When I had mentioned to a friend I had the new Chevy Camaro RS to review for The Garage, he immediately pointed me to a site dedicated to the Camaro that appeared in the movie “Better Off Dead.” Released in 1985, “Better Off Dead” is a dark comedy starring John Cusack. For Generation X’ers like myself, the movie is an icon. We don’t talk about pop culture here at The Garage, but the hero car of the film, a 1967 Chevy Camaro RS/SS350, is the subject of our post.
While in college in the late 1980′s, a man we’ll simply call Jeff rented “Better Off Dead”. Jeff was a fan of Camaros, so naturally he was excited to see one featured in the movie. But Jeff couldn’t shake the thought of Lane Meyer’s Camaro, and wondered what became of the car after the movie was done filming. Finally, Jeff was going to take his curiosity to the next level: he set out to find the “Better Off Dead” Camaro.
The search started simple enough-just combing the film credits, seeking out any names of people who could have been associated with the car during filming. After a series of online searches, letters, and phone calls, Jeff found someone in California who handled the Camaro during filming. As it turns out, it was that someone’s son who owned the car. The son had owned the Camaro since 1973, and allowed the car to be used for filming the movie in 1985. He reluctantly sold the car in 1989, but when the car was advertised and sold, there was no mention of its role in “Better Off Dead”, and the car slipped into obscurity.
The seller had no Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or any registration from when he owned it, but he did retain the California license plate the Camaro wore in the movie. Armed with the name of the owner and the plate number, Jeff embarked on an odyssey with the California Motor Vehicle Department that would take weeks, but in the end, was finally able to obtain a VIN.
With this key piece of information, Jeff was ready to take the next step in his search. But where to start? The car could be anywhere, if it even existed at all anymore. Knowing the car was sold in California in 1989, Jeff concluded his best bet was to start there. This time, Jeff employed the services of a private investigator who promised they could take a VIN, and provide the name of the current owner. Sure enough, within a couple weeks, a name was provided, but with no address or phone number.
With online searches proving futile, Jeff again turned to a private investigator promising they could track an address from a name only. Sure enough, he learned the Camaro was registered in Los Angeles, less than 20 miles from where the car was sold in 1989. Nervously, Jeff called the current owner. After verifying he did own a ’67 Camaro, Jeff said the car was owned by an acquaintance of his in the 1980′s, and had sentimental value to him. The owner indicated the car was in rough shape, and he had lost interest in the car. Asked if he would be interested in selling the Camaro, a positive answer was all Jeff needed to book a flight to LA.
Pulling up to the owner’s home, and seeing the car, there was no doubt in Jeff’s mind that this was, in fact, the “Better Off Dead” Camaro. A price was negotiated, and the car was transported back to Jeff’s home in Florida in April, 2002, about five months after his search began. Pictured below is the condition of the Camaro when Jeff found it.
Jeff’s feeling was the Camaro had been left to the elements after the filming of the movie. Now that he owned his dream car, Jeff treated the Camaro to a professional, ten month rotisserie restoration. Upon completion, Jeff showed the car frequently in the Orlando area until 2005 when he moved to Durango, Colorado. Although there are fewer opportunities to show the car in the Rockies, Jeff makes every effort to continue to display this unique piece of film history.
*The Garage thanks Jeff for providing personal photos of his car and being open to discuss his search for “The Better Off Dead” Camaro. For more information, please visit betteroffdeadcamaro.com.