The giant bowtie mosaic
The giant bowtie mosaic. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photos by Jil McIntosh

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The Camaro Homecoming

Back in 1967, General Motors had an all-new model on the showroom floor. It was the Camaro, and it was a hit from the start. Its fans have remained loyal through its five generations, and to that end, they brought over 800 of them to GM’s plant in Oshawa, Ontario where the current model is built.

Held June 10 through 12, the event was known as the Camaro Homecoming, set up by General Motors in conjunction with the 23rd annual Camaro Nationals, a show hosted by the Ontario Camaro Club. The show went on in the huge parking lot opposite the Oshawa plant, the only place where the Camaro is currently made. Walking the rows and looking at the license plates was like reading an atlas: cars came from as far away as Alberta and Nova Scotia, and from Texas and Florida to attend. All models were welcome, from 1967 right to 2011, along with examples of Camaro’s sibling, the Pontiac Firebird.

Firebirds were welcome too, and this 1969 belongs to Harry Attard of Oshawa, Ont
Jim Hairston of Missouri with his 1969 pace car, one of 5 pace cars he owns
Top: Firebirds were welcome too, and this 1969 belongs to Harry Attard of Oshawa, Ont; bottom: Jim Hairston of Missouri with his 1969 pace car, one of 5 pace cars he owns. Click image to enlarge

“We wanted to do this for years, and finally got the opportunity,” said George Saratlic, GM’s product communications manager. “Our customers have been asking for it, and we were able to partner with the Ontario Camaro Club to put it together.”

What those Camaro customers wanted was a behind-the-scenes look at how their favourite cars are built, and GM delivered. On Friday, the plant was open for tours while production went on, first for Camaro show participants in the morning, and then for the general public in the afternoon. The company hasn’t held these types of public tours for many years, but for 2010, similar “open houses” are being held at GM plants across North America. Amazingly, almost 6,000 people went through over the course of the day.

For some, the plant tour was the primary reason for coming, especially with some of the long-distance attendees. Jim Hairston came from Ofallon, Missouri in order to “complete his set” of tours. Over the years, the Camaro has been built in Norwood, Ohio; Van Nuys, California; and Ste. Therese, Quebec, and having toured those three when the cars were being built, Hairston is now able to say he’s seen all four. He’s also a pace car collector – the models that are trimmed and decorated to replicate the car that paces the Indy 500 that year – and he brought his 1969 model. He also owns the 1967, 1982 and 1993 pace cars, and on his way home would pick up his newest, a 2011 edition.

His 1969 pace car, which he bought in 1975 (“I traded a Mustang for it,” he confides), cost $4,723 when brand new, according to its vintage sales slip. The cars are a natural, given his job: for the last twelve years he has worked at the track during the Indy 500 in the pace car program, prepping the cars, putting on their decals and driving dignitaries around during the festivities.

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