25 October 2006

The Great '68 Camaro Giveaway

On June 30, 2006, I gave my pride and joy to my son Shawn. He’s the same age as my ‘68 Camaro convertible and at the age of 63, I figured it was time to pass it on. Here’s my story…

I bought the Camaro as a pile of junk from the very back row of a huge Minnesota junkyard in the spring of 1982. It was rusted out right up to the top of the doors and the floor had a 4-inch diameter tree growing through it. It had evidently been there for awhile. I had recently ended my long drinking career and needed a new place to spend my money. The Camaro was definitely that place! I had never taken on a project like this before but had always wanted to.

In those days there weren't many catalogs dealing with Camaros, so I scrounged every junkyard in a three-state area for any parts I could find. Within two years, I had managed to bring the car back to life. New top, but everything else was used. I think I found the last few '68 Camaro parts left in the Midwest. I didn't do anything close to a professional restoration at the time, but the car did start to look good. I started getting those thumbs up looks from people on the street. The car had a 327 in it when I first found it, but the engine was beyond repair. I found out a short time later from "people in the know" that the whole car was beyond repair, but what did I know? I put in a used 350 engine and all was well, for a while.

Because the car was so far gone when I started, I had to constantly replace things as they broke, but I managed to keep it on the road for several more years. In 1986 I even took it on a 5,600 mile road trip out to Seattle, down the coast to San Francisco, then over to Las Vegas, and finally back home to Minneapolis. I got those thumbs up signals all the way! There just weren't very many Camaro convertibles on the road, back then.

In 1989 I was working for a small frame-straightening company, and my boss talked me into doing the car right. He said it would take about one year. Yeah, right!

Three years later, I finally got my Camaro back. For a lot of labor on the restoration, I basically traded my wages for the work being done. There were many times when I got very discouraged while the car was in pieces. It was scattered all over the shop, and I couldn't imagine it ever being a car again. It looked like something that had gone through a war. The more they took off, the more rust they found. I ended up replacing almost the entire car! We bought original equipment when possible. General Motors still had fenders in stock. The rear fenders came to us with the coupe posts so we had to cut them off; same with the rocker panels. They had to be taken apart so the extra supports could be added for the convertible. There were many problems during the rebuild but it eventually got done. It was a professional job and the final tally was astronomical! That was OK with me; this was my baby and anything it needed, it got! It was too late to back out now.

Suddenly I found myself going to those Friday and Saturday night "Oldies cruises" where people sit on chairs on either side of the street to watch the classics drive by. Now they were giving me the thumbs-up signal with both hands! "Camaros rule! Camaros are forever!" My ego was right up there, but by now my bank account was right down there!

In 2001, I hit a deer with the Camaro and tore the whole front end off. More money! It was at this time that I found out about insurance! From day one I had carried full coverage on the Camaro. Because I was never informed about classic car insurance, I had driven the Camaro for years thinking that I was covered. Not so!! The insurance company I had been with for many years informed me that they considered the Camaro just a "1968 unit" and would only pay me what a "1968 unit" was worth. I went round and round with them, and we finally agreed on a payment that would meet the cost of repair half way. I immediately cancelled my policy with them and got a new one with Hagerty.

I figured as long as I had to replace the whole front end, why not put in a new engine and tranny too. The car now had a high performance 350 Z-28 in it and a 350 turbo tranny, new fenders, custom tuned exhaust, the whole nine yards!

I was 58 years old then, and I started thinking about where this was going to end. My son, Shawn, is the same age as the Camaro, and I had decided long ago that I’d eventually pass the car on to him. I had lost contact with him over the years due to certain things in my life, and we had only recently regained a relationship after many, many years.

Once I let Shawn know he would inherit the Camaro, I started stalling on just when the event would take place. I managed to put it off for a few years, but in 2005 I decided to hand it over the next year. I wanted to take the Camaro to my next class reunion (which took place in Rapid City, South Dakota, this past June). Shawn has always been a "Chevy guy,” but it took his girlfriend's e-mails to me to let me know just how much he wanted the car.

I took my ‘68 Camaro convertible to the 45th class reunion, which was my goal. When it was over, I found myself with no more excuses to keep the car. It was finally time to downsize and I had made the commitment. My friends thought I was crazy to just give the car away. But I knew it was the right thing to do.

As a joke, I told Shawn I was selling him the Camaro for $1.47. I hate round numbers! He agreed. I sent him the title and a bill of sale for $1.47 for a Christmas gift. I began wondering how I would feel once the car was gone. The Camaro had been the only thing to stick with me over the years. What would I do now?
Shawn drove from Missoula to Rapid City (where I now live) and we rented a trailer so he could take the Camaro – take it out of my life after 24 years!

On the morning of June 30, Shawn sat at my kitchen table and calmly wrote out a check for $1.47. That check is now framed, along with a short history of the car and two before and after pictures. It hangs on my living room wall.

I don't miss the Camaro at all...well, maybe. In fact, I’m now a "biker guy!" My grandson will inherit the car next when he is 38 – the same age my son was when he took over ownership.

– Marlyn Lund


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