(first posted 2/8/2013) As you might have guessed from my previous posts on the 1957 Packard and 1964 Studebaker Cruiser, the annual car show in Geneseo is one of the best of the year. Even cars that are rarely seen usually show up, including an ex-service station Corvair Rampside, a Sunbeam Alpine roadster with factory hardtop and this original-condition, one-family-owned 1970 Camaro.
As mentioned in the recent CCOTY post on the ‘70.5 Camaro, this was a surprising twist to Chevy’s pony car. Gone was the somewhat boxy 1967-69 styling, replaced with Bill Mitchell’s interpretation of classic Italian lines, and Ferrari in particular. I was not around at its debut, but I think it is safe to say no one was expecting such a sleek, sexy design. It was especially beautiful with the RS split bumper, as shown above.
But guess what happens to every darn surviving Camaro, Mustang, Barracuda and Challenger? You guessed it: Boomers with fat wallets have to take every one of them and paint them red, stuff a big honking engine in them, and then add all the items that were probably limited to less than 10% of production when new: rally wheels, spoilers, stripes, Hurst shifter, power windows, sport mirrors, AM/FM/8-track, traction bars (or are those passé these days?) and the like.
You know the drill: Make it match the car they wanted when they were twelve and the cars were new. For some, even that isn’t enough, and entire drivelines from new cars, rubber-band tires on 18″ or 20″ wheels, ugly fiberglass dashes replacing the factory instrument panel, and everything else under the sun is added. Why? Because they can be!
That’s all fine and good (or not), but I appreciate an original car much more. Individual Mustangs and Camaros, when new, were quite different from car to car; you were unlikely to see two that were exactly the same. For example, my dad’s first car was a straight-six 1965 Mustang convertible, Poppy Red with white stripes, white interior and top. It was sharp, it was sporty–and it was slow. It had been his dad’s secretary’s car, and my grandfather rightfully assumed that he couldn’t get into too much trouble with it. As Dad told me, it was all show and no go, but that’s largely how it came off the line new (Dad added the white rocker panel stripes). If that car still exists, would you care to guess the likelihood of the six still being in residence?
Thus it goes with the majority of pony cars today, and so I initially passed over this Camaro, assuming incorrectly that it was a mid-life crisis upgraded hot rod. How wrong I was. On my way back, I actually looked at it and noticed the baby moon hubcaps: “Oh, that’s cool.” Then I saw they were factory hubcaps, and–whoa!–it had a straight-six engine! Inside was an all-business black interior with the standard vinyl buckets, no console and a column-mounted two-speed Powerglide.
Who would order such a car? Well, as I learned, the original owner was a lady who just wanted a sporty car, but one with no frills–and indeed, this car is frill-free, with its standard 155-hp six, Strato-Bucket seats, carpeting and Astro Ventilation.
The meager options on this car include a tinted windshield, AM radio and whitewall tires: no console, no A/C, no power windows and no sport mirrors. In other words, none of the stuff that sets Camaro guys’ hearts beating faster! No boy-racer horse hockey–and for that reason, I love this car.
Even in basic form, like this one, the ‘70.5 Camaro’s lines are still lovely. Those slim chrome bumpers, the grille standing proud of the headlight bezels, that quartet of round taillamps–all lovely. In a recent post, frequent CC Commenter Syke mentioned that the true value of a car can be seen by looking at the stripped-out, bare bones base model and not at a bright yellow, bestriped, bespoilered version with Rally wheels.
If it still looks good without any optional plumage to enhance its basic form, it’s a worthy vehicle. When you apply that standard to the 1970.5 Camaro and its corporate sibling, the equally sharp Pontiac Firebird, it still shines.
The man displaying this car was the original owner’s nephew, and he was old enough to remember when she brought it home. It was purchased at Cambridge Motors, in Cambridge, IL, a small town about a half-hour from the Quad Cities. This car is an amazing time capsule, with original paint and engine, and only 59K miles. I did not begrudge him for asking $10,000–after all, where else will you find a car like this one? The price also ought to dissuade idiots from ripping the car apart, painting it bright yellow, shoehorning in a 502 big block and adding stripes and pretentious aftermarket wheels. If you’re going to mod a car, please do it to a basket case, not an unrestored original like this one!
I can see the appeal of a car like this. This car, with its six-cylinder engine, Powerglide and hub caps, is equipped like a plain-Jane Nova (and just as reliable), but in a swoopy Bill Mitchell-designed showboat body. Kind of like the attractive lady librarian with the sensible shoes, plain dress and tortoise shell glasses. Even all those things can’t hide her beauty, and so it is with this Camaro.
For an original car, this Camaro is in really nice shape. Sure, there are a couple of minor bumps and bruises here and there, but that doesn’t detract from what a well-kept car it is. And all the cool details of these Camaros are still evident, like that veed grille, fastback roofline and smooth flanks.
It even still had the original trunk mat, which the owner’s nephew told me was very hard to find NOS these days. Could there be another ‘70.5 Camaro in existence that is still equipped like this one? Perhaps so, but my guess is that most surviving Camaros originally equipped with the six are now Z-28 “tribute” copycat cars (although I know of at least one six-powered ’69 survivor in Eugene).
It’s kind of like all the original Slant Six or 318 V8 powered Barracudas and Gran Coupes that are now, of course, “tribute” Hemi ‘cudas. I’d like to take a “tribute” Hemi ‘cuda, paint it mint green with a white vinyl top and give it whitewalls, the “salt shaker” wheel covers and a 318 V8! Heh heh heh…
And why not? That’s probably how it started life!
There may come a time when no one remembers that not all pony cars and mid-size sporty cars were muscle cars–not by a long shot. I know we’re already halfway there; on a recent TV show, someone mentioned a Ford Maverick as a muscle car. Sadly, they were serious.
In thirty years, will kids on TV shows be saying, “Yeah, the ’07 Impala LT and ’05 Taurus SE–those were real muscle cars!” I fear that may be the case. Shudder…shudder…
Sorry, I kind of blacked out there for a moment. In any case, Camaros with the six were rare even when new. Out of 117,604 1970.5 Camaros produced, only 12,566 had the Turbo-Thrift Six. How many can be left? Not many, that’s for sure. I really hope the next owner of this car, whoever he or she may be, will keep it as it is. For heaven’s sake, there are plenty of V8 Camaros to be found in Hemmings and other online car sites, if that’s what floats your boat.