Rob Keenan’s 67 RS Camaro
in the midst of restoring a 1967 rally Sport Camaro, which a customer had let sit for two years at Rob Keenan’s body shop, hoping it would sell, Keenan was working in his driveway one day, looking dejected and starting to feel the tedium of replacing every single component of the old car to make it look like new.
Then, his elderly neighbor sauntered over, leading to a conversation that would breathe unexpected new life into Keenan’s project.
“What year is it?” the neighbor asked, eyeing the Camaro. Upon hearing 1967, the man smiled: A transplant from Detroit who was living in Keenan’s Winter Haven, Fla. neighborhood, he was a retired General Motors engineer. In fact, he’d helped conceive and design the very car that Keenan was restoring.
“I could not believe that my next door neighbor helped design that body style,” Keenan recalls. That conversation only strengthened his resolve to make the vehicle look exactly like the original.
“You talk about a guy who was excited — he was more excited than me when it was done,” Keenan says. “It looked like a brand new car, like it just came from the showroom. He couldn’t believe it.”
FROM DESERTED TO DESIRED
Although he’s restored and repaired countless old cars for others, Keenan, owner of Precision Collision in Winter Haven, had never rebuilt an old car for himself.
“I like fixing other people’s cars and seeing the looks on their faces when it’s done, but this is the first one I did for myself,” Keenan says. “It was probably a little bit of boredom, to tell you the truth.”
Once he plunked down $2,000 for the Camaro, Keenan went to work. When he picked up a new crate motor one day, the man selling it had a five-speed transmission, too, which Keenan bought and put into his car.
“And then I thought I’d put a good rear end in it: nine-inch Ford rear is what they use in NASCAR, so that’s what I got,” he recalls. “Once I decided this is one I was keeping, I started to order everything new that wasn’t really nice on the car. I was able to keep the fenders and the doors.”
Next came a new wiring harness, and “Before I knew it, I was doing a ground-up restoration. I don’t think I intended to start it that way, but that’s how it ended up,” Keenan says.
The once-black car is now brandywine, and his $2,000 investment would likely fetch upwards of 25 times that from an interested buyer. In fact, Keenan has turned down several offers for the car, including one for $30,000 plus another Camaro. “The guy who sold it to me can’t believe it’s the same car,” Keenan says. “He swears up and down I went and got another car. But it’s the same one that he sold me. Of course he’s asked to have it back several times.”
He isn’t interested in making money off the car — or seeing how fast it can go, either. Despite its massive horsepower, transmission and heavy-duty rear gear, Keenan says, “It took so long to put together I just coddle it; I baby it.
“It’ll probably outrun every other car I’ve got, but I don’t know that … I don’t think I’ve ever held it down. I just go nice and easy.”
With three sons and a customer base full of car enthusiasts, he’s fielded lots of requests from people who want to get behind the wheel.
States Keenan: “Everybody says, ‘Keys in it?’ and I say ‘No.’ I haven’t let anybody drive it yet. I suppose someday I will. Maybe when the next project is done.”