For some who own older cars, climbing into the driver’s seat takes them back to a different time. Maybe a time in America when the car was made, or a different time in the driver’s life. For La Jolla resident Michael Mazaika, it takes him to a time when his children were little and he owned one stylish car.
“In 1969, I owned a 1967 (Chevrolet) Camaro convertible. … It came out two years after the Mustang, so it was the first time Chevy had produced a sports car that directly competed with the Mustang. They competed back and forth and still do, some 50 years later. I liked the styling back then and I still love it today,” he said.
“At that time, my family and I lived in Connecticut and my wife (Phyllis) and I would take our kids around the back roads of Connecticut. We had a good time in that car. It holds the road very well. This car can take some of the twisty-est, turny-est roads we can find, and this car can hold the road at a higher speed than a regular car.”
But as the children, David and Michelle, grew older, the sports car had to go. “When they got too big for the backseat, it necessitated the sale of that car and the acquisition of a sedan. But I always wanted another 1967 Camaro,” Mazaika said.
Four or five years ago, he got his chance to own the car once again, and purchased another 1967 Camaro. Now a slick silver car with black stripes, the car was in less than stellar shape when he found it. Major adjustments include changes to the paint, adding air conditioning and replacing the interior with that of a 1969 Camaro, which featured additional safety and comfort amenities.
“In the 1967 Camaro, you couldn’t have seatbelts or headrests, but we wanted to have this car be our driver, so we had to have that,” he said. “Adding the seatbelts was no small feat, because you have to attach them to the roof of the car.”
There was also the “complete replacement” of the suspension system and some minor work on the engine so it wouldn’t be as noisy. The wheels, tires and rims are all time accurate.
To assist with the work, he called on J. Bittle, COO of the Miramar-based JBA Speed Shop. “I did some of the work, JBA did some of the mechanical work and Custom Auto Body did the painting,” Mazaika explained.
When asked if the cost of all this adds up, he said, “In a word: yes. But you have to be prepared for that, it’s like owning a boat … you have to be careful with what you are getting into because you may think you are looking at it very carefully, there is always something you didn’t see. And when you start doing body work, it means big money. It’s cheaper to buy it new and keep it.”
Speaking from experience, he said wife Phyllis has a 1984 Camaro (just a hair past La Jolla Light’s call for cars from 1980 or earlier), which she bought new and has kept up ever since.
“Both cars have won awards, but they are mostly for driving because that’s what we wanted, a driver. But we also wanted a car that looks good,” he said.
With two Camaros in the garage and in running shape, the Mazaikas have entered into local Camaro clubs and have had the chance to make some new memories.
“We took (my) car on Route 66 back to Oklahoma City and to Austin, Texas and Big Bend Country and then back. It went 4,000 miles on that trip without a hitch,” he said. “I get a lot of thumbs-up from people when they see it. I don’t exhibit it much, but when I do, it does well. Everyone likes the look of the car, so I’m not alone. A lot more people appreciate older cars than you might expect … I don’t know if it’s the styling or they’re just glad to see something that America made that is still on the road after 50 years.”
Editor’s Note: In response to an invitation to classic car owners to share their vehicle love stories, more than a dozen car buffs contacted La Jolla Light to be interviewed about their prize possessions. In this series, we present their delightful roadster experiences.