Home-Built Hero: Blake Bender’s ’79 Camaro

Is there a car from a television show that you instantly made an impression on you? Maybe ist was the ’67 Camaro from the movie Better Off Dead, the ’70 Chevelle from Dazed and Confused, or the C10 truck from Fall Guy. There is no arguing that movie cars leave an indelible mark on us.

Blake Bender is from a small town called Fennimore, Wisconsin, and started his email by saying, “It all began when I was 15 years old. I was interested in cars and would help my dad in the shop. I’m sure I drove him nuts with my 20 questions along the way! Eventually, I scraped up some extra cash from helping in the shop and parting out cars in my free time. I talked dad into doing a father and son project.”

79 Camaro

Very humble beginnings.

Blake told us he was initially looking for a ’70 to ‘73 Camaro, but knew it would be tough to find one within reach of his meager budget. But, he remembered the ’78 to ‘81 body style from watching the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High and thought they were pretty cool.

“I scoured Craigslist for months, dragging dad to look at every car in my price range,” says Blake. “It was no surprise that everyone we looked at that was in my price range had been beaten to hell and back. It tool a while, but  eventually, I found my ’79. It had been listed for a couple months and I kept going back to the posting. Finally, dad agreed to go check it out with me.”

When the two Bender men met with the lady that owned the car, they learned a lot of history about the project. She had bought it while in high school as her first car, and her soon-to-be ex-husband had begun a restoration on it for her. “Due to the divorce, she wanted to sell the car. It was in pieces, and in multiple storage units,” Blake states. “She was asking $2,300, but after some negotiating I bought it for $1,200. We gathered up all the parts we could find for it and headed home.”

79 Camaro

The engine is a 377ci mill with aluminum heads. According to Blake, it is making roughly 400 hp to the wheels. Behind that is a Turbo 350 and 3.73 gears in the 10-bolt.

Blake spent the next year gathering parts and more cash to begin working on the project. “It needed inner and outer rockers, quarter-panels, and some floor work,” says Blake. For the next two years, the Bender team spent every spare minute they could gather working on the car. Then, tragedy struck. “I was in town one day when the tornado siren went off. I called my parents, as I knew they couldn’t hear it from their house,” Blake says. “Moments later, the tornado had destroyed our old shop and paint booth, it looked like a war zone at night. I didn’t get much sleep. The next morning, dad and I walked outside to see the damage. It was worse in the daylight. The look on dad’s face was devastating. Everything my parents had worked for had been taken away in a second.”

79 Camaro

It definitely took a lot of work to get the interior looking this good.

The shop was still standing, but barely. Blake almost didn’t have the heart to go see what had been done to his pride and joy. “We finally gathered up the courage to go take a look. To our surprise, the car was still on the jack stands,” says Blake. “It had a couple chips in the paint, but it was safe! The battery charger was the only thing that saved it from the tool box landing on the front end! A neighbor brought his logging truck over and used the clam to lift up on the garage roof, so we could get the car out.”

After the clean up they began the process of building a new shop. Blake and his dad spent every weekend building it and did most of the work themselves. After two years, the new shop was completed and work on the Camaro could begin once again.

“We worked hard on it for a month straight in order to get it ready for its first show, and ended up taking First place,” quipped Blake. “I still have a few bugs to work out, but every time I look in my garage and see that car, it puts a smile on my face. From the memories of working on it with my dad, to the friends I’ve met along the way, it’s been a journey that is something I’ll never forget.”

79 Camaro

A proud Blake with his dad and first trophy.

Do you want to read about more Home-Built Heroes? All you need to do is click here. If you own a Home-Built Hero, we want to hear about it. Since we’ve started the series, we have received more than a few candidates, but we still want to see more – we can never get enough. If you want to see more cars built by you the readers, send us a few pictures of your car showing the engine, interior, and exterior, along with all of the pertinent information, and we’ll make you Internet famous. You can send your submissions to [email protected].

About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
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