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Collecting Camaros drives mechanic

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- The tone of Matt Schon's e-mail races with the excitement that any car enthusiast understands. "Just brought the new Camaro home!!! he writes. "Picked it up tonight. Going out of town for the weekend." With the 2010 Chevrolet...

Matt Schon is shown with each vintage Camaro at his home in James City County, Va. He adds the 2010 Camaro to his collection, which includes '67, right background, '68, center background, and '69, left background.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- The tone of Matt Schon's e-mail races with the excitement that any car enthusiast understands.

"Just brought the new Camaro home!!! he writes. "Picked it up tonight. Going out of town for the weekend."

With the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS2, of course. A photograph of the modern-day muscle car is embedded in the e-mail.

It's bright Inferno Orange with a 422-horsepower engine and a six-speed manual transmission that takes it from 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds. Matt waited months for his new toy to arrive, having ordered it from Hutchens Chevrolet as soon as GM announced it was taking orders about a year ago.

The new Camaro had siblings waiting its arrival. Matt and wife Heather formed their own Camaro car club, driving and showing three classics -- '67, '68 and '69 models that he restored piece by piece over the past decade. They and their cars will be at the Virginia Fall Classic car show Oct. 24 at Newport News Park.


A body technician for more than 15 years, Matt started restoring cars in '99 when he and his wife bought their first house in Pennsylvania. He's been at Suttle Motors in Newport News, Va., for the past eight years.

"I felt I had developed enough patience with body work that I was ready to tackle a restoration," says Matt, who now pursues his hobby in a workshop next to his home in Williamsburg, Va.

"I've always been a GM guy so the choice for what car to restore was easy. Back in high school, I had a '71 Chevrolet Chevelle with a 307 V-8 engine with a two-speed, power-glide transmission. It was an easy decision to find a Camaro, one of the true muscle cars of the '60s." Each vintage Camaro arrived in no condition to drive. To a novice, they looked neglected, full of rust and ready for the crusher.

To Matt, they appeared full of potential and possibility.

"I like to look for cars that someone started, disassembled and gave up on -- basically a 'basket case,' with a car and a whole bunch of baskets full of parts," he says. "Finding a good project is simple. You don't buy a house to fix up if the foundation is a mess. The same goes for a project car. If you have a good solid under body, you can build a nice car in time. Buying a project car that someone started and bought a lot of parts for is the car to buy. You usually get the best deal."

Takes time

Matt repeatedly emphasizes the fact that restoring a car takes time and patience. Getting a car from rust bucket to car show condition doesn't happen in a month, 60 days or even six months.

"You can't hurry something through like that and expect to get something like this," he says. Each Camaro took him two years of night and weekend work. Many evenings he was still in the workshop at midnight.


"I took every nut, every bolt off and the wiring harnesses out. The parts were stored in boxes while I worked on the body."

"It's like a million-piece puzzle when he redoes a car," says Heather, who kept a step-by-step scrapbook on the cars. "He's very meticulous about how he does it."

Fortunately for Matt, Heather is into the cars as much as he is, even though she doesn't actually work on them. Having grown up in a body shop her father owned in Pennsylvania, she knows craftsmanship like that can't be rushed.

"I met Matt in the body shop," she says. "We were high school sweethearts."

Matt's first Camaro is the gold '67 Rally Sport he found by accident while still living in Pennsylvania. The second is the '69 Camaro that was an original 327, four-speed manual that his father-in-law bought but never restored. Matt converted the '69 into a 396 Big Block 400 automatic that his wife drives.

The '68 Camaro Super Sport 350 is his true pride and joy because it's a sought-after model with numbers matching on the engine, transmission and other key parts. Found in Chesapeake, Va., in September '07, the car came with a roof, quarter panels and floor rusted through. Matt used everything he could get off a $500 parts car he purchased just for that project.

"It was so rotted out that it would be easy for a novice to easily give up on a project like that," he says. "But all the heartache pays off in the end when you see the final result."

Having finished the '68 car in June, Matt is taking a break from restoration work.


The newest addition to his collection is the '10 Camaro SS2. Five days after purchasing the car, he sanded the hood and trunk and painted custom Rally stripes. Two weeks later, he added the 40 Series FlowMaster exhaust and the GM ground effects package to give the car a lower profile look.

He's enjoying more drive time, having put more than 1,000 miles on the new Camaro and taking the classics out for regular spins.

"My wife and I rotate driving our cars with our girls to different car shows and car cruise-ins here in Williamsburg every Saturday night in New Town," he says.

"Or we go out cruising around on the weekends with our two daughters sitting in the back seat cheering "go faster daddy!"

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