After 20 years trying to buy Donnie Detzel's 1969 Z/28, Ralph Bizzarro finally heard the words he wanted to hear: "Are you ready to buy my Camaro?"
Donnie health wasn't doing well healthwise. He figured he "might as well take the money and run. It's not going to do me any good dead." Donnie also knew that Ralphie (as he called him) was "meticulous and would take really good care" of his car.
Nonetheless, Ralph was in shock when he got the news. He said, "It just came out of the clear blue and hit me like a ton of bricks. I took off work the next day and went over and bought the car."
Although the engine was out of the Camaro, the 302 small-block had matching numbers. The Z/28 was apart, but included many OE parts. What made this deal so sweet for Ralph was that the car was all there and had not even been on the road since 1976. He also liked that the muscle Chevy had been right there in Erie, Pennsylvania, its whole life, purchased new at Dailey Chevrolet.
Donnie bought the Z/28 in 1970 under unusual circumstances while he was still in high school. "I was driving my Corvette [down a neighborhood street], and I saw the back end of a Camaro and noticed Z/28 emblems. I spiked on the brakes."
Donnie thought the people in the house were having a party. He knocked on the door and asked if the Z/28 was for sale. He was taken aback to discover parents holding a wake for their son who had been killed in Vietnam. Donnie apologized for his intrusion and said he could come back later. The father, however, actually wanted the car sold. Donnie believes the fallen soldier's mom was distraught over her son's long wait to get his dream ride and then not having much of a chance to drive it. Apparently they would as soon sell the car as leave it sit there.
Donnie bought the low-mileage Z/28 for $1,200, which he remembers as a "homerun" even in those days. He dug up an old photo of the car from 1970, taken not long after he bought it, sitting in his driveway in Erie.
"It was a plain Jane Camaro. No bumper guards, no wheelwell moldings, no nothing. A plain stock, fast-as-hell [Z/28], not even with Rally wheels, just hubcaps."
Why did Donnie park such a fun ride in 1976? For the answer, the 61-year old drifted back to his high school days. He graduated in 1973 and went to work as a welder for GE. He recalled an Officer Wilcox.
"Back in the 1970s you weren't allowed to do nothing to your car. You couldn't change the exhausts. You couldn't do nothing. Well, back then Hooker made these really neat headers that dumped out the side of the front wheels and went into a big 4-inch pipe. But that cop used to pull me over every day and hit me with a $150 fine. And I had to get to work."
Frustrated, Donnie threw the headers and pipes in a "big, deep hole" he dug in his mom's backyard, pulled the engine, and parked the Z/28 in his garage. The inspection sticker reveals 1976 was when he last registered the car.
Donnie says later the cops in the area "dropped all that," referring to tickets for certain modifications, including side pipes, some underhood upgrades, and wider wheels that "stuck out," Donnie recalls. But he still let the car sit. He did continue to stock up on OE parts for both his Z/28 and his 1966 "four-and-a-quarter horse" Corvette.
"Half the money I would make I'd go to Dailey Chevrolet and say, 'Give me everything you have in stock for a '69 Z/28.' Then the next week I'd say, 'Give me everything you have in stock for a '66 Corvette.' I bought all these pieces brand new because I knew these cars would be collector's items. So Ralphie is going to have a really nice car when he is done."
Ralph is having fun with his new toy, which he plans to put back exactly as delivered brand new.