Muscle Car Review - - Contents - Drew Hardin mcreview@sbc­global.net

Just got back from the Carlisle Chevro­let Na­tion­als, and I’m work­ing on a full re­port for next month’s is­sue.

Well, what I’ll have is a re­port on the Solid Lifter Show­room, a dis­play of rare, ul­tra­high-per­for­mance mus­cle cars cu­rated by Brian Hen­der­son and Joe Swezey of the Su­per Car Work­shop. The show­room is in­doors, so while two days of rain nearly washed out the show out­side, we were dry in­side trad­ing sto­ries about the no­table Detroit iron parked around us.

There was Mike Chro­nis­ter’s 1969 Ca­maro SS396, per­fectly pre­served since the day he bought it in 1974, now show­ing just 27,000 miles on the odome­ter and all its day-two equip­ment still in­tact and pris­tine.

Across from Mike’s Ca­maro was Jimmy Jones’s 1968 RS/ SS Ca­maro, one of 200 or so equipped with the alu­minum­headed L89 396. Some­where in the car’s past that engine was pulled, but a pre­vi­ous owner man­aged to find the engine, in Penn­syl­va­nia, and re­unite it with the car, which was in Vir­ginia.

Tim Schell brought an im­mac­u­late, three-owner 1969 COPO Ca­maro from Toronto that be­came some­thing of a lo­cal ur­ban leg­end when it dis­ap­peared in the 1980s. Like­wise Mark Prunesti showed a 1969 Chev­elle SS396 that had been “put up,” in his words, way back in 1978.

Of all the sto­ries I heard that week­end, though, two stood out—and nei­ther was about a car in the Solid Lifter Show­room.

Imag­ine wak­ing up one day to dis­cover that your mus­cle car is some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent from what you thought it was. That’s what hap­pened to Don Martens Jr. back in the 1980s, when a friend called about his 1969 Ca­maro. It was a beloved car Don had owned for years, sil­ver in color and pow­ered by a 327 Corvette mo­tor. The friend, though, had news: Su­per Chevy mag­a­zine had pub­lished the

VINs of the 69 ZL1 Ca­maros that had been built in 1969. Don’s car’s VIN was on the list. As he told me, “I was thrilled and sick to my stom­ach at the same time.”

Don’s Ca­maro had been one of five brand new ZL1s that were stolen from a Chevy deal­er­ship. The car was found stripped of its driv­e­train, wheels, and tires. The in­sur­ance com­pany in­stalled the 327 so the car could be resold.

Don has had the Ca­maro in stor­age for years, and has been col­lect­ing N.O.S. parts for its restora­tion. Su­per Car Work­shop will han­dle the job, and Brian Hen­der­son is go­ing to doc­u­ment the restora­tion for a se­ries of ar­ti­cles that will run in fu­ture is­sues.

As for the se­cond story: Brian in­vited me to par­tic­i­pate in a cou­ple of sem­i­nars about the in­ner work­ings of the au­to­mo­tive book and mag­a­zine in­dus­try. I was joined on the dais by Phil Bor­ris, who wrote the out­stand­ing Echoes of Nor­wood book about the his­tory of the Nor­wood assem­bly plant and the lives of its line work­ers; and Matt Avery, who has writ­ten a new book for CarTech called COPO: Chevro­let’s Ul­ti­mate Mus­cle

Cars (which will be out in early Septem­ber).

Dur­ing the sem­i­nar, when asked about what I was look­ing for in mag­a­zine fea­ture cars, I said what I’ve writ­ten here of­ten: It’s the car’s story I’m most in­ter­ested in. I want cars with his­tory, a hu­man el­e­ment that read­ers can re­late to.

Af­ter the sem­i­nar a young man walked up and said, “Have I got a story for you.” He then got so choked up about what he wanted to say that his wife spoke for him. They were lo­cal, had opened a body shop about a year ago, but were strug­gling. Not just fi­nan­cially, but per­son­ally, work­ing hard to stay clean af­ter some trou­ble with “the devil’s candy,” as he put it.

Three things were help­ing their re­cov­ery. Both of them had found God and were re­ly­ing on their new­found faith to bol­ster their so­bri­ety. A nearby auto shop full of hard par­ty­ing bad ac­tors had closed, re­mov­ing some temp­ta­tion from their lives. And a client had brought them a car to re­store, a 1967 Im­pala. He con­sid­ered it “su­per­nat­u­ral,” he said, that this car ar­rived to bring them some pur­pose. A real God shot.

He didn’t want any­thing from me, made no re­quest for free parts or a write-up in the mag­a­zine. He was just com­pelled to share, since I had asked for sto­ries.

I have to tell you, of all the sto­ries I heard that week­end, that one left the big­gest im­pres­sion. Maybe it wasn’t just the story. Maybe it was be­cause of the look in his eyes, the look of a man who has seen dark­ness but is com­ing out, eyes welling up in the bright­ness, and us­ing, of all things, a 1967 Im­pala as the life­line to a bet­ter world.

I’ve heard this hobby called a lot of things. Redemp­tive is a new one.

“He was just com­pelled to share”

n Learn­ing, once again, that our cars are so much more than just metal, glass, and rub­ber.

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