Listening to pizza magnate "Papa" John Schnatter point out the differences between the 1972 Z28 Camaro he lost, and the one we're driving around Houston in, you come to realize his quest for the lost car is more than a gimmick.
Update: We helped find Papa John's Camaro!!!
When Papa John opened his first restaurant he had to sell his 1972 gold-and-black Z28 Camaro to get the $1,600 he needed to pay for the equipment. He remembers parting with the car and, in describing it, he winces as he explains that "it was so painful I had to look away so I couldn't see it driving off."
Clearly, the gamble paid off. He gained a business that eventually grew to more than 3,000 pizzerias in over 26 countries with a current market value of around $750 million. Given his obvious business acumen it's easy to believe that a trip to cities around the country in search of his lost car is just some clever marketing campaign, especially with a slick website and $25,000 reward. And don't get us wrong, it clearly is a smart campaign, but we've got reason to believe he's sincerely in search of that Z28.
First, the split-bumper Camaro isn't exactly the most prized generation of the storied nameplate — far from it. Many consider this to be one of the more unattractive Camaros. Second, the "replica" Z28 he gave us a spin in is a car he purchased years ago and is kept at his corporate headquarters. But the biggest clue comes from listening to him point out what made his car unique (hint: these may be clues as to which car was his).
"It had the split-bumper, sunroof, BF Goodrich tires with steel wheels, I swapped out the rear end with a Positrac differential — and now the speedometer reads 10 MPH over the actual speed. It had a velvet interior, unlike the vinyl one in this car, it didn't have A/C, and the ash tray in back is falling off."
The fact that he didn't make the appropriate changes when he put in the Positraction may be the biggest clue, unless someone has corrected this mistake.
Papa John is currently bringing the first leg of a four leg trip to an end in Dallas tomorrow, and he was kind enough to bring a pizza truck with him to Downtown Houston to distribute food to employees of the Houston Chronicle and anyone else who showed up. While everyone seemed grateful for the pizza, the Camaro was having a bit of trouble with the heat and was spitting green coolant onto the ground (a result of a busted water pump).
The best shot we have of Papa John with his old Z28 shows him in a righteous pair of short-shorts even more classic than the car itself. He said he didn't plan on searching for those but, if a Jalopnik reader finds the car, they'll not only get $25,000, he'll resurrect the outfit. In fact, he went so far as to say he'd wear "or not wear" whatever the person who found it wanted — more evidence that he's serious.
It's an interesting journey given that he already has what is, almost certainly, a nicer Z28 than the one he lost. We asked him why he'd want the old one over the one instead and he simply replied "because that one's the truth."
You can track Papa John and his current Z28 in the search for the old one at PapasRoadTrip.com. If you think you know where the car is let us know and we'll make sure to pass it on. Or, you can contact them directly through the site.
UPDATE: Papa John's upped the ante from a $25,000 bounty to a humongous $250,000 reward for the person who returns his Camaro to him!