Forty-three years ago, Russ Johnson unknowingly parked his striking Bolero Red 1967 SS396 Camaro in a Wisconsin pole barn, where it patiently waited for its moment in the spotlight. Little did Russ know that this classic coupe would remain nestled in the same spot, a silent witness to the passage of time.
In 1975, Russ acquired the secondhand Camaro, drawn by the allure of its powerful 396 engine. It wasn’t about chasing a unique factory formula; he simply wanted cubic inches and a big-block Chevrolet that could tear up the dragstrip. With family and life’s demands taking precedence, the Camaro found itself relegated to the back burner, silently biding its time.
The 396 Camaro, a gem discovered at Knitter Chevrolet in Cadott, Wisconsin, came with a unique twist. Originally traded in due to main bearing issues, the dealership offered it to Russ for a mere $800, a steal even in the context of the 4 percent tax rate of the time, bringing the total to a modest $832. Russ seized the opportunity, envisioning the drag racing prowess he could unleash with this bargain find.
True to his passion for performance, Russ saved the original 396 block, exhaust manifolds, pistons, rods, four-speed transmission, shifter, smog pump, hoses, and every conceivable part for his L78 Camaro. The barn that sheltered the Camaro also became a haven for spare parts, a testament to Russ’s commitment to preserving automotive history.
Over the years, Russ held onto the dream of restoring his Camaro. In 2018, retirement beckoned, offering the perfect time for the long-awaited restoration. However, life had other plans, and retirement became a new adventure, postponing the revival of the Camaro once more. As Russ humorously notes, “The older you get, the more you realize you go other directions.”
The Camaro, with its matching-numbers 396 and an array of preserved original parts, patiently awaits its resurrection. Russ’s tale is a blend of automotive nostalgia, family commitments, and the unpredictable twists of life. Despite delays, the Camaro’s legacy endures, and Russ, now embarking on annual RV vacations with his wife, Jane, continues to relish the dreams and stories tied to his beloved 1967 SS396 Camaro.