MANHATTAN (KSNT) — Car enthusiasts will have the opportunity to check out a rare piece of muscle car history at a Manhattan museum.
27 News spoke with Doug Meloan, director of vehicle operations and curator at Midwest Dream Car Collection, about their newest addition: a 1969 Camaro Z11 RS/SS convertible. This classic piece of American machinery comes from the first generation of Camaros developed by Chevrolet and, up until recently, had been gathering dust. Thanks to the care and hard work of a local mechanic, this muscle car got a second chance to hit the streets.
Meloan told 27 News that the vehicle is on loan to the collection for the next few months from Gail Dye, a Junction City resident. Gail, her husband Jerry and some friends are responsible for restoring the Camaro back to its former beauty.
The Camaro came to Jerry in the mid-1970s. Jerry, who owned a mechanic shop in Junction City at the time, was given the Camaro for repairs by a soldier from Fort Riley who promised to return for it after a trip to Florida. However, the soldier never returned to collect the car.
“Forty years later and he still hasn’t come back,” Gail said. “Being in the military, we assumed something happened to him. We never could find out what happened to him.”
Jerry eventually filed for the title to the car after years of waiting. The Camaro then sat in various storage units and garages, slipping into bad shape as the years went on. It wasn’t until Jerry received an offer in 2015 for the Camaro that things began to change. Instead of selling the car, Gail convinced her husband to keep it and go about restoring it for himself.
Gail said her husband was “almost fanatical” in trying to get the Camaro restored with all the original parts. While Jerry handled the metalwork on the exterior and rebuilt the motor and transmission, Gail focused her efforts on restoring the upholstery in the interior. A group of family friends also contributed heavily during the restoration project. Five years later, the Camaro was mostly restored after having been stripped it down to the frame to eliminate traces of rust and make it drivable again.
Jerry passed away in 2021, but the car is still used in his memory by Gail and their two sons, Darin and Scot. Gail said the Camaro has even won a few awards at car shows, such as Best of Show and Best of Class, and has appeared in a few local parades.
Meloan said the 1969 Camaro is a coveted vehicle among collectors. After Chevrolet found success with their Camaros at the 1967 Indy 500 race, they were invited to bring the 1969 Camaro back for a repeat performance. The company released the Z11 pace car replica option, of which only 3,674 were made in 1969. Of those, only 700 came with the L34 396 big block V-8 engine capable of 350 horsepower, making Jerry’s 1969 Camaro a rare find.
Meloan said back when it was first released, the 1969 Camaro would’ve had a retail value between $3,400 or $3,500. Now, that number stands closer to $50,000-$60,000. The new engine only has around 500 miles on it, according to Gail.
While the Camaro is mostly finished, it is still a work in progress. Meloan said Gail continues to work on the car when she can. It will be in the collection through the winter months before it hits the streets again.
“We plan to just keep it in the family, drive it for pleasure,” Gail said. “I just want to share it with people. It gives me pleasure to see someone else enjoy it.”
“I just call her ‘baby’,” Gail said.
The Camaro can be found at the Midwest Dream Car Collection until the end of March 2023, according to Meloan. To learn how you can visit the collection and find out about the other cars on display, click here.