This is the tale of a Nassau Blue Camaro. There are no stories about its detailed lineage or the number of times it's changed hands among family members and classic car collectors. Emma Ely bought this Chevy Camaro SS350 in 1970, and that's where the story ends.
Well, not exactly.
Emma began her Camaro love affair when she purchased her first new one in 1968. A woman ran into that car and totaled it, so Emma purchased a new Camaro in 1969-a stick shift-equipped model that leaked when it rained.
On April 13, 1970, while shopping for plants at Doty Farm and Garden Supply in Winter Haven, Florida, the Mobile, Alabama, native saw her baby across the street at the Winter Haven Chevrolet Center. The solid blue Camaro had just arrived and was being unloaded from the hauler.
"Hold that thought," she remembers telling the garden supply clerk before marching across the street to claim what was hers. Emma told Bob Beckett, a salesman at the Chevrolet Center at the time, she would buy the car if he would put some white stripes on it. He did. The car cost $2,958.50, plus an additional $1,459.45 in optional equipment and accessories-including $40 for those white stripes. She made 36 payments of $107.01.
Soon after her purchase she set out for a road trip to Perry. On the way, she decided to test the 300-horsepower car's top speed. "I drove it as fast as it would go," Emma said. "That was about 130 mph."
She has driven her Camaro nearly every day since then. Her odometer registers more than 104,000 miles. But it's actually more than 1,104,000 miles, all on the original motor, transmission, and rear end. That's right, Emma has managed to flip the odometer, surely a feat few car owners do nowadays. Emma chalks up regular oil changes every 3,000 miles, routine tune-ups, and a trip to the mechanic every time she hears an odd noise to keeping the car in good running condition through the years. The F-body has made hundreds of trips from Florida to Mobile, Alabama, and she still puts between 15-20,000 miles on the car annually.
The last time she had to replace the muffler, she purchased a Midas with a lifetime warranty. That was 25 years ago. Although Emma has always taken precautions by parking away from other cars or in a handicapped spot (which she does legally), her baby has not escaped harm throughout the years. A woman rear-ended her about 10 years ago while Emma was at a stop sign, and the woman never stopped. "She pissed me off," Emma said. "I felt like choking her."
Thirty-seven years, three paintjobs, and more than one million miles later, Emma still drives her Camaro daily. She likes when people look at her, point at her car, and wave. She appreciates that it isn't every day people get to see a 72-year-old woman driving a '70 Camaro SS350 around town.
Emma's Camaro recently got a fresh paintjob and some new parts thanks to Rob Keenan at Precision Collision in Winter Haven. Rob says he'll never forget the day he met with her to discuss the project. Emma explained what she wanted Rob to do and pointed to a box of parts she had purchased for him to put on the car. Before he left, she issued this warning: "I'm gonna tell you right now, young fellow, if I don't like it, I'm not paying you." That comment didn't surprise Bob, who sold Emma the car and is friends with Rob. "There's always one customer you never forget," Bob says. "Mine was Emma Ely."
When Bob saw Emma's car being repainted at Precision Collision, his heart sank. He thought Rob had purchased the car. "I always hoped to have first dibs on the car if Emma ever sold it," he says. When Bob learned Emma was having the car restored, he and Rob devised a plan to have Bob once again present the keys to her car when she picked it up.
That was a surprise Emma had not anticipated. The mini-restoration cost the retired nurse about $6,000-nearly twice what she originally paid for the car, but that's OK. "I love it," she said. "It probably looks better now than when it was new."
When Rob teased her about selling the car to him, she used that 25-year-old Midas muffler as an excuse to hold onto the car a while longer. "I have a lifetime warranty on that muffler, and I'm going to make sure it lasts," Emma said.
In addition to her muffler paperwork, Emma now has to keep track of the paperwork for her paintjob. Rob gave her a lifetime warranty on that, too. "She's had this car so long, I don't think she should have to pay for another paintjob," Rob said.
Rob tried to convince Emma to allow him to replace the Camaro's original hubcaps with Rally wheels during the restoration. Emma said no. It isn't a "less is more" attitude that keeps Emma from adding the sporty touch to her car. For her, less is just right.