Former '68 Camaro owner reunites with an old friend, or two

  • 1968 Chevy Camaro L78

    1968 Chevy Camaro L78 Photo Courtesy of Matt Avery Media

  • Ralph's mom, Dorothy, enjoyed rides in her son's Camaro. Neither she nor Ralph's father had ever driven a car, instead relying on public transportation. Being in the loud muscle car was quite a thrill for her, Ralph said.

    Ralph's mom, Dorothy, enjoyed rides in her son's Camaro. Neither she nor Ralph's father had ever driven a car, instead relying on public transportation. Being in the loud muscle car was quite a thrill for her, Ralph said.

  • A two-year restoration was given to the Camaro in 1977.

    A two-year restoration was given to the Camaro in 1977.

  • The 1968 Chevy SS is equipped with a rare L78 big-block engine.

    The 1968 Chevy SS is equipped with a rare L78 big-block engine.

  • Greinke's son, Ralph III, behind the wheel when he was 18.

    Greinke's son, Ralph III, behind the wheel when he was 18. Courtesy of Ralph Greinke

 
 
Posted1/27/2020 6:00 AM

Cars stir up magical moments from the past. That's certainly true with this 1968 Camaro SS 396. It's a classic, carrying close ties to Chicago history, as well as fond family memories for Ralph Greinke, too.

As a 20-year-old, the Chicago resident bought the coupe in 1970 from his pal, Dennis Sciborski. Both young men were working at local, legendary auto dealer, Nickey Chevrolet, on Irving Park Road.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Despite an easy access to performance vehicles, Dennis bought the car new from another high-horsepower haven, Brigance Chevrolet in Oak Park.

The Camaro is painted in Lemans Blue and is equipped with a rare SS L78 engine -- a 396-cubic-inch big-block V-8 packing 375 horsepower. Only a scant 2,579 Camaros were produced that year with this engine.

Ralph Greinke of Park Ridge owned this Camaro for 36 years before selling it to a friend in 2006. He recently drove it again.
Ralph Greinke of Park Ridge owned this Camaro for 36 years before selling it to a friend in 2006. He recently drove it again. -

"Dennis got it to race," explains Ralph, who remains a close friend of Dennis to this day. "But after a few years of competition and an upcoming marriage, he was ready to let it go."

Just because it was available didn't make Ralph an easy sell. "Frankly, it was the last car I was interested in buying," Ralph says with a laugh. "My first pick was a Plymouth Barracuda. When a good one didn't turn up, I had my heart set on a '63 Corvette."

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Lacking a rear seat, that dream machine wouldn't come to fruition, either. Ralph, too, was becoming more interested in a family-friendly vehicle, deciding room for four was a must-have. All of a sudden, Dennis' Camaro was very attractive. On July 16, 1970, Ralph paid off the rest of his friend's GMAC financing note.

With the muscle machine in his possession, Ralph put it to work, commuting from his parents' home in Jefferson Park to the dealership. In 1973, Ralph purchased a 1963 Impala, allowing him to save the special Camaro for nice drives only. A few years later, he took to improving the car's condition.

Ralph poses with his Camaro at Montrose Harbor in 1975.
Ralph poses with his Camaro at Montrose Harbor in 1975. - Courtesy of Ralph Greinke

Out in his parents' garage in 1977, the gearhead took off and cleaned the subframe and rebuilt the engine, transmission and rear end. With Dennis' help, the engine was balanced, blueprinted and given the camshaft out of a Corvette L88. Iggy's Mufflers, still located on Harlem Avenue, added Hooker headers and a wider, 2-inch exhaust system.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For years to come, Ralph attended shows like the World of Wheels, taking top awards. Along with dad, Ralph Sr., he would also trailer the car to the Car Craft Summer Nationals in Indianapolis. "Those were very special trips," recalls Ralph.

The father-son tradition continued in the 1990s but this time around, it was with Ralph's two boys, Ryan and Ralph III, who traveled with him. "They'd be in their car seats laughing as we drove. As they got older, they definitely remembered when dad put the pedal down," Ralph laughs.

In 2006, Ralph and his wife, Sunny, made the difficult decision to sell the Chevy to Chris Piscitello, another fellow Camaro enthusiast he had met way back in the 1970s.

Despite the parting, Ralph, who now lives in Park Ridge, had the chance to see -- and drive -- the Camaro one last time last fall. It was his final opportunity before the car embarks on a new journey. The SS sold last weekend for $89,600 at an out-of-state auction, where it went home with a new owner.

"It's really special to see something again that was a big part of 36 years of my life," Ralph gushes. "It's truly amazing how many people become lifelong friends through the course of owning a car."

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

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