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The Camaro: Love at first sight

Everyone has a first love. For Jay Staten, his first love is his wife, Valerie, who he began dating when the two were in 10th grade. A close second is sitting in the garage.

Staten beams with pride as he tells about the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro that he rebuilt from the ground up. But, as with most love stories, this one isn’t that simple. There was a sale, then regret, a subtle longing and then a moment thousands of car owners dream of when he bought it back.

Staten’s Camaro should be one of the 200 to 250 cars at the Historic Montesano Car Show on Saturday. Vehicles of all different ages and makes and models will line Main Street and Broadway Avenue in Montesano and for many of the visitors there will be that moment when they remember their first love that used to sit in the garage.

For those who want a chance to see vehicles from a bygone era, dream of owning a classic car or maybe find a ride just like the one they used to have, the car show will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cars come from all over Grays Harbor and neighboring counties and even from as far away as Alaska to be a part of the show. For event organizer Dave Foss, whose first love is the 1972 Camaro he purchased from Whitney’s and still owns, the show is a great way to show off the community of Montesano and the hard work individuals put into their vehicles, but mostly it is a great chance to meet new people with similar interests.

“I really enjoy visiting with the people and seeing the other cars,” Foss said. “Even if you have seen that car before, there are some cars you haven’t seen before and you get to visit with new friends and old friends. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a show that didn’t have some award, but most people don’t go for the awards, they go to have fun.”

It was far from love at first sight when Staten first bought the rally sport Camaro back in 1984.

“When I brought it home, it was in about 100 pieces,” Staten said. “It was primer and orange. I bought it from a guy up in Centralia who found it at the Portland swap meet. I brought it home and all my friends who are car guys said ‘You will never get that car together. It is just too far gone.’”

He started to restore the car from the ground up in a two-car garage. Every piece of the car was either rebuilt, replaced or repainted. The engine got an upgrade. He put a 12-bolt positraction rear end on, upgraded to disc brakes, added tilt stearing, new gauges, a console, a tachometer, upgraded door panels and an endura bumper. Then, after hours of painstaking work on the body, it was ready for a paint job, which State personalized with blue and red stripes to accent the glossy black. In one year, Staten had resurected the car his friends had told him was ready for the scrap heap.

“As soon as I got it done, the very first car show I took it to was in Longview and it was the Unique Fantasy Car Show and if I remember right there were about 1,000 cars at the car show and I took it and won best street machine 1949 and newer,” Staten said.

Staten was out to prove that his car wasn’t just ready, but that it would be show worthy. His friends started calling him “Mr. Street Machine,” a title that one of his friends even painted on the back of his Camaro.

For Staten, the car was part of his family — going to car shows and even driving the kids to Bible camp.

Then, one day in 1994, Staten had the Camaro parked out in front of the house when a man pulled up to ask a question.

He offered to buy the car.

“How much?” he asked.

“Everything is for sale for the right price,” Staten remembers saying. Coming up with a price he thought was ridiculous, Staten said, “I want $15,000.”

Staten could hardly believe when the man said he was interested. The buyer didn’t want the powerful engine that Staten had in the car so Staten said he would put in a smaller engine. They settled for $10,000.

Staten says he has owned about 10 1969 Camaros and 400 cars in his lifetime. He figured this was just one more car he had fixed up and sold at a profit. As time passed, the Camaro with the red and blue stripes stayed in the back of his mind. While it was Staten who almost lost one of his knuckles putting in a quarter panel, it was Valerie who never felt the same without the first product of Jay’s labor.

“I love this car,” Valerie said. “There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this car. I was sad the day he sold it. There will never be another car like that one. We’ve had really nice cars. He built a Chevelle that was absolutely beautiful, but it wasn’t the same.”

Went Staten decided to sell the Valerie’s Chevelle, she told him the only stipulation was he had to buy back his Camaro.

Not long after the conversation, Jay was on the phone with the man he had sold the car to almost two decades before to see whatever became of his Camaro. Staten learned that not only did the man still have the car, but he would be willing to sell it back. The only question now was the car’s condition. Staten went through all of the scenarios in his head including reliving the boxes filled with almost 100 pieces that he first bought back in 1984.

“We went out to the airport in Shelton and he opens up a hangar and here is the car identical to the day I sold it to him,” Staten said. “So identical that it even had sheepskin seat covers from the 1980s on the seats.”

“It was almost like time stood still,” Valerie added.

The car only had 2,500 more miles on it than the day that Staten passed over the keys. It ran almost exactly like the day Staten sold it because it had only run on aviation fuel during the 18 years.

“Valerie said to me ‘I don’t care what he wants for it, we are buying it. I want this car,’” Staten said.

After discussing a price for a while, Staten said he got a little bit of a deal in the repurchase, but he isn’t about to divulge how much he paid the second time. Staten said he did the math and the cost the second time equals out to almost the same amount as if he had stored it somewhere for 18 years.

“He said, ‘The car means more to you than it does to me. Because it is your old car,’” Staten said.

While Staten used to show the car a lot in the 1980s and ’90s, now he only takes it to one or two shows a year because he says it isn’t truly show quality. Staten hopes to repaint it someday, but for now, however, he is just happy to have it back and be able to drive it whenever he wants.

At the Montesano car show, Staten says he hears a phrase all the time: “I used to have a car just like this.”

“I’ve talked to tons of people who have said I’d love to have this car back or that car back that I used to have back in high school and I can honestly say I am one of them that I did get my car back,” Staten said. “Getting in, driving it, I could have the worst day in the world and I can get in this car and fire it up and go for a drive and I’m instantly happy and the day just turns great.”