In most parts of the country, you’re lucky if you find your classic hidden away in a dry barn. The reality is that many super-cool cars are just parked outside and left to rust and rot away. If that happens in a dry desert, you’re golden, but if it’s in a wetter part of the country Mother Nature will do all sorts of nasty things to it. Many times, these classics are beyond saving. But if the car is special enough it may be worth trying, even if it’s in awful shape.
This 1968 Camaro SS 396 is such a car. Why? Well, it’s a great factory color, but more importantly it was a heavily optioned car when sold new over 50 years ago. It’s a convertible SS 396 big-block car with air conditioning, tilt column, N30 steering wheel, deluxe interior (without the RS package), power windows, and center console with clock. The Camaro had been parked in an overgrown Delaware, Pennsylvania, yard for over 40 years, which didn’t do the Chevy’s condition any favors.
The SS 396 big-block option was the go-fast package for 1968, and this one even had all the drivability features like power steering and power front disc brakes! Of course, this meant it also had the 12-bolt rear and TH400 transmission upgrades. We were also surprised that it had A/C since many convertible customers skipped this option.
The car was found and saved from its overgrown tomb by avid car- and parts-picker Mike Coe. The SS 396 was in bad shape and getting near the point where it was no longer salvageable. But after dealing with a swarm of bees around the car Coe was able to free the Camaro, and was happy it was solid enough to survive being yanked free. The Camaro’s highly optioned red interior was in surprisingly good shape considering how rusty the metal was, and we imagine it was pretty stunning when new.
That’s where the car’s current owner, Joe Prestia, came into the picture. As he told HOT ROD, “Once Coe obtained the car, he farmed out the photos to some of his friends, who are some of my friends as well. So the photos were being texted, I saw the car, and had to see it in person. Once I saw the car it was obvious that it needed serious metal work and restoration. I recently repaired a convertible Chevelle and sold it, and I was up for the challenge. The Camaro was loaded with options like I had never seen before. It’s Matador Red with red interior and white top. What’s not to like about this color combo and option list? I had to have it, and I probably overpaid a bit considering it originally sold for less than $2,000.00. I really didn’t care. Even if I don’t touch it and let it sit in the barn, it’s high and dry now and will only gain value.”
Prestia is anxious to get to work saving the numbers-matching SS and has been busy tracking down the right parts for the restoration. He’s already found a body jig and is sourcing original sheetmetal to replace what can’t be salvaged. After he posted images on social media, a friend of his named Jim Brady contacted him and said he remembered working on the car at Pep Boys years before when it came in for a battery. A friend of Brady’s was supposed to buy the car way back then, but the deal never happened, and the Camaro was parked. Turns out that the Camaro was well-known around the lower corner of Pennsylvania before falling off the radar. Prestia has a huge amount of work to do on the battered SS 396 drop-top, but we made him promise to update us when it’s back to looking showroom-fresh. To see some of the cool options and features be sure to check out the images in the gallery.
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