I am often asked why I love cars so much – and why I am so dedicated to them. My father certainly started my obsession with cars when I was still in diapers, and it snowballed into pursuing a career in automotive writing. To me, cars are vessels that have the ability to embody something we otherwise wouldn’t be able to see or physically touch. Things like passion, motivation, memories, creativity, desire, or confidence are all things we know exist because we can feel them in our hearts and minds. A car has the capacity to hold on to all these things so we can visually see them and have a way to express them in the form of paint, engine noise, and gear changes. That is why cars are often seen as works of art with a purpose.
In conjunction with Father’s Day weekend this article is dedicated to Mr. Rodney Goodhall, who passed away from cancer two years ago this week. Mr. Rodney was a hardworking man who lived life to the fullest while wearing a smile, right down to his last second. Although I only knew him for a handful of weeks we enjoyed an unspoken connection. From the moment I first shook his hand there was a moment of realization that I was meeting someone who was going to have an impact on my life. I am writing this in his honor because not only was Mr. Rodney a dedicated family man, he was a car guy, and I am the current caretaker of a piece of his legacy – a 1969 Camaro.
SUPER HERO DADS
As a kid it is common to think of our fathers as super heroes. There’s nothing they can’t fix, nothing too heavy for them to carry, and we are 100% positive that our dad can beat up anyone else’s dad. Mr. Rodney was man who grew up working with his hands, like so many of his generation. As a young man he worked construction, until a bad car accident left him in a body cast. A year of recovery later and he was back on his feet adding several careers to his belt: working maintenance in factories doing machine repairs, building construction, electrical work, computer repair, and moving up to supervisor. He was a man with a Swiss-army knife of skills. And all this while being married to his wife of 35 years, Becky Goodhall, and raising two daughters, Holly and Amanda.
Mr. Rodney built and raced dune buggies for sport, when he wasn’t out traveling the country with his family on camping trips. This was a man who fought cancer for two years, and managed to fill his bucket list within that time. He crossed off items as diverse as piloting an airplane, traveling to all fifty states and attending a NASCAR race. Mr. Rodney didn’t believe in sitting around and waiting.
Every gearhead can get goosebumps of nostalgia whenever they see one particular car on the road. Either because it was their first car, or one they’ve been dreaming of since they were kids, we all have at least one. Mr. Rodney’s first car was a 1969 Camaro, a car that he would use to take his future wife Becky on their first date as teenagers. It was a car that life would make him sell, but one he’d never forget. At the age of 40 he found another Camaro in very bad shape and in need of a home.
Being the master of machinery that he was, Mr. Rodney saved this Camaro from ending up as scrap metal and restored it to his dream specifications. I remember he told me that when he found the car it was just a shell with no front end. He did all the body work, paint, interior, and drive-train himself. Soon he had his first car back and it was better than new.
Being a Chevy guy he enjoyed playful arguments with Ford guys and was known around town for his car. His daughters learned to drive a stick in this Camaro. He was not afraid to drive it like he stole it, but always made sure it was put away dry and clean in his garage. Mr. Rodney and the Goodhall family invested 17 years of memories into this car until cancer cut the ride short.
One of my favorite stories about this car was how Mr. Rodney earned his last traffic ticket in 2003. It was prom night for his oldest daughter Amanda, and instead of being a dad holding a shotgun when her date arrived, he instead tossed him the keys to the Camaro. He wanted to give Amanda and her date something better than a white limo – a rowdy muscle car. Prom night in itself can give a young man knots in his stomach; imagine being responsible for two things a father values most – his little girl and his hand built hotrod.
When they arrived at the dance all the guys wanted to go for a ride in the Camaro, which made Amanda’s date nervous – so nervous that they called Mr. Rodney down so he could do the honors of scaring the rented pants off anyone who wanted a ride. With a Camaro full of well-dressed teens, Mr. Rodney popped the clutch and made the tires sing all the way out of the parking lot and into the street. Bad timing came in the form of a police officer who was coming down the same street and saw the whole thing. After the event was over, the guys riding in the Camaro enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame as all the other guys wanted to hear the details. This while leaving their dates alone with crossed arms on the dance floor.
MEETING MR. RODNEY
Our paths crossed by pure coincidence. I was at a classic car dealership with my parents and we were about to leave when I saw the blue Camaro drive up and froze my feet to the floor. The car was like a vision coming to life because it was exactly how I would want a 1st-generation Camaro if I owned one. Big fat tires in the back, go-fast stripes, 4-speed Hurst shifter, far from stock V8 and a period-correct look.
Mr. Rodney was there to try and sell his beloved Camaro in order to buy Becky a new car before he left, a way to make sure she was taken care of after he was gone. A few days later I was at the bank applying for a loan in order to buy the Camaro in cash.
Becky told me that the day I drove his car out of the driveway he did not cry or feel sad. He was at peace knowing his car was going to a younger caretaker who wasn’t going to slam it to the ground, build it up for draggin’, or install wheels the size of Italian pizzas; in short, one less thing to worry about for him. Just thinking about that gets me emotional, because it is such a huge honor to be trusted with a car that has priceless sentimental value.
Mr. Rodney passed away before I could sit down and talk to him about the unique mods he made to the car’s drivetrain. The engine is a 350 small block that he rebuilt himself before getting sick. The engine runs too well for me to pull it out just to see what he did, so I left it a mystery. All I know is that it is far from stock, idles like a marching band drumline, and the higher the RPM’s the faster your heart beats. This car wants to scare you and make you push your limits as a driver.
The Camaro is a Z/28 tribute, meaning that is looks like a Z/28 while missing the correct parts. I do have an original Z/28 hood and spoiler that came with the car, and plan to install them in the near future. It is nerve-wrecking to drive around town because the car grabs attention wherever it goes, and it’s easy to see why. Cragar wheels, the ride height, the color and the sound all make it look like it just stepped out of the early 1970’s and hasn’t aged a second in the last 40 years. Driving is always a workout with manual steering, 4-speed, and drum brakes all around. Growing up in an era of ABS and traction control means that I had to learn to drive this car correctly.
I’ve lost count how many times I stalled it during my first month of ownership. However, since then I have become much more comfortable behind the wheel and created a bond with the car. I do not believe in conserving cars by their mileage and take it out for a drive whenever I visit home, which is where the car is. Future plans for the Camaro include disc brakes for safety and A/C, so I can enjoy the car year around. Other than that I will leave the Camaro as it is and I have nicknamed it “Mr. Rod.”
It still blows my mind that I own a car of this caliber at my age. Although I own the car on paper, this Camaro will always belong to Mr. Rodney – he’s the one who built it with his own two hands. My job is just to keep it running and looking pretty until I, too, have to find another caretaker that will do the same. This car is not just a collector’s item and a hotrod; it’s a legacy. The Goodhall family is grateful that I have given the car a good home and I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity. Thank you, Mr. Rodney, for trusting me with your vessel of memories, I promise to never sell it and keep it on the road…where it belongs.