Contributing Author: Vehicle Nanny
A true car enthusiast has that one car that steals their heart or gets under their skin. Some buy it and never let go. For many others, that car slipped away never to be seen again. A lucky few get a second chance with their first love.
In 1979, I became the part-owner of a 1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28–the one pictured throughout this article. I was eighteen years old at the time and a certifiable car nut. This purchase did not come easily–it was a matter of lucky timing. My Mom was in the market for a new car and was planning on buying a Chevrolet Chevette, a small economy car. A very small economy car.
The Z28 was one of a handful of performance cars available in the late 1970s, and I knew it was going to take some convincing to upsell my Mom from that Chevette to a Z28. Mom was on a tight budget, so I offered my life savings ($2,000 I made working at Burger King). It worked!
Ownership Was Short-Lived
I loved that Z28. In fact, I was obsessed with that car. As you can see in the pictures, it was black with a black interior. Every dollar I made went into personalizing my ride. My favorite modifications included the Air Induction hood and fender vents from a 1980 Z28.
A technician from the GM Proving Ground taught me how to cut and buff paint on that car. All that attention to detail fueled my obsession for maintaining a clean car. While that lifelong passion has led me to where I am today, it also affected my personal life.
I was dating my wife, Mary, at the time. We were both seniors in high school (rival high schools, that is). Many date nights started with me cleaning that car or chasing down a rattle in the dash. Mary was patient, but only somewhat supportive. I’m surprised she didn’t dump me after I asked her to take her shoes off so she wouldn’t dirty the rubber floor mats. She still married me, so I guess she saw some future virtue in my behavior!
I went away to college months after we bought the Camaro. This was my mom’s daily driver and my fun car during the off-hours. Being a minority owner did not have many advantages. After I left for college, I was tortured knowing Mom was driving this car to work every day in the Michigan winter. My calls home on the weekend started with, “When was the last time you washed the Z?” After two winters of this, Mom told me the car had to go.
In the summer of 1981, the Z28 went up for sale. One night when I was looking at used cars at a local dealer, a nice gentleman approached me to ask about the car. It turns out his son, who was a year or two younger than me, was looking for something like the Z28.
Within days we agreed to a price and the Z28 was gone. Dream crushed.
Fast Forward 40 Years
This is the part of the story where you think I am weird. I never stopped thinking about that Z28. In fact, I’ve had dreams of finding it in my parents’ garage and taking it for a drive. In that dream, I marveled at the tight suspension, crisp shifting manual transmission and sweet exhaust note. Sigh.
A friend of mine from my Burger King days knew that car well. We had some fun times cruising in that car, so he knew my obsession. As it turns out, my Burger King friend heard through his network that the guy who bought the Z28 in 1981, John, still owned it. WHAT?
I got John’s number and reached out to him a few months ago. Be still my heart.
The Dream is Alive
Thankfully, John is a good guy who graciously took my call. We chatted for about an hour, where I learned the car has been in storage in his barn for some time (he lives about an hour away from me). He let me know that it was pretty much in the same shape as the day he bought it. The only modification was the installation of a roll bar and a nicer exhaust system.
Oh yeah, it only has 26,000 miles on it today. I sold it with 22,000 miles.
I assured him I was not trying to buy the car back from him, as I can see he appreciates it as much as I did. It would be great to be able to see it for old times’ sake, if for no other reason to get some closure on my obsession.
John suggested we wait until summer. He has it parked in his barn with a boat blocking the way. Once the boat comes out, the car will be more accessible. Yes!
The Connection is Strong
I am very hopeful that I will get a chance to see the Z28 one more time. It seems John is saving the car until he retires, with the plan to get it back on the road after a lengthy sleep.
You may wonder why I don’t go buy another Z28. After all, cars from the late 1970s were not particularly fast or collectible. I’ve toyed with that idea, but it just would not be the same. I made a solid connection to that particular vehicle. So solid I am still thinking about it 40 years later.
This is the reality of a car enthusiast. It is the connection we make to a specific car that is everlasting. It is why car manufacturers today are building cars that remind us of the past: Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro – as well as the upcoming Ford Bronco. I think that is a great thing, and hope they help us keep reliving our pasts.
The Vehicle Nanny is actually Bill Taylor, a 34 year veteran of the automotive industry. Bill spent 32 years at General Motors in a variety of sales, service, and marketing leadership positions. After retiring from GM, Bill spent two years at Digital Air Strike supporting their growth in new segments. He then created VehicleNanny.com, where he places a focus on nurturing the automotive interests of young car enthusiasts.
Learn more about Bill and his current activities at VehicleNanny.com.