12 May 2016

Ask the Woman Who Owns One: Lisa Healy and her 1968 Camaro

This young architect bought a Camaro at age 13 and restored it.

Lisa Healy was just 10 years old when she decided she wanted a car. And she was mighty particular about which one.

“I wanted a 1968 Camaro,” said Healy, now 25 and an architect. “I’m not even sure why. It couldn't be a ‘67 or a ‘69. It had to be a ‘68.”

As a 10-year-old, the Seattle native was likely not thinking of the minor trim updates and the ventless side glass that distinguished the ’68 Camaro from the ’67. She just had that model year in her head, and that was that. The youngster was also certain of two other things: she wanted to work on it herself, and she wanted to paint it red.

Healy began saving her money, researching Camaros and looking at cars for sale on craigslist and eBay. Her father, Tom, took her seriously and offered to help locate a car and work on it with her.

“My dad is an electrical engineer, and he likes to work on projects with his hands,” she said, adding that restoring a car would also be new ground for him.

They found a car when she was 13, and her parents loaned her money to buy it.

It was an ideal car for the project, a base model with a 250 cubic-inch straight-six and three-speed stick. It was turquoise with a front bumblebee stripe and black interior. The car, with 80,000 miles, was completely original. Healy was essentially the second driver. The first owner had died years before, and his widow held onto the car, just driving it once a year for a checkup and any needed service. She sold it to a man who had too many other projects and he, in turn, sold it to Healy.

“It was a good car to start with, because it didn't require much body work,” she said.

They did need to replace a quarter panel, but the car had no other serious rust. Its interior was in generally excellent shape, with no tears or cracks. There was no room in the family garage for the Camaro, so they put up a carport tent. For the next three years, father and daughter worked on the car most days, and in all weather conditions.

“It got pretty cold in winter, especially touching metal parts,” Healy said. “My dad researched and learned as much as he could. Everything just took time. You had to be patient. It was a lot of trial and error. But the classic cars are so simple, you can really see everything that's going on.”

The one major mechanical upgrade they made was replacing the three-speed transmission with a four-speed. Putting in the transmission was a challenge, she remembers.

“I was [young],” Healy said. “It was just dad and me. We had the car on jacks, so there wasn’t much room to work. I definitely got some scrapes and bruises from that.”

Installing the headliner was no picnic, either, taking them a day and causing many frustrating moments. Healy and her father did all the work except the paint, which was shot by a family friend in his home workshop. Healy stuck with her original instinct, getting the car sprayed in red with white Z/28 stripes.

The Camaro was finished when Healy was 16, and she drove the car to Bishop Blanchet High School, a co-ed Catholic institution in the Green Lake section of Seattle. On her first day, one of the nuns was waiting for a promised first ride. She’d been following the Camaro’s progress for nearly four years. When Healy pulled up, one of the school’s priests was also waiting, and the three went for a spin, beeping the horn and waving to the other students and teachers.

“I was always a shy person at school,” Healy recalled. “The car became a good conversation starter. People would ask, ‘Is that your car? Did you borrow that from your dad?’”

A favorite place to drive was the Lake City location of Dick’s Drive-In, a Seattle burger legend, with Janis Joplin playing on the Camaro’s hidden aftermarket stereo.

“I learned to drive stick on that car” Healy said. “In Seattle, with the hills, it was pretty terrifying.”

Healy did not drive the Camaro while attending the University of Washington, where she studied architecture. One of her professors, Brad Khouri, later hired her at his firm, b9 architects, which specializes in “urban infill” and green architecture in Seattle. Another employee, Caroline Davis, drives a vintage BMW 2002.

The Camaro inspired a family trend. Healy’s brother, Ross, 28, later restored a 1969 Chevy Nova, and her sister, Rebecca, 19, bought a 1968 Firebird to work on.

Healy moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., last year and continues designing for b9. She misses the Camaro, and has considered bringing it east. She’d also like to upgrade its performance. Around the same time that she bought the car, she also got a four-barrel carbureted, 350-ci V-8 originally installed in a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS and wanted to install it as part of the restoration. Her father, however, felt the six would be better for the young driver.

“I complained about it then, but I understand now,” she said. “We’ll get it in there eventually.”

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