It’s strange how much automotive development, culture, and availability has been shaped by taxes. In America, we’ve had a dearth of small imported pickup trucks for years thanks to a tax involving chickens, many European countries’ engine displacement taxes played a role in the rise of turbocharging and prevented many American cars from being competitive, and, maybe most fun result, tax loopholes created some wildly improbable and delightfully non-sensical vehicles. Like the Camaro and Firebird pickup trucks of 1980s Finland.
I was sent some pictures of these by one of our weird-shit-hunting minions, Hans, and I think what’s most amazing about these Camaros—beyond the massive rear overhang and that shockingly usable-looking bed—is how many of these there are in Finland.
What’s going on, exactly? There seems to be too many of these to just be coincidental one-offs from some gloriously-deranged Finns—there must be some story here.
There is, of course, a story, though it’s short some details that I’d love to know. Here’s the best explanation I found, on a third-gen Camaro forum, from someone who claims to actually be a Finn who owns one:
I’ve always wanted a 80's third gen car, so last spring I picked up this “beauty”, an 85 Z28 that someone decided to turn into a nice pickup truck?
In the 80's you had to pay zero car tax if you bought a van or pickup truck, so a guy imported around 140 F-bodies and crudely chopped them into pickup trucks. Later on they fixed this loophole, most likely because of people driving Ladas and whatnot complaining about how it’s unfair someone can buy a western car for less than their Soviet-made miracles. This one has been further modified by a hobbyist at an unspecified date, but I think it turned out ok all things considered.
The key bit of information I’d love to have that has so far eluded me is just who this “guy” was that imported 140 F-body Camaros and Firebirds with the goal of transforming them into tax-free pickup trucks, but whoever that brilliant Finn is, they probably deserve a medal or at least a commemorative plate or something.
It’s a very clever plan: people wanted American muscle cars like the Camaro and Firebird, but by the time Finland’s taxes were applied to the cars, the prices made them unobtainable. But with the pickup truck loophole, everything changes: for just sacrificing that back seat and maybe some style and dignity, but adding a lot of practicality, a V8-hungry Finn could have the best-ish America had to offer, at a reasonable price!
If this story is true, and these cars are all the work of one person/shop, then that makes it all even more impressive. The work and effort put into these Camarominos is significant: the overhang has been lengthened, the B-pillars have been extended into a graceful pair of buttresses, and it also looks like most have provisions for a snap-on canvas bed cover that sort of restores the original—if elongated—lines of the car.
These seem to show up on Finnish car sales sites every so often, and sometimes in other Finnish media, and most look to be of a similar design, with the rear fascia and original taillights kept intact, though at least one, our Finnish friend who wrote about his on that third-gen Camaro forum, appears to have a very nicely done tailgate and taillights borrowed from... an Opel Omega? No, wait. They’re from something we never got in the US that I can’t quite put my brain on. Some European in the comments, set me right here, please.
(UPDATE: Saab lights! They’re from a Saab!)
Really, it’s remarkable how good these look, and that bed appears long enough to be genuinely useful. They’re a lot like sportier El Caminos of the same era, which I suppose just weren’t desirable enough to import, compared to the Camaro? I’d have thought that would be an easier solution to getting a Finn some cheap Americana, but I guess the heart wants what it wants, and it seems to want a Camaro. Or Firebird.