We can remember testing at Lions dragstrip one afternoon in 1970 when Dick Arons and Wally Booth rolled in with their clean, emerald green '68 Camaro Pro Stocker. Dick wrenched, Wally drove. Guru Jim McFarland was at Edelbrock then and he came to watch the proceedings and help with the tuning. We went about our business but kept our good eye on the green car nonetheless. McFarland and Arons hovered over the engine compartment. Booth strapped in. We watched as he made a strong, clean lap. Then cheers and huzzahs boomed from the Pro Stock camp. They'd clipped off their first unofficial 9-second pass. Just a scoche less than 10, but a 9-second lap at that.
Arons was about our age, mid-20s, maybe younger though he looked about 17. We wondered out loud how such a kid could possess so much knowledge of the craft. (Hint: he was tight with Bill Jenkins.) We'd been watching him ever since he and Gordy Foust had campaigned the Garnet Red Super Stock/E '69 Camaro, the car they used to win class at the NHRA Springnationals in Dallas, circa '69. Gordy drove. The wrenches of the day were Joe Hrapkowski and none other than Richard Maskin (just plain Rich back then). These guys ran the circuit, all the time sponsored by Berger Chevrolet (Grand Rapids, MI) and by secondary partner Motion Performance. It was a marriage of equal convenience. Berger sold parts to Dick at cost and Dick sold Berger speed equipment at the same rate. Then things escalated sharply. Arons partnered with Booth for the fledgling NHRA Pro Stock circus, first in the green Camaro and then, in '71, on a full factory deal with an AMC Gremlin.
Arons' deal with Berger Chevy was to use the Camaro until the end of the year and then ante up. Dick ran an ad in the Nov. 21, 1969, issue of National Dragster to sell the car in order to pay Berger off. Dick Wolverton bought the red Camaro a month later. By then, the rules had changed and Super Stock cars were allowed any rear axle and wheel tubs to accommodate the 32-inch tires. When Wolverton moved to Florida, he dragged the artifact with him. After 15 years of service, Wolverton parked it. It sulked in his garage on four flat tires. Mold blanketed the seats and tried to become one with the car. The last time he'd fired the engine was in 1986.
Now crank up to summer of 2003. Ah, the world was definitely a different place. Enter GMMG's (www.gmmginc.net) 40-year old Matt Murphy (Marietta, GA). Matt is responsible for the modern renditions of the ZL1 Camaros, Dick Harrell Edition Camaros, and countless dealer-branded high-performance Camaros. Chevy in his blood? Oh, you bet graybeards. His dad Matt Sr. spent 37 years with GM Corporate. Baby Matt slid headfirst into the plate and his very first ride in anything was in his pop's '65 Corvette Coupe. His dad always had one, so Matt grew up around the mystique of the marque and all it represented.
Matt is also a collector. He's got '67, '68, and '70 Camaros and was looking hard for a '69 COPO big-block. His avocation led eventually to his reason for life. "I enjoy working on the new Camaros and collecting the old ones. I believe knowing the history of the old Camaros and what is collectible has helped me to build some of the most unique 4th-generation Camaros for limited Chevy dealers and the Camaro brand team."
Three years ago, he found his desire huddling in Wolverton's garage. "I then noticed the 209 miles on odometer," said Matt. "I asked Dick about them and he said that the car had been a drag car its whole life and was never tagged for the street, so the odometer registered a 1/2-mile at a time [1/4 mile down and 1/4-mile back to the pits]."
Matt was in a quandary: should he flat restore the piece or make modifications as part of its rehabilitation? "When I found out about the unique history of the car, I decided that it needed a complete restoration and wanted to bring it back to its 1969 racing look," offered Matt. "NHRA rules for 1969 didn't require a roll bar but the rear axle had to be stock, so I decided to get rid of the Dana axle and the tubs."
After purchasing the old Berger drag car in June of 2003, Murphy hauled it to the Camaro Superfest in Detroit later that month. Matt Berger had informed Murphy that Dick Arons Race Engines was still in business in the same location as it was in 1969, off 12 mile Road in Berkley. And there were specific others who knew the history of the car at the show. Brain Henderson, Joe Swezey and Frank Arone operate Supercar Workshop in Latrobe, PA. "I knew that they were the ones to do it," said Matt. "They knew the history of the car and the legacy of Dick Arons and Gordy Foust.
Serendipity ramped up. Matt dragged the hulk to Berkley on a fact-finding/blow-Arons'-mind tour. Murphy said, "I didn't know how old Dick was and was very surprised to find him still in business and working there that Monday morning.
"I asked him if he remembered this car and showed him one of the old photos. He looked at it and said, 'My old Super Stock Camaro.' I asked if he thought much about the car or if he'd seen it since 1969 and he said, 'Well, I remember building the guy who bought it from me a few motors in the early '70s and I haven't seen it since the Gatornationals in 1971. Then I asked if he'd like to see it. His eyes flickered and then lit up. 'You have my old car?'
Arons couldn't believe his old car was still around and in such good condition. "We talked about restoring it and I asked him right then if he'd build me a new 427 motor for it and told him we'd restore it to '69 race condition. He was excited to be part of it again, I could tell, as he said, 'Sure, I can do that for you.'
"And then just before the restoration began in December of '03, my friend Greg in Atlanta said that he knew someone named Gordy Foust. He said that Gordy was into drag racing. I thought it couldn't be the same guy, but Greg insisted and said he would find his number and call him. A day later, Greg called me and said, 'It's him, he wants to come see his old car.' The next day Gordy came by with his scrapbook and a few friends of his from Detroit.