"It was what it was," Claude De Luca says in his Aussie accent. And what it was, was pretty exciting: a genuine big-block RS/SS 1970 Camaro. Yet, driving down the street in Southern California, "all you would see was a car cover over a car. You wouldn't have known what was under there."
The Camaro was parked "just up the road from Pasadena," Claude recalls. He found out about the hot Chevy from a buddy named Allen Headrick. Otherwise, the car wasn't advertised, and the owner, as events unfolded, would hold onto his car until the end.
"I met Allen back in 2010 when I purchased his brother's 1967 Impala SS 396," says Claude. "Allen and I kept in contact, and he mentioned to me he had a friend, Gary Kone, who had a 1970 RS/SS Camaro 396 he may be looking to part with."
Claude has been traveling to California from Australia for the past 30 years on holidays filled with fun outings to automotive swap meets. On those trips he has rounded up a vast array of cars from the 1920s to the 1970s, a preponderance of which have been vintage Camaros, "fulfilling hobby dreams."
Claude sold most of those cars, which has helped fuel more trips to buy more. American muscle cars are very popular in the land down under.
"I told Allen I would be keen to have a look. Allen got in contact with me a few days later and gave me Gary's number. I rang the number and no answer, so I left a message. Gary called back and we started talking about his Camaro. Gary said he wasn't looking at selling at the moment. He mentioned he was not well and had cancer. He wanted to hold on to the Camaro, and when he got better he wanted to restore it."
Claude asked to see the car before flying back to Australia. That way, if Gary ever did decide to sell, Claude would have an idea of what the car was like.
Apparently, deep down Gary was very intent on keeping his Camaro, despite his cancer. Claude said that Gary didn't want him to come out and look at the car, but finally agreed. Gary held tight to the dream of restoring his SS396.
Claude found a Camaro with "rust in common places." The white coupe was "rundown" from exposure to the weather, but complete. The RS/SS still had its factory Protect-O-Plate, along with a matching numbers L34-option 350hp 396, a Muncie four-speed transmission, factory A/C, and the original 12-bolt rearend.
A quick check of the Camaro White Book reveals a production run of 1,864 1970 Camaros with the L34 in both automatic and four-speed versions. In contrast, Z28 production for 1970 totaled 8,733.
"I said to Gary, 'Let me know if you decide to sell, as I am keen to purchase.'"
Four months later Claude headed back to Los Angeles and met with Allen. Gary was "in a bad way, but still didn't want to sell."
Claude continued his holiday, which was five weeks this jaunt. On his last week he got an email from Allen stating a decision had been made. The car was now for sale. Gary's partner, Linda, and her brother, Jon, helped with the sale.
"I picked up the car on a Wednesday afternoon. That night Gary passed away," Claude said.
He got a very good deal on the Camaro, but he has no intention to sell. Almost five years has passed. Claude has shipped the Camaro to Australia and will eventually restore this rare muscle Camaro "the way Gary intended."