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Blair Bozak bought his restored Camaro in 2008. (Cruise Nationals/Cruise Nationals)
Blair Bozak bought his restored Camaro in 2008. (Cruise Nationals/Cruise Nationals)

Cruise Nationals

Classic pony car gallops to top prize Add to ...

Chevy's “Pony car” Camaros were the subject of more male teenage lust in the 1960s than high school prom queens.

Adding to their allure in the overheated imaginations of a generation of guys who, if they had a prom date at all, likely drove her there in dad’s six-cylinder Nova, was that Camaros were hot numbers that ran with a fast and racy crowd of Mustangs, Firebirds, Barracudas and Javelins that tore up the streets on Saturday night and road courses in Trans-Am events on Sundays.

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This meant their popularity back in the day was assured. But these first-generation Camaros remain popular today as was proven once again with a Hugger Orange and black-striped 1969 Rally Sport Z28 owned by Blair and Myra Bozak of Woodville , Ont. – gold medal Grand Champion honours in this year’s Cruise Nationals Competition staged as part of the Canadian International Auto Show.

The Silver Medal was presented to Don Lebeuf of Oakville and his Plum Crazy Purple 1970 Dodge Charger R/T SE, which took eight years to restore. And the Bronze Medal went to Steve Huck of St. Catharines, whose two-tone red-and-white 1958 Ford Fairlane Retractable, with a roof that disappears into its trunk, was brought back to showroom condition from a wreck.

The Cruise Nationals were created to celebrate automobiles and the people who are passionate about them. The process that brought 10 cars to the 100 Level in the North Building of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the Canadian International Auto Show (which runs through Sunday) began with the first of 10 events held as part of summer “cruises” last year in Southern Ontario.

Sixty cars were eventually selected to take part in a season finale held as part of the huge annual Autofest held in Oshawa and these were winnowed down to 10 finalists. The top three were selected by online voting and a panel of three judges.

Long-time car-guy Bob McKerron, who helps the equally enthusiastic Jon Rosenthall of the auto show pull it all together, says the Cruise Nationals competition isn’t a “concours” with the perfection that implies, and many of the cars, which run the gamut from classics and hot-rods to sports cars and customs, aren’t strictly for show. They all have to be actually driven to the cruise events and each represents a passion about a particular make or in the case of a hot-rod or custom a personal vision.

“There’s a cross section of individuals and ages, and each person does it for their own reasons and each car has its story,” he says. “The thing that ties everyone together is their love of cars.”

Blair Bozak’s long-unrequited love affair with Z28 Camaros began the first time he heard one. “I’d wanted a Rally Sport since 1969. I fell in love with the sound it made running down the road,” he says. It took until just a few years ago for him to actually hook up with his teen years dream date – and he had to get special dispensation from wife Myra to install it in the family garage – but four decades later, he’s just as entranced.

The Camaro had only been around a few years in 1969, launched by General Motors in the fall of 1966 as a 1967 model in response to Ford’s highly successful Mustang. GM had realized its rear-engined Corvair wasn’t going to cut it against the hot new Mustang and developed its sporty car response around its then-new F-Body platform.

It wrapped this in attractive four-seater coupe and convertible bodywork with a long hood and short deck and sold base models for $2,704 (U.S.), but also made available a long list of optional equipment that included engines.

Those interested in style alone could trundle along with the 140-hp six, but those looking for more go could opt for a 210-hp, 327-cubic-inch small-block V-8 (for $106) or a 295-hp, 350-cubic-inch that came with a $211 sport package, or even a massive 396-cubic-inch big-block. Also offered was the $105 Rally Sport package that added some cool visual touches.

The Camaro was an instant hit, selling 220,000 in its first year, 235,000 in 1968 and, after being restyled, 240,000 in 1969, when Bozak’s car left the factory in Norwood, Ohio, and made its way to West York Chev Olds in Toronto. It was one of 20,302 Z-28s built that year.

The car was restored by Richard English, owner of Camaro Heaven in Sutton, Ont., was and part of his private collection when Bozak purchased it in 2008.

It’s a genuine matching-numbers Z28 that was brought back to peak mechanical condition and flawlessly painted bodywork, and also has the rare Rally Sport option package.

Under the hood is a 302-cubic-inch V-8 created for Camaro’s Trans-Am adventures that was conservatively rated at 290 hp (that means GM lied and it likely made considerably more), with a close-ratio four-speed manual gearbox and a 410 rear end. It was also a “radio delete” order from the factory – Bozak figures that, like himself, the original owner was more captivated by the sound from the exhaust pipes than listening to a radio.

The Bozak’s relationship with the car got off to a good start. They took delivery on a Sunday and went straight to a car show, at which it won the top award. “It was quite funny. People would come up and ask how long I’d owned it. And I’d look at my watch and say, ‘About four hours.’ ”

The couple drive their Z28 to a dozen or so cruise events every year, enjoying showing a car of this calibre and meeting people and swapping stories. “It’s great to see these cars live on,” he says.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Correction: An earlier online version of this story misidentified Don Lebeuf's 1970 Dodge Charger R/T SE.

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