When the Chevrolet Camaro was selected as the “Official Pace Car” for the May 30, 1967 running of the Indianapolis 500, the Bow-Tie boys pulled out all the stops to put their brand-new pony car in the best possible light.
The GM work order originally called for three Pace Cars, but for whatever reason only two were built along with additional replicas and “festival” cars that were used at the race by officials and emissaries.
The replicas and festival cars used both 350 and 396ci engines in various horsepower and transmission combinations, but the two cars that would be doing the pacing honors were much more defined and interesting.
The Pace Cars were specified as RS/SS 396 convertibles. The intriguing fact is that they were built on the assembly line as 375hp four-speed models that were then sent off to be specially prepped, with instructions for the drivelines to be switched to balanced and blueprinted 325hp 396s connected to Turbo 400 automatic transmissions and 3.31:1-geared 12-bolt Posi. But why? No one exactly knows. It could have been that something in the suspension was slightly beefer.
Other Pace Car-only items included a grab handle on the windshield frame and one on each of the rear-inside quarter-panels for parading officials, flags supports off the rear tail panel, and a hood lock to avoid engine tampering which could potentially embarrass GM.
Additionally, the work order called for “show quality paint.” In order to guarantee that the Pace Car would not receive a yellow flag itself, all suspension pieces were magafluxed and the tires were x-rayed to ensure they were defect-free.
After the running of the race the tradition is for the main Pace Car to be presented to the winner. The winner in 1967 was A.J. Foyt, but right away he refused the car. The official excuse was that the car did not have the air conditioning necessary to keep him cool in his Texas climate. The rumored reason was that it wasn’t a good idea for A.J. to be connected to Chevrolet’s hot new pony car when his main sponsor was the Ford Motor Company.
After pacing events for the remainder of the 1967 season, U.S.A.C. offered the dejected drop top, with 12,000-miles showing on the clock, back to the Indianapolis, Indiana dealership which had completed all the final preparation on the vehicle, as well as the prep on all of the festival pace cars. That dealership was Dan Young Chevrolet. After snapping up the rare machine for $2,000 they proudly kept the Camaro on display in their showroom for many years. (Note: some confusion surrounds the fact that at one point “Dan Young Chevrolet” was lettered on the rear of the car for promotion and many pictures of this exist. They removed this lettering when the car was sent to the Indy museum for display a few years ago.)
Enter the 1967 Pace Car’s current curator and the twisted tale of how the car entered his collection. Camaro collector Charlie Lilliard is one of the lucky individuals who has owned or owns some of the rarest and most prized examples of Chevrolet Camaros. A few of his highlights currently include the ONLY Berger Chevrolet-prepped `69 ZL1, a `69 Z/28 RS restored by super-collector Carl Dwiggins which he fitted with one of six experimental `69 “porcupine head” 302s, and a famous pair of Mark Stielow-built First-Gens (the `67 “Red Witch” and the `69 “Thrasher”). One of the more unusual cars is a one-off `80 Motion Phase III Camaro which started life as a brand-new Z/28, but after an additional $23,000 (1980 dollars!) was spent by the original owner, a balanced and blueprinted 510hp LS6, a Chrysler Liberty four-speed, and a 12-bolt Posi were all fitted.
One car, which Charlie had always been after, was an original `67 Pace Car Camaro and even a 375hp factory-replica pace car did not quench his want of the really rare one—he wanted the one that paced the race. The word from Al Young, the son of dealership and original Pace Car owner Dan Young, was that the car would most likely end up being donated to a museum someday.
Then fate twisted like it so often does. While attending a local car show one of Charlie’s friends was displaying his ‘67 Pace Car replica when he was approached by a man who said, “I have one of these, it’s the one that actually paced the race.” It was Al Young and overhearing this Charlie made his move and asked if he would consider selling the car to him. It just happened that Dan Young had sold his dealership and since the car was just sitting in storage Charlie’s offer was accepted.
What exactly Charlie has been able to add to his collection is a nearly 100 percent original `67 RS/SS 396 Pace Car Camaro Convertible which he’s thrilled to be able to get out and share with people who’ve never had a chance to see the car. He reports that the `67 was built so well that the unrestored car still drives like a dream, and he intends to drive it often. He does want to replace the original Firestone Super Sport Wide Oval E-70/14 (with 3/8-inch red line) tires that were still on the car when these photos were taken with a new set of repro rubber to make it a little safer to cruise.