- 2014 Camaro Z/28 *Courtesy: Motor1.com, GM Corp. Chevrolet Division & Chevrolet Performance

Flirt with the Reaper

The Z/28 has become a legendary badge for almost 50 years counting breaks along the way. Here's the generation with the most groove for your buck.

In 1967 when Chevrolet gave Mustangs much anticipated direct competition, the Camaro was instantly tagged a superior performance per pound machine. Mustang was for spring break beach fires and female college students in comparison to Camaro. An optioned up Super Sport could be had with the 325 horsepower 396. This is a rare flavor, but it could be argued that it possessed greater potential in tinkering hands. Then, under whispered conversation and shadow-dimmed meetings, something screamed.....something SCCA approved.

Requiring an engine 5 liters and under, Chevrolet produced a plant at 4.9 (302 cubic inches). What would wind it up? Try a Muncie M21 four speed manual to make you feel like a Donohue. Will it really shriek? All the way up to and maybe over 7 thousand revolutions per minute. Not too bad for what's now over 50 years ago. This quite literally is a Camaro bred right from the track with required street car amenities fluffing up the interior. It rides hard and turns like a well tuned slot car. So what did they rate this thing at? 290 horsepower, but scoff not, reality pegs the number closer to 350. That's a small block doing more than big block pulling to a top clip of 140 miles per hour. Nothing will help you if there's an end to the tarmac in sight.

You won't find sales brochures or spiffy commercials lighting up the boards for what seems to be the baddest Camaro of the first generation because we simply weren't meant to know this sort of power. Imagine what would have come from Ford had this bow tie bullet made mainstream news in force. As a result, only 602 1967 Camaros with RPO Z/28 were produced. They did not wear badges, adding to the low-key nature. A good way to tell the difference is to look at your tachometer and when you're shifting this baby's still screaming. It's the Camaro that encapsulated everything a worth a damn pony car needed. Straight line competence, corner-cutting cooperation, and a shape to drop the competitors like zapped flies.

After year one the Z/28 gained traction among consumers and was popularly optioned with the Rally Sport package, giving an iconic hideaway headlight face. When the second generation Camaro took over midway through 1970 the Z couldn't be beat. Now the small block juiced out a rated 360 horses (Who knows how many really) from 350 cubic inches rather than SCCA sanctioned specs. This was praised as one of the greatest Camaros to date, but OPEC and disco loomed ahead.

From 1975 to 1977, an energy-depleted scene killed the Z/28 as there would be little room for hi-po shenanigans. Thankfully, the faithful Chevy crowd roared loud enough to revive the nameplate even if it was mainly for show. A Camaro was still capable during the latter parts of the second generation numbers or no numbers. Right now these anemia-riddled examples are appreciating beyond third-gen levels of value so don't be so sure to turn a nose.

Death two arrived after 1987 with the IROC-Z plate taking over for '88-'91. Until recently, this frame was your choice for prowess per pound in a Z/28. Available with GM's first really dependable fuel injection system (TPI) in both 305 and 350 cubic inch engines, Z/28 and IROC-Z models held up to road-hugging standards set by their Penske and Donohue forefathers. You can get into one of the third generation Zs for well under ten thousand dollars in decent condition (If you can find one).

Now eight years into Camaro's new lease on life after an 8 year hiatus we have found a new-age Z machine. The sixth generation Z/28 leaves its ancestors to rot with all of the raw thunder we love meshed into an advanced package. Wondrous magnetic ride control keeps turns razor sharp and 505 horsepower hammered forth from 7 liters of LS voodoo makes vapor of tires on command. Of course a six-speed manual plays middle man as this is an enthusiast's Camaro like the original. The only thing holding it back in some eyes may be the starship styling that impedes visibility.

Aero bits glue the Z to the earth whenever terminal velocities curl your teeth. This aspect could confuse it with some oversees counters with their wings and diffusers, but the rumble erases those accusations. If there were any fears that the new Camaro would stain the legacy set in place last century, they are no more. The Z/28 lost none of its straight-line or weaving capacity as engineers saved us yet again.

So with how good it is, does it hold its value? No, not on paper. You can get into one of these in the 40-50 thousand dollar range which is less than some pickup trucks pull off the lot. Oh, and it's not a Hellcat. There's no 700 horsepower supercharged quarter-mile monster in Z/28s, but that's not what this car is about. Nonetheless, if someone is shopping for power on demand, Camaro doesn't have the most. That being said, young enthusiasts making their own path can look forward to a new wave of affordable performance hitting used car lots very soon.

Unlike 1967, 2015 Camaro Z/28s were hyped upon release thanks to big media. Numbers and tests widely circulated painted a bright picture as we knew what to expect. It is just what we were promised and yet, you just don't hear about the Z/28 much anymore because of Dodge's horsepower onslaught. Whether or not the depreciation is fair, recognize the raw legacy that has been upheld through six generations like the tight family Camaro thrives within. It is a rounded machine while body lines suggest otherwise. Amidst the axing of manual transmissions and an uprising of EV alternatives will forever shriek an angry Z. It's the car legions lust after, but few could afford from the start. Above all, with however many years left to tick by before eternal retirement at last, the Z/28 is the strength we need.

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Comments (4)

  • Love this whole article, some history, facts, and refreshers! This is why i come to DT... but tbh I don’t see EV’s and mass manual transmission genocide as killing “Z/28’s” - quite the opposite. When the world rides in autonomous composite EV’s thru ride sharing apps, a sports car product will be free and able to return to its purity of purpose. Maybe, Just maybe, the insurance agencies will then give up lobbying for mandatory insurance and your life insurance will boolean the liabilities of driving like it is now doing any other sports/recreation. Maybe, just maybe, the DOT will loosen their “street legal” regulations because the rich want to drive their “mona lisas” and foot the lobby bill and demand sports car products that return to lightweight monsters. Maybe you can buy new “analog” cars made specifically to be driven on the myriad of private/public tracks and scenic routes, and if we’re lucky, they will be allowed on the streets too because the autonomous systems are so fast and good that they can accomodate a drunk driving idiot driving against the flow of traffic and sudden loose animal crossings. Then the return of the”z/28’s” will come, but full hardcore!

      2 years ago
    • This has to be the most lucid comment I've seen yet. Thank you for reading!

        2 years ago
  • "but it could be argued that it possessed greater potential in tinkering hands."

    It was that bit that you said that made me stick around and read this article, and I'm glad I did, this was a fantastic writeup, very well thought out and informative. The LS is such a rugged, dependable, and versatile series of motor. I may not be getting a Camaro anytime soon, but thats not going to stop me with my project of dropping an LS3 into my BMW E34 540i. Theres a great video on the LS motor, i'll post it here. www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsmbbuSq9m0

      2 years ago
  • I've always been a fan of the camero! Your right though the competition is stiff out there right now. There has always been a place for the underdog though. Cheers

      2 years ago