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Z/28s I’ve Known and Flogged - Thunder Road

Over the last quarter century as an automotive journalist, I’ve gotten my mitts on a number of Camaro Z/28s, or participated in tests involving them. Some were classic stock (or nearly stock) vehicles and others were brand new, but one thing’s for certain—

Jim Campisano Jul 21, 2014
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Over the last quarter century as an automotive journalist, I’ve gotten my mitts on a number of Camaro Z/28s, or participated in tests involving them. Some were classic stock (or nearly stock) vehicles and others were brand new, but one thing’s for certain—they were always interesting, exciting machines.

Back when I was an associate editor on MuscleCars magazine (since merged with Musclecar Review), Chevy dropped off a ’90 1LE IROC Z. This car was a big deal for the faithful, as it was the most serious performance Camaro since the demise of the SS396. The 1LE had virtually everything you could ask for, except the 350 TPI engine with a five-speed, which was never available in any third-gen. Our tester had the 305/five-speed pairing, and it got with the program pretty well—14.46 at 96.60. That was really humpin’ back then, every bit the equal of the 350 TPI/auto combination, plus the handling was unreal. It lacked air conditioning, and it stickered for a mere $16,985 (thousands less than the typical fully optioned, T-top, A/C, and auto-festooned IROC Z).

Less than three years later, I was the editor of MuscleCars, and I wanted to find some stock vintage machines to put through their paces at Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, our home track. I hooked up with Joe Francis and his 9,800-mile, Classic Copper, ’70 LT-1/M22-equipped Z28. Back then, it wasn’t too hard to find someone willing to flog an unmolested classic for fame and zero fortune. This one was an unrestored stocker on bias-ply tires. I’ve never had the opportunity to really put the spurs to a 375-horse 327 fuelie motor, but I consider the ’70 LT-1 the greatest Gen 1 small-block. With 360 gross horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque, it was an absolute beast, delivering big-block performance without the weight penalty.

Joe’s car was equipped with 4.10s and F60x15 bias plies. They didn’t work real well. Trying to nurse it out of the hole with 380 lb-ft of torque was a lesson in futility, so he swapped on G60x15 Hoosiers. The result was a blistering 13.80 at 97.61 in otherwise unmolested factory condition.

Later that year, Chevy delivered a white ’93 Z28 to our office in scenic Saddle Brook, New Jersey. The fourth-gens had just been introduced to the media, and I had this one before they were even in showrooms. Our example was built for speed—cloth interior, no T-tops, 275-horse LT1, and a six-speed stick. If only it hadn’t snowed, I’m sure we could have gotten it into the 13s. The combination of the torquey LT1 (325 net lb-ft at 2,400 rpm) and T56 transmission was state of the art in ’93. The weather gods smiled upon us a couple of months later, when a more option-laden red ’93 Z28 arrived for track testing. With G60 M&H cheater slicks, it hustled to a 13.63 at 100.87 mph.

That same red Z was also the subject of a comparison test I staged against a ’69 Z/28. What could be a better? Old versus new for all the mythological marbles. Ten years earlier, it would have been preposterous to even mention a new Camaro in the same breath as a ’69 Z/28. Truly, the second muscle car era was upon us, and we could hardly believe there was a new F-car that could run so hard. The ’69’s owner, Tommy Bocchino, was a gear-jamming, small-block-tuning SOB. He could row a Muncie like few I’ve ever seen, and he ran the 4.11-geared Z on both street radials and our M&Hs. Tommy was able to whittle the ’69’s e.t.’s down to 14.28 at 99.46 mph on the sticky tires. (This compares favorably to Hot Rod magazine’s original road test, wherein its Z/28 ran a 14.34/101.35 in factory trim.) The ’93, hampered by a tank of bad fuel (it was running like absolute crap), still covered the E-town quarter-mile in 14.25 at 100.88.

Even better days were ahead for the fourth-gen Z/28, alas not from a sales standpoint. We were testing at South Jersey’s Atco Raceway in 40-degree temps when the first LS1 six-speed Z28 we got went an unreal 12.89 at 107 mph from just 305 hp. Price as tested? Just $23,866. (On the same day, a bone-stock LS1 Corvette fixed-roof coupe went an unholy 12.66—we about lost our minds.) Thirteen-teens and 20s were far more typical for ’98-later Camaros, but no doubt about it, a new age of factory performance was upon us.

We’ve not had the opportunity to drag test the ’14 Z/28 yet, though we’ve had the pleasure of tearing up Barber Motorsports Park’s road course in one (see the story and video at superchevy.com). Sister publication Motor Trendwent 12.3 at an eye-opening 117.2 mph in one. That’s enough mph to go at least mid-11s on a prepped dragstrip (and more than 2 seconds quicker than Hot Rod’s ’69 Z/28).

If you’ve got a stock, vintage Chevy you’d like to put through its paces for glory on the pages of Super Chevy, feel free to drop me an email at superchevy@sorc.com. We’ll make you a legend in your own elapsed time.



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