Russ Johnson had no clue the Bolero Red coupe would sit in this same location for forty-three years when he placed his 1967 SS396 Camaro on a dirt floor in a pole barn near his Wisconsin home in 1975.
“I guess with family and kids coming along, it just got put on the back burner,” he continues.
In February 1972, Russ purchased this secondhand Camaro because it had a 396 engine, which was just what he was looking for. There was no unique factory formula that he was searching for. Collectors today search for the original 396 with the solid-lifter L78 option, which offers the best performance. After researching the car he had kept in the barn for so many years, Russ was excited to learn that the 396 in his Camaro was not your typical big-block, thanks to numerous codes and documentation. It was unique and uncommon. The model was L78.
“I desired a large block. The old auto men used to say that cubic inches were vital. Big-block Chevrolets, according to friends, perform well on the dragstrip.”
He discovered this 4 speed 396 Camaro SS for sale at Knitter Chevrolet in Cadott, Wisconsin. After trading the automobile in, the previous owner had spun the main bearings. The Camaro would be offered by the dealership for the incredible low price of $800, even if it wasn’t operating. At that time, the tax rate was 4 percent, making the total amount only $832. This was a great deal for Russ because he wanted to go drag racing. He was able to acquire an additional 396 to construct for the track with the money he saved on the purchasing price.
Russ kept the original, matching-numbers 396 block, exhaust manifolds, pistons and rods, four-speed transmission and shifter, smog pump and hoses, and literally every other part and piece to complete his L78 Camaro (though he hasn’t found the air cleaner assembly or the carburetor yet). Russ also kept that pole barn and was the kind of person who did not throw things away, especially parts related to cars. He drag raced his new 396 with the same heads and intake.
He explains, “I wanted to restore it one day.” However, when the time came for Johnson to restore the Camaro in 2018, retirement got in the way, just as family had interfered with the project 43 years previously. “The older you get, the more you realize you go other directions.”
He planned to take a three-month RV vacation in Florida with his wife, Jane, last winter, and they plan to do the same this year.
On February 16, 1972, Russ purchased this Camaro from Knitter Chevrolet, located 25 miles away in Cadott, Wisconsin. On the day he bought it, he recalled, “I took [the Camaro] to my cousin’s farm until I could get it in a garage to pull the engine out of it and round up another 396.”