The golden era of 1960s muscle cars produced some absolute gems, and many of them are motoring away at this weekend’s Dream Cruise on Woodward Avenue through metro Detroit.
Every classic car has a story, including a ’69 Chevrolet Camaro SS that had been lovingly restored, only to be totaled by its owner. He had been driving along and glanced down at the four gauges (fuel, oil, battery, temperature) inconveniently placed on the center console in front of the 4-speed manual gear shifter and below the radio. It was headed for the junkyard.
There’s a silver lining in this heartbreaking tale: The car was one of 875,000 classics insured by Hagerty Group, based in Traverse City, MI. (Oddly enough, it costs a lot less to insure a classic car than a new one.)
Even before the accident occurred, CEO McKeel Hagerty, whose parents founded the company 29 years ago, was considering a project that would let his employees get “elbows deep in grease” by restoring an old car, same as the clients do.
When the Camaro arrived on a flatbed, it was clear this car was ideal, with an interior that needed little work but a front end that had to be rebuilt.
Work proceeded at Hagerty’s garage, which is in another part of Traverse City and rarely was frequented by employees from the main office. It would be a 21-month educational experience for a number of these employees who didn’t know a camshaft from a carburetor.
But participation was purely voluntary and by the end of the project, 123 employees had given 2,700 hours reassembling door handles, polishing trim, sandblasting, painting, learning how to weld, installing new carpeting and fenders and crawling underneath to work on the suspension, all under the leadership of expert mechanics.
The project was done during business hours on company time.
The car was completed in June, and shortly after it set off on a 2,300-mile (3,702-km) trek from St. Paul, MN, to Mobile, AL, as part of the Great Race, a controlled-speed endurance rally hosted by Hemmings Motor News.
One of the drivers was Tabetha Salsbury-Hammer, Hagerty’s youth advocacy and public-relations manager, who loves her time behind the wheel despite the car’s peculiarities, such as a speedometer that’s off by 10 mph (16 km/h).
This actually is the second Hagerty restoration project. The first, a ’30 Ford Model A roadster, was finished in 2011 but didn’t need nearly as much attention as the Camaro.
After cruising Woodward this weekend and hitting a few other classic-car events, the Camaro SS, with its stock 325-hp 396 cu-in. (6.5L) Turbo Jet big-block V-8 and 4-speed manual transmission, will return to Traverse City and be available for employees to drive in cruise events and to car shows.
Salsbury-Hammer says the restoration project achieved its stated goal: for employees to absorb the passion and determination of customers who restore old cars.
“So many employees are constantly talking with car owners, in the field or at shows,” she says. “This really gives them the opportunity to understand what people are talking about with various parts of cars and to see the internals of the mechanical parts.”
Another restoration project is about to get under way. Expect it to involve a certain Dearborn pony car that has a milestone birthday next year.