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Cambra going for one last cruise
Hot rods escorting Mantecan to his final resting place
John Cambra - photo by Photo Contributed
John Cambra loved hot rods which makes it fitting that they will escort him on his final ride on earth.

Cambra, 59, not only restored his own cars, but he was also involved in helping to restore hundreds of others for his friends.  And many of those friends are expected to show up en masse outside his funeral on Tuesday at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church at 10:30 a.m. with their hotrods and bikes.

The pall bearers will be driving four of Cambra’s colorful restorations heading up the funeral procession as it winds its way from the church to St. John’s Cemetery on Highway 120 at Carrolton Road.

First will be his 1927 Ford roadster followed by the 1951 Plymouth coupe and the 1941 Willys and finally a 1931 Ford roadster pickup truck.  The cars are to be followed by the hearse, the family and his countless friends that will receive a police escort for part of the trip.

But most important is his personal pit crew – his wife and his daughters – who are already missing him more than they can comprehend as they sit in their rural living room planning what they are going to say at his funeral, and what they are going to sing, what photos to take from the scrapbooks to create a memory board.

It’s a living room that was home to John for years – the good years and the not so good – where memories were made and where his wheelchair can be seen parked in the corner with the afternoon light streaming in through the front windows.

The luncheon reception at the MRPS Hall on Grant Street will undoubtedly be the No. 1 car show of the year as friends park their hot rods on Grant Street to honor Cambra’s memory – a man among men to every last one.  

While suffering for some eight years from a debilitating Multiple System Atrophy his desire to get out of his wheelchair and drive his cars never waned.  It was on May 19 that he passed away at home with his family members at his side – knowing his cars would be there for him on his last ride Tuesday.

Among his accomplishments, Cambra had earned his pilot’s license and owned a Cessna 172 that he liked to fly to Lake Tahoe and to Redding and he especially loved flying over the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge with his wife Karen in awe of the lights they would see on the span as well as those in the city in the background.

Cambra became proficient in multi-engine and IFR instrument flying.  The instructor at Port City Aviation said Cambra could do anything with an airplane.  However, he declined to take the required advanced testing to be certified.

 “There was nothing under the son that he couldn’t do – he was a great dancer,” daughter Aimee said. “He loved to swing and to rock and roll – loved the Creedence Clearwater Revival.”

The excitement his restored cars brought him in his wheel chair was somewhat miraculous as was the devotion he received from his wife Karen and daughters Aimee and Kimberly that allowed him the honor of dying at home.  The love for his cars obviously came second to that for his wife and daughters.  They were family – they were a team – they were his pit crew.

Aimee said her dad rebuilt his first car when he was 15 and a sophomore at Manteca High School – doing the job totally by himself.  Aimee has launched her own car restoration shop recently on Moffat Boulevard to continue her dad’s work that she learned well by working at his side.

In the early ‘70s he entered nine boat races at Lake Don Pedro, Lake Amador and Clear Lake with a 14-foot Craftlee Class SD Runabout with a 400 horsepower engine.  Again it was family behind him as daughter Aimee served as the crew chief with daughter Kimberly and wife Karen taking care of clean up operations.

It all started when entering his teens at 13 he was taught how to weld by Tuff Boy Trailers’ Leroy Cunningham.  Walt Emory, who had retired as a tool and die man, devoted hours to Cambra and mentored his skills in machine workmanship.

Cambra’s  Rosary is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday night at P.L. Fry and Son Mortuary Chapel on North Union Road.