Even as a young boy, Mike Kochanski was infatuated with V-8-powered machines made to move fast.
He regularly walked to a Des Plaines shop, Grand Automotive, to look at and fantasize about the muscle cars on display there, longing for one of his own. Along his well-worn path, he would stroll by a Union 76 gas station where his lifelong passion for Chevrolet's sporty Camaro was fanned into flames.
"The early 70s were a truly magical time. There were muscle and performance cars everywhere," the Inverness resident said.
Every time young Mike would walk by the station, his eyes locked onto a LeMans Blue 1969 Camaro Z/28 with white rally stripes, owned by the mechanic, Skip. "I went right home and told my mom that someday I was going to own one myself," he recalls.
Eight years later, Kochanski accomplished that goal. As an 18-year-old, he purchased a high school friend's well-worn, street-raced '69 Camaro.
"The car had been rode hard but it didn't matter one bit. I was simply in cruising heaven," Kochanski said. For several carefree years, he drove the Camaro daily, "fixing needed items along the way."
In 1983, with a new career blossoming and insufficient funds to do a proper restoration, Kochanski decided to park his childhood Chevy dream in storage. "It had prior accident damage and a proper restoration would require extensive bodywork," he said.
Renewed interest in this beloved bruiser emerged in the summer of 2005, when Kochanski started frequenting local car shows with his wife, Kathy, who encouraged her gear-head husband to restore his former rolling love. In 2008 the project commenced and Kochanski pulled his classic ride out of its warehouse cocoon, only to find the coupe's condition had deteriorated even further.
"The building's leaky roof caused even more rust and mice had built a large nest in the back seat," he said.
Undeterred, the garage wrencher dismantled the car down to a shell in six weekends' time and shipped the body to Precision Paint and Body in Cedarburg, Wis. There, the contorted metal was straightened, smoothed and sprayed in its glossy, mechanic Skip-inspired cobalt hue, complete with track-ready rally stripes.
Kochanski stayed busy at home rebuilding an engine, Muncie four-speed transmission and rear differential. While this genuine Z/28 came equipped with a 302-cubic-inch V-8, the original engine was gone by the time Kochanski purchased the car. He opted to bolt in a finely tuned 327 c.i. V-8 he rebuilt himself. This new powerplant exhales through a stainless steel Dynatech system, while halting responsibilities are taken care of by Wilwood front disc brakes.
The once rodent-infested interior was gutted and swapped for all new parts, including the optional comfort weave seat covers to replace the original lackluster vinyl.
The transformed car returned from the body shop on April 30, 2010, and by July 1 Kochanski had the car completed.
"It's perfect. Everything works together flawlessly," he said. So much so, Kochanski and his son drove the Chevy to the 2011 Hot Rod Power Tour and logged 940 miles in just three days. Another journey was to Wisconsin to present the restored Z/28 to his high school buddy, the one who sold him the Camaro decades earlier.
This pristine showpiece also can be regularly seen parked at the Downers Grove, Mundelein, South Barrington, Wheaton and Palatine cruise nights.
"I've owned this car for 31 years," Kochanskisaid, "and it's now a part of me and a dream come true."