Growing up in Michigan, I was one of those kids who would wear shorts to school on the first day it was predicted to reach sixty degrees Fahrenheit. It didn’t even matter sometimes if it was just one of those fluky days in late April with a one-day spike in temperature where there were still a few patches of snow on the ground. Sixty degrees seemed close enough in my mind to seventy degrees, the point at which I usually wouldn’t wear a jacket. That first day of the year of wearing shorts was an annual rite of passage and a harbinger of the legitimately warm, sunny summer days to come.
As an adult, a similar thing for me has traditionally been my first full immersion into Lake Michigan not too long after the beaches open. Even by mid-July, there’s no guarantee that the water in the southwest corner of vast Lake Michigan here in Chicago is going to be warm and pleasant. I’ll admit that a goofy part of me likes the thought of shocking onlookers on the sand by taking that first plunge, as I pretend to be nonchalant about wading back to my spot on the sand out of water that has sometimes still been so cold that it has felt like a tourniquet around my calves. “No big whoop”, as they say. But then, once I’ve been in that cold water for the first time, each time after that feels a bit more normal and natural.
Summer in my neighborhood of Edgewater is festive and fun, full of nature and cultural goings on. This season often feels like that type of party guest who mixes well with everyone, lights up the room, seems genuine, and improves the shared atmosphere. Summer is that friend whom you don’t want to leave, firstly because you waited so long to be able to see them (after an often brutal winter), and secondly because you know the moment they walk out the front door, other folks are probably going to disappear shortly after. I do love fall. There’s something unique about all the seasons that I like. But because summer vacation always had signified a break from school and homework, I will probably always associate it with freedom, and for that reason, it’s probably my favorite season.
Letting go of summer is hard, so as fall progresses further toward winter, a miscellaneous warm day or two has been known to beckon me back outside or to at least open all of my windows at home. On the Saturday on which I had spotted our featured car back in November of 2009, it had reached a high of fifty-four degrees around Noon, just five days before Thanksgiving. This may not seem that incredible to some readers in other regions, but to put this into perspective, it snowed 3.4 inches last year on Halloween (October 31), setting a Chicago record.
I was snapping away with my point-and-shoot camera when the owner of this Camaro returned to his vehicle. I’d just like to briefly say that as ugly as some interactions between strangers can be, sometimes even with grave consequences (another reason I’m usually careful with deciding whether or not to attempt interior shots of my vehicular subjects), I also want to like people and to feel good about being a human being. It has been over a decade since I took these pictures on one of the main streets in my neighborhood, but the car had California plates, and the gentleman who owned it had stopped to talk with me for about five minutes or so about his Camaro and cars in general.
Five minutes may not seem like that much time as a number, but for any of us who has ever had to deliver a timed speech or give a presentation, a five minute exchange between two people, especially when one of them is running errands (as the owner was), is not an insubstantial amount of time. After our exchange had ended, I remember him even asking me if I had all the pictures I wanted of it. He seemed like a genuinely good guy, and I felt better about my day for us having crossed paths. (Is this sense of camaraderie more specific to, and a hallmark of, car culture?)
A first-year example of any car is always going to interest me, regardless of where it had originally fallen on the continuum of desirability. The genesis of the original 1967 Camaro has been covered at Curbside by Paul Niedermeyer, back in 2015. What I tend to forget, though, is that the Plymouth Barracuda, though not a new nameplate for ’67, was given a proper redesign that year into a much more attractive machine that looked a lot less like the Valiant compact on which it was based.
The fall of ’66 must have been an exciting time for young adults with money to spend on a new, ’67 version of this novel type of compact sport coupe, as the Detroit Low-Priced Three all offered new or refreshed designs that year, including the Ford Mustang, all of which had base prices that started within less than 1% of each other for the most basic versions, before options. About 221,000 Camaros were sold in its first year, compared with 472,000 Mustangs and 62,500 Barracudas for ’67.
The various permutations of option packages for these Camaros had long confused me. As it turns out, the RS package, by itself, had nothing to do with the car’s performance. Instead, it was an appearance package that added hidden headlamps, backup lamps that were moved from within the main taillight housings down to below the bumper, and exterior identification. What’s more is that the RS package could be had even on the six cylinder cars, or combined with any other available package. How’s that for a la carte?
This RS featured the optional 295-horse 350 V8, as indicated by the front fender call-out. This engine was also standard with the SS performance package, which also featured an upgraded suspension, hood vents, stripes, and other exterior identification, but this car is not an SS as indicated by the “rs” badge which would have read “ss” otherwise. One source stated that of the ’67 Camaros, about 64,800 had the RS package, but what I couldn’t determine was how many of those cars were convertibles, as only about 25,000 ’67 Camaro soft-tops were produced in its inaugural year.
I’m guessing that not a lot were made to begin with, and that even fewer existed at the time I took these pictures over ten years ago. I also realize that it’s entirely possible that this one could have been a “tribute” vehicle, but I am not that guy who is going to try to deflate another person’s enjoyment of his or her pride and joy simply to sate my curiosity.
Real or fake, it was a beautiful car, and I don’t really need to know if its numbers match. What would I do with that knowledge, anyway? There’s something to be said for the use of imagination. On this unusually warm day late in November, it was easy to imagine it was two months earlier, right after fall had just started. This car’s California plates combined with its top-down state contributed to the sense of the day’s warmth, which would turn out to be fleeting. Why wouldn’t the owner be getting a little extra sun and fresh air on a gorgeous day like this? Anyone who has lived through a winter in the Midwest knows how sunlight is in short supply during the colder months. The owner of this Camaro was simply seizing that which was left for the year, and in so doing proved to be a man after my own heart.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, November 21, 2009.
Brochure photo as sourced from www.oldcarbrochures.com.
Print ad as sourced from the internet.