"He said, 'You know, Mark. You're the sixth caller. I could have sold this car many times over, but nobody believes me. There's no Z/28 badges on the fenders.'"
Mark Helm was undeterred. He told Mike Wergin, "We're just going to have to dig into that a little bit."
Mark was the right person to do the digging. Ten years earlier in the middle of a midlife crisis, he started a restoration with a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 "shell." He says, "I went through the painstaking process of certification through Stefano Bimbi at Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago before starting a restoration."
Turns out Mark had to track down an entire Z/28 driveline, not easy stuff for a beginner. By following "Jerry MacNeish's teaching on what to look for," Mark restored his 1968 Z/28 shell. In the process, he learned 1967-1969 Z/28s extremely well. Maybe this '68 was a real Z/28? Mark would be able to tell. The hang up was the Z was in Casper, Wyoming, 993 miles from his home in Hayward, Wisconsin.
Mark got his chance to investigate the Z/28 on a vacation to the Black Hills with his wife Cathy and a good friend. He persuaded them to detour through Casper.
Luckily, Mike was home. He was happy to show Mark the Z/28. They met at the "shed" where Mike parked the car in 1972. (Wergin bought the Camaro in 1970.)
Maybe this '68 was a real Z/28?
"He popped the blanket off the '68 Z/28, covered in dust. The whole engine bay was covered in grease and dust and everything else," said Mark.
The engine bay, despite the 42-year accumulation of dust, became a field of dreams for Mark. He put his decade of research to work.
"The 1968s are very, very cryptic Z/28s to prove," said Mark. "I started looking at all the numbers underneath this hood. And I thought, My God, he's not kidding. This is a real Z/28. I knew it in my heart. I saw the numbers on the carburetor, the numbers on the intake, the numbers on the brake booster, the numbers on the block, the master cylinder, even the fan. The fans are very, very particular on these 1967 and 1968 Z/28s. It was like everything I touched was turning to gold. Except for the smog pump, It was all there."
Although complete, the car had no paperwork and no Protect-O-Plate. The codes did add up to a real 1968 Z/28. Another telltale sign of a factory Z/28 was the air pressure sticker inside the glovebox. This sticker revealed 15x6 wheels, unique to the Z/28 of 1968.
Two weeks later, Mark and Cathy decided they should buy the car. Mark called up two buddies—Eric Rolland and Gary Hite—and the three of them took off to get the Z/28.
Mark said, "We never get together for three days like that because of all the responsibilities. We had more fun talking about old flames and old rides, and we just had a blast. I couldn't believe how much fun it was. Wherever we stopped people were all over that car. At one stop a bunch of kids from a tech school surrounded that car. They wanted to know all about it."
At one stop, a bunch of kids from a tech school surrounded that car
For $23,000, Mark purchased a 1968 Z/28 in Rally Green with a white Houndstooth interior and a matching-numbers drivetrain. The body was rust free and the odometer read 46,000.
Before Mark left Casper, he asked Mike to call if he found "anything on this car."
"He said, 'I will, but the car was in my wife's name and we're divorced, so I don't think so.'"
Two weeks later Mark answered the phone. It was Mike.
"He says, 'Mark, you're not going to believe this. I have that Protect-O-Plate thing you were talking about.'"
Mike found the metal warranty tag in the bottom drawer of his gun cabinet while hunting for shells. Now Mark has his Z/28 documentation and is very excited to begin the restoration at Eric's Classic Auto in Baldwin, Michigan.
Do you have a Rare Find story to share? Contact Jerry Heasley at firstname.lastname@example.org.