One week in 1977, John Gray was in Kansas City visiting his parents. He had driven there from his Joplin home in a company car. Gray was 24 years old at the time and looking to buy a muscle car.
He thought about purchasing a Trans Am, but that was a little too flashy for his tastes. As he perused the classified ads in a newspaper, he came across exactly what he was looking for.
Gray went to the young man’s home to take a look at his 1973 blue Chevrolet Camaro Z28 with a white stripe and a black vinyl top.
“I don’t know how much I paid for it, but I didn’t haggle with the price,” Gray said. “It was what I wanted.”
Suddenly, Gray had two cars at his parents’ house. He couldn’t drive them both back to Joplin at the same time, so he made the easy decision. He drove the Z28 and left his company car at his parents.
“I thought I was Richard Petty,” Gray said. “It was loud and noisy and fast. I was passing everybody. It was a fun car to drive. I think the motor was shot. It burnt like maybe two or three quarts of oil between here and Joplin. Back then, oil was 99 cents a quart so you really didn’t care.
“The guy told me this has been a real fun car to drive. Buying something like that from a guy who is 25 who says it is a fun car to drive – he has had some fun with it.”
Gray later took a bus from Joplin to Kansas City to retrieve the company car.
When he bought the Z28, it only had 47,000 miles on it. He has put only about 4,000 miles on it since he bought it.
In his first three years of ownership, Gray had plenty of mechanical work and bodywork done on it to change it from blue to its current red with white strips and a hard top.
First, Gray had the engine and transmission completely rebuilt the second year he had it. He made sure only Chevrolet parts were used.
“I had all the machine work done and then I put it back together with the help of a friend,” Gray said.
One look inside of Gray’s Parkville home shows that he likes to work on his cars. He has a lift inside the garage to make it easier for him to do mechanical work.
But Gray admits he is not capable of doing bodywork.
“That is an art,” Gray said.
In 1980, Gray took his Z28 to Loves Bodyworks in Fairland, Okla. It took close to eight months to complete the job of turning the blue Z28 to a red with black stripes. He made sure red Chevrolet paint was used.
“At the body shop, they said this car ought to be red,” Gray said. “To change colors on a car, you have to completely disassemble all the body panels, take the doors off, the trunk lids off.”
After all the mechanical work and bodywork was completed, Gray didn’t drive the car much.
“The mid ’80s, a couple of kids come along and then you have to start paying for them and you have to move to a different house, buy appliances and furniture,” Gray said. “I let the car sit quite a while.
“Not driving the car isn’t really the best for it, but at least I kept all the all the fluids and filters changed. It runs pretty good. My stepson actually drives it, and my granddaughter likes sitting behind the wheel.”
Now 62, Gray plans to drive the Z28 a little more. Last fall he took it to a couple of car cruises in Parkville.
Just owning the car and having it sit in his garage brings joy to Gray.
“It has been a real fun car to own,” Gray said. “I have not gotten tired of it. What I like the most about it is it’s so original and not extremely flashy. It came at the tail end of the muscle-car era.
“Now that the kids are gone, I’m semiretired and my wife is retired, we are going to have time to enjoy it. I certainly enjoy it.”