Livin' the Dream

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It’s probably safe to say that James Thomas understands the meaning behind the old cliché, “Good things come to those who wait.” The owner of Thomas Collision in Valdosta, Ga., waited a long time to finally restore a ’69 Camaro convertible—the one car that had always captivated him. It was five years after he first began his search that he finally had the opportunity—and the cash—to buy his lifelong dream car.

EARLY DREAMS

Thomas had his eye on a ’69 Camaro ever since he was young boy. “I always wanted that particular car; those ’69 Camaros are always a hot muscle car,” says Thomas, who grew up in the collision repair business. “My brother and parents always tinkered with them.” Once married, Thomas moved to Oklahoma City with his wife while she attended dental school. As a painter for Lexus of Oklahoma City, he began looking for a Camaro. But he had one major problem. “I was broke,” he says. “I looked at cars but couldn’t afford them, so I decided to wait until I could get what I wanted.” And so the long wait began.

WORTH THE WAIT

Five years later, after moving to Valdosta, Thomas finally met a man in town who had a ’69 Camaro, but he wouldn’t part with the car. Disappointed, Thomas waited again. But this time his patience paid off. Six months later, the owner of the Camaro called him to say he would sell him the car. “I got in that car and thought, ‘Oh man!’ I was so excited,” Thomas says.

After buying his beloved car, though, Thomas had to be patient once again. He bought the Camaro in 2000—the same year he opened his shop—but he couldn’t afford to disassemble it and begin the restoration process until 2006. Thomas slowly saved up his money and eventually began to transform the worn and outdated car into a flashy hot rod. During the actual restoration process, his patience was tested some more. At times, he needed parts he couldn’t afford, but he refused to abandon his project. “I just said, ‘We’re not going to compromise. If we can’t afford the piece now, we’ll wait for it.’”

HARD AT WORK

The going was a little tough at times. “The worst part was when the car was completely disassembled—things were everywhere and I was overwhelmed,” Thomas remembers. “I realized that this car was 30 years old and everything needed to be updated. You think, ‘My gosh, I got myself into something!’”

Fortunately, Thomas had some extra hands helping with the project. His technician and best friend, Allen Meeks, straightened the Camaro’s body, and the two often tag-teamed. “After he’d done his straightening work, I’d do the paintwork until we got to the next stage,” Thomas says. The friends spent several hours a week on the car, often working at night after the shop closed.

Eventually, they put in four-wheel disc brakes, replaced the suspension, replaced the factory transmission with a Corvette one, changed the gear ratio, put on new bumpers and tires, installed a CD player and speakers, added new bushings and bearings, and put on a canvas convertible top.

Just three months after the car was “in a million pieces,” the years of waiting paid off. Thomas entered his fully restored Camaro in the 2006 Hot Rod Tour. “We finished it on June 4th, and the tour was started June 6th,” he laughs. “We drove all the way from Florida to Pennsylvania.”

FINISHED PRODUCT

Thomas says the best part of driving his Camaro around now is seeing the excitement on his sons’ faces. “I’ve got seven-year-old and nine-year-old boys, and they love when I smoke the tires!” But, he adds with a laugh, “I say, ‘Don’t do what I do!’”

Thomas says the Camaro is now proudly displayed in his show room, and except for the occasional weekend drive or trip to drop off his sons at school, he’s content to just sit back and admire his work.


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