You meet the most interesting people through the car hobby. Whether it is through car shows, social media or YouTube, people of like minds come together to share a common passion. This is what I love about the car hobby and industry: car people have a special connection like no other.
Case in point: several years ago, I converted my Super8 movies from 1977 to digital. I was around 16 years old at the time and used an old movie camera to shoot short films of Chevrolet engineering vehicles that my dad brought home from the GM Proving Grounds. Dad was a truck engineer, but I coerced him into bringing Camaros home from time to time. I created a video from those individual films and posted it on YouTube.
That video caught the attention of Dave Rhinehart, a diehard 1977 Camaro fan. Dave posted a comment, which led to a couple of emails and phone conversations. We covered a lot of ground as a result of that one video. More details are in the article below:
Related article: 1977: Return of the Camaro Z28
The Book That Connected New Friends
As Dave and I compared notes about our favorite Camaros, he encouraged me to buy a book written by a retired Chevrolet Engineer, Walter Banacki. That book, Camaro Z28 Is Back! (printed in 2009), chronicled the huge task of building the first eighteen Z28 Camaros.
Walter was the engineer assigned to lead that effort. He had to insure that the Z28-unique parts made it to the plant, were installed on Camaros already scheduled for production, and transport the cars to Daytona for the press reveal at the 1977 Daytona 500.
The Camaro book is relatively short, but the story was important to me. My Z28 obsession started with the announcement of the 1977 Z28, so it was cool to read about the people involved in the events of that time.
Dave remained friends with Walter over the years, but lost touch for a while. Whether it was our conversation or just good luck, Dave reconnected with Walter. Now nearing 95 years old, Walter lives in a retirement community about four miles from me. Dave gave me his phone number and I called Walter to talk about his experiences.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I called Walter (now “Walt” to me), but what I found was a charming, friendly and fun gentleman. When Walt discovered that I lived close to him, he suggested that I “make an appointment to come over to get the book autographed.” I could sense the smile behind that comment, and we set up a time to meet.
On January 16, 2024, I drove over to Walt’s place to meet him. I brought my book and some pictures from 1977. He showed up with a tote bag full of pictures and memory books. We spent about two hours chatting. I learned about his 46 year career with General Motors that started in 1949. In that time, he worked at Buick, AC Spark Plug, GM’s tank group and Chevrolet. He touched a number of projects that affected my early work at Chevrolet, like the “squeak and rattle” repair manual he created for the 1984 Corvette. I was in Chevrolet Service Operations at that time, and was facing the buyback of customer cars over the issues on the early C4 Corvettes. That book saved many customers (and my sanity!). It truly is a small world.
I was wondering if Walt has always been a “car guy,” or if came from his experiences at GM. He was very clear when he said, “I became a car guy when I started working at Chevrolet Engineering.” Based on the stories he told me about his time on the Caprice, Camaro and Corvette programs, there is no doubt he is one of us!
Walt was generous with his time at our first meeting. He shared so many great stories about his career at General Motors, which was fascinating. One visit cannot begin to cover the rich history in Walt’s memory bank. I’m looking forward to many more chats with him.
Final Thoughts & Questions
The car hobby is about more than just cars. In fact, cars are secondary to the people and experiences you encounter. Thanks to the YouTube comments from Dave Rhinehart, I gained two new friends. My hope is that Dave, Walt and I can meet together soon. Dave lives in New York, so he’ll need to plan a trip to Michigan.
Want to learn more about me? Go to this article: Who’s Your Nanny?