(first posted 8/21/2016) Spring was in full swing when I came across this second-year Chevy Camaro convertible while taking a Saturday afternoon walk through the adjacent neighborhood community of Andersonville. It was probably around this point in late April that Chicagoans collectively sighed in relief (optimistic hope?) that we were finally done with snow until fall or winter. This particular weekend was full of car spottings, including our featured car, a ’65 Ford Thunderbird Landau, and an N-body Pontiac Grand Am that might have been an ’89. This Camaro was the prettiest of that lot.
My other half (who doesn’t embarrass easily) stealthily ducked into a nearby storefront while I went ape with my camera, gliding around this car and snapping photos like a paparazzo. It’s true that these Camaros certainly aren’t rare, as older cars go. They’re not particularly unique, distinctly styled, or remotely exotic. However, I do find them attractive in an innocuous, all-American, Wonder Bread kind of way, and this one was in gorgeous shape. As much as I had waxed poetic about the Ford Mustang several weeks ago, I share my own birthplace with General Motors (Flint, Michigan) and have come to better appreciate many of The General’s products that had resonated with buyers over the years.
From the temporary plate out back, this car appeared to be a new purchase. Blue happens to be my favorite color, and this car’s finish positively gleamed in the Saturday afternoon sun, not unlike the luminous glow of a blueberry candy stick. Its white trim and chrome Rally Wheels and emblems sparkled. It wasn’t until I got a closer look at these frames on my computer screen at home that I made a discovery: this lovely specimen was sporting a six. The badge on the front fender didn’t say “350”, which is what I had assumed.
This optional 250-c.i. inline-six was a bored-out version of the Camaro’s standard 230-six. Pontiac’s powerful 215-hp, 250-c.i. Sprint Six it was not, but the extra fifteen horsepower (rated at 155) would be welcome in helping propel this car’s 3,100-lb. starting weight. With this Camaro convertible looking as dressy as it did, but having an engine only one step up from the standard mill, it seemed to me to be even more of the very embodiment of the ponycar spirit…a car likely custom-tailored to be exactly what the original owner had wanted, powerplant and all. A larger engine wasn’t skipped because of pricing concerns. This Camaro was dressed to impress from the factory. There are no six-cylinder “tributes” running around as such, and I’m 99% convinced the choice of powerplant was deliberate.
Do you remember those Burger King ads of the 1970’s, where they encouraged you to “have it your way”? “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce…♪♫”, hold the 327-V8, hold the acceleration, hold the speeding tickets and ensuing insurance premiums once the 70’s hit, but double-up on the extra pizzazz, please. I’d like the chrome Chevy Rally Wheels and rocker-panel moldings and a nice, tasteful stripe package to complement the white top. And please…make the vinyl interior of as vibrant a hue as the exterior.
When I think about it, the first-generation Camaro seems very much to have been the “Burger King” of the early ponycars against the McDonald’s-like juggernaut that was the Ford Mustang. If you grew up primarily in the 80’s like me, McDonald’s was likely your first choice of fast food restaurants on family road trips. Burger King (my adult preference) was what you ate if there was no McDonald’s around and you didn’t feel like something “exotic” like Taco Bell. I’d also say that in terms of popularity, the Plymouth Barracuda was probably the Wendy’s of the group, and the AMC Javelin was more like Burger Chef, with its parent company absorbed into another (Chrysler and Hardee’s, respectively) and ultimately gone too soon.
The first Mustangs were just so much more interesting to look at, and they possessed a brand and identity the Camaro seemed to lack. All the same, our featured ’68 represents a very tasty feast in my eyes, even with (and perhaps because of) the six under the hood. It was an automotive time capsule from GM’s golden era that will cost less, because of its engine, to purchase, insure, fuel, and perhaps most importantly, to drive and enjoy. Who’s trying to win a drag race in a convertible, anyway? All that wind buffeting in your face might make you lose control and crash. I’m just saying.
I’m convinced that if one had access to a heated garage, this Camaro would be the perfect, collectible classic to own in a city like Chicago. This Grotto Blue (thank you, Dupont!) beauty was made for cruising up and down Lake Shore Drive in warm weather months. Dressed to kill and with a leisurely, confident gait, this sporty drop-top doesn’t need an overabundance of muscle to prove itself or attract attention. There are plenty of other less-attractive, go-fast machines or trailer queens to fulfill those other purposes. This Camaro proved itself to be unique, after all – the economical-yet-sporty looking result of deliberation and the careful checking of boxes on an order form. On a warm Saturday afternoon this past April, was I ever glad that someone had chosen to have this Camaro exactly their way.
Andersonville, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, April 23, 2016.