A Camaro-crazy couple falls in love with a gilded 1 of 7 droptop gem.
Hitting automotive paydirt isn't an everyday occurrence, but Pat and Karen Lewis struck it rich when they ordered their brand-new Sport Gold Chevrolet Camaro in the winter of 1998. Little did they know that their droptop would boast rare color provenance and become a cherished treasure for decades to come.
Already owners of a Butternut Yellow 1968 Camaro coupe, the car-crazy couple was eager to buy their first new Chevy ponycar. As Michigan residents and avid performance enthusiasts, there was only one place to go: the historic Berger Chevrolet in Grand Rapids.
With a legacy spanning nearly 100 years and still in operation today, Berger has built a reputation for celebrating and providing high-performance Chevy options. During the exhilarating 1960s, Dale Berger became well-known for dealing with many classic COPO Camaros, even taking delivery of and selling the 1969 COPO Camaro ZL1 #3 in Daytona Yellow.
Years later, in the early 2000s, his son Matt ventured into the realm of redefining millennium showroom speed, collaborating with Georgia-based tuner GMMG to offer limited-edition runs of modified 4th generation Camaros. Pat would later go on to purchase one of those, too.
A fifth-generation Berger Camaro program was rolled out in the 2010s and today, enthusiasts still travel from far and wide to the dealership to purchase a new Camaro to proudly secure the provenance that 'it came from Berger'.
Going for Gold
Desiring a top-tier SS convertible, the Lewis couple embarked on the ordering process. Leadfoot Pat took charge of selecting the options, while Karen was entrusted with choosing the paint color.
"Wanting everything, I checked all the boxes for every factory GM option along with all of the SLP options," explained Pat. "For the paint, I assumed Karen would opt for either Black or Red - pretty popular colors at the time."
However, while perusing the order brochure, another hue sparkled and caught Karen's discerning eye. "With a big smile on her face, she told me she had her perfect color, and it was gold," recalled Pat. "Though it wasn't my first preference if she wanted gold, she was going to get gold. Come to find out, it was the perfect selection."
Chevrolet referred to the hue as Sport Gold Metallic, with the option identified as RPO 63U. In 1998, a total of 1,399 Camaros were produced in it with just 36 being SS trims. The color was only offered on the Camaro for the 1998 model year.
The Lewis family paired the golden exterior with a Dark Gray leather interior and a black convertible top. Under order number 106FLN, the vehicle was built during the last week of April 1998.
After leaving Chevrolet's factory, the car was sent to SLP Engineering for the additional SS trim upgrades.
It was designated by SLP as SS car #1961 and outfitted with the SS enhancements, including a ram air hood, spoiler, SS badging, as well as SLP's Performance Exhaust, Hurst Shifter, floor mats, chrome five-spoke wheels, a car cover, an Auburn Differential, and SS key fobs and dash plaque.
All that Glitters
After eagerly submitting the order, the couple returned home, brimming with excitement as they awaited the arrival of their precious Camaro. Finally, in June, the call came in, informing them that their golden droptop had been delivered and was ready for pickup.
"We couldn't wait to get to Berger and when we did their team had the vehicle displayed in the lower showroom, looking absolutely stunning," reminisced Pat. "Karen was over the moon and promptly christened the car 'Gold Rush'."
The name stuck with the couple creating a vanity license plate bearing that moniker, utilizing the element symbol 'Au' to ensure it fit.
Once the car was home, Karen wasted no time in working it into her daily routine. She drove it with joy for several years, not only for local excursions but also embarking on numerous longer journeys, including multiple trips to Atlanta, Georgia, to take part in the popular 'F-Body' Camaro show gatherings.
Mining For More
As the initial calendar year ended, the couple received an unexpected phone call from their long-time friend, Scott Settlemire, then Chevrolet performance manager.
During his tenure with General Motors, Scott regularly provided production numbers to enthusiasts and fans at the end of each model year of Camaro production.
"He asked me if I was sitting down," chuckled Pat, "before revealing the astonishing news: 'Chevrolet only built seven SS convertibles in Gold, and you and Karen have the first and most highly optioned example.' Needless to say, we were thrilled."
In addition to their trips to Georgia, the car made appearances at the Grand Rapids Autorama and, in later years, at the 2017 Camaro Superfest, where it shared the spotlight with other notable SGM enthusiasts, including Dave Ianitelli’s golden 1998 Camaro SS convertible. "The crowd was amazed by the pair," recalled Pat. "Most had never seen one Camaro in this unique color, let alone two side by side. They loved it."
Sadly, Karen passed away in August of 2010 but determined to carry on the legacy, Pat continues to display their beloved droptop. Most recently, the enthusiast showcased the classic at this year's Bloomington Gold Show, held at the Illinois State University campus in Bloomington, Illinois.
The event celebrated 50 years and showcased top-tier Corvettes and Camaros along with a special salute to the Corvette Z06 as part of the 2023 Gold Collection.
While Pat enjoys the spectator reaction to his well-cared-for convertible, it's the happy family memories it conjures up that he values most."My wife cherished this car," said Pat with a sense of pride. "This convertible was her baby for so many years and a source of her deepest joy. Even though she's gone, having it now does nothing but remind me of her. That's the true beauty of it."
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