The Camaro Restoration Story

There's an old adage that "many hands make light work." At Hagerty, many hands worked together to restore one sweet muscle car.

Over a 21-month period that began on Sept. 20, 2011, more than 100 Hagerty employees took part in resurrecting a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro that had been totaled in a collision. The car will return to the road in time to compete in the 2013 Great Race, then it will spend the remainder of the summer appearing at classic car events around the country.

That wasn’t what Hagerty CEO/President McKeel Hagerty had in mind when he created an employee restoration program three years ago (the first car in the program was a 1930 Model A). He simply wanted to give his team an opportunity to experience a restoration for themselves so they could feel a sense of accomplishment and also better relate to the clients they serve. Any accolades or opportunities to take part in events like the Great Race are simply icing on the cake.

"Of course, he went on to say that he’d set the car on fire and had punched a bunch of holes in the fender"

Everyone has heard stories about the time and effort that go into a restoration, but it isn’t the same as actually doing one,” Hagerty said. “What makes the Camaro an interesting car story is that more than 100 people worked on restoring it. Having been totaled, it was all but gone to the world. So for us to take it on was a huge project. It took a long time – hundreds and hundreds of hours, but restoring a car that had been in a major collision was a great learning opportunity for us. It’s the business we’re in; we pay claims like this all the time. But fixing one is an altogether different thing.

"This has been a learning experience for everybody, particularly those in the claims department. How do you source parts? How do you fix body panels? What do you fix and what do you replace?"

McKeel said he knew the project was making an impact when he was approached by an employee that “if I had to bet, had never touched any kind of tool before."

"He said, 'I learned how to weld today,'" McKeel said. "Of course, he went on to say that he’d set the car on fire and had punched a bunch of holes in the fender, but those are the types of experiences we’re looking to gain."

Project manager Davin Reckow said employees from all departments and skill levels gravitated toward the restoration – many came onboard after hearing how much their co-workers had enjoyed it and learned from it.

“A restoration is something a lot of people wouldn’t normally pursue on their own, whether it’s due to a lack of money, equipment or tools, or maybe they don’t believe that they have the talent,” Davin said. “But I’ve tried to convey to people that they shouldn’t be intimidated by this. They’re afraid to try; they think they can’t weld or they can’t do this or that. Yes, there’s a chance they’ll make a mistake. But mistakes are expected – and fixable. That’s why we’re here. That was the idea behind it. This is not rocket science. The biggest challenge of any restoration is having the stamina, determination, commitment and patience to finish it. And you have to know when to ask questions – which is always. Never be afraid to reach out to people with more knowledge.”

The payoff, Davin said, is huge.

Davin said deciding on a car to restore was a matter of timing.

"We needed a project, and we hadn’t found the ’51 Buick (the next employee restoration project). If we’d already found the Buick, we might not have gotten the Camaro. But it had the appeal – eye-catching color and style. It’s iconic. It was meant to be."

McKeel said the Camaro isn’t just a car. Not to those who’ve worked on it.

“It’s special. It doesn’t matter what it’s worth,” he said. “It’s worth more to us for what we’ve learned from it than any amount of money we could sell it for. It isn’t going anywhere.

“I grew up working on cars and restoring cars in the household garage with my dad, and I’m just a believer that you stand a little taller when you’ve actually worked on something and you turn that key over and the engine starts. That’s a powerful moment."

"There are hundred or so people who’ve worked on this car, and I hope that every single one of them who wants to drive it gets to drive it. It’s the personal connection they have to it that makes it cool. It sort of belongs to all us."