By Chuck Snyder
Ever wonder what happened to your first car? As a new 16-year-old driver, I was not easy on my first car. I had it through high school and for a while in college. It was driven it into the ground by the time I was ready for a second car. The local Ford dealer accepted it as a trade, but as I later learned, it went straight from the Ford lot to the scrap yard. When I reminisce about that first car, I know that I will never see it again.
Not so for all first-time car owners. When my niece Tammy Snyder graduated from high school in 1977, she had no means of transportation. With a job at a Butler, Pa., insurance office several miles from her home in rural Herman, the time had come for that “first car”. Her father scouted around and found a used 1968 Camaro. It had been purchased new for the daughter of a friend. For a second opinion on the car, Tammy’s boyfriend at the time (and future husband), Jim Frye, was asked to take it for a test ride. The car needed some work, but it ran well and Jim gave it a thumbs up. The price was right, a deal was made and Tammy had a work car. A little Bondo and some paint and it was ready for the road.
May 1978 saw Tammy and Jim marry and move into Butler. The Camaro served as their honeymoon car, taking them from western Pennsylvania to Niagara Falls. Upon their return it was returned to duty as a work car. With the birth of their daughter Stephanie in December 1981, the Camaro was used to bring the new addition home.
The couple felt the Camaro was well worth fixing up and around the time of the birth of their daughter a decision was made to move ahead with the necessary body work to return it to a like-new condition. Replacement front fenders and a rear quarter were found and the project began. Before long the body work was completed. The original Grotto Blue paint was chosen for the restored car. Although, the car originally had standard wheels with full hubcaps, mag wheels had replaced them. with the restoration complete, it was decided to replace the mag wheels with Chevy Rally wheels.
Living on a busy street in the city of Butler, the couple chose to rent storage space in order to keep the Camaro out of harm’s way. As time passed, the car was used less and less. During the mid ’80s the couple felt the time had come to move to the suburbs and they decided to sell the car, with the selling price and the savings from the storage unit going to help purchase property and build their new home in the country. The step up to the country made it easy to let the Camaro go to a new home. Although, it hadn’t attained collectible status yet, the vintage Camaro was in demand and sold quickly.
Through the years, the couple fondly remembered the car. A few photos here and there and conversations helped maintain those memories. As years passed a second child was born and the couple was living the good life in the country. For extra spending money Tammy had a couple of part-time jobs, and in her spare time she found that she enjoyed detailing cars. Letting friends and family know of her interest, it wasn’t long before she was in demand as a detailer.
Most of her clientele delivered their vehicles to her home for detailing. But she was not opposed to working at the owner’s property. It was during one of those remote detailing jobs when she realized she was working for the man who had purchased her Camaro in the ’80s. In the back of his garage was the dusty blue Camaro, which was being used as a storage shelf. When the Camaro was sold, a car cover was sent along with the deal. The cover was later found inside the car protecting only the seat. During conversation with the owner, Tammy learned that it had been driven regularly, but only on rare occasions. The car which she had such fond memories of was beginning to make its way back into her thoughts.
As with many couples reaching the “empty nest” time of life, others things begin to spark their interest. During several conversations the “wouldn’t it be nice to have the Camaro back” subject arose. Jim had told a friend of his about the Camaro conversations. As all good friends do, he harassed Jim constantly. “Why don’t you get the Camaro back?” This went on for some time, until Jim decided (without the spouse’s knowledge) to approach the owner and see if he would sell the car. What a great birthday present it would be! Negotiations went on for some time. The owner was dragging his feet. With Tammy’s birthday rapidly approaching Jim finally got the owner to commit to a sale. But time was running out. Could he get the car ready in time for that approaching birthday?
The friend who provided the harassment turned out to be his savior. The Camaro was transported to the friend’s garage, where it could be hidden from sight until ready. A change of oil and some transmission fluid and a good cleaning were all it needed before hitting the ignition switch.
On her birthday, Jim had one really happy wife!
But two weeks was just not enough time to get all the bugs out. Once Jim got it home, he could do more of the work it needed. New intake gaskets were installed. Valve seats needed replaced to eliminate a bad smoking habit. The Holley 650 cfm needed to be rebuilt. A leaking driver’s side rear brake cylinder needed attention. The pitted taillight trim was replaced. A new pittman arm and idler were needed to tighten the steering. There were shifting issues with the Powerglide transmission. The goal was to have everything ready in time for the 2015 cruise season.
Now that it has been returned to its former glory, what are the plans for the Camaro? Tammy says it will go to Sunday breakfast in nearby Saxonburg, but it will never be seen in a Walmart parking lot.
The Camaro was more than two years behind the Mustang when production began for the 1967 model year. The new, 108” wheelbase, low priced, sporty, personal car “First Generation” Camaro would run from September 1966 (1967 model year) through the 1969 model year. US production of the Camaro was completed in Norwood, OH or Los Angeles, CA. This particular Camaro was built in Norwood the last week of December.
Although, the Camaro started at $2588 (230 cid straight 6), the Z28 package could be purchased for an additional $400. The package included a special 302-cid with 290 hp. And for a bit more, there was the 396-cid V-8 with 375 hp. The standard transmission on the base model was the Saginaw manual three-speed. A four-speed and a two-speed Powerglide were also available for a bit more money. The Frye’s car has the 327 with 210 hp with the Powerglide automatic transmission. To help the engine run a bit better, 202 heads, a mild cam, dual exhaust and fan clutch have been added. There are no power brakes on this one.
Astro Ventilation was new for 1968. No more vent windows. Side markers were also added for 1968 as required by government regulations. The interior of Tammy’s Camaro includes blue buckets and a center console with the “horseshoe” automatic shifter handle and an AM radio (with an FM converter). For a car of its age, the original interior is quite pristine.
I think we will see this one staying in the family for some time. Now we need to find a Nova to keep Jim happy.