The one that got away. Most car guys have at least one story about a car long departed that evokes a quiet moment of reflection and personal suffering. Usually the stories involve a Bow Tie that might've had something special about it, or enough potential to fill a supertanker. Seldom does it involve one of the rarest cars Chevrolet ever made, the '67 Z/28. Out of 220,906 Camaros built in the 1967 model year, only 602 would have the special Z/28 option. That's less than half a percent of Camaro production!
Back in 1983, Ron Casadei was working for Anheuser-Busch in Newark, New Jersey, as a brewer alongside his dad. Life was good and Ron decided he wanted a fun car. Looking through the local Want Ad Press, he saw this: "1967 Z/28 ex-SCCA A-sedan for sale call after 4 p.m." Ron went to investigate, finding a '67 Camaro in rusty primer with a black vinyl top so dry-rotted it was peeling away like skin from a birch tree, and rust all over the top of the car, but the floors were in great shape, and the options Ron could see told him this was a car worth having.
The 12-bolt rear with a "funny looking bar on the passenger side," center console with gauges, tach, fold down rear seat, power disc brakes, and a four-point rollbar hinted at the car's racing past. After some haggling, the owner settled for a price of $1,300 for the car, and Ron took his new toy home.
With the help of his good friend Randy Kurachik, the '67 Z was disassembled for restoration. In Randy's home garage, the motor was pulled, and Ron discovered it had a forged steel crank, with forged pistons, big valve heads, and a factory aluminum intake and distributor. Even the Rally wheels had DF codes and matched the car. Checking the bore and stroke, Ron found he had an authentic 302 engine and that the car might really be a Z/28. Being 1983, the trim tags hadn't been decoded yet by restoration experts, so Ron looked at everything the car had in it, factory aluminum intake, factory tach with a 6,000 rpm redline, and a small-block heater cover, and determined it probably was a real Z.
In Randy's garage they set out to restore the car back to streetworthy condition. All new GM sheetmetal was bought at the local Chevy emporium at dealer cost (GM was just starting to discontinue some parts for the car, like valve covers, headlamp trim bezels, taillight bezels, and other trim parts), and with no real Camaro aftermarket except for Rick's first-generation Camaro, a lot of parts had to be cleaned up and reused. The bolt-in rollbar the car came with was also removed. Ron admits that the first restoration wasn't the best job in the world, but at the time it was just fine for him. With new sheetmetal in place, the '67 was lacquered in Corvette Arctic White, and black Z/28 stripes applied to the top. In 1984 the car was finished and back together.
Ron enjoyed three years of weekend cruising in the Z/28, going to races to watch friends, and enjoying it as much as possible. In 1988, the bug bit him to buy a new Corvette, but to do so meant selling the '67. After about five months, Ron sold the car to another New Jersey resident, but the joy of the new Corvette didn't last long before regret started growing about selling the Z/28. After a 12-year hiatus from the car hobby, Ron got the bug again, purchasing an Olympic Gold '69 RS Z/28, and later a '68 Z/28. But the '67 still held a spot in his heart, the car's VIN still clear in Ron's mind. Starting with the Camaro Research Group and the help of Rich Fields, its webmaster, the car was tracked down to its current owner at the time in Texas.
A phone call to the car's owner disappointed Ron, as the '67 wasn't for sale, and the owner had no interest in selling. For four years he stayed in touch, and finally the owner gave in and decided to sell Ron back his old Z/28. After a price was reached, Ron flew down to Texas to look at his old car. At first sight it was like travelling back to 1987, the car hadn't changed a bit. Ron had wanted the car back for a long time because of all the good memories he had owning the Z/28, including the year-long restoration with his good friend, Randy Kurachik, in 1983-'84.
Five days later the car was back at Ron's home in New Jersey, where a full and more correct restoration began. All the GM sheetmetal installed back in 1983 was still good, so most of the work was in disassembly, cleaning, locating correct parts, and repainting. Ron bought a correct date coded carburetor, clutch fan, exhaust manifolds, along with new interior carpet and door panels. Al Meschie Auto Body re-sprayed the car in the correct Ermine White, and topped it off with a new vinyl top and fresh Z/28 stripes. After that, Albert Galdi at Central Jersey Musclecar installed the new interior.
The car's DZ 302 was treated to a full rebuild back to factory specs, including a 30/30 solid lifter cam, high volume oil pump, new valves, guides, and valvesprings. The factory M-21 was rebuilt, along with the 12-bolt rear. Everything on the car was put back to factory spec, except the rollbar. Ron still had it, and for nostalgia's sake he had the bar powdercoated black, then bolted it right back into the interior, to much grumbling from Z/28 purists. During the restoration, the car's date codes were examined, and determined that the Z/28 was built in the Norwood, Ohio, Camaro plant the second week of March 1967, and could possibly be one of the first 40 Z/28s ever built.
Since finishing the restoration, Ron has enjoyed every minute with the '67. One of the things he enjoys most is going to car shows and being around fellow enthusiasts who enjoy the hobby as much as himself. With so many memories since he first bought it in 1983, Ron vows the Z/28 will never get away from him again.