On the Road: 1981 Camaro Berlinetta
Calgarian bought classic coupe as a teen, and after major restoration has designs on driving it when he's 95
Not many of us can claim we still own our first car four decades after the purchase. But Larry Vanderveen of Calgary can, and it’s an extraordinary story. Vanderveen was 16 in 1982 when he got a part time job at the All West supermarket in Midnapore. He’d already been attending car shows such as the World of Wheels and was interested in car culture.
“I’d see some of the guys at work with their cool cars, like a ’68 Firebird and a ’80 Z28,” Vanderveen says, and adds, “that’s when the light really switched on for me. I realized I was now making enough money to buy a car and wanted to get something built in North America. I was thinking about either a Corvette or a Camaro.”
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On the Road: 1981 Camaro Berlinetta Back to video
He talked to his dad about the vehicle purchase plan. His dad had some interest in cars and did, at one time, own a 1972 Plymouth Duster. “I’d search the Auto Trader for a car, but it was my dad who came home one day and said, ‘I think I found a car for you,’” Vanderveen explains.
On the lot at Jack Carter Chevrolet was a 1981 Camaro Berlinetta, an L-Code car with a 305 cubic-inch V8 engine and automatic transmission in midnight blue with factory T-tops and 11,000 kilometres on the odometer. The price was $8,200.
“I’d had a job before the supermarket, and had already saved $1,500,” Vanderveen recalls. “As long as I kept working at my new job, my dad said he’d help me take out a loan. Needless to say, I bought the car. I was 16 and certainly driving in style to high school and to special events.”
Even at that young age, Vanderveen pampered the Camaro. He didn’t drive it during the winter and instead kept it parked in the garage from October to April.
“I just had this mindset that the car was special, and I had this sense that the longer I kept it and the cleaner I kept it, the more collectible it might become,” he says.
While working at All West, Vanderveen met his future wife. She was training on till number 10 and the two quickly became friends.
“I started to drive her to school in my Camaro, and I courted her for several years in that car,” he says. “The Camaro played a role in the entire dating and engagement process, and even though the car wasn’t that old, I already had a ton of fantastic memories with it.”
In the late-Eighties, the engaged couple moved to Vancouver to attend university. Money was tight, and Vanderveen couldn’t afford to pay for insurance on the Camaro. He parked the car, and the pair spent eight years in Vancouver. When they moved back to Calgary in the late-Nineties, money was still a little tight. His wife, who had graduated as a nurse, needed a car to get to work. After a tune up and some new tires, for the first time in its life, the Camaro was put to use as a commuter car.
Not many kilometres were added, however, before a new Mazda became the main vehicle in the family. Once again, the Camaro was parked. Around 2010, though, Vanderveen decided it was time to resurrect his Camaro. While not afraid to perform his own maintenance such as oil changes or swapping out an alternator, he prefers to trust a professional when the work becomes more involved. He searched for a shop to take on the job and found Classic Performance in northeast Calgary.
“The Camaro was towed from my garage to Classic Performance for an expected six to seven week refresh,” Vanderveen says. “Overall, the car was still in great condition but required some top engine work on seals and hoses, a new battery, new tires, and a new paint job. The years had taken their toll on the poorer quality GM factory paint of the era. We also added a retro CD/Bluetooth capable stereo so I can put on my Eighties’ tunes like Depeche Mode and New Order.”
The plan is to be driving it when I’m 95.
Apart from the stereo, the interior of the car is completely original and in amazing condition. Today, Vanderveen uses the Camaro as a summertime cruiser and there are only 63,000 kilometres on the odometer. As the last year of the second-generation Camaro, Vanderveen’s car does now have some collector value, but it’s taken time to appreciate.
“Many of these 1970s and ‘80s Camaros were run hard and most never made it out of the’ 90s,” Vanderveen says. “While GM built roughly 20,000 of my Camaro type in the 1981 model year, they are a very rare vintage today.
“But I’d never sell it, the plan is to be driving it when I’m 95.”
Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have a column tip? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or firstname.lastname@example.org