It’s not unusual to see classic cars on the road in Southern California. No snow means no rust, and the great climate also means that our old rides can be enjoyed on a year-round basis.
One particular 1968 Chevy Camaro caught my eye some years ago, parked right near the Griffith Observatory. Not fancy or loaded with options, but with a dent-free body that highlights the distinctive shape of the first-generation Camaro.
As it turns out, that car is the daily transportation of Dr. Edwin Krupp, the long-time director of the observatory. He proudly drives it up and down the winding roads of Griffith Park each day, and has for the entire 40+ years he’s worked there.
The odometer reads 79,000 miles, but back when the Camaro was new those mile counters only had five digits (plus one for tenths). It rolled over at 100,000 miles, then, several more times. The total accumulation now is 479,000…and counting. Or as astronomer Krupp puts it, the equivalent of a round-trip journey to the moon plus a couple thousand.
But Los Angeles’ number one star-gazer is not necessarily a car enthusiast. The Camaro just “kept going” all those years ago, and he saw no reason to trade it in. It was purchased with help from his father when he was in graduate school in the spring of 1968, after a fussy British sports car kept leaving him stranded. He and his father decided he needed something reliable and basic.
And basic certainly describes his Camaro. Having essentially no options aside from a radio, his Tripoli Turquoise sport coupe was about as plain as they came back then. For example, there’s no V8 engine, unlike almost all the Camaros you see at classic car shows these days.
Under the hood of this example lies Chevrolet’s workhorse inline 6-cylinder engine, a bit grimy but ready to do duty after three rebuilds over the years. It fires right up, and to set the car in motion Krupp grabs what looks like an automatic transmission lever on the steering column and pulls it down and back. That lever is what’s known as a “three on the tree” — a mild insult in contrast to the sporty “four on the floor” of the era.
Yep, a manually-shifted 3-speed transmission was standard equipment on most Chevys back then. The vast majority of people who bought a Camaro in 1968 paid extra for an automatic or a 4-speed manual, so the column-shifted 3-speed is actually quite rare.
Once underway, Dr. Krupp is also solely in charge of steering and braking too. No power steering; no power brakes. Power windows? Are you kidding??? Only fully-loaded luxury cars had those in the late 1960s. The windows in this Camaro open via cranks. And on a warm day, they need to be opened fully as there’s no air conditioning.
Some might turn their noses up at such a no-frills car, but there’s an absolute beauty to it. Simple, basic transportation. The chrome pieces are a little oxidized, the original black-and-yellow California license plates barely show much yellow anymore, and the latest coat of paint is faded and chipped. That doesn’t really matter, as the car zooms its way up the hill to the observatory just fine.
His one challenge has been finding mechanics over the years who know how to work on a vehicle of this age. Several have retired or gone out of business in the time he’s had the car, but he’s found a trusty shop near his Eagle Rock home that keeps his vintage Chevy in good running order.
It’s obviously still a very appealing car, as Krupp says he gets offers to buy it almost daily, no matter where he goes. And since he’s had the Camaro so long, the answer is always “no,” of course.
The Griffith Observatory will be celebrating its 80th anniversary in May, so there will be lots of events surrounding the occasion. If you find yourself there, keep an eye out for Dr. Krupp’s 1968 Camaro. Just don’t ask him if he’d like to sell it.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz