LIMA — Dave Semer stood between two 1969 Camaros, easily valued at a quarter of a million dollars between them. On his right was a Z28 that is painted hugger orange. To his left was a fathom-green high-performance ZL1 COPO, number 60 of the limited 69 models that General Motors produced that year.
As beautiful as those two cars are, Semer said when he finishes his current project, it will be the top of the class of the nearly dozen of Camaros he owns.
That project is a 1969 SS 350 Daytona Yellow Camaro.
“I may have $60,000 in parts in that car by the time I’m done — and who knows how many hours of labor. It will be done right though, and it will put other cars to shame,” Semer said.
You would expect no less from Semer, who is Lima’s “Mr. Camaro.”
The 73-year-old man has been tinkering with cars for well over 40 years. When his wife, Cathy, needs to find him, she knows where to look – in the 60-foot by 105-foot workshop attached to his house.
“This shop was my dream when I retired. Some people have beautiful ‘showrooms’ where they keep their collections. Make no doubt about it, mine is a workshop,” Semer said.
Semer’s collection of Camaros comes even though he worked at the Ford Lima Engine Plant, retiring in 2001.
“Before I worked at Ford, I had a couple Chevelles, one which I bought new. They were good-looking cars. But I gravitated to the Camaro, which was lighter and smaller,” he said.
He’s partial to the 1967, ‘68 and ‘69 Camaro body style but says he doesn’t have a favorite car in his collection.
“Each one I own has a special characteristic that I like,” he points out.
In his younger days, as a graduate of the first class in the Allen East High School consolidation, Semer’s work on a car was all about speed and drag racing.
“Every car I bought, I wanted it to be faster than the previous car,” Semer said. “Now, it’s more about making it nicer than the previous one. I’m more meticulous in having it look just right. Some cars look really nice as long as you have the hood up and deck closed. It hides the fact the gaps on both sides may not be exactly the same. I’ll put 100 hours in making sure they’re even.”
His drag-racing days are also over.
“You don’t take out a $100,000 car and burn its tires dragging. You do that, and someone needs to slap you on the side of your head,” he said.
He says working on cars is a never-ending learning process.
“Every day I run into a problem that I haven’t solved before. One thing you learn through the years is to never rule out something,” he said.
Semer’s interest in cars came as a youth. He was a regular customer at Jones Hardware Store on the square in downtown Lima, where he purchased model cars.
“Putting models together, that’s where I started learning how cars worked,” he said. “My dad, bless him, if his car wasn’t running right, he checked to make sure it had gas. Maybe he checked the oil, but that was the extent of it.”
Semer has been approached numerous times from people wanting to buy one of his Camaros.
“They’re not for sale,” he says. “To me, it’s not about the value of a car, it’s the enjoyment it brings to you. The last, and only Camaro, I sold was probably 20 years ago. When people approach me now, I tell them to check the obituaries. When they see my name in there, the cars will probably be up for sale.”