Bitchin’ Camaro: The First-Generation Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

Nobody, least of all Ford, expected General Motors to take the success of the Ford Mustang lying down. Still, it took two and a half years for the General to field its challenger, the Chevrolet Camaro, and despite the Camaro’s fresh styling, a broad selection of engines, and a blinding array of options, the Mustang outsold it two to one.

If they couldn’t beat the Mustang on the showroom floor, Chevrolet decided, they would at least beat it at the track. GM was not officially in racing, but that didn’t stop Chevrolet engineers from concocting a fearsome homologation special to qualify their new baby for Trans-Am competition: the Camaro Z/28. This is the story of the 1967-1969 Chevrolet Camaro and Z/28.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro badge

SUPER NOVA

In retrospect, the fact that it took GM as long as it did to produce the Camaro (and its Pontiac sibling, the Firebird) is somewhat puzzling. GM knew about the Mustang long before it debuted and Chevrolet stylists had actually been playing with four-seat “personal car” designs since at least 1958. In 1962, Chevrolet styling chief Irv Rybicki had proposed building one such design on the platform of the compact Chevy II/Nova; in early 1964, Chevrolet had shown a prototype of a Nova-based personal car at the New York Auto Show, appropriately called Super Nova. Despite all those antecedents, the car that became the Camaro wasn’t approved for production until August 1964, four months after the Mustang’s spectacular bow.

Why? When Chevrolet General Manager Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen vetoed Rybicki’s personal-car concept back in 1962, he declared that Chevrolet didn’t need yet another car. At the time, Chevy had the full-sized Chevrolet, the Corvette, the rear-engined, air-cooled Corvair, and the compact Chevy II, and the division was busily readying the midsize Chevelle/Malibu for a 1964 debut. There were limits to even Chevrolet’s development and marketing budget, especially for something management didn’t see as a volume product.

At the time, Knudsen also assumed that Chevrolet’s existing models, particularly the Corvair, would be more than a match for any new small Ford. The Corvair Monza, introduced late in 1960, had uncovered a decent-size market for sporty performance in a smaller package. Chevy sold 218,728 Monzas in 1962 and they’d recently added a turbocharged version called Spyder, one of the world’s first turbocharged production cars. Stylist Ron Hill had just penned a sleek new Corvair design for the 1965 model year that looked to be a sure winner.

When the Mustang proved to be an instant success, Knudsen realized he had made a mistake, but it wasn’t until Mustang sales topped the six-figure mark that GM’s upper management was convinced. The new Corvair, for all its lovely, Italianate good looks, was no match for the competition from Dearborn, in part because its top engine, the a 164 cu. in. (2,680 cc) turbocharged flat-six, had only 180 gross horsepower (134 kW) while the Mustang’s base 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) V8 offered 200 hp (149 kW). The Corvair was clearly over-matched and the public had cooled on its radical engineering, not helped by the growing controversy over the early Corvair’s handling.

PANTHER’S PAL: THE CHEVROLET CAMARO

Thanks to all these delays, Chevrolet’s Mustang-fighter, known internally as the F-body, did not go on sale until September 29, 1966, more than two years after the Mustang. The highly anticipated new car was originally supposed to be called Panther, which is how it was usually described in contemporary press previews. By the time Chevrolet general manager Pete Estes made the official announcement in mid-1966, it had become Camaro, which GM claimed meant “friend” or “pal” in French. Estes said that the Camaro name was chosen to honor the tradition of beginning Chevrolet model names with the letter C — which was a little odd, considering that the Chevrolet Impala was then the best-selling car in the world.

The real reason was that GM’s upper management had gotten nervous about the aggressive connotations of the Panther name; a similar bout of cold feet would lead the Pontiac version, the Banshee, to be renamed Firebird.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro front
This 1969 Chevrolet Camaro is not Z/28. It has Z/28 badges, twin stripes, and spoilers, but jutting up from the center console is the shifter for a three-speed Turbo Hydramatic. First-generation Z/28s were available only with the close-ratio Muncie M21 four-speed; with the high-strung 302 engine, an automatic transmission would’ve been a rather miserable proposition. The interchangeability of parts means that it’s fairly easy to put together a ‘clone’ of any model you want, although its value will be significantly lower than the real thing.

Like the Chevy II, the Chevrolet Camaro had a semi-unitized structure. A front subframe carrying the engine and front suspension was bolted at the cowl to a unitized passenger compartment with the two sections isolated by thick rubber ‘biscuits’ to absorb vibration. The idea was to achieve some of the space and weight advantages of unitary construction, while isolating passengers from noise and ride harshness. The Camaro was indeed somewhat smoother and quieter than its unibody Ford rival, but the cost was extra weight. The Camaro weighed more than 150 pounds (68 kg) more than a comparably equipped Mustang, even though the Camaro was only slightly larger: 1 inch (25 mm) longer, 1.6 inches wider (41 mm), and 0.6 inches (15 mm) lower.

The Camaro had a long hood and a short deck, but it didn’t otherwise look like the Mustang; Chevrolet stylists had been unimpressed with the Mustang’s boxy styling. From some angles, the Camaro resembled a more muscular evolution of the Corvair — not surprising, given that they were products of the same design studio. Contemporary critics generally liked the Camaro’s styling better than the Mustang’s, finding the latter old-fashioned, but the Mustang’s conservative looks probably helped to sell it to a range of buyers who found the Camaro a little too racy.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro rear 3q
The 1967 Chevrolet Camaro used the Nova’s Mono-Plate single-leaf springs, which provided very little axle control. 1967 Camaro Z/28s had a single traction bar (a trailing arm extending forward from the axle housing to the body) on the right side to help control axle hop. 1968-1969 Camaros with more powerful engines abandoned the traction bars in favor of multiple-leaf springs and staggered shocks (one ahead of the rear axle, the other behind), but axle hop was still a problem.

BIG BLOCKS AND SMALL

The 1967 Chevrolet Camaro’s performance was very similar to that of the contemporary Mustang. The Camaro’s V8 engines were bigger — 327 cu. in. (5,354 cc) and 396 cu. in. (6,488 cc) versus 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) and 390 cu. in. (6,391 cc) for the Mustang — but their rated outputs were remarkably similar and because the Camaro was heavier than the Mustang, it had little, if any performance advantage.

Camaros with automatic transmission were further handicapped by Chevrolet’s aging two-speed Powerglide, which was far less flexible than the three-speed automatics offered by the Mustang and Plymouth’s Barracuda. (The big-block Camaro SS396 was offered with the three-speed Turbo Hydramatic, but a three-speed automatic wasn’t available on lesser Camaros until 1969.)

Chevrolet would have had the hardware and the know-how to make a hotter Camaro, but GM in those days had set draconian limits on power and performance. In 1967, no GM car other than the Corvette was permitted to have more than one advertised horsepower per 10 pounds (33.8 W/kg) of curb weight, and compacts and intermediates were prohibited from using engines bigger than 400 cubic inches (6.6 liters). Some performance-minded dealers offered Camaros with the bigger 427 cu. in. (6,996 cc) V8, occasionally with some sub rosa help from sympathetic Chevy engineers, but most of the meanest first-generation Camaros were not official factory offerings.

There was one exception, and that was the Camaro Z/28.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro rear
The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro added these distinctive ‘stepped’ taillights, one of a number of minor features identify the model year. While 1969 Camaros could be ordered with rear disc brakes, they cost more than $500 and getting them was difficult if you weren’t on a first-name basis with Vince Piggins.

CHEVROLET TRANS AM

In 1966, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) created a new racing class: the Trans American Group II Sedan Racing series, better known as Trans Am. The Mustang had won the series in the first year, running against an assortment of Plymouth Barracudas and Valiants. There had been no challenger from Chevrolet and Chevrolet engineer Vince Piggins wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.

Vince Piggins had joined Chevrolet in the mid-fifties after a stint at Hudson, where he helped to develop the Hudson Hornets that dominated NASCAR in the early 1950s. By the mid-sixties, he was manager of product performance in Chevrolet’s Engineering division. Officially, that meant he was responsible for performance and economy testing; unofficially, it meant he was in charge of developing high-performance parts for Chevy cars.

Piggins was in an awkward position in the mid-sixties, trying to develop performance equipment in a corporation where “performance” was something of a dirty word. Back in 1957, GM had signed on to an agreement of the Automobile Manufacturing Association (AMA) that called for a ban on the promotion of speed or participation in racing. Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac had defied the ban until January 1963, when GM chairman Frederic Donner issued a stern memo ordering all division heads to immediately cease all racing activity. New corporate policies were laid down to restrict power and displacement. Even aggressive or suggestive advertising could result in a warning memo or a threatening phone call from the 14th floor.

Despite those restrictions, Piggins created a covert racing development team within his department, including engineers Herb Fishel, Bill Howell, Paul Prior, John Pierce, and Ron Sperry. They continued to develop parts for competition, labeling them “heavy-duty” or “off-highway” to obfuscate their real purpose.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro ducktail spoiler
This 1969 Chevrolet Camaro’s ‘duckbill’ rear spoiler is commonly associated with the Z/28 (and became part of the Z/28 option package in mid-1969), but it could be ordered on any Camaro as RPO D80.

Piggins had wanted to develop the Camaro’s performance image, and the Trans-Am series was exactly what he had been looking for. He proposed to Pete Estes that they develop a version of the Camaro that would fit the Trans-Am requirements, which specified cars of wheelbase no greater than 116 inches (2,946 mm) and engines of no more than 305 cubic inches (5,000 cc).

CHEVROLET CAMARO Z/28

The Chevrolet Camaro was the right size for Trans Am, but the missing piece was the engine. At that time, Chevy’s small-block “mouse motor” was offered in three sizes: 283 cu. in. (4,638 cc), 327 cu. in. (5,354 cc), and the new 350 cu. in. (5,733 cc) version, a Camaro exclusive in 1967. The 283 was really too small to develop enough horsepower for Trans Am, while the 327 and 350 exceeded the displacement limit.

Piggins built a development ‘mule’ powered by the 283, but while giving Pete Estes a demonstration ride one day, he proposed creating a new engine specifically for Trans Am by combining the bore of the 327/350 with the stroke of the 283. The combination would yield 302 cu. in. (4,942 cc), just under the limit, while the short stroke would give the engine excellent high-rev potential.

Pete Estes had recently come to Chevrolet from Pontiac, where he had signed off on the creation of the GTO, so he understood what a Chevrolet Trans Am competitor could be worth from a marketing standpoint. He gave Piggins the go-ahead.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro front 3q
The real first-gen Chevrolet Z/28′s Turbofire 302 cu. in. (4,942 cc) V8 engine was substantially underrated from the factory, but it appears that it developed more actual horsepower — albeit at high engine speeds — than the 396 cu. in. (6,488 cc) big block. An SS396 Camaro would smoke a Z/28 off the line and stay ahead of it until about 75 mph (120 km/h), but after that, the Z/28 would pull ahead, crossing the quarter mile line with a 6 mph (9.7 km/h) higher trap speed. Even accounting for the 396′s greater weight and poorer traction, this suggests that the Z/28 developed at least 40 horsepower (30 kW) more than the larger engine.

There was a lot of argument about what to call the Camaro’s special racing homologation model, a question that was finally settled by simply using the Regular Production Option code for the engine, RPO Z28. The Z/28 package was a $400.25 option for Camaro hardtops only; it was not available on convertibles. The package included twin paint stripes, a faster steering ratio, 15-inch (381 mm) Rally wheels with 7.35 in. (185mm) tires, the stiff F41 heavy-duty suspension, and a heavy-duty 12-bolt differential. RPO Z28 had to be ordered with power-assisted front disc brakes and a close-ratio four-speed manual transmission, which added an additional $300 or so to the bill. Buyers could specify almost any other Camaro option, with the exception of air conditioning and automatic transmission.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 302 engine
The first-gen Camaro Z/28′s 302′s 290 horsepower(216 kW) gross rating was certainly conservative; observers have credited it with as much as 400 gross horsepower (298 kW).

The Turbofire 302, as it was called, used the cylinder heads of the Corvette’s optional L79 engine with big valves (2.02 in. (51.3 mm) intake, 1.60 in. (40.6 mm) exhaust) and heavy-duty valve springs. Solid lifters and a long-duration cam — which Chevrolet advertised as having 346° total duration with 0.46 in. (11.70 mm) lift and 118 degrees of overlap — provided lots of top-end power; an even hotter cam was available over the dealer parts counter, although it was not really suitable for street use.

Chevrolet rated the 302 at 290 horsepower (216 kW) at 5800 rpm and 290 lb-ft (392 N-m) of torque at 4200 rpm, theoretically making it slightly less powerful than the cheaper SS350′s 350 cu. in. (5,733 cc) L48 engine, which claimed 295 hp (220 kW). While that was a convenient fiction, it was definitely not true. Although the 302′s radical cam timing meant that it was weak under 3,000 rpm, it could be wound out to 7,000 rpm and its actual gross horsepower was probably closer to 380 (283 kW). With its dearth of low-end grunt, the 302 was no drag racer, but it was just the thing for road racing.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro cowl induction hood
Chevrolet never officially called this the “Cowl Induction” hood, but that’s how it’s generally known; on Camaro order forms, it was RPO ZL2, introduced for the 1969 model year. The hood channeled cooler, high-pressure air from the base of the windshield into the engine air cleaner, increasing power by as much as 10%.

THE LIGHTWEIGHT

The 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 went on sale in December of 1966. Only 602 were sold, most of them through performance-oriented dealerships like Yenko and Nickey Chevrolet. That total wasn’t technically enough to qualify for SCCA Group II, which demanded at least 1,000 cars, but Piggins arranged to have the regular SS350 Camaro (which sold more than 30,000 units) homologated for SCCA’s Group I racing and convinced officials to base the Z/28′s homologation on the total sales of both cars. Realizing that Chevrolet’s participation would make the Trans Am series a lot more marketable to racing fans, SCCA officials agreed.

There was no official Chevrolet Trans Am team; officially, Roger Penske’s racing Camaro, sponsored by Sunoco and driven by Mark Donohue, was a private effort, although a more accurate term might be privateer. Penske did not receive any money from Chevrolet, but his team did receive considerable technical support from the factory, limited somewhat by the fact that Chevrolet, unlike Ford, did not have an official competition budget. Still, the extent of Chevy’s commitment was evidenced by the fact that midway through the ’67 Trans-Am series Chevrolet provided a special set of lightweight Camaro body panels for Donohue’s car, made using extremely thin steel. “Not in racing,” indeed.

The rule-bending wasn’t limited to the Chevrolet side. According to writer John Phillips, when the thinner body panels were wrecked in a crash during a practice session, Penske and Donohue concocted their own replacement, a car that is still known — and notorious — as “The Lightweight.” The Lightweight was a second 1967 Camaro that Penske had obtained at his own expense, which he and Donohue allegedly had acid-dipped by an aircraft manufacturer, an effective if illegal (and rather dangerous) way to reduce its weight.

The Lightweight Camaro won two of the four remaining races in the 1967 season, but suspicious competitors tipped off SCCA officials that something was amiss. Tech inspectors weighed the Lightweight and found that it was about 250 lb (113 kg) below the legal minimum weight. The SCCA threatened to overturn Donohue’s victory in the Seattle race, but Penske allegedly warned that if they did, Chevy might withdraw its support from Trans Am entirely, a serious commercial blow to the series. The victory was allowed to stand, but Penske was told the Lightweight would never be allowed to race again.

For the 1968 series, Penske and Donohue built a new, legal 1968 Camaro. According to John Phillips, the new car was once again acid-dipped, which was still illegal, but Penske then added ballast to bring it back to the legal minimum weight, allowing them to better distribute the weight to benefit the car’s overall balance.

After the new car lost its first race with a blown cylinder head, Penske and Donohue decided — reportedly under pressure from Chevrolet, which was very eager for a Camaro victory in the 1968 series — to run two cars. According to John Phillips, they retrieved the 1967 Lightweight, refitted it with ’68 taillights and grille, and painted it identically to the legal 1968 car. They then allegedly sent the 1968 car through tech inspection twice, wearing different numbers each time, which allowed the Lightweight to evade inspection entirely. Donohue proceeded to win 10 of the 12 races of the ’68 series, a record that would stand until 1997.

1967 Sunoco Camaro front 3q
The legendary, not to say infamous, Penske Sunoco Camaro. One of the remarkable things about the Lightweight is that nobody apparently mentioned the fact that despite its 1968 Camaro grille and taillights, it still had front vent windows, which had been deleted from all 1968 Camaros and Firebirds. (Photo © 2006 Nathan Bittinger; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license)

Penske and Donohue didn’t push their luck with the Lightweight in 1969, but they still won eight of the 12 races, earning Donohue a second Manufacturer’s Title — ironic given Chevy’s ostensible lack of involvement.

REQUIEM FOR A LIGHTWEIGHT

Penske and Donohue’s success did earn Chevrolet a lot of publicity, enough to boost 1968 Camaro Z/28 sales to 7,199. The 1969 Camaro Z/28, which offered a host of new performance options, including the ZL2 “Cowl Induction” hood, an over-the-counter cross-ram intake for dual four-barrel carburetors (it couldn’t be factory installed, owing to corporate rules on multiple carburetion), and even four-wheel disc brakes, sold a whopping 20,302 copies, amazingly popular for such a hard-edged car.

All this success had a limited impact on overall Camaro sales. The Mustang outsold the first-gen Camaro by more than two to one in 1967, and although Camaro sales climbed slightly each year, it still couldn’t match its Ford rival.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro side
The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro was 186 inches (4,724 mm) long, riding a 108.1-inch (2,746mm) wheelbase. A small block V8 model with a typical load of options weighed about 3,400 lb (1,540 kg). A loaded Z/28 cost about $4,200. Note the absence of vent windows (deleted after 1967) and the fake ‘scoop’ indentations in the rear fenders (a 1969-only feature). With the Exterior Decor Group, those indentations would have chrome trim, similar to that of the 1967-1968 Pontiac Firebird.

When the Camaro was redesigned for the 1970 model year, the Camaro Z/28 returned, now using the 350 cubic inch (5,733 cc) LT-1 engine with a nominal 360 gross horsepower (269 kW). The new Camaro was heavier than the old, but the bigger engine offered much better low-end torque. The noveau Z/28 it nearly matched its predecessor in outright speed and was easier to drive on the street, but it was far less raw. Although the Z/28 Camaro would remain one of the hottest Chevrolet available until it was (temporarily) dropped in 1975, it was no longer a hairy semi-competition car. It wasn’t until the introduction of the fourth generation in 1992 that a factory Camaro would match the all-out performance of the first-gen Z/28.

Mark Donohue and Roger Penske defected to AMC in 1970, bringing American Motors the AMC Javelin‘s first Trans Am championship. However, 1970 would be the high water mark for Trans Am; after that, factory support faded away and the racing cars were no longer required to bear much resemblance to their street counterparts.

Mark Donohue continued to compete in other racing events, always with Penske. He had been very successful in Can-Am, and he also drove an AMC Matador on the NASCAR ovals, won the 1972 Indy 500, drove a Penske-owned McLaren in Formula One, and competed in the first International Race of Champions (IROC) series in 1973-1974. He was killed during a practice session for the Austrian Grand Prix in 1975. Roger Penske remains heavily involved in NASCAR, IRL, and ALMS, and owns a variety of auto dealerships, as well as successful trucking and rental businesses.

The Lightweight Camaro’s career continued through 1972 in the hands of independent racers, after which it languished in storage until 1985, when it was restored to its original 1968 specifications. Since 1989, it has continued to dominate vintage racing events.

Vince Piggins remained at Chevrolet until his retirement in the early 1980s; he died in October 1985. Not all of Piggins’ employees found him easy to deal with, but those who were on his wavelength loved him. Given the corporate minefield he had to navigate and the shoestring budgets he generally had to work with, he was something of a miracle worker, warmly remembered by Chevrolet enthusiasts.

Piggins’ boss, Pete Estes, was succeeded as general manager by John DeLorean in 1969. Estes became a GM executive vice president in 1972 and president of General Motors in 1974. He retired in 1981 and died in March 1988.

The first-gen Camaro may not have been as popular as the Mustang when it was new, but that has not dimmed the ardor of modern collectors. Nice 1967-1969 Camaros command high prices and, like early Mustangs, are supported by a comprehensive array of reproduction parts.

As most of the world is aware, Chevrolet is preparing a new, fifth-generation Camaro, which at this point will probably be a 2010 model. [Editor's note: It went on sale in the spring of 2009.] It will no doubt be a lot faster than the original Z/28, but it’s unlikely that it will be anywhere near as racy.

# # #

NOTES ON SOURCES

Information on the Super Nova came from “Chevrolet Super Nova,” ClassicNovas.net, n.d., www.classicnovas. net/ features/snova/ index.htm, accessed 27 October 2007; and Steve Statham, Nova SS: Nova and Chevy II 1962-1979 (Muscle Car Color History) (Osceola, WI: MBI Publishing Company, 1997), p. 40.

Information on the origins of the Camaro came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); Arch Brown, “SIA comparisonReport: 1967 Mustang versus 1967 Camaro,” Special Interest Autos #92 (March-April 1986), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Mustangs: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, Second Edition, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), pp. 54-61; John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Revised 4th Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); John F. Katz, “1967 Chevrolet Camaro: Six Are Sufficient,” Special Interest Autos #166 (July-August 1998), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Postwar Chevrolets: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), pp. 102-109; and Randy Leffingwell, Darwin Holmstrom, and David Newhardt, Muscle: America’s Legendary Performance Cars (St. Paul, MN: Motorbooks, 2006), pp. 161-167.

Some technical details on the Camaro and Z/28 came from Rich Fields and the Camaro Research Group, eds., “Camaro Research Group FAQ List,” CRG, 1998-2008, www.camaros. org/ index.shtml, accessed 28 October 2007.

Additional background on Vince Piggins came from George Mattar, “Vince Piggins,” Hemmings Muscle Machines July 2005, www.hemmings. com/ mus/stories/2005/07/01/hmn_feature8.html, accessed 28 October 2007.

Information on the Lightweight came from “1967 Sunoco Camaro: ‘The Lightweight,’” Prisma Collection, n.d., www.prismacars. com/ Sunoco%20Camaro%20History.htm, accessed 28 October 2007; John Phillips, “The Lightweight,” Car and Driver Vol. 39, No. 10 (April 1994), pp. 164-172; and the Wikipedia® entry for Mark Donohue (en.wikipedia. org/ wiki/Mark_Donohue, accessed 28 October 2007). We have since been told that Donohue’s 1974 book The Unfair Advantage, co-written with Paul Van Valkenberg, contains a more detailed account of the development and racing career of the Lightweight, but we did not have access to that book prior to publication and we have not yet read it.

Period road tests consulted for this article included “1967 report: Camaro: ’67′s Most Anticipated Car,” Hot Rod November 1966; Steven Kelly, “Camaro by Chevrolet,” Motor Trend December 1966; “Two Chevrolet Camaros: SS 350 and Big Six — Both have Virtue and Plenty of Performance,” Car Life March 1967; “Engineering the Camaro,” Car Craft January 1968; “Camaro Z-28: As near as Chevrolet can come to being in racing without being in racing,” Road & Track June 1968; “Camaro Z/28: A pint-size engine with the heart of a tiger gives it a Supercar’s performance and sports car’s handling,” Car Life July 1968; Eric Dahlquist, “Camaro Two-Step,” Motor Trend July 1968; “Camaro,” Road Test February 1969; and David Bean, “Professionals at Work: Watch the Penske Team build a Trans-Am winner, step by legal, painstaking step,” Car Life January 1970, all of which are reprinted in Camaro Muscle Portfolio 1967-1973, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, Surrey: Brooklands Books Ltd., 1992); and “Mustang, Barracuda & Camaro: A review and evaluation of three sporty-but-sensible American cars,” Road & Track March 1967, reprinted in Barracuda Muscle Portfolio 1964-1974, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, Surrey: Brooklands Books, Ltd., 1995).

This article’s title was suggested by a song written and performed by the Dead Milkmen. It originally appeared on their 1985 album Big Lizard in My Backyard.


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  1. iirc, there was a strike at GM sometime during the first generation production run: can you confirm this and you have any info on how it affected production etc? tia

    1. The only nationwide GM strike in that period was in the fall of 1970, which was after first-gen production ended. I don’t know of any local strikes that affected first-gen Camaro production.

      Some sources blame the 1970 strike for the delay in introducing the 1970 model, which is not correct. The delay was caused by problems with the dies used to create the ’70′s rear quarter panels, which forced production of the ’69 to be extended through November 1969. While those problems were expensive and embarrassing, they were fixed a year before the UAW strike, and weren’t related.

      Production of the second-generation Camaro WAS affected by strikes, both the 1970 strike and another in 1972 that shut down Camaro production for something like four months.

      If you’re looking for more info on first-gen production, I suggest you contact the guys at the Camaro Research Group (camaros.org), who’ve reviewed the factory records and a lot of other internal data.

  2. That link is broken, but I think I’ve seen the same badge you’re talking about. The Cowl Induction name was adopted later for the Chevelle (in 1970, if I recall correctly), but that name wasn’t used on the first-gen Camaro. (The ZL2 option also wasn’t available until 1969, so the badge on the ’68 would have been a retrofit, anyway.) The Chevelle system was very similar, so the name has been applied retroactively to the Camaro option.

  3. I am pretty sure your cam timing is incorrect:

    A long-duration cam (346° total duration, 0.46-in (11.70-mm lift) and solid lifters gave lots of top-end power

    Perhaps 246? A cam with 346 degrees of duration would idle north of 2k RPM and would be far more cam than even modern super stock cars get (between 300-320 degrees), and they routinely turn over 9k RPM.

    1. The cam specs are cited in a number of period sources — both [i]Car Life[/i] and [i]Road & Track[/i] — so they probably came from Chevrolet’s AMA specs.

      As I recall, though, Chevrolet in that era had a habit of including the ramps in their duration specs, which tends to make them sound more radical on paper than they actually are. As a point of comparison, these same sources show an intake/exhaust duration of 310/320 for the standard SS350 cam (with 0.39/0.41 lift). The 295-horsepower 350 was obviously not that wild in practice.

      So, yeah, the 346 figure is probably misleading, but it’s not a typo. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any consistent or reliable conversion formula to make the official specifications directly comparable with cams whose specs [i]don’t[/i] include the ramps. That issue has been giving a friend of mine a lot of hassle recently in trying to select a cam for his resto-mod project, and I freely admit it’s well beyond my technical abilities!

  4. That’s most interesting. I know some aftermarkets list both “advertised” duration as well as at 0.050″ and the numbers obvious differ greatly. Even so, the advertised number is never that high. All we need to do is find someone with an original low-mileage Z/28 and have them disassemble their engine and measure their cam! Easy!

    1. Yeah, my friend is dealing with this with cams for the Corvair. His conclusion after trying to come up with a way to make apples-to-apples comparisons between aftermarket cams and the factory specs was that it was more of an art than a science.

  5. Are you sure about the non-use of the cowl induction name. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen cars with the call-out.

    Here’s a photo of one:

    Here’s another, on a Chevelle:

  6. I have one of or the only 1970 Z28 factory built race cars. absolutly everyone says this car cant be. But it was ordered late 69 and built pre april 70 we are still working on the documentation. I bought the car 13 years ago from the original owner it was in storage since 1976 and it is exactly the way it left the track sponsor decals and all. It was built with a DZ302 super T10 JL8 4 wheel disk 12 bolt posi. now you can definitly see where additional mods. were made way to many to list.say it aint so YOU tell me. thanks

  7. Well look at me being wrong:
    http://www.summitracing.com

    It’s possible this is measured in some weird way, because it’s the largest cam on their sheet by far, by twenty degrees actually. The "@ 0.050" duration on that same cam is 254. Compared with another Comp Cams drag race piece which has an intake adv duration of 300 and an "@ 0.050" of 264.

    Weird.

  8. wrt: the comparison btw the Corvair & ‘stang: the base engine for the Mustang was Ford’s small I6 [it came in various sizes, I can't remember what size the base engine was in the 'stang.] Same engine was used later in the Maverick during the 70s, after the Mustang had ballooned & was strictly a V8 platform.

    [Not a Ford guy by any stretch, but my '93 F150 has the big brother to the 'stangs I6, the 300, which is a torque monster & reliable as the proverbial stone axe.]

    1. Yes, the Mustang’s base engine was the six, initially in 170 cu. in. form, then the 250 from 1971 to 1973. However, seven out of 10 Mustang buyers ordered a V-8, so that comparison seems appropriate — particularly since a basic Mustang V-8 was actually about $30 [i]cheaper[/i] than a normally aspirated Corsa two-door hardtop and had an additional 60 hp. Even with a six, the Mustang was more powerful than a two-door Monza hardtop unless you ordered the four-carb Corsa engine, which was a lot fussier.

  9. The last paragraph may need to be edited. By all accounts the coming new Z/28 is more capable, sophisticated, and racy than most cars GM has ever built.

    1. It’s not a matter of performance. GM and even Chevrolet specifically have offered a variety of cars that are much faster and offer better objective performance than the first-gen Z/28, but that isn’t the point I’m making here. The original Z/28 was a mean, raw quasi-race car of a level of intensity that was very rare for GM outside of rarities like the L88 and LT-1 engines and that is largely obsolete today. Modern technology makes it possible to build an engine with more horsepower than a race-ready stock car that will still idle politely and remain perfectly tractable tooling around town. If a modern engine displays any of the common characteristics of a high-strung vintage racing engine (reluctance to start, uneven rattly idle, low-speed hesitation from overcarburetion or a too-radical cam), there’s either something wrong with it or those quirks have been engineered in on purpose, which makes them essentially affectations. It’s not that rawer is necessarily better (it gets old pretty fast if you’re just commuting to work in the morning), but it’s like the difference between an old LP and a digital music file.

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