Alvin Hilliard of Inglewood, CA had ideas of what his first complete body off restoration would be like. He had ideas for paint, ideas for stance, and ideas for what the finished car would be like when it emerged; however, ideas rarely become a reality, and if they do they are usually preceded by struggle. Only by meeting the right cast of people was his dream car finally able to come into existence
Hilliard bought the 1960 Chevrolet El Camino in 2001 from his brother. The car was a mess at first, “When I got the vehicle, I wanted to assure myself of what was going on under the paint. When I had it sandblasted, I found out that the floorboards were bad, all the coals, water channels, part of the door framing, the bed underneath was rust—rust—rust. I had to cut out all the ulcers, re-metal finish everything, put new floorboards in to get the car back to being solid,” said Hilliard.
He took the car to Bobby Cottrell of Cottrell Racing. “I meet Bobby, he was fresh out of high school. His father had Cordell Racing. I let him complete the engine and fabrication work,” says Hilliard.
Cottrell took on the car and built Big Block Chevy 427, custom ground roller cam, old school big port Hemi heads on it. The engine included a “4340 steel crank, h-beam rods, BDS 871 blower on, and dual 850 carburetors, comp camps adjustable roller rockers on it, should make around 850hp on 6-7psi of boost,” says Cottrell.
Cottrell Racing also took on the overall fabrication of the car, designing an 8-point cage that conforms to the front a-pillars, Cottrell comments that “[mirroring the a-pillars] flowed with the body really nice.”
They fabricated the “custom 2 1/8” headers for it because they don’t sell a big tube header for that particular car, [we built] a dual 3” mandrel bent exhausts with Magnaflow mufflers [that are] all band clamped together, [so] there are no gaskets throughout the exhaust,” exclaims Cottrell.
The car has a pro-touring mixed with Pro-mod drag racer inspiration, and that was by direction. Cottrell races nitro funny cars for a living, and he wanted this car to reflect his shops direction, so they infused that into Hilliard’s ’60 El Camino.
“We had custom aerospace components brakes made for it, their all anodized red, and billet aluminum,” says Cottrell, “I just wanted to make it a little different because everyone buys your off the shelf Wilwood brakes, or off the shelf Baer brakes to make it more of like a resto-mod, but … I wanted to give it the best of both worlds so for someone who knows what they are looking at, they will think ‘they went the extra mile to have the billet brakes put on it.’ It’s just not an off the shelf deal. Every part on the car was custom built.”
Hilliard now had a functionally sound car, but it was still missing the final touches. It needed paint, rims, and some special panels.
The color of a car can make or break a build, and the color that mesmerized Hilliard, he happened to walk by. “I saw a nice Harley Davidson sitting,” says Hilliard “and I’ve always been fascinated with the color burgundy. I saw the Harley, and I went over and asked the gentleman about his bike, what year it was. I then started looking up the color charts for that year of Harley [Davidson].”
Armed with the paint code information, Hilliard took his car to a few shops to get his El Camino painted, but his dream shade of burgundy was never right. “The color was too muddy,” decries Hilliard as it never mirrored the shade he saw on the Harley. Hilliard had the car painted two times, and still, he was unhappy with the paint. Despite it not being correct, he kept the project moving, taking the car to the next shop to have tin work fabricated.
He then sent the car to his friend Rudy Cereceres’ shop, Tin Works, in Oak Hills, CA. “I met him when I was at a high-performance shop in Whittier, [CA] and then our friendship just took off and he invited me up to his place. I moved forward and sent the car to his place and work his magic. He [does] very good work, very good quality, and on top of his game in every facet,” says Hilliard.
“I did all the inner fender panel work, all the engine bay metalwork,” says Cereceres, “I cut the hole out of the hood, built the framework around the hole. I had to move in the hood hinges, relocate them, because the wheels he originally wanted for that car when he aired it all the way down, it would hit the hood hinges in the factory location. I also built the fuel system, and the fuel tank and the basket that holds it, and plumbed the aluminum hardliners.”
Rudy pointed Hilliard to fellow builder and local Oak Hills shop owner, Osvaldo “Oz” Asencio of Wasp Auto, to finish the car.
At first, his “job was to tie up loose ends,” as Asencio says that “I was supposed to polish on it, but there were a lot of knicks and scratches.”
“I told him that if I sprayed it, I could clean it up a lot more. so that’s when it went in a different direction. We painted it and cleaned up the color and brought the paint up to a different standard,” said Asencio.
Still, the car’s ideas had not meshed into one overall vision, as Ascencio noted: “They had a lot of work done overall, but it didn’t have a theme” that tied the whole car together.
After the paint, “the conversation of wheels came up, and I didn’t think we were going to see eye to eye. I said pick out a few wheels and I’ll help you, figure out what you like and I’ll help you from there. The first two weeks I couldn’t see the vision, and then little by little, it started forming into something I could see. Then he threw the Forgelines at me. I thought it’s kind of wild, but I think we could pull it off. It was an oddball combination, and I felt the car was wild and we could pull that out” recalls Ascencio.
“Once we decided to go forward with those wheels, I could start to connect the dots, says Ascencio, who “start[ed] seeing a few things coming together. The interior. Originally it was a black/tan interior with a black cherry exterior. It wasn’t bad, but it just didn’t work. Just trying to stay—Alvin has a really wild taste. The only color that I could think would work was a black interior or maroon. For a 60’s car, I just always liked color matched interiors. I pitched that at him and he ran with it, and we ended up switching the colors and cleaning up the patterns. That’s the story of the car: we took what was there and tied it in better… once we had a theme and a color scheme going we able to start attaching it to try to create something that was much more cohesive. Then, we started dealing with the craftsmanship and attacking all of those little things. We took what he had and put it together in a better standard.”
Late in March 2019, a beautifully painted 1960 Chevy El Camino with air suspension, unique Forgeline rims, roll cage that mirrored the bend of the A-pillars, and two Holley Demon carburetors that sat atop of a chromed BDS 871 supercharger and big block Chevy motor, rolled out onto the street. Alvin’s dream had finally become a reality, and all of the many ideas have come together, blending into a perfect car. It was a struggle that is now fondly looked by Hilliard and Ascencio as “we started working, and then we started meshing—then it was like we were making smooth jazz. That’s what the car should be named,” said Ascencio, “Smooth Jazz.” Hopefully, the car keeps on jamming for many miles to come.