurst Competition/Plus

Dash/Console: Stock GM

Instrumentation: Stock instrument cluster, AutoMeter auxiliary gauges

Audio: Stock GM radio


Body: Stock

Body Prep and Paint By: Kirby Hanna

Paint: PPG Deltron DCB basecoat/clearcoat custom Dark Toreador Metallic mix

Hood: GM stock cowl-induction


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Autos Magazine: Homebuilt 1971 El Camino with 400ci Small-Block and Award-Winning Looks
Homebuilt 1971 El Camino with 400ci Small-Block and Award-Winning Looks
Kirby Hanna bought this 1971 Chevy El Camino in high school and spent close to 30 years building and re-building it into the show-winner you see here.
Autos Magazine
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