After nearly 15 years with the restoration man, the ’67 Camaro — my first car — returned home
Our grown kids came to the house (a first since the pandemic). So we went to the barn and looked at their inheritance: the 1967 Camaro convertible I’ve owned for 40 years.
We toted a battery charger, connecting the jumper cables. Sparks shot out of the dead battery and — mysterious smoke rose from elsewhere. My 30-year-old daughter (the attorney) made a hasty retreat (her survivor instinct to avoid fire, danger, and liability).
My 33-year-old son was bolder, getting the battery partially charged, then shifting to a slow trickle charger/maintainer. My memory flashed back to June 1983, the time flames shot out of this same hood, terrifying a neighbor who called a fire truck to douse my beautiful 327 V-8 with a fire extinguisher.
At some point, classic cars take on lives of their own
“Does she have a name?” my bride asked. In a half-whisper, I answered: “Muriel.”
My bride, the ultimate “glue” in the family, rolled her eyes at “the old lady name” but wisely knew not to probe any deeper. Someone once said of classic cars like this: “If you can park it and not turn around to look at it as you walk away, you haven’t bought the right car.’’
These are the kinds of cars that grab you like a sunrise over the ocean. You marvel at their beauty, their perfect, ordered symmetry, and the surprise that overwhelms you as you repeatedly stop, stare and gasp, “Wow.”
We bought the ’67 Camaro when I was 16 (when the car was 14). So this hunk of steel and I are nearly the same age, both past the half-century mark.
We aged together. We faced trouble and danger together.
It seemed like people left us alone if I kept her a little dirty or dusty. But whoever she was waxed and polished? Watch out.
One time, Muriel looked mint and perfect while I went into Detroit’s Club 500. I came out, and a hole had been sliced through her canvas roof so someone could steal my well-organized cassette tape collection and the knobs from the aftermarket radio.
For years, I repaired that hole by sewing some fishing line to seal up the scar. But as my income grew, my money went to help restore my treasure (replacing the convertible top but not the radio knobs).
Mostly, she sat and waited in the garage until 2006, when I remarried and moved out to the country. My late father-in-law had zero desire to make room in the barn for my Camaro at the time.
He kept his 1950 Farmall H tractor with the cracked frame (the one he bought used for $50) in that barn. My new bride’s cousin offered to restore the Camaro, and I told the great restoration artist the magic words: “Take your time.”
Nearly every year for a decade and a half, I’d get a call or text saying she was “almost ready,” just a couple more weeks, and another year would go by. After nearly 15 years apart, my “first car” came home.
It was like two separated twins reuniting decades later. And suddenly, the responsibility of caring for a half-century-old car returned too.
He explained the challenge: you fix one thing on an old classic, and then something else seems to need attention.
Some details remind you that little has changed: a piece of string around the rear power antennae is the same string that held balloons when this car drove homecoming queens during my high school parade in fall 1982.
“The inside of the old Camaro smelled like asphalt and desire, gasoline and dreams.” ― Maggie Stiefvater, The Dream Thieves.
The ’67 is the first of three Camaros I’ve owned over the years
Since 2017, I’ve driven a red 2015 fifth-generation Camaro, and from 1985 to 1990, I drove a 1985 third-generation Camaro (my first “new” car).
My 2015 Camaro is far faster, fuel-efficient, and more reliable than its predecessors. My ’67 Camaro with the 327 V-8 hits 275 hp. The ’85 Camaro with the 5.0 liter V-8 only produced 155 hp. But my 2015 Camaro with a smaller, 3.6 liter V-6 boasts 323 hp and gets far, far better mileage.
I turn the key, and my 2015 Camaro goes without argument or drama. I never even had to learn to pop the hood because the new car is problem-free.
The new car is a stunning vehicle, and I tell my kids, “In a world of gray SUVs, be the red Camaro.’’The one that stands out, the one that earns you compliments from random strangers in gas stations and parking lots years after you bought it.
The irony: the 2015 cost a mere $18,000 nearly new (after sitting on a car dealership lot for a couple of years), so it’s actually one of the most affordable vehicles I’ve ever owned.
But the ’67 Camaro will forever have its own magic because it was the first generation, and it’s far rarer. Chevrolet created it to answer the original Ford Mustang (and there is a clear resemblance), so there was just one ’67 Camaro for every four ’67 Mustangs.
You turn the tiny original Camaro key, and you hear an explosion of power, sound, and fury that makes mere mortals shake in their blah, boring worlds of conformity and normality.
Made in a time when people “worked on their own cars,” and when a 14-year-old (or older) car always needed some work or help, every drive was an adventure. The car rattled, shook, like an Apollo capsule taking you above the atmosphere. Would she fly apart? God only knew.
New cars drive (no drama). Old cars, like older people, are a mystery. Will they fire up today or fall apart? What new ailment or hidden surprise will take over the conversation?
The great lesson? People may love you — but no one wants your junk
“Ours is a culture and a time immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures.”
― Ray Bradbury.
Our age’s great downfall is we love things and use people when we are called to use things and love people. But the things take over because they rarely “talk back” or challenge you (unless they happen to be a ’67 Camaro).
So over time, they accumulate more and more space as they take over.
George Carlin taught us, “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” So we keep filling our square footage with more and more things that eventually become junk (but treasures to some).
After my in-laws died in 2013 and 2018, their “stuff,’’ became a challenge. The stuff that was worn out or junk was easily disposed of (we make great bonfires out in the country). The stuff we valued was assimilated.
But the great mystery was the much bigger, ever-growing “not sure” pile. Things that aren’t valuable to me can be recognized as things others may value, things we could sell. So they sit there waiting for us to get around to acting.
When I knew the Camaro was finally coming home, this gave me the incentive to take “fresh eyes” to clean out the old barn and things that had sat there for decades. It’s like a transplant: removing the guts of “stuff” from people who were there before and replacing them with something more valuable to you.
It became like a “gift of life,” removing the junk of others to replace it with your own treasures that will, of course, become trash to others.
Then along came our friend, Loni, down on her luck since being widowed. She has this habit of buying “junker” SUVs that are quickly worth less than their repair bills. Can she stay with us? Rent the basement?
Sure, we think. Help her get back on her feet. Clean the basement. Why not?
A new tenant sounds great — until we start hearing about her desires to “consolidate” her own junk here, the two beat-up junker SUVs she’ll sell (if anyone wants them), the piles of souvenirs of times long since past. We offer a Christmas gift, and she jokes about maybe we could find her a new husband too.
And that’s when the ultimate answer hit me: Finding her “a man” who will love her and change her life is actually the easy part of the challenge. The world is filled with lonely people who need each other, so they fall in love, marry and move in together. That’s actually the easier part.
People will always love you, but this is the key challenge of all relationships: NO ONE wants your junk. It doesn’t matter how great you think it may be. That’s where we get that phrase about a person bringing “baggage” into a new relationship. It’s not you repelling people: it’s your junk and the residue.
“A fine glass vase goes from treasure to trash, the moment it is broken. Fortunately, something else happens to you and me. Pick up your pieces. Then, help me gather mine.” ― Vera Nazarian.