Rick George of Rick’s First Generation has always been a collector of Camaros and rare Camaro parts. Rick has collected some really neat and rare Camaros since leaving his first 20-year career in the Navy. So, when it comes down to finding an owner for what is arguably the rarest 1969 Z/28 on the planet, it would figure you would find it in his collection.
From the outside, the car looks like your everyday, ho-hum Cortez Silver Z/28 with a ZL2 hood and the D80 spoiler package. Climb into the interior and the driver is met with black standard buckets, console with gauges, a Hurst shifter, rosewood steering wheel, an in-dash tach, and windup windows. Look under the car and the 3.73 rearend with the JL8, four-wheel disc brake system is ready to go from top speed to no speed without a hitch. GM knew the meaning of “purpose-built cars” in the ’60s.
Once the driver pushes in the clutch, gives the accelerator a few quick pumps, and twists the key, the stigma of being a regular ’69 Z/28 is shattered forever in the din of the throaty, factory chambered exhaust system. Opening the hood reveals it is not a metal cowl-induction hood at all. It is a rare, factory GM, fiberglass crossram hood, which covers the pinnacle of small-block Chevy race engine development for the SCCA Trans-AM racing series. Did we say Chevy, racing, and the ’60s in the same story? Chevy never “officially” had a racing development program in the late ’60s. But, history and the mighty pen have proven otherwise.
Sitting proudly in the super-clean engine bay is the only known surviving all-aluminum, Hemi 302 crossram in existence. It appears that some of the folks at Chevrolet’s engineering department were thinking to the future by using existing technology available at the time. The O- prototype, 327 block is straight from Zora Arkus-Duntov’s Grand Sport Corvette closet. Screw-in freeze plugs have been welded into the block to guard against possible failure caused by the high temperatures encountered during racing. The crankshaft and connecting rods are stock (but heavily massaged) 302 items held in by four-bolt main caps. Cooling is provided through a GM prototype aluminum water pump. The head package has its own unique story, which is steeped in Chevy engineering history with a twist of Daytona Beach.
According to Wayne Guinn of Guinn’s Engineering, the Hemi-head package was originally developed in 1968 as an answer to Ford’s invincible 302 engine program. However, early SCCA Trans-Am results proved Ford was not as invincible as once thought. The Hemi-head package consisted of special pistons, aluminum heads, magnesium valve covers, unique crossram intake with two Holley 4295 carbs flowing 585 cfm each, and a special hemi camshaft, which was more akin to its big-block cousins. All of these parts carry Chevrolet Engineering’s O- numbers, which again signify these parts as strictly prototypical.
Now, where does Daytona Beach fit into this all-aluminum bruiser? You guessed it. Smokey Yunick had his hands all over the top of this engine at some point in time. Notice the black “Smokey Hat” air horn assemblies on top of the carbs? They suspiciously look like that famous black hat Smokey wore for years. Those were purpose-built by Smokey to act as a mini velocity stack, which would fit under the crossram hood. Chevrolet would send items out to the Best Damn Garage in Town for further evaluation by this legend of speed. The heads and the Hemi-crossram have interesting “marks” that are typical of Smokey’s innovations, such as holes drilled into them for flow studies and heavily massaged head passages, which matched perfectly with each one of the intake runners. Smokey was known for studying flow and reading the results to wring the maximum amount of horsepower out of everything he touched. This engine is no exception to his rule.
In 2006, the car needed a good freshening up. Everything on the car that was bare metal or plated with delicate coatings needed to be cleaned or replaced. The fuel system needed to be cleaned and the fuel tank replaced as rust is not a really good idea for a fresh engine. All of this work was completed by Greg Postnieks at his shop in Watkinsville, Georgia. Greg disassembled the engine and took many pictures of the ultra-rare pieces before sending it out for work. The engine could not be trusted to just any old machine shop. So, it was farmed out to Johnny Thomas of TRECO in Cumming, Georgia, for his expertise in this area. TRECO took the engine and tore it completely down to make sure everything was working properly and there was no excessive wear. However, there was a problem. Where can you buy gaskets or replacement parts for a prototype engine? You can’t. Luckily, Johnny has been building race engines for many years and with that wealth of experience, he was able to fab up a set of custom gaskets.
Johnny contacted Rick to let him know the engine was complete and running like a champ and offered to “wring out” the Hemi on the dyno to get a good idea of the horsepower it was producing. Rick politely declined, as he was not willing to risk anything happening to this one-of-a-kind Hemi. The engine was put in the car at Greg’s shop and Russell Sloan of Sloan’s Perfect Touch in Athens, Georgia, did the final detailing.
Rick is quite fond of the Hemi-Z and intends to keep this one in his collection for a long time. Once you have the rarest 1969 Z/28 in the world, what other Camaro could you possibly want? This silver Z just might be worth more than gold!