(Words and Photos by Bob Chiluk) Van Nuys California and Norwood Ohio have always been known as the two plants where the first three generations of Camaros were built. It turns out that Norwood built their very last car, their very last Camaro, in August of 1997. Fittingly, it was a red IROC Z28 and was raffled off to the employees at the Norwood Plant. Bob Chiluk recently saw that car, got the story, and shares it with us below.
While roaming the vast expanse of the Stephenson Convention Center, we came upon this car. Well at first glance it didn’t really look out of the ordinary. A third gen Camaro is already some thirty years old and is eligible for antique plates in a number of states now, and are popping up as affordable collectibles. GM cranked out a ton of them during their production run at the Norwood Ohio plant, and this one was prominently displayed in the main hall at the Muscle Car And Corvette Nationals.
Collectors of any era make and model always seem to seek out the earliest, the most optioned, the least optioned , the one of whatever, or the last one in a run. We had some time to talk to Phil Borris , the owner of this gorgeously restored third gen Camaro on display. Phil being around and well versed in the first generation Camaros and their restoration, had set his sights to find the last Camaro built at the Norwood Ohio plant before it was shut down. This particular Camaro that Phil was fixed on was actually well known. It was well known that it was a 1997 red IROC Z28 that was built on August 26, 1997, and it was the very LAST car to roll down the assembly line at Norwood. The car was raffled off to the employees at the plant. The winner was known, the serial number was known, the hoopla of the event was filmed. Not much after that and the story stops.
It seems that the winner of the car was cast into the limelight as being the owner of a rare car. Even back then, a lot of people knew it was a special car. Bright red, the talk of the town, with a special gold plaque on the console signifying its importance in the car world. Fame and glory eventually died off as the owner grew tired of being bugged about the car. Being used for an every day car, he eventually traded it in to buy a new truck. The car ended up having a few more owners and soon fell off the radar. That’s where Phil comes in.
As with some of us car guys, some have the curiosity sparked to find a historically significant car. Armed with a known VIN, a state where it was known to be originally registered, and knowing who owned, it seems like it should be an easy find right? Lead after lead ended up with no Camaro. The colder the trail became, the more determined he became, and Phil wasn’t about to give up. He traveled to towns where people thought it might be, talked to the salesman that took it in on a trade, and still nothing. A tip came in with a name and a state, and since he didn’t have much else, he jumped in his car and headed off to Kentucky to check out his only other lead. He eventually got a name and through a data search got a match and address! Bingo!
Not so fast.
The name checked out.
The address checked out, or so he thought. He was home free!
Only problem with the owners current address is that it was the Kentucky State Penitentiary!
Ok, Phil came this far so he had to find the car! As you can guess, a stranger coming to visit you in the Big House wanting to buy a car you have may be a tricky situation to go through. Back and forth visits with the owner and wild goose chases as to where the car was stored finally netted the elusive Camaro. Upon finally being able to see and pick up the car came another let down. No motor in the car. All this work, time and chasing are for naught with out the mill!
“Oh, you want the engine too?” Well that important part of the puzzle was at one time sold for some extra cash. “We sold it to a Preacher who needed it his van. He has it now.” Being this close yet possibly so far in this whole ordeal didn’t stop Phil from finding that Preacher with the missing puzzle piece that was so vital in this whole ordeal! The deal was struck with the man of the cloth and the engine was yanked then and there. The carcass of the van was left road side and all the important pieces were now in Phil’s possession.
A meticulous nut and bolt restoration was undertaken to bring this 1997 Camaro back to it’s original, as rolled off the assembly line, condition. The attention to detail as to its build, including the slightly misaligned graphics as documented by day of build videos, were put on the Camaro. This is a piece of history and those involved with it that were still alive were put on the hunt list as well. Phil was able to put together a group of men that were there on the last day. Even the worker who put the last piece of trim on the last day, were gathered together and brought to MCACN 2017 to be part of the display and interview session with the public.
We want to thank Phil for not giving up and bringing this significant car back to the masses to enjoy!