I have a confession to make. For a while I wondered if maybe I should hide my shame, go and see a psychiatrist to resolve my neurosis, this problem kept me awake at night¦ Well at least for one night. I had a death grip moment. For a while I struggled with the death grip, but I have come to understand it for what it is.
To explain. Meet Garry Smith, mild-mannered car yard director, one hell of a nice guy, doesn’t wear a suit that he can tear off to reveal his Superman attire, but then why would you need the Super’s cape when you own this beautiful blown Camaro.
We jumped into the Camaro and burbled off through suburban streets, negotiating rush hour traffic, the chance of excitement at this time of the day, nil. After what may have been a 10 or 15-minute trip (felt like about two in this beast) we found a private road, away from the prying public eye. Rather a nice stretch of road, smooth, maybe one kilometre long, right hand curve 300 metres ahead. Garry pulled over and said, “We should give it a squirt.” Right here I begin to examine the events that led to my shame. I could tell you that I was thinking about deadlines at work, thinking about my frail old grandmother¦ Bollocks, the whole lot of it. I simply wasn’t prepared, after a quiet run through the back streets to get here, I was lulled into a fog.
As Garry asked his baby the question, the answer was hundreds of metres behind us in a cloud of tyre smoke and we were hurtling head long into the future. I involuntarily clutched the centre console, my ‘death grip’ moment. As Garry began to button off, I snatched my hand back. Had Garry seen? It isn’t a question you can ask, oh the shame, oh the questions about my manhood, what would the editor say, if I didn’t tell him maybe Garry would¦ Oh the ridicule.
In the middle of the night it occurred to me, bollocks to that, I wasn’t prepared, but I wouldn’t trade that moment for anything. That fractional moment of sitting next to Garry whilst he piloted 454hp (339kW, at the wheels that is, fully capped and quiet), the 383 (6276cc) Chev block screaming with joy at being able to open up. The tyres giving up the traction challenge with howling dismay, the tail just beautifully stepping out at each gear change, 100kph a memory after three seconds and the end of this road coming up like a bullet. No, sod them all, death grip, I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks, that was a rush and I was living it. I’d do it again and again and¦ Clutching the centre console the whole time and laughing like a bastard. Garry of course gets to live this every time he puts his car down the strip. I’m sure that frequency never dulls the feeling, because when I looked across he was still smiling as we turned back into Auckland’s crap traffic.
AND IN THE BEGINNING
There are some things that stick in your mind. I will never forget being at Pukekohe with my brother in the ’70s and seeing a’ 70-’71 Camaro sitting in the car park. Huge back tyres — crossplys! Jacked up back end (what was up with that), that huge grille almost on the ground, this thing just oozed menace.
For Garry, his first moment with a Camaro was in ’69 when he came across a Black and White, 68 Z28, yep, an early 302-powered one, talk about starting at the top of the heap. Imagine if you could go back in time and just pop one of those in the garage¦ Ahh. Again in the ’70s, he saw the next generation of Camaro with that lovely big deep grille.
Those early meetings with Camaros must have stayed with Garry, because in ’98, when he saw one advertised in the Trade & Exchange at a reasonable price, he just had to call the guy. Upon seeing the car for the first time, that reasonable price made sense. Parked there was the Camaro, it had been imported into Godzone in ’72, with the RS/SS options, a 350 (5735cc) small block and a turbo 350 trans. Back in ’72 this would have been the beast to own, people turning to stare as it drove by, maximum babe magnetism assured to its owner. Now, on the other hand, this guy had owned it for 16 years.
Loosely speaking, really loosely, this guy had intended to do it up, but when it sunk up to its axles in the garden he had a change of heart. He had hauled it out of the garden and somebody convinced him to sell just the wheels and tyres. So here it sat for Garry to see, bit of panel rust, drag slicks on the back, mismatched tyres up front. Here’s the keys mate, take it for a spin. Garry openly admits to not really knowing what to look for in a Camaro back then, but this one drove beautifully and it all felt just right. Garry called his mate, Craig Wall, and asked him to come and see what he thought. When Craig said, “ If you don’t buy it, I will,” the deal was done.