The Colton Camaro

The Colton Camaro

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

The Colton Camaro

Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.

Jose Addison

Killeen is the gateway to the Hill Country of Texas. It’s also Army country, home of Fort Hood. In Killeen, people wear their patriotism and pride with honor. It’s a town where folks go beyond the call of duty, whether it’s serving their country, their community, or keeping their promises. Sadly, Shane Colton never had a chance to keep one of the promises he made to his eleven-year-old son, Lance.

Shane was only thirty-two when his Apache helicopter was shot down on Easter Sunday, April 11, 2004, while providing cover for a fuel convoy heading to Fallujah, Iraq. Before Shane’s deployment with the 1st Calvary Division, 227th Aviation Regiment, he and Lance were in the process of dismantling a 1968 Camaro they had planned to rebuild. The car was in pretty bad shape and Shane wanted to do a ground-up restoration, which meant hours of work. Since Shane loved cars and Lance loved doing anything with his dad, it was a perfect project for this father-and-son team. Then the duty call came, and they stored the Camaro under a tarp in the hot Central Texas sun, awaiting Shane’s return.

On September 1, 2004, Shane’s service and sacrifice was profiled on a “Fallen Heroes” segment of the Evening News with Dan Rather that I happened to be watching with my wife. We own a company that supplies rubber details and weatherstripping to gearheads restoring cars. We specialize in Camaros, so when I heard, “Camaro,” it caught my attention. Not only was I greatly moved by the loss of this brave and honorable man in service to our country, I was equally moved by his young son’s desire to honor his father by finishing that car. It’s an Army tradition . . . finishing the job.

While my wife, Donna, went to work finding Lance and his mother, Inge, I got in touch with people in the car community to see if we could put our heads and hearts together to help this young man. And help they did.

With Inge’s blessing and our promise to involve Lance in the restoration process, we took the car to Central Texas College in Killeen where the rebuild process began. ARMO, the Automotive Restoration and Marketing Organization, exercised its marketing muscle, and word of the Colton Camaro project quickly spread throughout the car world. People all over the country—from guys who just loved cars, to businesses in the automotive aftermarket industry—were donating money and parts. Websites and bulletin boards devoted space to the project. People offered advice from their own restoration experiences, while others wanted to know what the plans were: would Lance keep it stock, or modify it?

Shane and Lance had put together a detailed notebook on ideas for the car, and that guided the effort. However, everything did not go smoothly. Soon, nearly all of the students who were working on the restoration were themselves deployed to Iraq, and work stopped. The Colton Camaro sat.

Once again, the car community rose to the challenge. Jim Barber of Classic Automotive Restoration Specialists contacted Forsythe Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to ask if the automotive shop students would be willing to pick up where Central Texas left off. They quickly agreed.

It was barely six weeks until the keys to the fully restored Camaro were to be presented to Lance at the November 2005 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas. The car shell arrived at Forsythe, eighteen hundred miles from Killeen, on Monday, September 19. FedEx delivered the rest of the car parts—in pieces—soon after. More than sixty volunteer students and faculty challenged themselves by working nights and weekends to complete the project. Miraculously, at the end of October 2005, the fully restored Camaro was on its way to Las Vegas.

During the SEMA show, the canary yellow Camaro with black rally stripes turned heads. “This is exactly how Dad wanted it, but he would have done it in way more time with me,” Lance told the reporter covering the show. “It’s amazing that so many people could be so selfless; like, you see all this evil and greed in the world, then this bunch of people got together for this one project.”

When I handed Lance the keys and he sat in the driver’s seat, surely Shane was in heaven beaming. No one who was there will ever forget it. This was a restoration made possible by many compassionate and generous people, with some divine intervention from one very proud dad.

Lance is now a motivated teenager and one of only seventeen, out of thousands of students in his school district, selected for the International Baccalaureate program. He also made the National Junior Honor Society. After the completion of the Camaro restoration project, we moved the remaining money to a new fund set up for Lance’s college expenses. The fund continues to grow and is now in excess of $10,000.

My parents taught me at an early age that life is short, and if you can make a difference in some way, do it. I have a feeling Shane lived by the same philosophy. I’m just glad we were in the right place at the right time to help a family who had given the ultimate to us all.

Lance is looking forward to getting his learner’s permit next year, another test I’m sure he’ll ace. But he’ll have to wait a little while to be presented the keys to the Camaro again, this time by Inge, who plans on turning them over when Lance heads off for college—his goal is to attend MIT.

Gary Anderson as told to Theresa Peluso

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