When Chevrolet entered the pony car segment with the Camaro in 1967, it faced an uphill battle. Ford already had the segment locked down, and the bowtie brand was starting essentially from scratch. For that reason, Chevrolet threw every resource it had at its disposal – including the talents of the legendary designer Bill Mitchell – to build the one-off Camaro Cherokee show car. Forty-five years later, that show car will take center stage again at the Russo and Steele auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Photo courtesy Russo and Steele
Plucked from the Norwood, Ohio, production line, the Camaro Cherokee began as an SS 396 convertible, powered by a TH400-backed 375hp L78 big-block. Vince Piggins, the Chevrolet engineer who was responsible for the Camaro Z/28, fitted the L78 with a Moon intake manifold and four Weber downdrafts before sending the Cherokee on to Mitchell, who designed the car’s signature domed hood. Mitchell also added a host of other details that set the Cherokee apart from other Camaros, including Corvette-inspired split front and rear bumpers, hood-mounted tachometer, driving lamps, a race-inspired flip-up gas tank cap, an integrated rear spoiler and special 15×6-inch Corvette Sting Ray-inspired turbine wheels. He had the original red interior swapped out for a black interior with Corvette steering wheel and had it painted in Candy Apple Metalflake Red over Aztec Gold Metallic.
In late 1967 Chevrolet trotted it out for some publicity, including a trip around Road America with Stirling Moss at the wheel as the pace car for the Can-Am season opener. It was there that racer Augie Pabst first saw the car, leading him to make arrangements with Mitchell to obtain it. After a succession of owners (and after it was separated from the L78, unique intake system and the special wheels), Wisconsin muscle car collector Terry Lietzau bought it a few years back and installed a correct engine and intake setup. Terry said he hasn’t been able to locate another set of the special turbine wheels (Chaparral-style lace aluminums), but the car did appear with Rallye wheels in some styling studio photographs. Despite the number of hands it passed through, the Cherokee still has just 21,000 miles on it.
The Cherokee did cross the auction block once before in recent history: At the Mecum Indianapolis auction in May 2009, bidding stalled out at $600,000. Terry told us he believes taking the Cherokee out West, and thus putting it in front of a new set of bidders, will garner better results.
The Russo and Steele Scottsdale auction will take place January 18-22. For more information, visit RussoandSteele.com.