Muscle cars were an outgrowth of American youth's fascination with drag racing's quarter-mile competitions.

For one brief and excitingperiod, the average American could walk into a new-car dealer, writea check that didn't require a loan lasting more than three years anddrive away with a bona-fide racing car.

Muscle cars is what we call the class of autos with high-performance engines produced from 1964 to 1972.

Their heyday was brief. Anincreasing awareness of safety and emissions concerns in the early 1970s, plus soaring insurance premiums, caused muscle cars to vanish from the showroom floors almost as quickly as they had arrived a decade earlier.

But they continue to glow fiercely in the hearts of their present owners -- like Elbert "Ben" Reed of Eldersburg. Reed, likemany automobile enthusiasts, makes collecting, restoring and drivingthese cars a fascinating hobby.

Reed's pride and joy is a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS. The car with a big-block,396-cubic-inch engine hasbeen restored to its original condition. While some take their restored Camaros to the drag strip to race, Reed takes his spotless car tocustom car shows.

Reed's son, Roger, purchased the Camaro five years ago for a little more than $1,000. The car ran poorly and needed extensive body work. His son started working on it, but before he could finish the car, Roger passed away.

Following Roger's death, Reed decided to finish his son's project. He had a car and a purpose. Ittook five long years.

"I worked on it off and on for five years,"said Reed. "Everything was taken apart, dismantled and redone. We stripped the inside and outside and repainted it."

Reed always had been good with his hands and anything mechanical. But he admits he couldn't have completed the project without his son-in-law, Arthur Martin of Mount Airy, who did the sanding and reassembling.

"I thought it was taking forever," recalled Reed. "Then again, I was in no big hurry. I decided doing it right was more important than doing it in a hurry."

Reed has joined the local Camaro Club and attends shows with his wife, Laura, whenever he can. The car is now worth more than $12,000.

Like many others, Reed is not stopping with his first project. With the Camaro restored to showroom condition, he ordered a 1923 Ford Model-T Bucket Kit.

"I decided to do something different. Ialways wanted a street rod," said Reed. "You can't find an original frame or body anymore, so you have to buy a kit."

Unlike the Camaro, Reed, 55, expects to have the customized Model-T roadster ready for the road in less than one year, since he retired from the BaltimoreCounty Fire Department in January.

Reed expects to pick up the T-Bucket Kit from Total Performance in Connecticut within the next month. Although the car comes in kit form, there will be plenty of work to keep him busy.

Once the roadster is assembled, painted and upholstered, Reed will add a 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet engine.

With his new project, Reed won't have any trouble keeping busy during retirement.Stan Dillon will be on vacation the next two weeks. His column will resume on March 1.

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