Late '70s was a magical time for muscle car drivers

  • 1979 Camaro Z28

    1979 Camaro Z28 Photos Courtesy of Matt Avery Media

  • It took Kendler about five years to find a 1979 Camaro similar to one he used to own.

    It took Kendler about five years to find a 1979 Camaro similar to one he used to own.

  • Kendler had the car restored with new paint and a new engine.

    Kendler had the car restored with new paint and a new engine.

  • Tom gets the most compliments when he drives his Z28.

    Tom gets the most compliments when he drives his Z28.

  • Before Kendler purchased the car in 2014, it had been sitting for 22 years in an Effingham garage.

    Before Kendler purchased the car in 2014, it had been sitting for 22 years in an Effingham garage.

 
 
Updated 10/8/2019 6:15 AM

As a teen, Tom Kendler had a high-octane habit that would make any young gearhead green with envy. Every year, around his birthday, he'd trade up to the latest muscle machine.

The trend started when he turned 18. His mom, a performance enthusiast herself (she drove a 1968 Butternut Yellow Chevelle with a black vinyl top, Tom recalls), co-signed for his first car.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Tom drove home in a new 1975 Trans Am 455HO he picked out at Dick Ludwig Pontiac in Skokie. With the biggest smile on his face, he was soon tearing up the streets around the family's Morton Grove home in the new red rocket.

High on the horsepower thrills, Tom repeated this exhilarating experience, not once but two more times, picking up new Pontiac TAs in 1976 and 1977.

"Every year I'd get the bug for something new," laughs Tom, who now lives in Elk Grove Village. "I had a great job at UPS and could afford the car payments."

Tom Kendler and his wife, Laura, started dating when he owned a 1979 Camaro Z28 like one he owns today.
Tom Kendler and his wife, Laura, started dating when he owned a 1979 Camaro Z28 like one he owns today. -

When 1978 rolled around, he was ready to mix things up. Not a fan of the redesigned 1979 Trans Am nose, he opted to swing by Jennings Chevrolet in Glenview. There, just a day after his 21st birthday, he ordered a new Camaro Z28.

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"I loaded it up with every option," he says. "I wanted T-tops and Carmine Red paint -- both of which were hard to find."

The car took six months to be built and delivered, which it finally arrived on Oct. 30. "It was a total adrenaline rush to pick it up," Tom recalls.

Adding to the excitement was a blossoming summer romance. "I had just started dating Laura, the woman who would become my wife," Tom says. "We made a lot of memories in that car."

Many of those were made cruising in the Camaro up to Lake Geneva, where Laura's dad kept a boat. More local drives consisted of hanging out at Superdawg in Chicago or pulling passes at the Great Lakes Dragway in Union Grove.

Kendler with his 1979 Camaro Z28 with T-tops and Carmine Red paint, shortly after he purchased it from Jennings Chevrolet in Glenview.
Kendler with his 1979 Camaro Z28 with T-tops and Carmine Red paint, shortly after he purchased it from Jennings Chevrolet in Glenview. - Courtesy of Tom Kendler
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

While the car love was high, true to form, in 1981, Tom moved on, upgrading to a new Corvette. However, with all the fond memories made, it was too hard to simply forget that Camaro.

In 2009, Tom embarked on a five-year hunt to find something similar. An exact duplicate didn't turn up but a suiting tribute did. In 2014, a black Z28 was found in downstate Effingham.

The car had been sitting in a garage for 22 years. Tom trailered the classic home and set to work getting it ready for the road. After a repaint, new engine and a host of other mechanical upgrades, the Camaro was complete.

"Of all the cars I've owned, I get the most compliments on this one," Tom says. "The late '70s were a great era for me, full of memories. This Camaro brings them all back."

• Share your car's story with Matt at auto@dailyherald.com or COPOthebook.com.

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