Despite many hours spent at work and having a family with two young kids, 43-year-old restaurant owner Martin Zedn from Genarp (a small country village in the very southern part of Sweden) manages to find time to "cook up" stuff in the garage. Martin and his buddy, Hans Altenhammar- who is also a chef and just as into cars as Martin is-own a restaurant and a catering company. The two met while working at the Grand Hotel in Lund, Sweden, where they soon discovered they both had a serious weakness for American cars built before 1970-and especially customized pickups!
"It's the sound and the power of a V-8 that makes both our hearts tick faster. It's that simple!" Martin said. "There are many cars that are visually appealing, but it's the entire package that counts. When you combine styling and a potent V-8, the American pickups are true winners."
After the daily chores of running a new restaurant had found its form and things had settled in, Martin and Hans agreed that if they could smoothly run a restaurant together, they should also be able to own and perhaps rebuild a car together. "Part of our daily routine was to end the morning meeting with a peek in our stack of Auto Trader magazines," said Martin. "We've got more car magazines than cook books in the kitchen!"
Martin had owned a couple of semi-fun cars before, but nothing really worth mentioning. Hans, on the other, had owned a '92 Corvette and a 911 Porsche, plus a collection of 46 older lawnmowers! Yes, lawnmowers! It didn't take long before they started to look for a suitable car, preferably an El Camino, to base a project on. The initial hunt resulted in a mildly tweaked Chevy 327 small-block. "The price was right, so we had to have it," Martin said. "The plan was to use it as the powerplant in an El Camino."
It sounded like a good plan, but things changed when they found an ad for a prostreet '56 Ford F-100. The pair went and checked it out and liked what they saw. They reasoned that it was finished so they wouldn't have to spend a couple of years building, so they bought it figuring the few things they wanted to change were minor.
Two years later, Martin reminded Hans that they still had the Chevy 327 but no El Camino, so they decided to take the F-100 off the menu and start to think about what ingredients should be used for a delightful new customized dish called El Caliente. An El Camino with potential was quickly located. The car had just been imported from California by Hkan Johansson, owner of Mooneyes Sweden. The only problem was that the car was in Avesta, an eight-hour drive north from the restaurant.
Of course, that did not hold them back; they drove north after Hkan told them he'd bought the Camino at the Pomona Swap Meet and drove it from Los Angeles to New York before it was shipped to Sweden.
A deal was stuck, and the plan was to drive it back home and start the project. While chatting about Martin's and Hans' plans, Hkan found he had just about the same vision. The big difference in their perspectives, though, was that Hkan built cars for a living, and the chefs had limited time to customize a car.
So, instead of heading south with the El Camino, they left it in the good care of the previous owner. They all agreed it should get a more aggressive yet nostalgic look with some new ideas the chefs had cooked up during their kitchen sessions.
Even though the Mooneyes Sweden crew did the labor, Martin and Hans were still very much involved in the buildup (they lost track of how many trips they made to Avesta).
After the body was sandblasted, they discovered it was full of tiny rust holes, which took almost two months to fix. "When the bodywork was almost done, Hkan called to ask if we wanted to lift the body off the frame," remembered Hans. "I could not believe the body had notN been off the frame by then. Martin and I are not too keen on making compromises. That sort of set the standard for the rest of the project because Hkan then realized how serious we were."
As the frame was in the process of being freshened up, the chefs realize they needed air-ride suspension to get the look and the body rake they wanted to achieve.
Hkan had to take a break for a month a few times during the threeyear project, which gave Martin and Hans a chance to reflect on what had been done so far and refine their ideas. As chefs, they were used to thinking in terms of shapes, colors, symmetry, and harmony, and It was also important to try to avoid thinking mainstream. They got a lot of inspiration from various American magazines and found just the right wheels in a feature about a customized station wagon with air ride and 20-inch Budnik Gasser wheels. The duo also got a hold of a set of chrome reverse wheels with whitewalls and spider caps to give the pickup a true '60s look.
The entire front end of the El Camino is new: The hood was peaked with a handmade grille that was powdercoated black with new sheetmetal under a likewise peaked bumper made from two rear '69 Camaro bumpers. The rear also features a custom bumper, but this time made from two front '69 Camaro bumpers with two Corvette-style exhaust outlets beneath. A trio of '50 Pontiac taillights was added to each side of the custom rear. Hans got the idea for the sheetmetal pattern between the taillights when he saw one of the waitresses at their restaurant folding napkins. The area between the wings was modified and extended so they could have a flat bedcover.
Under the hood, the stock firewall was covered with a smooth piece of sheetmetal with a half-circle-shaped recess for the engine and air cleaner; the shape of the inner fenders mimics the air cleaner. The radiator was also covered to get the engine compartment as clean as possible.
The El Caliente project has been a special journey for Hkan, all starting with an $800 car in Pomona that took him across the u.S. to New York. "I never expected that a simple 'For Sale' ad in a trader paper would give me the opportunity to cook up a car like this with two chefs!" he said. "It has been a privilege to be part of this project and to have had some influence on the outcome."
Martin and Hans are also very pleased with the final result. They told us there is nothing on the El Camino they would like to redo or modify in any way. The only thing they did alter late in the project was to move in the grille 2 inches to give the front the correct, aggressive look they were after. The rear looks just gorgeous!
The guys haven't had much time to drive the pickup because of all the work with the restaurant, so they're kicking around the idea of selling it-maybe. But the El Camino has made them realize they perform better in the kitchen because it gave them a break from the daily stuff.