The story of “The Last Van Nuys Camaro” begins in the spring of 1991. I had seen the new 1991 Dark Teal Metallic paint that was being used on the Rally Sport cars and thought it would be interesting to try and order a Z28 in this color. According to the local Chevrolet dealers, it was not available. Not convinced by their lack of interest in pursuing this project further, I decided to do it on my own with help from a friend, Larry Conard at Schildberg’s Chevrolet in Greenfield, Iowa. He gave me the phone number to the zone office in Kansas City, where I made my first call.
The Kansas City office was of little help so I tried the Minneapolis zone office and then the General Motors Customer Assistance office. No luck. Not one to be easily discouraged, I recalled a magazine article that mentioned the name of a Chevrolet dealership that was located on Van Nuys Boulevard, in Van Nuys, California. “These guys must know how to get an answer”, I thought. I called and asked to talk with their Sales Manager, but the receptionist said he was attending a meeting at the Van Nuys plant. My next question was, “Do you have a number for the Van Nuys plant?” “Sure”, she said. The Chevrolet zone offices would not give me the phone number for the Van Nuys plant when I asked for it.
I called the number, and, what luck, it was the direct number to the desk of the F-Body Specifications Engineer. I explained to him what I was trying to do and for the first time the answer was not, “You can’t get that done.” I was given other “important” names and telephone numbers to contact for a definite answer. Several days and several phone calls later, I finally had an answer. “No!” The problem was that the hood louvers and rear spoiler would not be available in the Dark Teal Metallic color. These parts came already molded in color rather than painted. I told them that I would take black louvers and a rear spoiler, but they said the chance for a mistake was too great. I could end up with a car that had black doorjambs and a Teal exterior. I could understand the problems in what I was asking them to do, so now I had my final answer. They did tell me that the color would be available on the 1992 Z28 if I were willing to wait. That might have been OK, but I wanted something special.
In August of 1991, I bought a black 1991 Z28 with 13,000 miles on it. It was a nice car at a good price. I polished the car a lot and drove it very little. In October 1991, on my first trip out of town with the car, I hit a deer. Not a good night. I stopped in the next town and reported it to the Highway Patrol. The officer looked at the car and asked me if I thought there was more than $500 in damages. I was certain there was, so I filled out an accident report and went on my way.
The body shop estimate was $2,200. I think the patrol officer was out of touch with repair costs. A new fender, new hood and a new nose assembly were needed, but luckily there was no structural damage. The car looked great when it was finished, but I did not want a car that had been fixed. My plan had been to keep the car, but not now.
In April of 1992, I sold the car to pursue a new project. I had been reading stories on the 25th Anniversary Camaro and the Limited Edition Z28 that GM considered building. The cars interested me, but the fact that this was the last year of the third generation Camaro and the last year of the Van Nuys cars, really interested me. I thought it would be neat to get the last car built at the Van Nuys plant. It seemed to me that this should be a special car! Just think:
I had kept my list of “important” names and phone numbers from my last adventure, so on May 4th, 1992, I made a phone call. I explained who I was and referenced the “important” person on the last conversation that we had had one year prior regarding the Dark Teal Metallic Z28. He said, “Oh yes, I remember!” I said, “Just wait until you hear what I have for an idea this time!” I told him I wanted to buy the last 1992 Camaro and I wanted it to be the last car built on the Van Nuys assembly line.
We discussed the idea and I explained some special things that I wanted on the “Wish List” car. These included 1LE brakes, aluminum driveshaft, Eagle GSC tires, back paint with silver 25th Anniversary stripes and a gray leather interior. I was asked to write a letter explaining just what I wanted to do and then fax it to him. I wrote the letter in about ten minutes and faxed it to him. I was surprised the answer wasn’t an immediate, “No!” I thought that Chevrolet might have a plan for this car since it was a unique combination of “lasts”.
On May 6th, Larry Conard from Schildberg’s Chevrolet and myself put together an order for the Camaro I wanted. I faxed this to Chevrolet with a small note that read, “Any news yet?” I kept a record of eleven meaningful conversations that I had had with General Motor’s people as well as about twenty other phone calls where little information was exchanged.
On May 22nd, we placed the actual order for the car with the Kansas City zone office. The last date to order a Camaro was May 26th and we did not want to miss that date. I had not been told that they would build the car for me yet, but we had 30 days or so to cancel the order if they said, “No.” There was some discussion that a General Motors executive might want the last car, but on May 27th, I received a call and was told that I could have the car!
On June 2nd, I received a call that stated that Chevrolet wouldn’t make any special changes to the car. It had to be a standard production car. The comment was that they thought the car would be valuable enough just as it was and they did not want to make it any more valuable. Because of this news, I decided to change the color of the car to red with red leather interior and black Heritage stripes. This color change was made over the phone with Chevrolet and no written change order request was ever made.
My next phone call came on June 5th, when a Chevrolet Customer Relations person called to tell me that they could build the last Z28 for me, but that it might not be the last car. He said they normally build base model cars the last few weeks of production when a plant is closing. This is due to material shortages. I told him that I was no manufacturing expert, but if the parts for my car would be available on August 15th, then why couldn’t the same parts be available on August 27th? He said that he would see what he could do.
Finally, on July 10th, they decided they could build the car as the very last car. The word that I got on how they decided to build the car was that the top Chevrolet executive said, “If he wants the car that damn bad, we should build it for him!” I think this was the right decision, but, of course, I am a little biased. I do think it was good of Chevrolet to let this car be sold to a customer when they could have easily kept it for a General Motors employee.
From July 14th until I went to the Van Nuys plant on August 26th, all of my conversations were with Van Nuys personnel. I had to get permission from the Van Nuys plant manager in order to watch the car being built and to take pictures of it. I was told I could watch the car being built and film it during production. I thought this was great so I ordered a new Sony video camera and waited for August 25th to come so I could fly to California.
On August 6th, I received a call from a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News. They sent a photographer to take some pictures of me and did a very nice article in the Sunday paper. The Des Moines Register came out to see me the same day and put an article about the car on the front page. Many people must have read these two articles because I began getting phone calls and letters congratulating me on getting the car and asking me questions about Camaro’s they owned. One person wanted to know how to join a Camaro club while another wanted to know what their Camaro was worth. One gentleman wanted to sell me Amsoil for my car because it deserved the best.
August 25th finally arrived and I flew to the Burbank, California airport, rented a car, and went to find the plant and my motel. When I arrived at the motel, they told me that I had a message. It was from FOX News Network and they wanted me to call them. I made the call and found out that they wanted to send over a camera crew and do an interview. I told them that I was too tired and that I had to be up early because the assembly line at Van Nuys starts at 6:12 AM. Actually, I did not want to talk to them until after meeting with the public relations people at the plant. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing and make General Motor’s people mad at this point.
I was up at 4:00 AM on August 26th, and at the plant by 5:30 AM. The public relations person arrived about twenty minutes later and had me sign in at the security gate. The security guards kept my camera because it had been decided that I would not be allowed to film or take pictures of the car during production. What a disappointment! We went into the office area and met several engineering and quality assurance people. They finally introduced me to my tour guide for the day. NICE GUY! His wife worked on the assembly line and installed the right side door handle and related parts on my car.
When we walked into the assembly area I realized how big this place was. We walked around for a quick tour and I finally asked, “Where is my car?” We went up to the second floor and followed the line backwards. I finally saw my car. It had been painted late the day before so it was already bright red when I first saw it. The car was mounted on a cart and the assembly line resembled a long train on train tracks. My car was the last one in line and all that followed it were empty carts.
Many people asked who I was and several gave me a hard time (joking) about the extra work I caused them because my car had to be the last, last car on the assembly line. There were several cars called “kick out” cars (paint problems and other minor things) that had to be put back in line in front of my car. They used a large forklift and picked up the cars and carts complete, and set them back on the track.
The people soon became very friendly as rumor spread that this last car was mine. The employee’s shook my hand and congratulated me on getting the last car. The comment of the day was, “I wish I had thought of that.” I had brought a note pad with me and asked the employees to sign it as they finished working on my car. I soon found out that there were too many people and if I got all the signatures, I couldn’t keep up with the car. I finally had someone point out to me a note that the painters had put on the car just behind the rear seat area of the car. The painted inscription says:
"THE LAST CAMARO EVER"
"GOOD LUCK FROM THE WORLD’S BEST PAINTERS"
They used a small brush and silver paint. After it dried, they clear coated over it to make it permanent. Several of the employees began to sign the floor pan of the car. The inspectors made sure this was ok with me because they normally do not allow anything to be printed on or left in the cars. I wouldn’t have had the heart to stop them from signing the car because it really seemed to put everyone in a good mood when I allowed them to do this. This part of the trip left me with some great memories as I met the people as they built my car.
When lunchtime came, three quality assurance people took me to a small restaurant near the plant. Once again, “What nice people!” After we got back from lunch, the car had moved to the lower level in the hard trim area. The team that was putting together my dash assembly would not complete it until I had a chance to go to their area and watch them. The team leader showed me the entire process, including the computer test, which verifies that everything works properly. Then they gave me a computer printout that showed the instrument panel had checked out OK.
The rear hatch was put on, the dash assembly was installed and then I watched a man who was given a lot of attention as he installed his last steering column in record time. Shortly after we returned from lunch, my tour guide left me and I had a great time on my own watching the car get built and having my picture taken with the car and various employees. Yes, there were cameras in the plant, but not mine!. The car moved upstairs once again and the line stopped. Wednesday was done. After several conversations, I went back to my motel, met with the General Motors public relations representative from Detroit, discussed Thursday’s events and was in bed by 7:00 PM. What a wonderful day this had been, but I was tired.
Thursday morning, August 27, 1992, I was back at the plant again by 5:30 AM. Even the security guards knew me by sight now. I signed in and got my Visitor’s badge for the day. I walked right into the plant with my cameras. I had decided that I was going to take some pictures of the signatures on my car before the carpet and door panels were installed. I waited for the public relations people to arrive and told them that I wanted some pictures of the car. They said they had discussed this and that I could take all the pictures I wanted, but no video pictures. That was fine with me. Better to have the pictures than nothing at all! I now know that I would have never had the opportunity to meet the wonderful assembly line people if I had my eye glued to the video camera for two days.
Late Wednesday afternoon, there was a shortage of right side door glass. They were 45 short. The installer saved one for my car, but 45 cars in front of mine went without.
Thursday morning, when the assembly line started at 6:12 AM, all of the cars had the right door glass in place. PPG flew in the glass, and two employees came in early to do the installations. When the car started moving on Thursday, it went through the water test booth. They did not spray any water on the cars because they said they had not had any problems with water leaks on the Camaros.
I met with several radio and TV reporters at 7:00 AM and told the public relations people that I did not want to do any more interview until the car was finished. The morning went fast as the carpet, interior trim panels, seats, nose panel, rear panel and drivetrain were installed. There was only one small glitch during the entire process of building my car. When they were installing the exhaust system, one of the tailpipe hangars came loose and allowed one side of the exhaust to fall. It hit the installer in the head, but there were ten hands there instantly to help him. There was no damage to the car and just a small bump on the head. I’m sure this man will remember the last car!
The car reached the end of the assembly line about 11:15 AM. A Camera crew was set up and filmed the car as it was being driven off of the assembly line. This was the film clip that was released to the news media. After the cheering and clapping was over, they drove the car to the decal area to apply the Heritage Package stripes. I had to leave the car to talk with some anxious reporters and finally got back to the car about 12:15 PM. The car was on the alignment rack where they did a computerized check of the assembly line alignment. They also gave me a printout of the alignment specifications and the people at this station signed it for me. I rode in the car as it went through final inspection. They were not happy with the alignment of the shift indicator, so they drove the car to a hoist in the repair area.
Now it was time for me to get back to the Burbank airport for my flight home. What a day! The engineering department in the plant gave me several pictures of Camaro components, which were hanging on their walls. I was also given a 25th Anniversary poster and several copies of the build sheet for my car. As far as I know, I was the only person who was not an employee of the plant that was allowed inside on the last day of production. The biggest mistake I made was not being at the plant for the entire process. My car actually started on Monday afternoon and did not finish until Thursday at 11:15 AM. It is no wonder it takes this long because they told me the assembly line is 3.5 miles in length, from start to finish. At the time they built my car, they were building 406 cars per day, both Camaros and Firebirds. This was equivalent to one car per minute coming off the assembly line.
If I had written a story before I left home about how I wanted my trip to turn out, I could not have written it as well as it went. The Van Nuys employees had every right to be upset since this was their last day of work at the plant. Not once did I encounter an employee that showed signs of being upset with me, or the fact that I was getting the last car. They treated me like a king for two days. As a tribute to them, the license plates on my Z28 read, “4UAW645”. United Auto Workers 645 is the local union at the Van Nuys plant. The workers in charge of loading my car onto a railcar at the plant held a spot on a railcar that was headed to Kansas City. The car shipped almost immediately after completion. I kept in contact with the trucking company that was going to haul the car to the dealer. They let me know each day where the car was.
The car finally arrived in Kansas City on Labor Day weekend. They unloaded the car on Saturday morning and parked it in a garage for me so it did not have to sit on an open lot. The car arrived in Greenfield, Iowa on September 8th, 1992. I was there and watched the car unload. The truck driver told me they had sent him with a brand new truck and trailer. Neither one had hauled cars before. My car was loaded last, so it could be unloaded first. He was given instructions before he left that if he ran into rain, he was to pull off the road and wait until the road was dry before he moved. This trucking company aimed to please!
Schildberg’s Chevrolet prepped the car in their showroom and then loaded it on it on a trailer and hauled it the last 70 miles home for me at no charge. As of April 15, 1993, the car has 6.9 miles on it. I do plan to drive the car some this summer so that the seals don’t dry out, and because I think people will be interested in seeing the car.
I have had more fun with this car than any car I have ever owned and I have only driven it 4/10s of a mile. The car has been outside twice for pictures and once for a good cleaning after it’s trip from California.
Another interesting point that has recently come up is the fact that Chevrolet claims it produced 70,007 Camaros in 1992, starting with serial number NL100001 and ending with serial number NL170007. My car is serial number NL170008. This car just continues to get to be more fun!!