No matter where you go in the automotive scene these days, innovation seems to be at the forefront. Whether it’s new car models, refined classics or custom hot rods, if it isn’t sporting some sort of new-and-improved setup or component, it’s yesterday’s news. But what about the cars that started it all? For example, without the classic Mustang, Charger, or Camaro, the modern muscle car scene would be drastically different. In fact, the automotive world as we know it wouldn’t exist. For the Camaro lineage, this is certainly true regarding the pilot prototypes.
As a Camaro or F-Body enthusiast you might now be scratching your head. No, we’re not talking about the first round of production cars or even the VIN 0001 car; we’re talking about the early GM prototypes that made the original Camaro a reality and the current Camaro more than just a dream. Why haven’t you heard about them? Well, information about the cars hasn’t been available for very long, and if it weren’t for the passion and dedication of the Pilot Prototype Registry founder, Logan Lawson, you may never have heard the story of the true first Camaros.
The No. N100001 Pilot prototype was the subject of the official 1967 Chevy Camaro reveal as well as much of the press materials surrounding the introduction of the car. Image: Compliments of Pilot Prototype Registry
A Little Background
The 1960s were whirlwind years for the automotive scene. Classic family cars were going by the wayside for sportier, more nimble performance cars that came to be known as pony and muscle cars. The idea was a whole new concept for cars – better looks, better performance, more power and a revived interest in the new car market.
Now, depending on who you ask, you will get a variety of answers as to what the first “official” muscle car on the market was. Some will tell you it was the Pontiac GTO that popped up in 1964, while others will tell you the muscle car era started years before with the Buick Rocket 88. Still, others will site the 1964 ½ Mustang as the tipping point for the muscle and pony car world as we know it today. But no matter what vehicle you credit for the beginning of the muscle car era, one thing is for certain – when it hit, it hit hard and just about every manufacturer out there was hell bent on jumping on the new muscle car craze.
For the big three, Ford’s introduction of the Mustang to the market lit an undeniable fire. As a direct result of the introduction of the 1965 Mustang model, General Motors began work on their first “F Car”, known not at the time as the Camaro, but merely as the first Pilot prototype marked with VIN 123377N100001, in May of 1966.
We were fortunate enough to be able to see car No. N100001 in person at the Iola Car Show in July 2017.
Built with a 230ci V6 engine, three-speed transmission, a 110-volt static lighting display and show paint, the car was produced as a display piece for Chevrolet, as well as a test car for the upcoming production of what would later become known as the Camaro. Car N100001 was unveiled at the end of August 1966 during the official model debut after working as a test mule in the months prior. After the unveiling, car N100001 was used for all of the original Chevrolet press photos and media releases about the 1967 Camaro. After a few more industry appearances, the car was stripped of its special lighting display and shipped to Yukon, Oregon, where R.T. Ayers took delivery of the car to be put on display and used for promotional purposes for R.T. Ayers High Performance Chevrolet.
By the time the first Pilot prototype car was unveiled, 48 other pre-production Pilot cars had been produced and full production of the Camaro had begun. It was because of the testing and perfecting of Pilot prototypes that the Camaro was produced with certain specifications, hitting dealership floors in September of 1966.
Logan Lawson with the No. N100001 Pilot Prototype car after its full restoration. Lawson was in high school when the entire project started! Image: Pilot Prototype Registry
Car No. N100001
Fast forward to 2009, and a young Logan Lawson had gotten wind of what might be the first ever Camaro built. An automotive enthusiast and avid computer whiz, Lawson found the car through a forum post describing the car, the thought of its unique origins, and the fact that due to the economic status at the time, the car was being put up for sale. After a bit of research, convincing his dad to go look at the car and what had to have seemed like a long wait time, Lawson was able to procure the car. It was this move that began the entire Pilot Car Registry program, which Lawson proudly continues today.
Thousands of hours of research by Lawson with the help of Jamie Schwartz later, as well as many contacts with General Motors and the GM Heritage Center, introductions to “Echos of Norwood” author Phil Borris, and meetings with all of the still living, major players of the Pilot Prototype program and previous owners of car N10001 (seriously, the research and work that went into documenting this car properly is insane!), the car was primed for a full restoration using as many original parts and sheet metal as possible.
Lawson had an incredibly large amount of work ahead of him when he first purchased Car N100001, not only in restoring the prototype but also researching the Pilot car. Image: Pilot Car Registry
Bought by Lawson as a presumed prototype turned V8-boasting race car, the Camaro was completely restored to original specifications, right down to the hand-made, one-off, and pre-production components original to the car (components one of the previous owners meticulously saved and then sold to Lawson later on).
The car now travels around the country, making appearances at some of the top shows and events in the industry.
Enter Car No. 100013
So where does Pilot Prototype No. N100013 come in to all of this? Well, through Lawson’s workings with General Motors, a deal to research, document and take inventory of all of the remaining Pilot prototype cars was worked out. In May of 2015, Schwartz was able to obtain confirmation of ownership for N10013 using law enforcement databases, after which, Lawson made contact with the owner, Tim Reuss, with documentation of the car in hand.
As it turns out, Reuss had had an idea that the Camaro convertible he owned was a prototype model, but without access to much of the documentation found by the Pilot Car Registry, he wasn’t able to confirm his hypothesis. When Lawson made contact with him and showed him all of the documents he had been looking for over the years, Reuss was overwhelmed and quickly he and Lawson became friends.
She may look like a regular classic Camaro, but look closely and you’ll see this is no ordinary 1967 model. What’s even cooler — the original Pilot Prototype VIN tag still remains on the car!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Reuss revealed he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Acknowledging his limited time left, knowing the significance of his Camaro and weighing a lot on the friendship he had built with Logan Lawson, Reuss had his wife contact Corey Lawson (Logan’s dad) and tell him he wanted Logan to have the car. In the summer of 2016, Logan Lawson took ownership of what is now seen as one of the most historically-significant examples of the Pilot prototype program.
Fully restored using only original parts, car No. N100013 features a 327ci V8 engine backed by a Powerglide transmission, as well as power brakes, power steering, 14-inch whitewall tires, a radio with a front antenna, and Deluxe seat belts. Finished in Bolero Red with Black trim and a White convertible top, the car is the fifth convertible ever built and the thirteenth vehicle built in the 49-car Pilot prototype program. It is known and fully documented as “The Gear & Axle Test Car.”
If you ever get a chance to check out one of these Pilot Prototypes in person, be sure to do so! This is muscle car history right before your eyes!
The car is now being toured across the country as part of the Pilot Car Registry program. It’s first show of its repeat debut was SEMA 2017.
For more information on car No. 100001, No. 100013, or any of the other Pilot Prototype cars, as well as Lawson’s continued research and documentation work surrounding classic GM prototype vehicles, be sure to check out his website: PilotCarRegistry.com.
A special thanks goes out to Logan Lawson and Jamie Schwartz for their tireless efforts to keep the history of these amazing Pilot Cars alive, and to Corey Lawson for taking the time to talk to us at SEMA 2017. Without all of them, this feature would not have been possible!