Spoiler alert: In my last COAL submission someone died at the beginning. In this one, someone dies at the end. That was unplanned, and I hope it is not a trend. I will be more diverse with my future topics.
I took a shortcut and drove through the local high school parking lot, rather than around it. Doing so was at my risk- The school seems to be in a years-long process to film footage for the next installment of Red Asphalt. Pedestrians went extinct here long ago, so I was careful to look out for traffic. I wondered if the kids remember all the slimeballs in ‘Stranger Danger’ videos drove Camaros, and were trained to recognize and avoid them. Then I might stand a chance, as long as I don’t get mistaken for someone’s dealer.
I was pleased that among the burdens of sophomores, still counted are: beat up 60s trucks, second-tier clap-trap domestics and old Accord beaters from the 1980s. But a plurality of vehicles were three to five year old Benzes and BMWs; things to expect in a slightly upper class area of SoCal. I walked by a fresh looking sixth generation Camaro V6 : “Spoiled brats.”
But the math reminded me: the Camaro I drove in High School was just as new as that one, at the time. I sure felt the difference though; a ’98 V6 Camaro dated itself in a way no present two year old car does. So on being handed the keys I was disappointed. I saw its social baggage, and I knew the cliches: ‘Interior falls apart. Rattles. V6s are slow. They’re boats. Mullets.’ I conditioned a strict image of ‘Camaro person’ in my head: Black primer, spring shackles and cherry bomb mufflers seeping carbon monoxide into the cabin. Stereotypes held out of fear: Metallica and Skynrd on Radio Shack cassette decks in the days before Napster. Speaker magnets stuck on rusty bodywork rather than mounted. Listening to those tapes on the way to a Valentines’ date, with your cousin- off to the demolition derby.
I didn’t equate the ‘Camaro guy’ image with my father despite his being the only real example I had of someone who actually bought one in the first place. Dad wore perhaps enough Brut cologne to rouse suspicion, but otherwise was a CEO who used the car on his commute from the suburbs to his work near the California State Capitol. He bought it in full mid-life crisis, but the purchase was still in character for him: cheapest left-over 1998 on the lot, at the end of the model year. A V6 five speed slicktop in Bright Green Metallic which he was proud to state was not a base model (as it sure appeared to be.) After all it had chrome wheels (vs. hubcaps or painted alloys,) power locks & windows, and the first CD player he ever had. ‘That optional Monsoon stereo!’ was his constant non-sequitur, mentioned in discussions as diverse as ‘what’s mom making for dinner,’ to ‘pressing issues regarding my mostly failed adolescence.’
My first memories of the car are in the passenger’s seat on freeways around Sacramento, usually going to the airport through the Summer scorched rice paddies. He bought our first DVD player around the same time, so he could watch the Eagles’ ‘Hell Freezes Over’ in the same high quality as he saw demonstrated in Costco. In my head that’s usually what’s playing when I remember those times. I was a dorky teenager, so that was enough for the Camaro to come off as just a bit cooler than the mullet-mobile stereotype.
Then again eight year old me liked the 1993 version; at least I made half a dozen Revell models of it. But the years were unkind. The platform was old and I was jaded. It wasn’t ‘Fast and Furious.’ It didn’t have overhead cams, IRS, turbochargers, or any thing magazines told me I should go into sub-prime debt for, and I didn’t even like the facelift- giant sleazy porn moustache bumper and peanut-like Malibu headlights. I wondered why my dad didn’t get something better; a Z28 at least? In a couple years I turned sixteen and got my answer when Dad replaced the Camaro with a 2001 Corvette coupe in Torch Red. So the Camaro, at about two years old, was handed to me as my first car.
Overhang, but not overhead cams- Misheard prayers, I supposed. Having the Corvette nearby didn’t help; compared to it, the Camaro cornered like it wore Nickelodeon Moon Shoes. I openly despised the Camaro. My sole point of pride was pointing out its (often fictional) merits compared to my friend’s ‘99 Mustang automatic convertible- polar opposite of my car. Even during my worst days I never saw why to prefer the Mustang’s upright, stubby look, even if it was the faster, better handling V6 car. But despite what anyone says about Camaro interiors, the Mustang’s fell apart first; and he actually cared about his car whereas I did not (I’m pretty sure I’m faking washing it in the top pic.)
Less than a year in the clutch slave cylinder leaked. I felt a tremendous bit manly opening the hood every morning to top it off with just enough fluid to get to school. I repeated the same exaggerated gesture before departing school as well. As my slave cylinder failure became more catastrophic, I was proud to bang-shift when clutch fluid ran out entirely; my Old Navy Tech Vest burst forth with coarse stuffing, but my parents forced me to get it repaired.
I perfected driving with my foot planted on the gas, and piled unsafe amounts of people in the back. I had fun but by college I was finished. It got infested by mice (probably from Uncle Gary’s Triumph TR7.) They chewed the carpet; my final impetus to be rid of it. I eBayed it to a guy who flew in from Montana to drive it back for his son; he said he couldn’t find one that wasn’t rusty in his area, which confused me. The mouse smell went un-commented as I picked him up at the Ontario airport and the gentleman stated he’d never seen palm trees before, which also confused me. Proceeds from the sale purchased a replacement car; a stupid fanboy-mobile magazines told me to buy that will go (for now) un-mentioned.
For fifteen years I only thought of it during infrequent, LSD-like Pepsi Blue/Linkin Park flashbacks. But in 2016 someone totaled my 2004 Z06 . Dejected I waited over a year to replace it and drove my wife’s dented, 300k mile ’04 Prius without functioning AC in the meantime. Driving it made me re-think every automotive mistake I ever made: Wasn’t it cool my dad in retrospect *probably* only bought the V6 to hand down to me to begin with; and because he knew I liked the ’93 Camaros? Don’t I miss having an engine under my dashboard? Shouldn’t I be rowing gears through a giant, grapefruit-sized leather shift-knob instead of playing with an idiotic navigation system that thinks my neighborhood is still a cemetery?
Shame hit me; I owned a Camaro but never allowed myself to be a Camaro driver. It wasn’t perfect- but I only hated it because I was told to by untrustworthy sources. I never knew what I thought of it, and was never grateful; a Camaro, free! Maybe the car is a stand-in for a girl I talked to while I owned it; the plain but sort of pretty one I could talk about ‘Ocarina of Time’ with for hours, but who was ‘too dorky’ for me to kiss. Maybe I don’t miss the car as much as I miss KWOD 106.5 , or being stuck in traffic with friends, laughing at how much ‘Sagwa: the Chinese Siamese Cat’ sounds like a low budget porno when broadcast as an audio only track. Maybe being at an age where I’m a bit too old to hang around Hot Topic is catching up with me to the point where I cannot be trusted with car buying…
…But to reduce the nagging sentiment that the worst of all my moral failings might have sprung from selling a freaking rat-pissed soaked Camaro, in January I grabbed a quite nice 2000 Z28 6 speed. The grapefruit shift knob isn’t there (Hurst,) it’s not lurid green, and it’s no Z06 … But damn is it fun. The catback and slight mods to the suspension don’t hurt.
Full disclosure- I began this post in January after purchasing the car, and paused on submitting it. As a result, the ending needs a bit of an update. My dad only saw this car twice. The last time was in February, when I parked next to his near-new 2017 Stingray, purchased in almost the same color combination. He got a chance to poke around the interior and down memory lane, though he declined my offer to drive it. It’s a blurry memory, because I didn’t think it would be my last one- my final view of him must have been through the windows. His last view of me was heralded by the cackling Borla exhaust on overrun, and the squealing of cheap used car lot rubber.
I never told Dad he was right. I never used words to say that after all, I am a Camaro person. He knew it when I didn’t. I guess he made me one. And I never told him thank you- for my first Camaro, or anything that came after. But I hope in the end he kind of got the message. Dad is with his brother now, my Uncle Gary- and if heaven is as boring as it sounds, I’m sure they’re waiting together with bated breath on my next stupid car related decision. You don’t need a mullet to drive a Camaro; but sometimes driving one puts one on your chest.
IMO this was the most attractive Camaro exterior body since the split bumper second generation model.
I don’t know where the mullet moniker came from, for Camaro drivers I have seen are mostly regular guys and gals. Only a small number fit the mullet description according to my observations.
I would have liked to have had a 2002 model.
I’ve noticed more “Mullet Boys” driving Firebird Trans Am variants.
The mullet was a thing with older Camaros. By the time this generation came out, nobody really wore mullets anymore, not even Camaro drivers. So the mention of a mullet here kinda fits in with the overall theme of the article – the author forms his opinion of his first Camaro going by second-hand cliches, until he learns to REALLY own his second Camaro properly 🙂
What a great tale! I am sorry for the loss of your father, which sounded quite unexpected. But it sounds as though he left you with a lot of great memories.
If it helps I would probably have been just like you if someone had given me a 2 year old Camaro when I was in high school. I would have hated it because it was a Camaro and would have mistreated it terribly. And while I am a little older than you, I too have come to the realization that the Camaros common in my youth were actually pretty decent cars.
I hope you have more stories in the pipeline for us!
To my eye, both the Camaros and Mustangs of the nineties suffered from the benign neglect, and the styling of both cars reminds me of Studebaker’s final efforts to keep styling “relevant” on their cars without any real investment in the underlying platform.
In ’93 and ’94 both manufacturers offered new generations, (’93 Chevy, ’94 Ford), but when you placed either car on a lift, it was clear much carried over from earlier cars. Subsequent attempts to freshen them only stuck grotesque end caps on antiquated bodies.
Having said that, I’ll credit both cars for keeping the flame alive. The author has belatedly recognized himself as a “Camaro Guy,” a badge of honor in the automotive world.
Both “Camaro Guys” and “Mustang Guys” are among the most reliable buyers out there.The recent news from Ford tells us the Mustang is the only “car” they are interested in keeping. An interesting turn of events, looking back to the benign neglect shown all Pony Cars from ’92 to 2005.
Not sure where the “mullet” descriptor came from but I remember it well, doing a live broadcast from a car lot where a black 4th-gen sat, and it may have been a TransAm, this took place 17-18 years ago…
…but two of my female co-workers, both successful account executives, both quite attractive, were comparing that 4th-gen to, IIRC, a Mitsubishi Eclipse ragtop, and instantly made the mullet comparison.
A comparison the Mustang somehow dodged.
I wonder if it goes back to the Gen 3 years…a Camaro/Firebird left on sale about five years too long, that rattled while driving and felt like it was falling apart, even when new?
Again, IIRC, it seems the Gen-III F-Bodies flew out of the showrooms even though the Fox Mustang was by virtually every metric the better car.
The Gen 4 was vice-versa…better car than a Mustang but not a hot seller.
Hot Rod reported about the deal GM apparently cut with the Canadian government to ensure those cars would be built in the Great White North at least, if not specifically at St. Therese. IIRC the deal became so onerous to GM’s bottom line it made more sense to shut the plant down which automatically meant killing the Camaro/Firebird.
I’ve always assumed the 5th Gen – the first one since the early 2nd Gen that I personally liked – was able to be produced because of a loophole or cooling-down period in the St. Therese agreement. Maybe Canada had no problem with it because it was built in Oshawa. IDK.
I enjoy the personal touches you’ve put in your COAL stories, and look forward to seeing more!
The thing is gen III Camaro was a fresher and more short lived design than the Fox, and had arguably better styling and chassis engineering. Debuting in 82 made it very favorable after the 80-81 Mustangs undid some of the goodwill the fresh new Fox bodystyle with the dropping of the cologne V6, the 255 V8 and the poor reputation of the carbureted Turbo 4. GM taking that lead out the gate seemed to let them rest on their laurels with the F body, only “improving” it with powerthrough the years. Ford on the other hand spent 1982-1987 continually improving all of the faults, suspension, engines, interiors, everything, even introducing a forward thinking package in the SVO(even though it wasn’t a strong seller, I think it went a long way in helping the Mustang seem relevant outside the V8 crowd). Plus being an inherently more practical package more inline with a BMW 3 series I’m sure helped quite a bit in the yuppie 80s.
Sorry about your dad sounds like a cool guy! i hope he left you with some good thoughts of him as fathers are woefully undervalued in todays day. Nice Camaro, i’ve never owned one due to the low seating position. i do prefer the look of the first one(looks like a shark)was never a real fan of the facelift.
While I prefer the earlier, more restrained 4G Firebird (I actually owned a new Formula for a while), the later restyled Camaro is okay for one simple reason: revised LS1 V8 engine.
The problem with the earlier LT1 was the Opti-Spark ignition that was driven by the engine crank and located at the front of the engine, underneath the water pump. That location made it susceptible to moisture from various origins, including car washes or power washing the engine bay. Another was if the water pump developed a leak, coolant got into the Opti-Spark and it was toast. Luckily, none of this ever happened to me.
The LS1 did away with Opti-Spark in lieu of individual coil-packs for each cylinder.
What’s so wrong with mullets?
I presume people with flock of seagulls hairdos found them tasteless.
Nothing if you’re Jaromir Jagr or Barry Melrose.
Sorry your dad passed unexpectedly. It was really generous of him to give you your Camaro. Dad sold me a ’66 Beetle in HS, but after I paid half he said “were good” and gave me the title.
Really liked my grandmothers ’68 convertible, was less impressed with a friends (well worn) ’72. Jim Rockford drove a 2nd gen Camaro, never saw him with a mullet. Rode in a 6 cylinder 3rd gen, rattletrap it was. Never rode in a 4th gen. Sounds like a nice car, enjoy.
You see dad and dad looks at his son and sees himself at an earlier age to some degree. Yes, he knew you were a Camaro guy. And most likely he knew that one day you would be feeling grateful for him and his gift of a Camaro. And he most likely knew you were too young to show gratitude because you could not allow yourself this emotion back then.
Thank you for sharing this touching story.
A friend’s older brother had a blue 87 IROC T tops V8. Bon Jovi blasting out of the tape player. Occasionally got a ride to school in it. Still remember it 31 years later. Yes, he had a mullet and denim jacket.
This was a brilliant COAL, man. Really enjoyed your writing style. Hope to read more! And sorry to hear about your father. 🙁
I totally forgot about that shift knob on these! I drove a Camaro with a manual once and remember thinking how huge that knob was, you aren’t kidding. At least the size of a baseball, maybe even a softball! It almost needed the three finger holes from a bowling ball…
Good story, good times, except for the bummer at the end. But so is life, and it goes on. Thanks for sharing this one!
Thanks for a great story that brought back some memories. I will eventually share all my COALs when I find time but suffice it to say I was a Camaro guy until my late twenties in no small part due to growing up in a GM town. I had a ‘97 Z28 in my mid twenties that was my first ‘fast’ car which I beat on mercilessly. It took the abuse quite well until I stupidly sold it (a story in itself). And your photo made me remember that truly Giant shifter knob.. I’ve since become a die hard Ford (mostly Mustangs) fan due to some drag racing success I had with a Fox body but I still regret selling that Z. In fact I have a recurring dream where I own a collection of 80s and 90s muscle cars and my old ‘97 Z always pops up in it. Thanks again for the memories. -Rich
I never understood the logic of the Camaro’s huge gear-shift knob. With the stitching, was it supposed to suggest playing baseball while driving a car, sort of like the old cockpit-design Ford dashboards in the late sixties suggested flying an aircraft?
Whatever the reason, I haven’t seen those huge gearshift knobs, before or since. It seemed mostly like a gimmick that never caught on, similar to the old pistol-grip shifter Chrysler tried out for a while from 1970-74, then resurrected for the new Challenger.
Interestingly, when Chrysler brought back the manual for the new Challenger, initially, it was actually an extra-cost option above the automatic. But, now, they’re back to the traditional pricing structure of the automatic being an extra-cost option. It’s kind of fascinating because I’d be willing to bet that it’s actually more expensive for Chrysler to build a manual-transmission Challenger than an automatic.
Very well written. Thanks for sharing it. And my condolences on losing your dad. That must have been very hard.
Hope to hear more from you.