The Cherokee show car is the perfect vehicle to spotlight for the Camaro’s 50th anniversary this year. Ford invented the “pony car” with the 1965 Mustang. GM was playing catch-up. One idea was to make potential buyers think of the Camaro as a “cousin” to the Corvette. But, another way to promote it was to create factory custom versions of the Camaro with goodies that young enthusiasts liked.
The Cherokee started as a Camaro SS convertible with VIN number 124677N233228 that was built at GM’s Norwood, Ohio assembly plant. It was originally equipped with a 396-cid 375-hp (RPO L78) big-block V-8 and Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 transmission. It was also factory equipped with a fold-down rear seat, a tilt steering column, power windows, an AM/FM stereo system, a center console with gauges, a custom steering wheel and optional front disc brakes.
Chevrolet high performance guru Vince Piggins hot rodded the Cherokee’s motor with a Moon intake manifold and four Weber downdraft carburetors. Power was transmitted to a hefty 12-bolt rear axle. Originally, Koni front shock absorbers were installed and the car also had GM air shocks.
Bill Mitchell’s styling studio then added a hand-formed custom hood with a clear hood scoop that showcased the engine, a custom hand-formed deck lid, Corvette-inspired “blade” bumpers that had been cast in brass, a hood-mounted tachometer, accessory lighting, a Road-Race style gas cap, special 15 × 6-in. Corvette-style turbine wheels, a black interior and a Corvette steering wheel. The Cherokee received Candy Apple Metalflake Red over Aztec Gold Metallic paint.
The Cherokee was used to generate positive ink. One 1967 magazine article featured photos of it along with two other Chevrolet showpieces. “Believing in putting its best foot forward, Chevrolet outdoes itself with restyled show versions of an experimental coupe, the popular Camaro and a pickup . . . all of which may be a preview of future design trends,” said the headline on that page.
Elkhart Lake, Wis.’s Road America racecourse was a favorite place for Chevrolet Motor Division to showcase dream cars like the Camaro Cherokee in the ‘60s. The concept car was used as the attention-getting pace car for the first Can-Am race of 1967 held there. Stirling Moss drove the car. Beer baron and racing driver Augie Pabst was one of the people watching the parade lap.
Pabst contacted Bill Mitchell and bought the car. He was not the type to keep a cool car in a vault, though it wasn’t used much, either. Pabst eventually traded the car in to Vilter Chevrolet in Milwaukee. In 1971, Vilter Chevrolet sold the car to Custom Top Co., which traded in a 988 Buick GS convertible on it. Vilter was asking $3,600 for the Cherokee and allowed $750 for the Buick GS.
Over the years, it was sold to a number of people. For example, paperwork that came with the car showed that Edward R. Maurer of Brookfield, Wis., had it titled in 1987. The car’s engine and special features were changed a bit. Eventually, muscle car fan Terry Lietzau bought the 21,000-mile car and installed a correct 396 and some original type features, although he had trouble finding the special turbine wheels that were actually from a Chaparral racing car.
By 2011, the car had changed from an “interesting old car” to a genuine collector car that was considered an interesting piece of Camaro history. It was taken to a Russo and Steele Auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., where it was sold for $357,500. It then became part of the Brothers Collection. They had the car redone by Charley Hutton’s Color Studio in Nampa, Idaho.
The car was displayed at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (www.MCACN.com) in Rosemont, Ill., both before and after this restoration. During its 2010 appearance, when it was showcased at the rear of the Donald E. Stephens Center, it was fitted with GM Rally Wheels. It returned in 2013 after the restoration, with correct Corvette style turbine blade wheels.
The car was featured in one of the show’s “reveals,” during which the car is first displayed covered up, before the cover is withdrawn to show the fresh restoration. As the story went, even though the Cherokee was in basically good, low-miles condition to start with, it was extremely difficult to reproduce the original Candy Apple finish using modern materials. Charley Hutton was relied upon for the special paintwork, since he had been the painter in the late Boyd Coddington’s shop. Hutton “nailed” the special factory finish perfectly.
Another difficult part of the job was coming up with the turbine wheels, but as you can see from some of the accompanying photos, this proved to be hard, but not impossible. From what we’ve heard, The Brothers Collection that owns the Cherokee today is a very private collection of muscle cars owned by two brothers. Fortunately, they were willing to bring the restored car back to MCACN.