TORONTO (CP) _ John Carlson is crazy about cars, and his vintage
1968 Camaro muscle car ranks among his favourites.
People who own muscle cars _ high-performance automobiles made
from the mid-'60s to mid-'70s, usually with big V8 engines _ love
the nostalgia, says Carlson, president of the National Association
of Antique Automobile Clubs of Canada Corp.
``You think about the '50s and '60s, these were great times in
North America,'' says Carlson, who lives in Belcarra just outside
While Carlson has about a dozen classic cars in his collection,
including vehicles from the early 1900s right through to the
mid-1970s, the Chevrolet Camaro is considered special. It has more
horsepower than the norm and specific handling characteristics.
It's a big block General Motors built car, 375 horsepower _ blue
in colour with a white strip on its nose.
``It's referred to as a L78 L89 car ... It holds the quarter-mile
record in 1968,'' said Carlson. L78 refers to the 396 cubic-inch V8
engine and L89 to the aluminum heads.
Has he raced it?
``Many, many, many times,'' says the retired technology education
``I took it to Seattle to race in vintage car events during the
summer months,'' he says. ``It would go 124 miles an hour in the
quarter-mile event in 11.6 seconds _ very respectable.''
Carlson, who restores all his own cars, says this one represents
``all the things that were the epitome of the muscle car world
during that time.''
Showing off the car _ now worth between $125,000 and $150,000 _
and his other classic vehicles at weekend rallies is his passion,
and it's always been a family affair.
``I took my oldest boy (now 25) to his very first swap meet in a
crib,'' says Carlson.
Now both his sons are building their own collections, he says.
Terry Lobzun, director of public relations for RM Auctions in
Blenheim, near Chatham in southwestern Ontario, says the muscle car
era began with John De Lorean's GTO built in 1964.
It ended in the mid-1970s when governments introduced regulations
to control greenhouse-gas emissions, said Lobzun, whose company
holds classic car auctions in North America and Europe.
When it comes to famous muscle cars, in 1967 and 1969, the Camaro
was chosen as the pace car for the Indy 500 car race, according to
the website www.camaros.org.
GM production records show that 220,906 Camaros were built in
1967, 235,147 in 1968 and 243,085 in 1969, the last year the first
generation of Camaros were made. About 75 per cent were built in
Muscle-type cars, including a Chrysler 1969 Dodge Charger with a
383 four-barrel engine, were featured on the ``Dukes of Hazzard''
And the song ``GTO,'' by Ronny and the Daytonas, helped fuel the
GTO craze, says the website www.musclecarclub.com.
Lobzun says the prices for getting started as a collector vary
widely. For a first-timer, he recommends buying a car that's been
fixed up. It'll cost $30,000 to $40,000 for a decent car.
``You can take it to car shows and cruise nights right away.''
Occasionally, a muscle car sports a high pricetag.
``We hold the record for the most valuable muscle car ever sold
at auction _ $2.4 million for a '71 Plymouth Hemi Cuda
convertible,'' says Lobzun.
Car collectors, including those caught up in the muscle-car
craze, visit swap meets to search for parts or other paraphernalia
for their ``toys.''
Such meets, along with ``show and shine'' affairs or garage
tours, allow people to kick some tires, trade stories and see what
the other guy's got.
Carlson, who judges cars at some of the biggest vintage shows in
North America such as Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in
California, advises muscle collectors to stick to original cars as
opposed to ``clones.''
Clones are collections of parts that have been assembled, he
says. ``They're dropping like rocks in value.''
``(Judges) are looking for numbers matching, which means that the
engine number, the chassis number and the body number all
coincide,'' he says.
``That adds a significant amount of value to the vehicle.''
Furthermore, says Lubzun, authentic cars ``are going to hold
their value,'' as opposed to the clones.
Harold Swift, president of the B.C. Hot Rod Association which is
marking its 50th anniversary, says car collecting is ``a big
The association has about 3,000 members from as far away as New
Zealand, Australia and Britain, and his chapter in the Vancouver
area has about 300 members.
While most of them tend to be in their 60s and older, ``we've got
a few of the younger generation coming along,'' says Swift, who
lives in Langley, a Vancouver suburb.
``Usually, they're sons or daughters or grandkids of members ...
in their 20 and 30s,'' says Swift.
They are coming out with what they call rat rods ... ``old '50s
or '40s cars kind of done up in a ratty way,'' says Swift. ``The
kids dress to match their cars, like black T-shirts.''
The cars may have black primer on them and the old style steel
wheels and white walls, old flat-head motors ... ``stuff that was
popular way back.''
It costs about $20,000 to find a car like that and get it on the
road, says Swift, who owns a 1956 Chevy Bel Air two-door post, which
he converted from a drag racer to a customized car.
Club members own street rods from 1926 to 1940, '50s vehicles and
muscle cars such as the '67 Chevrolet Chevelle 396 four speed or big
While owning a vintage car is an investment from a monetary point
of view, it's also a way to have fun, says Swift.
In the second week of September every year, during the Langley
Good Times Cruise-In, ``we'll put 1,600 to 2,000 cars around the
city and get 100,000 people on a nice day,'' he said.
``People come from as far away as California and Toronto.''
Members also like to cruise on weekends.
``Twenty to 30 cars get out on a Friday night, meet somewhere at
a restaurant, go for a drive up the valley, go for an ice-cream,''
Swift, about to turn 66, doesn't plan to hang up his keys any
``It gets in your blood,'' he says. ``I'll keep going as long as
they'll let me have a driver's licence and I can afford a gallon of