1980 Camaro Z28 - Nine-Year Itch

With This '80 Z28, George Paul Unintentionally Raised The Bar When It Comes To Building Late Second-Gens.

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Hit any car show these days-from a colossal spread like the Detroit Autorama to an intimate gathering at the local Fuddruckers-the chance of coming across a stunning late second-gen is somewhere between slim and none. Sure, you'll see quite a few nicely-restored examples and a plethora of drag cars, but nothing that will compare to George Paul's award-winning '80 Z28. And it's not as if these cars aren't plentiful and still affordable-they are. They make great projects, it just seems like owners of these particular rides have yet to be provoked with the appropriate template on provisions to give these cars proper street cred ... until now, that is.

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George's '80 Camaro just might be considered the benchmark for which these F-bodies can, and should be built. The sleek lines and attractive body style have these cars begging to be dropped to the proper height and massaged with the perfect stance. Aftermarket suspension companies are now totally on board with creating improved underpinnings to make these rides look and handle better than ever, so there's no doubt we'll be seeing more modified versions of these cars hitting the road in the very near future.

It's been a longtime quest of Camaro Performers to showcase a post-'73 second-gen Camaro that really lifts our skirts. Needless to say, this one did. But it wasn't easy. After about a year of scheduling conflicts and bad weather through most of the year (George lives in Michigan), we were finally able to get some cooperation from good ol' Mother Nature, and at the same time, pull George away from Softtrim Concepts, his auto interior business (www.softtrim.com), long enough to get the car shot. Doing a half-assed photo shoot on a car of this caliber was out of the question, so the only solution was to wait for the planets to align in our favor. As you can see, the wait was worth it.

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It seems George's wife, Kristine, is a Camaro fan herself. In fact, she may be the enabler in this hot rod relationship. The whole reason George built the car goes back to the early '90s. "I had a silver '79 Z28 that I ended up having to sell in order to scrape up money for a down payment on a house," informs George. "My wife was crushed. I think she was more bummed than me."

Not wanting to disappoint his lovely wife, George spent months combing through the Auto Trader for a replacement. In March of 2000 he found a listing for this '80 Z28, which was advertised as "fresh from California." Only 100 miles away, George went to confirm the car's condition. He liked what he saw, and it was soon in his garage.

"It's been nine years of constant upgrades - a very interesting project for me, as each week I wasn't positive on which changes I would make to the car," says George. "The first thing I did though was change the interior. I put in custom blue and white vinyl seat covers, door panels, and dash pad to match the white and blue exterior. That was a big improvement."

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After driving the car for a year or so more, George realized the car was in need of some suspension mods - for aesthetics and functionality. He replaced the whole suspension. Hotchkis 2-inch drop springs and KYB shocks now reside up front, while a little de-arching of the rear springs brought the back down about 1.5 inches.

Another year went by when George could no longer deal with the stock engine and trans, so in went a GM Fastburn 385 and a beefed up TH350 with a 2800 stall converter. He topped off the crate motor with an Edelbrock Endurashine Performer intake and Holley 670cfm Street Avenger carburetor. With a pump-gas-friendly compression ratio of 9.6:1, and an estimated horsepower rating 385, the perky mill huffs through a set of Hooker 1 3/4-inch headers and a 2.5-inch custom exhaust. It won't win many races, and certainly doesn't peak the "wow" meter, but an exotic, over-the-top engine wasn't what George had in mind for this project. It's sturdy, no-nonsense package works for him - that's all that matters.

March serpentine pulleys, a polished Griffin aluminum radiator, and aluminum valve covers, along with a few other polished bits, provide an attractive garnish for the snappy small-block.

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By 2007, the performance and handling areas were covered, so George decided the exterior was aching for some fresh pigment. Enthusiastic, George dismantled the car as much as he could, in order to save a little money, and delivered the car to Matt's Paint Shop for a healthy dose of '07 Corvette Silver. Nine months of paint and body rejuvenation left George with plenty of time to envision and research numerous wheel and tire combos. He considered going with the tried-and-true American Torq Thrusts, but was looking for something that hadn't been done a thousand times over for this car. He finally settled on Budnik G Series Ice wheels (17x8 up front, 17x9.5 rear) and BFGoodrich KDW rubber (245/45 front and 255/50 out back). Upgraded stoppers may be in the future for George's Z, but for now the stock binders are more than willing to bring the zesty Camaro down from speed.

At this point, the interior was screaming for vengeance as the blue and white vinyl no longer jived with the Camaro's freshly- painted sheetmetal. Fortunately, George is the owner of Softtrim Concepts, an automotive interior restyling company, so the trip back to the interior drawing board was only a few steps away. Good thing. George upped the ante with a totally custom black leather rendition on the door panels, console, package tray, and a pair of customized Pontiac G6 seats. It's an attractive ensemble he wished he'd come up with the first time around. But that's all part of building a hot rod.

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Stock gauges provide pivotal engine info, while a Flaming River steering column lays anchor for the Grant 457 Club Sport steering wheel. The interior relies on a crafty merger of both, stock and custom parts that lends itself to the old adage of "less is more."

With a horsepower rating of only 190, the stigma that accompanies a stock '80 Z28 Camaro can be a tough stereotype to break, but with a little motivation from the GM Performance Parts catalog, there's an easy fix. And with a little perseverance and dedication, oh, and a bit of cheerleading from his wife, George was able come up with one of the nicest late-model second-gens we've seen.

Not really intending to build a show-quality hot rod, George's plan was to end up with a car that he could be proud of, take his wife out for a ride, and just enjoy.

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Winning his class at the Detroit Autorama, endless compliments, and photo shoots - well, that's just icing on the cake.

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