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The Summer Of '69s... Again!

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On: Wed, Apr 13, 2011 at 9:43AM | By: Andrew W Davis

The Summer Of '69s... Again!

The month of May is coming up, and for most car-focused folks that means the Indy 500—and all it entails—is on the way.

This year that last bit really means something as the 2011 race is being celebrated as the 100th anniversary of the first race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet.

Naturally, Chevy was given the nod to provide the Speedway with its pace and “Festival Committee” cars (the former leads the field of racers during the start of and any pauses in racing while the latter are used by officials and workers to reach various places and events around the Speedway. They also participate in the pre-race parade around the track.), and it chose the race as a good place to unveil its new Camaro Convertible.

But this is not the Camaros's first rodeo at the Brickyard. In fact, Camaros have paced the race six times, in 1967, 1969, 1982, 1993, and the last two runnings of the race in 2009 and 2010.

Though the 1967 pace car was important because it unveiled the original Camaro, the pacer that has really resonated with the public—and collectors—over the years has been the design unveiled for the 1969 Indy 500, in all its white-with-orange-double-overhead-stripes glory.

And in keeping with the whole retro theme to the new Camaro, these pace car convertibles are clearly emulating those fielded in 1969, right down to the door lettering.

Technically, the 500 pace Camaros being built for consumer consumption are termed “replicas” as the “real” pace cars used in the race are museum- or collection-bound before they even cool down at race’s end.

If you can find—and afford—one.

All 500 replicas have been spoken for, and many have even been delivered. This means you can kiss MSRP goodbye and pay whatever someone is asking (eBay sales are in the $60k region, FYI).

Now, if you’re Donald Trump—the man picked to drive the actual pace car in the actual race (!)—that doesn’t matter. But for the rest of us, never fear, as I’ll tell you how to get (most of) one:

Start with a Summit White Camaro convertible with the full-boat “2SS” trim level and Inferno Orange interior, which lists for $41k. Add the $1,800 “RS Package” and whatever it costs you to paint on the orange stripes and purchase the decals from your local dealer and you’ll have your very own replica of the replica of the Indy 500 pace Camaro!

Vehicle value in 42 years may vary…

Pace car Camaros: They came every so often. Some were even good.
[NOTE: This is NOT the 100th Indy 500, contrary to what many are reporting. The race did not run during the World Wars (1917, 1918 and 1942 to 1945) so the number on the “__ running of the Indy 500” DOES NOT match the “100” you’d expect at the 2011 race as it’s RACE count vs. YEARS count. Indy itself stopped counting in 2008 at 92nd, switching to "Centennial Era" for 2009 and 2010, and then using "100th Anniversary" for 2011. I didn't. But I invite you back to celebrate the 100th running of the Indy 500, in 2016...]

1967– Camaro RS/SS convertible – 51st running of the Indianapolis 500 – Camaro #1, Chevy #3

This is the year that started it all, both the string of pace cars and the Camaro itself. The first Chevrolet to lead the field since 1955 was an Ermine White Camaro SS convertible with the Rally Sport package (including “hidden” headlamps), medium-blue stripes, and a blue interior. The two on-track cars were outfitted with the hottest engine then available, the 396 cu.-in. V8. Though rated at 375 hp for street/replica use, on-track cars were “massaged” for even more oomph.

Though exact numbers are disputed, there are fewer than 100 Camaros—81 is the best-supported number I’ve seen—of any stripe (sorry) involved in any way with Indy that year. Apart from the two “real” pace cars, the rest are “replicas” of sorts, divided for use amongst Indianapolis Motor Speedway personnel, law enforcement- and media-use fleets and the like before finding their way into other hands.

Though harder to find, they are also less sought-after in general than their successor. It wouldn’t be my choice, even if I was looking for one. A pace Camaro, I mean. But I’m not. Never mind.

1969– Camaro RS/SS convertible – 53rd Indianapolis 500 – Camaro #2, Chevy #4

This is “the” Camaro pace car, and the one copied by Chevy for the 2011 version. Much had changed in just two years, with the 1969 Ermine White RS/SS Camaro convertibles now sporting bold orange double-overhead stripes, orange accents—known collectively as the “Z11” package—and orange interiors.

One of the things that stayed the same, however, was the engine. The two track-bound cars retained the 396 cu.-in. “Turbo-Jet” V8, still officially-rated at 375 hp. As for off-track cars, however, Chevy was more on the ball this year, building 3,675 replicas. All were RS/SS convertibles, but buyers could choose the “lesser” 350 cu.-in. V8 in place of the 396 (though why you would escapes me).

The good news for collectors—and bad news for sellers—is that even with such high demand for the cars, with so many built, the values have stayed relatively low. Unless you have a documented, used-at-the-Indy 500, 396-equipped car in as-new condition you’re not going to retire on a pace car-funded pension.

Speaking of which, as for the door-fulls of lettering, leave them in the trunk. I’ve seen ’69 pace Camaros both ways, and the lettering looks dumb. You have to keep it; naturally, you just don’t have to apply it. It’s probably worth more unstuck, anyway.

1982– Camaro Z28 T-top coupe – 66th Indianapolis 500 – Camaro #3, Chevy #6

Bypassing the second-generation altogether, the next Camaro to turn a wheel on race day was the third-gen Z28, the look of which nowadays brings to mind the “IROC” name in many. Once again it was a brand-new design the Camaro was wearing on its outing, though it wasn’t in the convertible body style you might have expected. Heck, it wasn’t even white.

I don’t know if it was designed by committee or what, but the mostly-silver-but-with-a-few-blue-bands-down-low color scheme was, at best, a mistake. Pace cars are all about selling look-alikes to the general public. That’s why you bother in the first place. So when you make your pace cars bland and invisible, who wants to buy one “for real”?

Though it scared the wits out of the beauty queens that had to sit atop them, the “T-Top” roofs were a better choice, and very popular with nearly everyone else. The aluminum-block, fuel-injected 350 cu.-in. V8s would have been as well, were it not for the fact that only the two “real” pacers got them.

Buyers still got a 350, however, and apart from “a few changes for emissions, safety, and economy”, their one of 6,000 “Commemorative Editions” was as visually close to the (near-invisible) pace car as it could be. To say that bland styling and “over-production” hurt the value of these cars is unfair to shoddy build quality and tepid performance as chief reasons for financial-value failure.

1993– Camaro Z28 Indy coupe – 77th Indianapolis 500 – Camaro #4, Chevy #9

Oh, the ribbons. The new-for-‘93 Camaro finally escaped the IROC age and now looked like a sharpened dart compared with its bent block-styled predecessor. But it seems the same committee that designed the ’82 pace car scheme was still in power in ’93, as it chose black-over-white as its go-with combo. Does black look good on a Camaro? You bet. But does a black-topped car look good on actual blacktop, especially on TV? Who knows? You can’t even see it!

To add in-showroom insult to injury, however, the scheme didn’t stop there. Beginning as a tight group of stripes at the nose and flourishing into various “ribbons” as it flows back from there, the dividing lines between black and white were—wait for it—powder blue, yellow, maroon and pink. And to make sure you couldn’t escape the fabulousness, Chevy used a new process called 3-D Knitting to cover the interior in “complimentary” patterns of the above.

But fear not; every other vehicle—from wreckers to safety trucks—was “ribboned-up” just as much, so everyone would know you really had an Indy 500-related car (though this might have been the year to skip it rather than seek one out). Fortunately for all of us, someone at GM limited the run of Z28 Indys to “just” 645. And worst case, if you’re stuck with one, just repaint and reupholster it as they were mechanically identical to every other Z28 coupe. So there’s that.

2009 & 2010– Camaro RS/SS coupes – 93rd and 94th Indianapolis 500s – Camaro #5&6, Chevy #20&21

So, here’s where things get confusing. Thanks to a fit of pique at GM, the all-new Camaro carried a born-on date of 2010. So the 2009 pace car is a 2010 Camaro. But then the Camaro was picked as pace car again for 2010, so there’s another 2010 Camaro pace car. Got it?

OK, the first 2010 Camaro SS pace coupe started to fall into the same trap as the ’82, but someone at GM Design snuck in at the last minute and threw some red die-cut vinyl splashes and stripes atop its plain silver paint. It wasn’t really necessary, however, as GM had owned the pace car selection process since 1997 after already been a 44-time “winner.” Didn’t know that? How about this: Out of the last 13 pace cars, seven were Corvettes—including five in a row ’04-‘08—three were Oldsmobiles and two weren’t even cars (2001 Olds Bravada SUV & 2003 Chevy SSR pickup).

So now the re-running of the second 2010 Camaro actually in 2010 makes sense, right? Well, forget about 2009. GM forgot they had to do “some damn pace thing” that year and only the Camaro guy was left in the building when everyone else went to lunch. It’s 2010 that was the real-deal for Camaro. To prove it, they—you guessed it—went into their famous “1969 Goodie Bag” and pulled out the bright-orange-with-white-double-overhead-stripes paint scheme that Camaro Z/28s wear better than anything else. Sure, it was metallic “Inferno” orange, not the famous “Hugger” from back then, but 40 years had passed, at least in paint technology.

Want a “pace car edition” Camaro from these years? They exist, though they're little more than regular Camaros with look-alike paint and badging. Only a few hundred were made for each year.

2011– Camaro RS/SS Convertible – 95th Indianapolis 500 – Camaro #7, Chevy #22

Everything old is new again. It’s like 42 years have passed for everyone but the guy who decided how they’d paint this year’s pace car. Oh, and the replica-building guy was found alive. Everyone thought he was dead or something, but it seems that they can make lots of replicas again. And will.

Well, 500. Or 550. Depends on who you ask. But certainly not three-thousand-and-something like the last time they sold this paint job. Oddly enough, right now you can buy a new-ish ’69 pace car for the same money as a 2011 model, so if that was your intent, GM, kudos. I still prefer Hugger Orange over Inferno, but I can’t afford either so you don’t care.

So, if history is any kind of judge, a decade or so from now a new Camaro will appear and those on high will make it a pace car again. Or the Camaro will disappear again, leaving the Corvette to pace the race 50 times in a row. Either way, don't bet on there not being an Indy 500 that needs pacing, whether it's tasked to lead a field of nuclear-powered unicycles or granola-eating dudes in short-shorts around that famous(ly-named) track.

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