12 May 2016

Ask the Woman Who Owns One: Lisa Healy and her 1968 Camaro

This young architect bought a Camaro at age 13 and restored it.

Lisa Healy was just 10 years old when she decided she wanted a car. And she was mighty particular about which one.

“I wanted a 1968 Camaro,” said Healy, now 25 and an architect. “I’m not even sure why. It couldn't be a ‘67 or a ‘69. It had to be a ‘68.”

As a 10-year-old, the Seattle native was likely not thinking of the minor trim updates and the ventless side glass that distinguished the ’68 Camaro from the ’67. She just had that model year in her head, and that was that. The youngster was also certain of two other things: she wanted to work on it herself, and she wanted to paint it red.

Healy began saving her money, researching Camaros and looking at cars for sale on craigslist and eBay. Her father, Tom, took her seriously and offered to help locate a car and work on it with her.

“My dad is an electrical engineer, and he likes to work on projects with his hands,” she said, adding that restoring a car would also be new ground for him.

They found a car when she was 13, and her parents loaned her money to buy it.

It was an ideal car for the project, a base model with a 250 cubic-inch straight-six and three-speed stick. It was turquoise with a front bumblebee stripe and black interior. The car, with 80,000 miles, was completely original. Healy was essentially the second driver. The first owner had died years before, and his widow held onto the car, just driving it once a year for a checkup and any needed service. She sold it to a man who had too many other projects and he, in turn, sold it to Healy.

“It was a good car to start with, because it didn't require much body work,” she said.

They did need to replace a quarter panel, but the car had no other serious rust. Its interior was in generally excellent shape, with no tears or cracks. There was no room in the family garage for the Camaro, so they put up a carport tent. For the next three years, father and daughter worked on the car most days, and in all weather conditions.

“It got pretty cold in winter, especially touching metal parts,” Healy said. “My dad researched and learned as much as he could. Everything just took time. You had to be patient. It was a lot of trial and error. But the classic cars are so simple, you can really see everything that's going on.”

The one major mechanical upgrade they made was replacing the three-speed transmission with a four-speed. Putting in the transmission was a challenge, she remembers.

“I was [young],” Healy said. “It was just dad and me. We had the car on jacks, so there wasn’t much room to work. I definitely got some scrapes and bruises from that.”

Installing the headliner was no picnic, either, taking them a day and causing many frustrating moments. Healy and her father did all the work except the paint, which was shot by a family friend in his home workshop. Healy stuck with her original instinct, getting the car sprayed in red with white Z/28 stripes.

The Camaro was finished when Healy was 16, and she drove the car to Bishop Blanchet High School, a co-ed Catholic institution in the Green Lake section of Seattle. On her first day, one of the nuns was waiting for a promised first ride. She’d been following the Camaro’s progress for nearly four years. When Healy pulled up, one of the school’s priests was also waiting, and the three went for a spin, beeping the horn and waving to the other students and teachers.

“I was always a shy person at school,” Healy recalled. “The car became a good conversation starter. People would ask, ‘Is that your car? Did you borrow that from your dad?’”

A favorite place to drive was the Lake City location of Dick’s Drive-In, a Seattle burger legend, with Janis Joplin playing on the Camaro’s hidden aftermarket stereo.

“I learned to drive stick on that car” Healy said. “In Seattle, with the hills, it was pretty terrifying.”

Healy did not drive the Camaro while attending the University of Washington, where she studied architecture. One of her professors, Brad Khouri, later hired her at his firm, b9 architects, which specializes in “urban infill” and green architecture in Seattle. Another employee, Caroline Davis, drives a vintage BMW 2002.

The Camaro inspired a family trend. Healy’s brother, Ross, 28, later restored a 1969 Chevy Nova, and her sister, Rebecca, 19, bought a 1968 Firebird to work on.

Healy moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., last year and continues designing for b9. She misses the Camaro, and has considered bringing it east. She’d also like to upgrade its performance. Around the same time that she bought the car, she also got a four-barrel carbureted, 350-ci V-8 originally installed in a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS and wanted to install it as part of the restoration. Her father, however, felt the six would be better for the young driver.

“I complained about it then, but I understand now,” she said. “We’ll get it in there eventually.”

32 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Morgan Feldman Durham, North Carolina May 18, 2016 at 15:39
    Beautiful job! Put that car on a moving van or rail car and ship it! It cost me about $500 to ship my 1968 Firebird (Convertible w the 400 cid) from Redlands, CA to North Carolina. That was in 1993, but it's not that much considering. Mine is all original, new paint in the 1980's and a new top---but "un-restored".
  • 2
    Brian Giffin TEXAS May 18, 2016 at 16:13
    Brings a tear to my eye since Healy's car is nearly identical to my first car, a blue 1968 Camaro with a 230 CI 6 cyl. I paid $700 for the car which had 52,000 miles on it. Of course this was in 1974, so that was a lot of money back then! And my dad and I restored the car. I wish I had that car back today to restore again!
  • 3
    Wayne Ontario May 18, 2016 at 16:28
    Yes, it had to be a '68. I have an original '83 L69 Z28, but I must admit that the '68 is the best looking Camaro. I owned a '68 briefly, and still regret selling it.
  • 4
    Terri Bacsi Ohio May 18, 2016 at 16:32
    Awesome story - My dad and I did the same thing with a 1968 Camaro Convertible. I bought it when I was 15, had the money to buy and dad paid for the restoration parts and we did it all ourselves - except paint same as you a friend came in and sprayed it. Great memories - I am 53 now and still have it and wouldn't part with it!! Bring your car East and enjoy it!!
  • 5
    Harvey LeBegue Greenville, Il. May 18, 2016 at 16:33
    It's good to see a good article about someone young, undertaking a project like this. Most kids would just want Mom & Dad to buy a new car for them. I would imagine her drive and ambition helped her get to where she is today. She will never forget the time spent with her father.
  • 6
    Al Davis Kansas May 18, 2016 at 16:45
    Terrific story! The '68 Camaro is one of my favorites too. My parents bought a '68 (a red one) just as I was turning 16. I learned how to drive a stick in that beauty and I thought I was pretty cool when they let me take it out. I sure wish we still had that old Camaro!
  • 7
    Jeff Mi May 18, 2016 at 16:47
    Did she play some Joplin for the priest and nuns on the joy ride?
  • 8
    Dr Lefreit NY May 18, 2016 at 17:01
    Theft in Brooklyn is high, be careful.
  • 9
    peter cook san rafael California May 18, 2016 at 17:19
    Great Job , In 1952 I bought a 1936 Ford And restored it to A Hot Rod . Then in my 70s I bought a 1932 Ford on the back of a pick up and I restored it to win 1St place at the Grand National Hot Rod show in 1998 . Now in my 82 birthday I'm restoring a 1955 Chev pick up . Keep up the great work and good luck When you are a restorer of old cars in or about 16 years old you keep it up even in your 80's
  • 10
    CLAY MARSTON ONTARIO, CANADA May 18, 2016 at 17:50
  • 11
    Jerry Albrecht Portsmouth, OH. May 18, 2016 at 17:54
    So what restoration did this 13 year old girl actually do to this Camaro ?
  • 12
    Dustin Western North Carolina May 18, 2016 at 18:10
    My dad and I did a similar project at the same ages. Mine was a Triumph TR6. I now collect Mustangs. Best memories of my childhood are working on that car.
  • 13
    William Brown New Brunswick, Canada May 18, 2016 at 18:15
    I bought a 68 Camaro when I graduated from high school, in 68, and it is still here with me...and when i am done with it my son gets it. Has been a wonderful car over the years, and just now finishing a restoration on it. White, blue interior, 327, 275 horse 4 speed...I am so happy for you and your family for choosing a 68 to restore...car looks awesome and u have done a great job...please never sell it..it belongs in your family after all this time...Congrads
  • 14
    Bob Poulsbo WA May 18, 2016 at 18:59
    WOW! Good for you Healy. By the by, I went to Nathan Hale and spent many Friday nights hanging out at Dick's in 1966.
  • 15
    Bill Puskas CA May 18, 2016 at 19:11
    Great story! Thanks for sharing! Dad and daughter will always have that bond...
  • 16
    Bruce L. Pearson Mesilla Park, NM May 18, 2016 at 19:26
    I am tremendously impressed with this story. Not only did a 13 year old girl have the idea and the perseverance to do all this work, but also that her dad had enough faith in her to help her buy the car and then spend three years of his spare time helping her with the restoration. Swapping a transmission and also doing the interior are a lot of work! Congratulations to Lisa and to her Mom and Dad.
  • 17
    Brian Perras Caledon Ontario Canada May 18, 2016 at 19:49
    Hi Lisa; Kudos, very well done and a great story. My name is Brian and I have a few classics, 69 Mach 1 & a 82 vette. My son Jamie followed your footsteps. When he was 16 he bought a Smokey & The Bandit Trans Am. He is now 26, married and they are expecting their first baby, so his project is going a lot slower than yours did, and his car needs a lot more work, but one day I am sure he will be able to celebrate as you and your Dad must have when your 68 Camaro was completed.....well done Lisa. Brian
  • 18
    Ken Colorado May 18, 2016 at 20:17
    I fully understand the time it takes to rebuild a vehicle and then drive it down the road. The "smiles per mile" can't be beat. I wish more young people would do what you just did instead of the entitled "me 1st" attitudes. You are an inspiration and a full fledged member of the car community. Keep it up. Way to go girl!
  • 19
    Charles Smith San Jose, CA May 18, 2016 at 21:13
    I am sure Lisa really appreciates what it takes to fix up an old car. There is always something more to be done. Her experience will serve her well to appreciate any future car purchases and the maintenance needed to keep them running. ( I 've owned a '67 Camaro SS since 1969.)
  • 20
    Anthony Bright NC May 18, 2016 at 22:10
    Congratulations on your car. It certainly looks nice in the pictures. I would vote for leaving the "Buzzin' Half-Dozen" 6 cylinder in the car. I know it's not a powerful engine, but its easy to work on and dependable. And original to the car. I have seen a lot of 6's removed and replace with V-8's. I wonder how many 6 cylinder cars are left.
  • 21
    Carson Basaraba Whitecourt, AB, Canada May 18, 2016 at 22:49
    Inspiring story that brings back memories. I started building my street rod with my Dad when I was 15. A four year project before it was on the road. That was 1975 and I still have the car. We need more "kids" like Healy to get involved and keep our hobby alive. They're our future!
  • 22
    Dana Mound, OK May 19, 2016 at 14:32
    Very inspiring ! I have a few old classics and I hope to get my grand kids involved in restoring & maintaining them with me. Great job on your restoration.
  • 23
    George Martinez CA May 19, 2016 at 03:31
    I also got my first car when i was 13 it was a 1949 ford and i bee hooked to this day
  • 24
    Danny W Dushore, Pa May 19, 2016 at 19:59
    Don't take it to NYC. It won't be yours long. Keep it in Seattle.
  • 25
    Kent Ng TX May 19, 2016 at 09:31
    Congratulations Lisa on a excellent job! My first car was also a 1968 Camaro purchased in 1977 and with all the rebuilds, numerous paint jobs I still have it today. It's so nice to hear some of today's youth still carry the flame for working on cars. : D
  • 26
    Robert Florian Henderson NV May 19, 2016 at 12:12
    Just don't let your boyfriend drive it!
  • 27
    Junior Alhambra, Calif May 20, 2016 at 13:12
    Well done, keep your first car and never sell it. You did an excellent job. Enjoy!!
  • 28
    Ed Masteller Raleigh, N.C. May 20, 2016 at 00:35
    Great story about the restoration of your 68. I bought a 68 RS white with a black vinyl top and black Z/28 stripes. It has a 327/275 hp all stock except shorty headers installed. I have done the usual undercarriage updates. I am still making upgrades and enjoy driving to cruise ins and shows and getting thumbs up by people on the road that love the Classics. Thanks again for your story.
  • 29
    Alan Lake Elsinore, CA May 21, 2016 at 11:02
    When I was young, about 17, I worked at a Dodge dealer. One of my duties was to pickup and deliver customer cars. One of our customers had a Camaro with the six and 3-in-the-tree. It was a fun job and a fun car to drive.
  • 30
    Jason Huff Poulsbo Wa May 27, 2016 at 18:09
    This one brought a tear to my eye. I am 48 years old and have loved cars my entire life. Aside from currently owning a 68 RS/SS 396 4spd car I still own, and am re-restoring (2nd time), my first car, a 68 Buick Gran Sport that my dad and I purchased when I was 15. I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to keep it all these years despite marriage, buying houses, and having kids. just as the first time - My dad and I are doing it together. NEVER sell your car! no amount of money can replace the memories (and I agree with post #26 - don't let your boyfriend drive it!)
  • 31
    luis castro Caracas-Venezuela May 27, 2016 at 11:19
    Soy un fanatico de restauracion de vehiculos Clasicos, lamentablemente en nuestro pais son muy escasos esta clase de restauraciones ademas de costosos. Realmente me gustaria poder instalar un taller de restauracion de carros aca en Venezuela
  • 32
    Larry Rochester NY June 18, 2016 at 14:51
    Great story Lisa, and one near and dear to my heart. When I was 14, I bought a '41 Plymouth coupe for $25 (not running.) I worked on it in the driveway for a couple of years. I built a wooden scaffold and swapped out the flathead six-banger for a DeSoto FireDome hemi V-8 which I had rebuilt. I had to put so many U-Js on the steering column to go around the exhaust headers, that it steered like a pig. It was not a keeper, but I will always remember my time learning about and forming a love of all things cars. I have owned over 40 cars through the years...many of which I wish I hadn't sold (or crashed.) Now, at 72 years of age, I still do all my own work, and have never had to bring any of my cars to a garage over the years. I currently have a '62 Triumph TR-4 sports car and a '72 Volvo 142E ex rally car for my play toys, which provide a never-ending source of things to do to keep me busy. I concur with the many other readers who said to never let your first car go...you will regret it.

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