Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Somewhere along the line, Don and Gladys Cass’s old car hobby almost turned into a game.
“How many car shows can you get to in a year behind the wheel of a 1968 Camaro?”
The answer is a lot – at least one every weekend that there isn’t snow on the ground, if you plan things right. If you run a car show anywhere in Wisconsin, or within driving distance of their Stevens Point home, the affable, car-crazy couple are liable to come rolling in with their well-traveled Matador Red coupe.
Since repainting and refreshing their beloved family Camaro and turning it into a hobby car about 11 years ago, the Casses have been full-blown car show fanatics. And they are a car show organizer’s dream: They come early, stay late, and bring a bunch of their friends.
“We go to 35 to 40 car shows a year. We get around,” Don laughs.
“Last year we went to 36,” Gladys adds. “That was a light year! The most we’ve been to is 43!”
Those would be impressive numbers even if they lived in tundra-free climates like Arizona or Florida, but to pull it off in a state where the car show season is about five months long takes some dedication and not many weekends off.
“We have just a blast. We know so many people from all the shows. They are like a second family to up” Don says. “Basically, we mix it up [on selecting show]. We have an advantage in central Wisconsin, I can go 100 miles in any direction to get to a car show. I don’t have any really long runs to get to a show.”
The nomadic couple both admit they had no plans to ever get so heavily involved in the car show hobby when they financed a $770.94 loan to buy a car back in March of 1974. The couple was looking for a family driver and liked the looks of the red Camaro they spotted on a used car lot at the local Pontiac dealer. The car had 29,000 on the odometer at the time, and the price seemed too good to pass up.
“I just liked the way it looked and we bought it. We weren’t looking for anything in particular, we were just looking for a car, and it fit our bill,” Don recalled. “Originally it had a six-cylinder with a three-speed on the floor. That’s how that car was born. It was Matador Red, which is the color it is now. It was our family car. We drove all over. We had two kids, a boy and a girl, and both of them came home from the hospital in it… We probably drove it for 15 years, at least.”
“Then we got a van. We parked it and then Gladys’s brother wanted the car, so I gave it to him. He had the car for a couple years at least, and then he died of leukemia, and we got the car back. Before he died, he said to give the car back to Don.”
That was back in 1983, and the couple had no real use for the Camaro at that point, but by then the car had become sort of a family member and neither Gladys nor Don really wanted anybody else to have it.
“We put it in the garage and it just sat. There was no reason to take it out,” Don says. “We were waiting for the right time.”
That time came about 11 years ago, when local body shop owner Jim Holiday helped the Casses get the car back on the road. “The floor pans were rusted and they were replaced, and a few minor things, but otherwise it was pretty good shape,” Don added. “The big thing was we plucked that six-cylinder out of there and put the 327 in there. It came out of a pickup truck. A buddy of mine had it and there was a Saginaw four-speed with it and we took the whole combination and put it in the car.”
With a new paint job, V-8 power and four-speed Hurst shifter, the Camaro had a new lease on life, and the Casses quickly discovered how much they enjoyed showing it off each weekend. “The car is not perfect. There is a ding here and there,” Don says. “The whole idea for us is that we enjoy driving it and other people really enjoy looking at it.”
Year 2 of the Camaro
After enjoying a strong rookie year with its Camaro that saw 220,906 cars built for the model year, Chevrolet wasn’t in a hurry to make many big changes for 1968. Camaro No. 2 came along in 1968 and was little more than a slightly modified version of the first edition that gained a “big-block” 396-cid V-8 during the year. To spot a 1967 model you can look for vent windows. To spot a 1968 model you should look for no vent windows, plus the addition of front and rear side marker lights (required to conform with new federal safety regulations). There were engineering refinements that Chevrolet said were “designed to keep the ’68 Camaro the finest car in its field.”
Standard equipment included a satin-silver horizontal bars grille with six vertical dividers, inset headlights and parking lights, twin-segment taillights with integral back-up lights on the inboard segment, new one-piece curved side windows, all-vinyl front bucket seats, an all-vinyl rear bench seat, a new gauge cluster with large, round speedometer and fuel gauges and monitoring lights, Astro Ventilation with standard cowl side vents and two adjustable vent-ports mounted on the instrument panel. The base Camaro had a 230-cid 140-hp Turbo-Thrift inline six-cylinder engine or a 327-cid 210-hp Turbo-Fire V-8 and a fully synchronized three-speed manual transmission with column-mounted gearshift. The convertible also had a manual convertible top, bright windshield moldings, a bright windshield header with convertible top latches, special sun visors, special inside rear quarter panels with built-in armrests, dual courtesy lights and a convertible top boot.
Glamour was the strong point of the 1968 Rally Sport package and husky performance was the calling card of the Camaro SS option. The base Camaro engine was again a 230-cid inline six-cylinder, while the 327-cid small-block remained the base V-8. A 350-cid V-8 was standard in the Camaro SS, but the Turbo-Jet 396-cid V-8 was the hot ticket for the lead-footed set. Cars with this engine were treated to a black-finished rear body panel to set them off.
1968 Camaro SS (Super Sport) was dedicated to the “fun crowd.” The sales catalog said it was “a husky performer and looks it.” Big engines, a beefed-up suspension and special equipment features made this model-option stand out. The prices of the RPO Z27 SS package varied according to engine. With the L48 V-8 the dealer paid $152 and got $210.65 at retail. With the L35 engine the dealer cost was $190 and the retail price was $263.30. With the L34 V-8 the dealer cost was $266 and the retail price was $368.65. The L78 version of the SS wholesaled for $361 and retailed for $500.30. The L78/L89 version with aluminum cylinder heads retailed for $868.95
The Z/28 package was available for Camaro sport coupes only. It came in four different variations, all with a high-performance 302-cid small-block V-8 engine.
It all added up to another good year for Chevy’s hot new Mustang fighter. Production rose to 235,147 Camaros for the model year. . Industry trade journals reported that 184,735 Camaros were built at the Norwood, Ohio, plant and 49,064 Camaros were made at a factory in Van Nuys, Calif., facility. In addition, the trade journals showed 1,248 Camaros “produced” at an assembly plant in Bloomfield, N.J.
Show Time Continues
The Casses have never seriously considered getting rid of their ’68, or adding another one to the stable, but Don has entertained the idea of landing a pre-war woodie. “You never see them around here,” he says. “It would be nice to find one of those because nobody has them. It would stick out like a sore thumb.”
For now, though, the Camaro is primed and ready to add to the 115,000 miles on its clock. There’s enough room for lawn chairs in the trunk, just enough space for a cooler in the back seat, and more memories are just past the next mile marker.
“It’s basically cheap entertainment,” Don laughs. “And people know us. I see another guy at shows, and he’ll always yell, ‘Hey Don, how many?’ [laughs]. So the word is out. People know that we go to a lot of shows.”
“People like to look at classic cars. It makes them happy to see these cars. Some people are pretty critical, but I tell people this car ain’t the best apple on the tree, but it’s mine.”
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