Ron Cherry: Dream-come-true ’68 Camaro
September 15, 2017
Back in 1980, Michael Roberts purchased a '68 Camaro SS/RS convertible.
It had a 350 cubic inch engine and auto trans. He loved the car. It was a dream car to him, almost perfect.
"I always wished it had a 396 (cubic inch engine) and a stick (4-speed trans)," Michael said.
He owned the car until 1989.
"I had to sell it," he recalled. "My wife and I needed help on the down payment on our first house. My father-in-law said in his Texas drawl, 'I'll help, but you've got to sell that car.' I had to set my priorities.
"I figured, I can always get another car, but I won't have another opportunity to buy this house."
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So the car went and the house came. But the car was never forgotten, a dream for the future.
In 2016, Michael received an inheritance, some money that was not needed for everyday life.
His mind turned to a '68 Camaro SS convertible.
He searched the Internet for one that filled the bill, or the dream. He found one on eBay.
It was a '68 Camaro SS396/RS convertible with about every option available that year.
"I didn't even know you could buy cars on eBay then," he said. "I bid on it and was the high bidder, but It didn't meet the reserve."
So he contacted the seller, a restorer in Tennessee.
"They seemed reputable," he said. "But when they told me what they wanted, I said, 'You're too Barrett-Jackson for me.'"
The Barrett-Jackson Auction Company is known for selling high-end cars at high-end prices. But the seller was willing to negotiate.
"I couldn't go to see the car, but they sent me pictures from every angle and a video of the car," Michael said. "We made a deal and they shipped it to me in a closed trailer."
Buying an eBay car, especially when you haven't seen it personally and crawled underneath it, is often considered a recipe for disaster. It's even become a bit of a joke for a car that looks great online, but is not so great in person.
While the adage is that pictures never lie, they can be taken in such a way as to deceive. Michael's Camaro does not follow that rule.
"I was a little nervous because I couldn't drive out and see it, but I'm very happy with it," he said. "Everything works perfectly, every gauge, everything."
And it has a lot that could have been wrong. It was loaded.
"I've never seen so many options on a Camaro," Michael said. "I think the only ones it doesn't have are a folding rear seat and canisters in front of the back tires that spray something to give better grip in the snow.
"It even has a block heater. I didn't know what the plug in the engine compartment was for until I asked someone."
The list of options was impressive. As well as more usual ones, power steering, brakes and windows, an AM/FM radio, tilt steering wheel, rallye wheels, front and rear bumper guards and air conditioning, this Camaro had rare ones that year.
They include remote control side-view mirror, head rests (called restraints then), and a power convertible top.
The RS option included hidden headlights, a special taillight package and trim. The SS option included a handling package with front and rear anti-sway bars and a "bumble bee" stripe around the front end of the car.
The 396 cubic inch option came with the "ice cube tray" hood with faux velocity stacks. Since the 396 only came in the 325 HP version with A/C, that's what this one had.
Michael's Camaro also had front and rear spoilers and rare fiber-optic turn-signal indicators on the front fenders. There were only 1755 Camaros with those indicators out of 276,124 built that year.
"I'm really proud of that," Michael said. "I mean, how many of those are even left on the road?"
Inside, the Camaro had a deluxe interior with a full set of console gauges, plus a "tick-tock-tach" that had a clock in the middle of the tachometer.
The main non-stock part on the Camaro was a Tremac 5-speed trans with an overdrive.
"I'm only doing 2700 rpm at 100 mph," Michael said. "If someone comes up to me on the freeway, I drop it into fourth and I'm gone."
Of course, he was speaking hypothetically.
However, the trans has been a problem at a few car shows where he enters as stock.
"I get the enthusiast who just wants to pick my car apart," he said, then chuckled. "I might put a stock knob on the shifter and a 4-speed plate on the console."
Getting a Camaro RS/SS convertible back has been a dream come true for Michael. While he said this car was the most expensive purchase he'd made outside of his house, it was a good investment.
Hagerty's Insurance valued it far above what he paid. He joined the Roamin Angels Car Club to meet with fellow car lovers, but did find one problem: as a club member he couldn't win any trophy at the club's car show at the fairgrounds.
But it was worth it to enjoy the camaraderie. In fact, he was head of security at the show after only being a member a few months.
But that's all part of living the dream of a car lover.
Ron Cherry's four books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His next book, a mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills, will be out soon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.
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