1981 Chevy Camaro Z28 - Self Medication

Mike Coughlin's 1,400-Mile '81 Z28

Ro McGonegal Feb 1, 2011 0 Comment(s)
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This is for all you hot shoes that don't covet a first-gen Camaro like it was the last one on this earth. Yes, yes, they've certainly been done to death, but they will always remain inevitably and inarguably compelling. The generation of Camaros that followed was far better in terms of handling and balance, but power, not so much. And towards the end, the rubber bumper rats that nobody wanted for hop-up material were all that was left. But their day would come.

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Refinement to this second iteration (beginning as '70 1/2 models) came to halt with the '81 model year. But what a run it had. During Detroit's dark days, it appeared as the darling of the hotly contested IROC series. It also appeared in limited numbers in the mid-'70s as a special child of ex-Oldsmobile project engineer Bill Mitchell. It had a draw-through turbocharger, a thoroughly revised suspension system, and Minilite wheels with high-grip rubber. Mitchell didn't see it as a hot rod but as a "complete luxury car for sophisticated tastes." Did Mitchell's progeny mark the beginning of the Pro Touring discipline?

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The 1981 sales year was a bad one for GM. A maximum production of just 126,139 units (43,272 of which were Z28 models) was summarily traced to a lengthy labor dispute. This was the lowest production volume since 1973, the year the Camaro was nearly wiped off the books altogether due to another labor strike. Decline on all levels was attributed to a crappy domestic economy following the Iranian revolution in 1979 (and the resultant rationing of Arab-sourced fuel at American gas pumps). The country was in the worst economic recession (1980-82) since the end of WWII. Unemployment was in double digits. Money tended to collect a lot of pocket lint.

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Chevrolet tightened up a little bit, too, excising the Rally Sport model from the '81 lineup and narrowing Camaro choices to the Sport Coupe (economy), Berlinetta (high-end), and Z28 (pretending to be the evil one), but the indomitable wish list permitted each model to assume parts and features from other models as well.

None of this was lost on Mike Coughlin. Naturally running under the Jeg's banner, he began his professional career pulling gears in a Pro Stock Truck, circa 2001. Later he gave the Super Comp people a lot of sleepless nights. He graduated to a Jerry Bickel-built Top Sportsman Cobalt that screams 6.60s, but unlike its street counterpart, it has big slicks on its rear axle and a 790ci Sonny Leonard crusher laid in north-to-south. He takes that one out maybe a half-dozen times a year. Mike is a genuine family man, horsing around with his two young boys; the older one runs a Jr. Dragster. Mike's of the mind that family is the basis for just about everything, and he's not going to miss his kids growing up because he's out on the race trail.

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Then there is his passion: "I am a huge F-Body fan, and have several Chevy and Pontiac examples, but I always had my eye out for a 1981 Chevy Camaro Z28 with the charcoal grey paint and the silver 'moon suit' interior. I liked this combo because I always thought it was the sharpest looking, and it's also rare because they only offered the interior in 1981. I looked off and on for about 15 years [trying to find] the 'right' car.

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"About two years ago I was on eBay looking around when I came across this car, so I started studying the pictures and the car was exactly what I was after! The right color, the 'moon suit' interior, loaded, and only 1,200 miles!

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