Camaro No. 1 rebuilt by father-son team
Logan Lawson was only 13 in 2009 when he stumbled upon a message board comment and later an eBay ad for a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro that was touted as possibly the first Camaro built.
His dad, Corey Lawson, drove a couple of hours from Hutchinson, Kansas, to Oklahoma City to see it. He followed his gut and bought it on the spot — he won’t say how much he paid — even though there was no proof it was really No. 1.
“I was convinced that it was probably the first car ever built,” said Corey Lawson, who is now 46.
His hunch paid off. On Wednesday, in conjunction with Chevrolet’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Camaro at the Woodward Dream Cruise, the car will be added to the National Historic Vehicle Register during a news conference in Birmingham. It becomes only the 15th car on the register, said Mark Gessler, president of the Historic Vehicle Association.
The association accepts vehicles that meet one of four criteria: association with an important person; association with an event; significant design or construction; or criteria such as being the first or last produced. The first car entered into the register was a 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe.
Gessler said the ’67 Camaro meets its criteria for being the first model, but also is significant because in a “much broader cultural sense, it really launched the biggest rivalry in Detroit everlasting, the Camaro vs. Mustang,” he said.
Chevy announced the Camaro during a news conference on June 28, 1966. The 1967 model hit dealerships in September 1966.
Logan and Corey Lawson spent countless hours restoring the car to its original condition using original parts and saving everything they could. It didn’t have a drivetrain when they bought it, and it didn’t run.
Their work didn’t stop there: Logan and family friend Jamie Schwartz interviewed previous owners, visited the General Motors Heritage Center and ultimately connected with author Philip Borris. The writer of “Echoes of Norwood” had uncovered the original factory paperwork for the 1967 prototype Camaros, which verified the car was indeed vehicle identification number or VIN N100001.
“It’s one of the greatest stories that’s never been told,” Corey Lawson said.
The Lawsons and Schwartz expanded their research to try to document all of the hand-built 49 “pilot assembly” Camaros made at GM’s Norwood, Ohio, plant – and three more that were finished in Los Angeles. The Lawsons’ Pilot Car Registry has found 10 of the cars still in existence and the family now owns five of them: VIN No. 1, No. 10 (which is the earliest convertible), No. 13, No. 28 and No. 49.
Gessler said the Historic Vehicle Association worked with the Lawsons for more than a year to confirm and verify their materials and conduct independent research. The historic muscle car has had 3-D scans taken and engineering line-drawings completed. A research narrative that is equivalent to a master’s thesis was done: The car was owned by a Chevy dealer and passed through a handful of owners before being drag-raced in the 1980s.
The materials will be archived with the Library of Congress, Gessler said.
“It’s a very big honor. It’s reserved for the most historic of the historic vehicles,” Corey Lawson said.
This year’s Woodward Dream Cruise will be Corey’s first. The Camaro will be on display inside a glass cube near the intersection of Woodward and Old Woodward. The box will be lit beginning at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday each evening through Saturday’s cruise.
Corey Lawson, who has a car-wash business, hauls the Camaro in a see-through trailer pulled by a Toyota Tundra. The family estimates a quarter-million dollars has gone into the car and research project.
The pristine Granada Gold coupe with 29,950.6 miles on the odometer was built in May 1966. It’s powered by a 240-cubic-inch inline six-cylinder paired to a three-speed manual transmission. It was the car Chevy used to introduce Camaro to the public in August 1966 and was used in many photos and films.
“It was definitely crazy how it blew up and how we just stumbled on something amazing and the memories that we’re able to have, working with everyone to kind of unearth history that had been lost. It was a great experience to be a part of,” Logan Lawson, now 18, said in a telephone interview.
Chevy displayed Camaro No. 1 as part of its unveiling of the sixth-generation 2016 Camaro in May 2015 on Belle Isle. GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, a big Camaro fan, was all smiles as she sat in the car and posed for photos. Logan struck up a conversation with fellow car guru Mark Reuss, who heads GM’s global product development team.
Reuss later wrote a letter of recommendation for Logan, which Corey Lawson thinks helped his son get into California Polytechnic State University. He will begin his freshman year there next month studying software engineering.
All of the work, restoration and research have left little time for driving the Camaro. Logan said he did get behind the wheel recently with the Historic Vehicle Association for photos and a video shoot.
“Besides that we really haven’t driven the car,” he said. “It’s a three-on-a-tree and I’m not particular on that kind of shifting.”