1969 Camaro Z28 - Attitude Is Everything

No Other Ponycar Had A Mean Streak Like The '69 Z/28

Paul Zazarine Feb 23, 2009 0 Comment(s)
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Few automotive battles raged as fiercely as the “Ponycar Wars” of the 1960s. Ford’s Mustang launched a new market for personal sporty cars in 1964½, forcing GM to react with its Chevrolet Camaro in 1967. These two competed head to head in showrooms, stoplight matchups, dragstrips and road courses. And while the 35-year battle ended when GM retired the Camaro in 2002, the skirmishes these two competitors
fought reverberate today.

Camp 0810 01 1969 Camaro Z28 Front Headlights 2/9

The most intense of these battles were conducted on the road courses of America and Canada in the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans-Am series. Introduced in 1966, the Trans-Am was open to four-passenger production sedans in two classes—2.0L and under and 2.0L to 5.0L. Ford commissioned Carroll Shelby to prepare a team of Mustangs for the first season’s competition against the Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas running in the over 2.0L class. The Trans-Am series captured more than a passing interest with race fans and the automotive press, an impressive achievement for a first-year race series.

Watching with keen interest from the sidelines was Chevrolet’s Vince Piggins, one of the driving forces behind Chevrolet’s high-performance program. Before the first production ’67 Camaro was built at GM’s Norwood, Ohio, assembly plant, Piggins had already conspired with the SCCA to bring Chevrolet into the Trans-Am series, developing a special package for homologation.

Piggins’ first challenge was to homologate (certify) an engine that came in under the Trans-Am displacement limit of 5.0L (305 cubic inches). Chevrolet offered 283-ci and 327-ci engines, but nothing in between. The 283 wasn’t stout enough and the 327 was too large, but Piggins deduced that mating the four-inch bore of the 327 with the three-inch stroke of the 283 provided a displacement of 302.4 cubic inches. This was a tried and true combination that racers had used before, and it met the SCCA’s legal 305ci ceiling. It also meant that the 302 would inherit the intrinsic benefits of having a short stroke with an oversquare bore. A short-stroke engine can run at higher rpm for longer periods since there is less piston speed. That of course is what a race engine has to do—run for sustained durations at high rpm.

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The small-journal, cast-iron block for the 302 was also shared with the 327 and the 350 engines in 1967. The crankshafts were forged steel and tuftrided for high-rpm durability. The rods were shot peened and mated to 11.0:1 domed-aluminum pistons with notched valve reliefs. The iron heads featured big 2.02-inch intake and 1.60-inch exhaust valves with wide passages and big ports to produce mid- and high-end horsepower response. The 302’s “30/30” camshaft was lifted from the 375hp Corvette 327 fuelie engine and designed for use with solid lifters.

A big 800-cfm, dual-pumper Holley carburetor was bolted to a tuned-runner, dual-plane aluminum intake manifold with the front crossover tapped for a temperature sensor. Log-style iron exhaust manifolds were standard with headers optional. A single point Delco-Remy ignition was standard with a transistorized ignition optional. Chevrolet blatantly underrated the 302’s horsepower at 290 and torque an equally silly 290 lb-ft. In reality, the production engines generated over 375 hp, with power coming on strong from 3,500 to 6,500 rpm and still pulling at 7,000 rpm.

Piggins’ concept of using off-the-shelf components to build both a spirited performance street engine and a wicked race engine had another advantage—he could come to market with a production engine at significant cost savings. That would make it easier to sell the program to Chevrolet management. The rest of the package consisted of a heavy-duty radiator, quick steering, 15x6 wheels on 7.35x15 nylon red stripe tires, a four-speed Muncie M21 close-ratio manual transmission, special springs and shocks, a 3.73:1 rear axle and special wide stripes on the hood and rear deck lid.

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Mandatory options included power brakes with front discs and metallic rear drums. Chevrolet Product Planning assigned it the next available RPO package number on the list—Z/28. The RPO number became the model name for Chevrolet’s Trans-Am contender.




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