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1967 Camaro Z/28 History

Text and photos from Chapter 6 of Michael Lamm's "The Great Camaro"; and also from Chapter 14 of John Hooper's "The 1967-1968 Camaro Reference Book".


1967 RPO Z28 - Special Performance Package includes 302-cid V8 engine, closed positive ventilation, dual exhaust with deep tone mufflers, special front and rear suspension, heavy-duty radiator and temperature controlled fan, quick ratio steering, 15x6 wheels, 7.35x15 nylon red stripe tires, 3.73:1 ratio axle and special paint stripes on hood and rear deck (requires 4-speed close ratio transmission, power brakes, front disc brakes or heavy-duty front disc brakes with metallic rear brakes; positraction recommended; Sport Coupe V8 only). 

Price - $358.10

Total 1967 Z28 production - 602.


If one man alone deserves credit for the Camaro Z-28, it's Vincent W. Piggins. Vince not only thought up the Z-28 but convinced Chevrolet management to put it into production so the car could be homologated and raced in SCCA's (Sports Car Club of America's) then-new Trans-Am sedan series.

Riverside Introduction, Nov. 1966

Steve Kelly wrings out first 302-cid Z-28 at Riverside introduction in Nov. 1966.

In fact, without Vince's prodding, the SCCA might never have continued Trans-Am sedan competition at all. It was only after Piggins assured SCCA officials that Chevrolet would lend its support that a racing schedule materialized for 1967.

Vince, who's been a Chevrolet engineer since 1956 and who was the man behind the Hudson Hornet's NASCAR championships in the early 1950's, explains the Z-28's creation with these words:

"After Ford released the Mustang, they had about two years on us before Chevrolet could get the Camaro into the 1967 product line. I felt in my activity, which deals with product promotion and how to get the most promotional mileage from a car from the performance standpoint, that we needed to develop a performance image for the Camaro that would be superior to the Mustang's.

"Along comes SCCA in creating the Trans-Am sedan racing class for professional drivers in 1966, aimed at the 1967 season. I made it a point to have several discussions with SCCA officials-notably Jim Kaser, John Bishop, and Tracy Byrd-and one thing led to another. I suggested a vehicle that would fit this class and, I believe -- supported by what Chevrolet might do with the Camaro -- it gave them heart to push ahead and make up the rules, regulations, and so forth for the Trans-Am series. I feel this was really the creation of the Trans-Am as we know it."

All this took place in mid-1966, several months before the Camaro actually came out. The series was going to be open to all American and European production sport sedans, FIA International Sporting Code, Chapter IV, Touring Cars, Group II, Appendix J. Rules held competitors to a 116-inch wheelbase maximum and 305 cid engine displacement, with only limited modifications. The rule, then as now, required a 1000 production minimum to be built by the end of any model year.

This was "sedan racing," mind you, and what qualified the Camaro and all ponycars as "sedans" was the fact that they had rear seats. And although Chevrolet sold only 602 Z-28's during 1967, they met the 1000 production rule by homologating the 350-cid Camaro under FIA Group I rules and then qualifying the same basic vehicle with the Z-28 option under Group II.

Now on August 16, 177, " continues Piggins, "I put together a memo to my boss, W.T. Barwell, that laid out the basic idea of the Z-28, although, of course, it wasn't called that then. We didn't name the car until several months later, but I'll get into that in a moment.

"This memo went out to engineers Alex Mair and Don McPherson, sales manager Bob Lund, Joe Pike in sale promotion, and C.C. Jakust. 1 said, in effect, that SCCA sedan racing was becoming increasingly popular and would blossom into even bigger things with the advent of the short-wheelbase, Mustangtype ponycar.

"My proposal went on that since our projected engine lineup for the 1967 Camaro had no V-8 smaller than the 327, and since we were above the 5000cc (305-cid) SCCA displacement limit for Class A sedans, we ought to take a high-performance version of the old 283 and wrap an option package around it to make it competitive within SCCA. You'll remember that the Barracuda was running a 273 V-8 at that time, and the Mustang's competitive engine was the 289. So our high-performance 283 would certainly have been right in there."

The key portions of Piggins' Aug. 17 memo said, "A new 283 high-performance engine plus other relative driveline and chassis items will provide performance and handling characteristics superior to either Mustang or Barracuda. To aid in the merchandising of this vehicle, certain other embellishments have been included to make the overall vehicle immediately identifiable and distinctive. The sales department anticipates a volume of 10,000 such vehicles could be sold in 1967."

Piggins now resumes his narrative: "My initial proposal suggested we use the 283 V-8 plus the F-41 optional suspension, with heavy-duty front coils and multi-leaf rear springs. I also requested the J-52 front disc brakes with J-65 metallic linings for the rear drums, the 11-inch clutch from the 396 V-8, the close-ratio 4-speed with 2.20 low, a brand-new steering gear with a 24:1 overall ratio, Corvette 15 x 6 wheels with 7.75 tires, and a special reworked hood to provide functional air intake. There were other modifications called for as well, and 1 suggested we make the package available only in the Camaro coupe, not the convertible, and that the Z-22 Rally Sport option form part of the equipment for this car. Now not all this equipment went into the production Z-28 automobile, but those were the initial parts called for."

1967 Z/28

While hood and deck striping came standard with Z-28, RS equipment and D-80 spoiler didn't. Both are visible here, plus optional bumper guards and vinyl top. Early Z's didn't carry 302 front-fender emblems.

Piggins got permission to have a pre-production Z-28 prototype built to these initial specifications, and during a "show-and-tell" session to top management at the GM Proving Grounds on Oct. 4, 1966, he trotted out the car.

One of his first passengers in the as-yet-unnamed Z-28 was Chevrolet's new general manager, Elliott M. (Pete) Estes. The ride didn't come until just before noon. After some full-throttle acceleration runs and a few dives through a slalom course, Piggins let Estes take the wheel.

"Estes was quite impressed with the performance of this 283-engined vehicle," recalls Piggins, "and as I explained to him what we planned to do to capture the Trans-Am championship and to produce a good performance image for the Camaro, it didn't take much convincing for Pete to see what I was aiming toward.

"The only thing. . ." continues Vince, "while we were driving the car, I mentioned that we'd put the 283 into it because we'd built that size engine before. But I suggested when we got back to the starting pad that it might be a lot better to take the 327 block and put the 283 crank into it, giving us a 4 x 3 bore and stroke. That would put displacement at 302.4 cid, just under the SCCA's 305 limit.

"So Pete immediately agreed, especially being an engineer and knowing the potential this car could have. Estes walked over to engineers Alex Mair and Don McPherson and said, `Let's release this package and develop a 302 engine to go with it.'

The actual Z28 work order was #19621-34 and read as follows:

Remove engine and send to motor room

Install engine #196231 - A high performance 283

Engine weight dressout was 572

dated October 11, 1966

"That was really the start of the Z-28, and we proceeded to homologate that vehicle with the FIA as of Jan. 1, 1967 as a Group II car."

1967 Z/28 Wheel

Mandatory front discs for '67 Z-28 complemented 15-in Rally wheels with "Disc Brakes" on spinners.

But even before that could happen, Chevrolet built up a prototype 302-engined showcar and actually displayed it for the motoring press at a special preview. This preview was held at Riverside International Raceway in California in Nov. 1966 at the windup of the ARRC events there.

Walt Mackenzie, who was Chevrolet's public relations liaison at the time, set up a special trackside tent at Riverside, with a technical news handout. This showed the Camaro coupe with what was called simply Regular Production Option (RPO) Z-28. The magazine writers and editors were allowed to drive this first Z-28. To a man, they loved the car, and MOTOR TREND, SPORTS CAR GRAPHIC, HOT ROD, CAR & DRIVER, ROAD & TRACK, and several others published rave reviews soon afterward.

Some people believed that the Z in Z-28 stood for Zora, as in Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Corvette engineer. Not so. Piggins had put a name on the original 283 prototype before he presented it at the October show-and-tell. The name Piggins had chosen was Cheetah. But Vince took that handmade decal off the car at the last moment, muttering, "Well, a name is a name is a name," and the coupe Estes drove carried no designation at all.

"There wasn't any suggestion of what we were going to call this car," notes Piggins. "When it came down to having to decide, somebody just said, `Hey, it's option RPO Z-28; let's call it Z-28!' So the name just grew from there. The graphics people did things with the Z, and that's how the designation stuck. The car got its name from the actual option number."

Ironically, Z-27 is the RPO number for the early Camaro Super Sport package, and Z-28 simply followed it sequentially. RPO Z-29 apparently hasn't been taken yet, but perhaps Chevrolet is keeping it in reserve for some future Z-28 successor.

You're aware, of course, that Camaro Z-28's won the Trans-Am championship two years running -- 1968 and 1969. The resulting publicity helped Camaro sales immeasurably.

Racing also transformed the early Camaro from a me-too car that followed the Mustang into an image car that consistently came in ahead of Mustangs on the track. So the Z-28 made a big difference in the Camaro's early sales record.

Not that the Z-28 you could buy over the counter in 1967-68-69 was anywhere near the same car that won SCCA championships, because the Z-28's that Roger Penske, Mark Donohue, Smokey Yunick, Ronny Bucknum, Jerry Thompson, Tony DeLorenzo, and other professionals ran were honed to an incredibly fine edge. 

But RPO Z-28 did at least form the basis of their cars, and as people like Penske and Donohue learned more about what they needed to win races, Chevrolet began making and cataloguing the parts. These parts immediately became available to everyone.

Horsepower was listed at 290 at 5800 rpm nominal. It's important to keep that word nominal in mind, because it means the 290 figure was just something somebody plugged into Chevy's spec sheets. It might just as well have been 300 or 350 or 400 bhp. Most, if not all, Z-28 302's put out more than 290 bhp and 290 foot-pounds of torque at 4200 rpm.

Actual horsepower depended a lot on which intake and exhaust manifolds you chose, which carburetor(s), and what internal mods you pursued. No actual dyno figures were ever released by Chevrolet for the 302-cid Z-28 engine, but the auto magazines didn't hesitate to speculate. Their estimates ranged from a realistic 350 bhp in ROAD & TRACK to 370-plus in SPORTS CAR GRAPHIC to 400 bhp in CAR LIFE. All-out, blueprinted racing versions, like those built by Traco and Yunick, probably delivered in the neighborhood of 450 bhp, which took some heavy tinkering to pull from 302 cid and still expect reliability.

One of the amazing facets of the first-generation Z-28 was its warranty. Chevrolet didn't flinch and applied the same 2year/24,000-mile warranty to the Z-28 automobile as a whole and its 5-year/50,000-mile warranty to the powertrain. That went beyond expectation and contrary to the practice of warranties for most high performance packages.

1967 Z/28 Engine

Cowl plenum chamber let cold air into air cleaner via big rubber duct. Headers cost $200-$300 additional, came in trunk for dealer or customer installations.

Chevrolet didn't especially encourage the purchase of Z-28's by private individuals at advertising the Camaro Z-28 until 1968. 

The first 25 Z-28's were built between Dec. 29, 1966 and Jan. 12, 1967. These went strictly to favored dealers, mostly for reworking as all-out competition cars. Z-28 #1 was shipped to Aero Chevrolet in Alexandria, Va., where it was groomed as Johnny Moore's entry in the Daytona 24-hour Continental. Cars #2, #3, and #4 went to Yenko Chevrolet, Canonsburg, Pa., for driver Ben Poster, also for Daytona.

Seattle dealer Alan Green received Z-28's #5 through #7, reselling one to a Daytona, Fla., dealer, one to a local Northwest dealer, and the third to a local customer. That means that Z-28 #7 was probably the first to fall into private hands. Many people believe that the 1967 Z-28 didn't debut until late in the model year, but that simply isn't true. A few were in private hands by Feb. 1, 1967.

Ron Tonkin, a Chevrolet dealer in Portland, Ore., ordered Z-28 #8 and placed it on his Beaver Racing Team, which ran mostly West Coast events. After careful preparation, it was involved in an accident while being trailered to its first race. That ended its competition career.

Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago, which went into racing in a big way (e.g. putting 427's into Camaros for the dragstrip), took delivery of Z-28's #9-#10-#11. Two of these ran at Daytona along with the Aero and Yenko cars.

Roger Penske acquired the 12th Z-28, his friend George Wintersteen picking it up at the factory on Jan. 10, 1967 and driving it back to Penske's Chevrolet agen cy in Reading, Pa. Penske immediately tore down the car and sent the engine to Traco in his push toward entering Daytona.

The next eight Z's went to a variety of customers, in cluding three shipped to other GM divisions and one sold to a GM Proving Grounds engineer named David D. Horchler. Car #21 was delivered to stunt driver Joie Chitwood in Tampa, Fla. Chitwood raced the car and has subsequently used Camaros in all his thrill shows ever since.

In Chevrolet's rush to get the first Z28's out to the races, the first 16 1967 Z28's used a 4-P body to get the cars to the Daytona race on time. The 4-L body style code was used after the first ordered Z28's were shipped out.

The 1967 Z28 was responsible for a long term race relationship with the Z28 and Vince Piggins of Chevrolet. The Penske/Donohue race team was largely responsible for bringing many heavy-duty race parts to the Chevrolet dealers' parts counters. Any part used on the racing Z28's had to be made available to the public.

Mr. Fred Gibb raced a 1967 Z28 for over a year and a half. He was a national winner in his class. It was his love for this car which led to the development of the 1969 ZL-1 Camaro.

To most of the die-hard Z28 fans, the main idea was to make your Z28 like one of the special Trans Am race cars like the Penske/Donohue racing Z28 Camaro.

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