Like 1969 all over again: Pinetown man holds on to first carPublished 1:18am Saturday, July 20, 2013
PINETOWN – It wasn’t easy for a then 15-year-old Michael Waters to buy his first car, a 1969 Camaro Z-28.
“It took a lot of cajoling, begging, pleading, crying and getting my mom on my side to get him to do it,” Waters said of his dad.
By 1968, Waters had saved up $1,275 working in his dad’s repair shop and planned to use the money for a 1955 or 1957 Chevy. After test-driving the third used car, his dad told him he should consider something new.
“Being that age, I subscribed to every car magazine on the planet and a magazine called ‘Car Life’ did a road test on that ’69 Camaro,” Waters said.
He researched all of the extras he could get and prepared five copies of a letter detailing the car he wanted and asking how much local dealerships would ask for it. Two dealerships came back with $3275 and his dad offered to loan him the $2,000 he needed. Waters thinks his was the first 1969 Z/28 limited edition Camaro ordered in Beaufort County.
The hugger orange Camaro with a sports stripe and black leather interior came nine weeks later. It made it to Beaufort County around the 9th of May and Waters picked it up May 10. He has always considered it the car’s birthday.
The date has become more significant over the years. His first date with Deborah, whom he married three years later, came on the car’s second birthday.
“She came over and we washed the car for our first date,” he said.
Their daughter, Katie, had a May birthday, too. May 9.
“We did our best to keep it consistent, missed by a day,” he laughed.
His dad was an independent Gulf service station dealer. Waters applied for and won a $2,000 scholarship, enough to pay for all four years at N.C. State. His dad told him the car loan was paid in full.
Waters only came close to selling the Camaro once. It was in the mid-seventies during the oil crisis. The expense of the gas was not the problem, finding gas was. Instead, he stored the car away for 25 years. He realized it had collector’s potential in the early 1980s and started doing a little bit of work on it.
Once Waters had put his daughter through college, he decided to start restoring his baby. He said he wanted to keep everything factory stock, “Like it was 1969 again.”
He took the car to Clark Classic Restorations in Greenville where they stripped it down to the body shell. The restoration took about 18 months.
One of his biggest thrills was taking his daughter for her first ride in the Camaro. She was his first passenger.
He had the original car dealership sticker, state inspection sticker and license plate replicated. In its current condition, the car is worth nearly 40 times what Waters originally paid.
Since restoring the Camaro, Waters has started entering it in car shows. He said he does it to restore old friendships and bring back old memories. When people in Beaufort County see the car, they remember it, and then remember him.
He still has the Camaro racing jacket he used to wear (“It’s shrunk a little.”) and the Pantego High School tag.
So far, the car has gotten high marks everywhere it’s shown.
“We’ve been to four shows and we’ve come back with ‘Best in Show’ or ‘Best in Class’ every time,” Waters said.