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Macomb Township

March 6, 2013

To Macomb man, restoring Camaro is about memories

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

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Tony Abbruzzese stands before his 1993 Chevrolet Camaro Pace Car, which will be on display during Autorama March 8-10 at Cobo Center. Chevrolet made only 645 Camaro Pace Cars that year.

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Tony Abbruzzese originally had the chance to buy a 1993 Chevrolet Camaro Pace Car when it was first manufactured.

“I knew I had to get a pace car,” he said recently.

But that was not an easy task, considering that General Motors only made 645 of them and just 11 of them were in Michigan. Making it more difficult, nine of the 11 were already claimed before they were even on sale.

Despite the obstacles, Abbruzzese, who was willing to pay $5,000 more than the $20,975 sticker price, was able to get his hands on one. But the day he arrived at the dealership, the car’s dash was stripped, the plastic was taken off the seats and an alarm was being put in the vehicle. Despite having his dream car within his grasps, he turned down the chance to buy it.

“I wanted the car just the way it rolled off the assembly line,” Abbruzzese said.

It wasn’t until two years ago, after finding one in Washington, that he was reunited with the fourth-generation Camaro, and from March 8-10, he will have his sought-after vehicle on display at Autorama, a 61-year-old hot rod show in Detroit’s Cobo Center.

There will be more than 1,000 exhibits, from exceptionally rare vintage vehicles beautifully restored, to rides customized in rather unique ways.

Among the vehicles, three Batmobiles — the 1966 model used by Adam West, the 1989 one from the first Tim Burton film, and the “Tumbler” from the 2005 Nolan reboot — will be on display.

Abbruzzese found the 1993 Camaro while searching on the Internet but didn’t jump at the opportunity to buy it.

“I just let it go,” he said. “I really had no intention of buying this car.”

By that time, he already had a 1987 Camaro sitting in his garage.  But knowing that the 1993 Camaro was his dream car, his wife finally convinced him to buy it.

“She knew the story of what happened when the car came out in ’93,” he said.

He bought the car through the mail and transferred the car from the west side of the country to his Macomb home.

At the shop, Ice Nine Group owner Keith Strong said his employees repainted the two-toned pace car and reapplied the multicolored racing stripes that intertwine and then divert from one another near the back at end of the vehicle.

“Everything has to look better than when it was built in the factory,” Strong said.

Abbruzzese explains the need for perfection in restoration by telling an anecdotal story about a family artifact — a 1966 Montgomery Ward Hawthorne bicycle. His entire family shared the bike until he and his sister were old enough to drive. Then it became his father’s, who rode it until turning 81 — about four years ago.

After his father fell from the bike and injured himself, Abbruzzese took the bike home and set it in his basement. Immediately, the memories re-emerged from the rusted out, nearly 50-year-old bicycle.

“I could still see my dad laying that bike out,” he said, remembering, as a child, watching his father construct the bicycle out of the box. “And as I’m looking at it for two weeks, thinking about all the history I had with that bicycle and all the things I did with that bicycle, I made a decision right there that I wanted to restore that bicycle.”

Much like the 1993 Camaro, he wanted the bicycle to be exactly the way it was when his father pulled it from the box. “I wanted to recapture the way it was when it was brand new,” Abbruzzese said. After months of restoration work — perusing the Internet in search of original parts — he had the classic bike on display at Cobo during a bike show. There, it shined like the day he first rode it.

“It’s about the old memories,” he said, “and making new memories.”

The 61st Annual Detroit Autorama will take place at Cobo Center, on Washington Boulevard at Jefferson, from noon to 10 p.m. Friday, March 8; from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, March 9; and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, March 10.

Admission at the gate is $18 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12, and free for children ages 5 and younger. Discount tickets are available through O’Reilly Auto Parts.

For more information about Autorama, call (248) 373-1700. For more information about the Great Lakes Classic AMC Club, visit www.greatlakesamc.org.

Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski contributed reporting.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.