Rare performance model got the dealer's golden touch

  • 1967 Black Panther Camaro

    1967 Black Panther Camaro Photos Courtesy of Matt Avery Media

  • An unusual option was the "007" panel. A young enthusiast who drag raced for the dealership named Graham Neale came up with the idea. None of the switches are  functional, but they're certainly attention grabbing.

    An unusual option was the "007" panel. A young enthusiast who drag raced for the dealership named Graham Neale came up with the idea. None of the switches are functional, but they're certainly attention grabbing.

  • Kristine has fond memories of cruising to the local A&W drive-in and getting trays of root bear on the window. It was also her first car she drove with her friends.

    Kristine has fond memories of cruising to the local A&W drive-in and getting trays of root bear on the window. It was also her first car she drove with her friends.

  • Nearly 1,000 vehicles crossed the block over Mecum's three-day auction.

    Nearly 1,000 vehicles crossed the block over Mecum's three-day auction.

  • The 1967 Black Panther Camaro has its original stock 327-cubic-inch V-8.

    The 1967 Black Panther Camaro has its original stock 327-cubic-inch V-8.

 
 
Posted11/3/2019 8:00 AM

On April 7, a crisp day in 1967, Bobby Simonen went on the hunt for a new car. Joined by his dad, Eino, the duo got up early and drove 10 hours from their Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, home to Toronto in Canada. There in the concrete jungle, they bounded through numerous dealerships, leaving no stone unturned.

When they set foot in the Gorries Chevrolet showroom, Bobby eyed and netted the perfect catch, a 1967 Black Panther Camaro.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The cool coupe was part of the dealer's special program to build hopped-up Camaros to meet the exploding demand for performance variants. Roughly 30 cars were ordered by Gorries as part of its Black Panther efforts. All were painted black and came equipped with gold interiors.

Once on-site, the dealership added painted gold highlights. The stock wheels were swapped for Magnum 500s and, in the spirit of the "big cat" theme, they were wrapped with Uniroyal Tire Paw redline tires.

At the Mecum Auction in Schaumburg, Matt Avery, right, got a chance to chat with Lorraine Simonen, center, her daughter Kristine Simonen, Shane Corbett and grandson Skyler Corbett.
At the Mecum Auction in Schaumburg, Matt Avery, right, got a chance to chat with Lorraine Simonen, center, her daughter Kristine Simonen, Shane Corbett and grandson Skyler Corbett. -

Unique badging was applied to the front fenders and rear deck lid. The majority of the cars were shipped with 327-cubic-inch V-8s, but the intent was for the striking combo to entice shoppers in the showroom and encourage them to take advantage of the on-site performance services. Top dog would have been swapping in a 427-cubic-inch V-8 shortblock. Few, if any, had that type of work done but the cosmetic upgrades, combined with robust marketing, all helped to draw attention to the dealership and its cars.

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It certainly motivated Bobby, who quickly signed for the car, paying $3,625. "Driving around the Soo (the nickname for the Sault Ste. Marie area), we always stopped traffic," says Lorraine, who married Bobby. "Being a small city, we were soon known because of the eye-catching car."

While the muscle machine lent itself to modifications, Bobby, an accounts payable supervisor for the local board of education, kept his paws off horsepower add-on's. "He kept it original, liking just how it came from the showroom," Lorraine says.

Besides local drives, the couple traveled to other tourist locales, visiting Milwaukee and Traverse City, Michigan. When Bobby bought a Ford truck in the early 1970s, Lorraine took over the Camaro, purring along on errands or to run their kids to school. Their daughter, Kristine, learned to drive in the Camaro, too.

Gorries Chevrolet scaled up its Black Panther program rapidly, adding other network dealers to carry and sell the car. Despite the push, the big cats were phased out in 1968.
Gorries Chevrolet scaled up its Black Panther program rapidly, adding other network dealers to carry and sell the car. Despite the push, the big cats were phased out in 1968. -
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It didn't take long for Bobby to realize it was something special," says Lorraine. "You never saw another one."

Bobby loved their car right up until he passed away in the summer of 2018. "It was clear I could never care for it quite like him," Lorraine says. After much contemplation, Lorraine and Kristine made the hard decision to let it go, opting to sell it at the Mecum Auction held at the Schaumburg Convention Center about a week ago.

With such low production and its Canadian roots, many attendees had never seen such a rare cat in person. As such, excitement was high when the car crossed the auction block and bidders pounced to become the proud new owner.

"It was an emotional weekend, but we're thrilled it's going to a new home where it, and its story, will be enjoyed and shared," said Kristine. "That's what dad would have wanted. The car may be gone but the memories with him will live on forever."

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

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