How a Blind Auto Shop Teacher Saw His First Camaro
While combing through the Petersen Publishing photo archives looking for other things, we have often come across this photo and wondered what the heck was going on.
Some things we knew off the bat: The car is Hot Rod magazine’s famous project Camaro, and the man in the coat and tie looking at the camera is then-Editor Jim McFarland. From the job number on the negative sleeve we learned the photo was taken in June 1967, and it is credited to McFarland, though obviously someone else tripped the camera’s shutter.
The Camaro is arguably one of the most significant in the history of the make. In June 1966, Hot Rod managed to snag the very first Camaro to come into California, and McFarland produced a series of articles featuring upgrades to improve the car’s performance.
In a 1998 Hot Rod feature looking back at the Camaro’s accomplishments, McFarland recounted that the SS350 was the first Camaro to run the quarter in the 11s, a feat realized after it became the “first street-driven Camaro with a big-block.” Among the people who helped McFarland with the project was Chevrolet performance guru Bill Thomas, who actually put two big-blocks into the car. The first grenaded after test runs at Lions dragstrip, and subsequent inspection revealed it to be a NASCAR motor fatigued after more than 500 miles of tire testing.
The second big-block was a “396,” noted McFarland, putting the number in quotes because it turned out to be a 490-inch motor. “Hey, Thomas didn’t name his kit cars ‘Cheetahs’ for nothing,” he wrote.
McFarland also took the Camaro to aftermarket companies, some 16 in all, so they could prototype speed parts for the all-new car. That’s why among the car’s firsts, McFarland lists it as the first Camaro to be fitted with an Edelbrock intake manifold and the first with a Hurst shifter. Schiefer made a clutch, Hooker some headers, and a company named Berry Plastiglass “formed its version of the Camaro fiberglass ‘duck bill’ hood,” McFarland wrote.
That hood is on the Camaro in this photo, whose mystery we finally solved when we spotted the picture buried in the back of the Sept. 1967 Hot Rod in the “Roddin’ at Random” department.
The man standing next to McFarland, with his hand on the hood, is Bill Schmidt, the auto shop teacher at Temple City Junior High School. “Surrounded by a sampling of his students,” said the magazine, Schmidt “‘sees’ his first all-glass-hooded Camaro. Blind since birth, Bill has surmounted this handicap with the building of his own special gauges for engine work, is capable of working in a shop equipped with an assortment of power tools, and can easily handle a classroom of youngsters in the instruction of basic engine fundamentals. Quite a personal accomplishment and social contribution, we’d say.”
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