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.