Lance Tarnutzer inherited his high standards in collector cars from his father, Dick. He also inherited a lot of cars.
Dick was a well-known collector and enthusiast who, at one time, had a collection of about 250 fabulous cars, many of them convertibles. Most of the cars were displayed in the family’s automotive shrine, Dells Automobile Museum in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. Sadly, a warehouse fire back in 1999 gutted the collection and claimed many of the best machines in the bunch, but a number of special cars survived.
One of those was a fabulous 1967 Camaro Indy Pace Car that Lance says was actually for sale at one time. He managed to convince his dad that the car needed to stay, and he hasn’t regretted pleading his case for one minute.
“Yeah, he actually had it up for sale for a while before he died. It was for sale and I talked him out of it. It’s too nice of a car,” laughs Tarnutzer, a resident of Lake Mills, Wis. “In the end, he was OK with it. I think he would rather have his family driving it and enjoying it than it being sold.”
Luckily, the ’67 Camaro wasn’t in the storage building that went up in flames. “It was in the museum most of the time. When we had the museum, it was in there a lot. We rotated the ’67 and the ’69, but it seemed like the ’69 everybody wanted to drive, so the ’67 sat in there more.”
Lance was along for the ride on many of his father’s purchases when he was young, but he thinks his dad was flying solo when he bought the rare ’67 back around 1980.
“This came from southern Illinois from a Chevrolet dealership. A dealer ordered the car and never sold the car. His wife drove it,” Tarnutzer recalled. “I don’t know how he found it, I’m not sure on that, but he ended up buying it … He bought a lot of cars in that ’78-’85 range. The market was down and the prices were right, and he was looking for just convertibles, and nobody else seemed to care much about convertibles at the time. Consequently, he was buying up a lot of convertibles.
“The odometer says 16,000 miles … but is that really 16,000 miles? I don’t know. It was from southern Illinois and they don’t have a lot of salt on the roads, and I wouldn’t think it got driven much in the wintertime. It’s an original car and hasn’t been restored. The 16,000 miles might be accurate.”
TAKING AIM AT THE MUSTANG
The 1967 Camaro was brand new, it was cool and, for non-Ford guys, it was a pretty sweet response to the already wildly successful Mustang. To fend off competition from Ford’s pony and Plymouth’s Barracuda, there was a seemingly constant revision of first-year Camaro options and trim choices.
Initially, the Camaro line offered a base two-door hardtop or sport coupe and a convertible. You could add Rally Sport trim (including hidden headlamps), as well as the SS 350, which added stripes around the nose, special badges and a 295-hp version of Chevy’s new 350-cid small-block V-8.
Since the 350 Camaro didn’t seem to be enough to pull many customers away from Ford’s new 390-cid Mustang or Plymouth’s 383-cid Formula S Barracuda, Chevrolet very soon added its Mark IV big-block 396 to the Camaro options list. This engine developed 325 hp in its L35 form. Additional power selections arrived when the L78 engine option was unleashed. It provided Camaro SS 396 buyers with a 375-hp option.
Chevrolet had the chance to show off its newest product at the Indy 500, where the Camaro paced the racing cars. However, marketing wasn’t what it was to become in later years, and the cars supplied were RS/SS 396 convertibles. Chevrolet employee and two-time 500 winner Mauri Rose (1947, 1948) drove the pace car, and A.J. Foyt was given the Camaro for winning the race.
Instead of offering replicas to dealers, Chevrolet built only 104 of the Camaros and let Indianapolis Motor Speedway VIPs use them during the month of May. Most of these “Indy Pace Cars” were SS 350s with Powerglide automatics. The 396s used for track purposes had the new Turbo-Hydra-Matic installed. When the race was over, the replicas were sold, as used cars, through local Indianapolis dealers.
The first-year Camaro was a big success with 220,917 produced, but it did not quite beat the Mustang. SS production for 1969 amounted to only 34,411 cars, making them rarer than those who viewed all the Chevy SS promotions realized. The Camaro would be the Indy 500 pace car again in 1969, proving how appealing to the hot Chevrolet was to Indy racing brass and the open-wheel crowd.
BACK IN CIRCULATION
Tarnutzer knows his ’67 Camaro is a true pace car edition based on the C1 paint code on the fire wall. It might have been easy to dismiss as just a “regular” RS/SS ’67 Camaro when the family first acquired the car, however, because it didn’t have the graphics on the sides.
“This was a nice original car; nice paint, nice upholstery. I think [my dad] redid the upholstery and touched the paint up. I’d say about half of the paint is original. It didn’t have the decals on it, so he had the decals made,” Tarnutzer notes. “It’s got the 350 in it, and he didn’t [rebuild] the motor. I don’t think he did anything with the drive train. The red-line tires he would have put on it... I think he did some interior work on it. I think the seats are recovered, but the rest of the interior is original.”
Even if it didn’t have the pace car lettering, the RS/SS goodies — hidden headlamps, sports package, nose stripes, trunk rack — made the beautiful white convertible one of the classiest pony/muscle cars on the road.
“I think the hidden headlights really clean up the whole front end,” Tarnutzer says. “They were nice-looking cars, and the white-and-blue colors, it just stands out really nice. And with the decals, it’s right on.”
Tarnutzer and his son, Lance, Jr., are both car lovers to the end, and both have quite a few “pride and joy” cars that they treasure in the fleet they share. The rare ’67 Camaro is right near the top of the list for both of them, and they’ve made it a point in the past year to get it running as good as it looks so it can get out and be seen more often.
“My son just got it running recently, and we had the transmission professionally rebuilt. My son-in-law is a mechanic and he put the transmission in it and all that, and that was last summer. And now we’ve driven it a little bit this year. Lance took it to three or four car shows this summer,” says Tarnutzer. “For a car that really hasn’t been driven much and has sat a lot, it runs really good. It starts right up. And that’s how it runs … It drives really nice. It’s got bias-ply tires, and yet it doesn’t drive like it’s on bias-ply tires. So the drivability of it and the uniqueness of it, I think is what I like. And it’s got the 350, it doesn’t have a 327, so it’s got a little more horsepower so it’s a little peppier, and that’s fun, too. And it’s got the automatic and you’re supposed to have fun driving these cars, so to be able to sit back and not have to worry about shifting is pretty nice sometimes, too.”
“This gets a lot of attention, maybe more so than the ’69s, because almost every car show has one of those there. So to see the ’67s, a lot of people don’t even know they were pace cars, and it’s a pretty cool body style. It’s got the vent windows and stuff, and that’s different. You just don’t see them a lot, even at the big Barrett-Jackson and Mecum auctions, you don’t see ’67s a lot. You could easily build a tribute [pace] car, but you don’t see them, either.”
Tarnutzer figures that his Camaro has already sat idle too much during its pampered life. He plans to make sure it gets regular exercise, and he no plans to ever restore it and make it a piece of garage jewelry.
“Because we like to drive ’em, you get ’em too nice and then that presents problems… That’s [my son’s] feeling too, you get them too perfect and you can’t drive them, and then every time you get in them you worry about a stone chip or a bug in the grille,” he adds. “There’s nothing wrong with those concours cars. I’d love to own one, actually, where you just hang onto it and say, ‘Here it is’ and you roll it in and out of a trailer, but its purpose isn’t what it’s meant to be.”
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