The Shade-Tree Mechanic

Jeffrey Deitch

A 1972 RS SS Camaro with a big-block engine isn’t the car of Jeffrey Deitch’s dreams. He speaks more glowingly of the German engineering that went into the BMW 2002tii he bought recently, a car that started right up after sitting for 22 years. “The quality and engineering of the older cars versus the newer cars is just amazing,” he says. “It’s like comparing a Seiko to a Rolex.”

Deitch, a 45-year-old computer programmer, estimates that he’s owned 90 cars. He buys them, fixes them, drives them, sells them and buys more. They come and go. But the Camaro has a backstory.

“It’s a love/hate relationship,” Deitch says.

The “love” side of the equation is easy to understand. Who wouldn’t covet a nice example of the muscle-car era? The ’72 models were the last of their breed. In just a couple of model years, an oil crisis and ever-tightening EPA regulations would end the horsepower wars of the 1960s and usher in a very dark period for gearheads: the mid-’70s, a time of bloated Detroit iron and the appearance of funny little Japanese cars from a manufacturer better known for motorcycles.

On the other side of the ledger is what the Camaro represents personally. It belonged to Deitch’s older brother, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease. When he couldn’t drive the car anymore, he gave it to Deitch as a Christmas present last year.

“The ownership of the car is a bittersweet affair,” Deitch says. “The car is great, but it reminds me of the horrible disease affecting my brother. Every time I see it I think it should be his car. He should be driving it and enjoying it.

“But he was excited to give the car to me. He wanted it to be enjoyed as he intended. I reluctantly accepted.”

Deitch has fully restored about a dozen cars. When he says he “restored” a car, he means he did the work: body, paint, engine, suspension—all of it. He’s a self-taught mechanic who works in his home garage in Boulder City, which is fully equipped, including a lift that raises the cars high enough for him to scoot underneath on a rolling seat. He’s got cars in the street, in the driveway and even in the backyard.

For him it’s more about the process, not the result. “I get all the enjoyment out of doing the work,” he says. “Once the car is done, it doesn’t have the appeal to me of something that needs attention.”

The Camaro isn’t perfect—“It’s good from afar, but far from good,” he says—but you get the sense that he may keep it around even after restoring it.

“My brother and I built a lot of cars together,” he says.