Face-to-face with an original owner’s Z/28
The garage door to the suburban home in northern Ohio opened, and we could see a 1969 Z/28 plainly in the double-car garage. Most of the space was taken up by bicycles and what appeared to be toys.
“Karl is the guy who owns the car,” Michael Lightbourn said. “It was his father’s, and he’s got the power of attorney, so in a sense he inherited it, but his dad is still around.”
The previous night we had visited with Karl and his father’s sister, Juanita, at another house 4 to 5 miles away. Due to divorce, Karl would not be able to make an appearance the next day at the family abode where he had lived the previous 17 years.
“How long has it been parked?” Michael asked.
Karl said, “The last time it was driven was 1994. [My father, Stacy Quickle] took my son, William, for a ride. He parked it on Colby Road and it has not [been driven] anywhere since. We had a set of four Rally wheels under it, and I put on space saver spares. When those went flat, we dragged it onto a flatbed and into the garage where it’s at now.”
The time had come to sell because Stacy, living in California, had health issues and was “not going to fix it.”
“I’m not going to be the one to do it,” Karl said. “I’ve got nowhere to keep it. I don’t know what else to do with it.”
Karl was “3 or 4 years old” when Stacy, living in Elyria, Ohio, purchased the Z/28 brand new. Walking into the garage, we noticed the license plate frame inscribed with the Chevy dealer’s name, Sharpnack, on top and the location, Vermilion, on the bottom. The car sat low on those four airless space saver tires, which was strange but true.
“When I was younger it seemed like daily, several times a week, people asked, ‘Is this car for sale?’ He has said no for 49 years, and this is the first time, on March 29 ,
that he sent me the paperwork and has agreed to sell.”
Z/28 is the big deal with this Rare Find, of course. But this particular example came from the factory with both (1) the Rally Sport front end, featuring the special black-painted grille with concealed headlights, and
(2) the body-colored front bumper, option code VE3, aka Endura, made of rubber and optional on any 1969 Camaro.
Our appointment time was 8:30 in the morning. Don, Karl’s uncle, had just arrived to show us the Z/28. Don immediately slipped into the garage to start removing debris. We asked him to let us take photos first.
Being there in person is much different from receiving photos from readers, and this was an amazing find to come face to face with. How often do you see an unrestored 1969 model anything wearing its original paint and get to talk to people who have owned and driven the car since new?
The nonrunning Z/28 on that garage floor came to life as Karl and Juanita spoke. Karl said, “At around 20,000 miles, [Stacy] told me he was right over here on Pearl Avenue. He crossed some railroad tracks and he took off hard and hit a water puddle, and [the 302] developed a tick. About two weeks later he drove it to Vermilion, and that’s when [the Chevy dealer] said the wristpin had eaten into the cylinder wall.”
One of our first moves was to open the hood, which required a key to the aftermarket hood locks. We did this before checking out the trim tag to verify the Z/28’s originality,
Michael said, “Want to see something amazing this car still has?”
“The smog system. Those are the first things that got ditched on these cars.”
The AC radiator cap also appeared to be
original, which was entirely possible, as the odometer was accurate at 37,403.4 and the car had hardly been driven since about 1980, the date of the last registration on the license plates.
We noticed tower-style factory hose clamps. The valve covers were stock as well. Overall, the engine compartment appeared like the dealer had done the replacement engine warranty work. The car didn’t change much from the early 1970s.
Juanita, eight years younger than her older brother Stacy, recalled how driving the Z/28 during 1970-1974 made her “the coolest kid in high school.”
Did she “hot rod” the Z/28? “I did my share of racing,” Juanita said, and “never got beat.”
“I remember driving it down 57 here and going from where the mall is to 254, running it through the gears and watching the gas gauge drop.”
With all the stories and Karl showing us the original title, from 1969, we were certain the car was a Z/28. The trim tag backed up the Z/28 package with its X33 stamping. But what about that engine? Lightbourn shined his light onto the pad on the passenger-side front of the engine, where it read, “CEA.” At the same time, Michael spoke on his cellphone to a former GM employee who worked for Chevrolet when these cars were new.
“CE” possibly refers to Counter Exchange or Chevrolet Engine. No matter—not just anybody could buy an engine stamped “CE,” which is a designation for warranty action and not available to the public.
In this light, an older GM muscle car with a warrantied engine is different from the same GM muscle car with a missing engine that has been replaced by a private party. Sometimes these shops or owners get a “correct DZ” block, but this engine installation would not be as rigorous as a CE replacement from Chevrolet.
In other words, collectors will spout, “Oh, the original engine is missing, so this Z/28 will never be numbers-matching.” Maybe so,
but a Counter Exchange creates a correct factory replacement engine, authorized by Chevrolet procedure.
In this instance, the block needed to be replaced, along with the internals. The dealer reinstalled the remaining original parts, from the air cleaner assembly to the Holley four-barrel, the intake, valve covers, heads, exhaust manifolds, and right down to the smog system that was intact and those tower-style hose clamps. They even screwed on that original radiator cap, now appearing as icing on this cake.
The car will go to the collection of Duane Lobbestael from the Detroit area. Duane has been a Camaro buff since he was 10. Born in 1969, he bought his first Camaro, a 1969 RS/SS 396, in 1984 from saved paper route money. He really likes this 1969 Rally Sport Z/28 because it is a “survivor.”
n The original dealer replaced the original 302 in the early 1970s under warranty.
n The first words out of Michael Lightbourn’s mouth when he saw the Z/28 were, “Looks like a decent car.” This car has been garage-kept for all but a year or so since new. It sat low on flattened space-saver spare tires.
n The trim tag on the cowl has the all-important X33, which decodes as Style Trim Group with Special Performance Equipment (Z28) for cars built in Norwood, Ohio. NOR indicates Norwood on this plate.
n Lightbourn pointed out that one of the battery cables was still factory original.
n The four-barrel is an original Holley 780-cfm carburetor, as verified by the Chevrolet part number 3923289-DZ and Holley list number 4053. “913” is a date code where 9 stands for 1969, 1 is January, and 3 is the third week of the month.
n Karl had last seen the original window sticker in the pages of one of the old car magazines inside the car. Sadly, the invoice was nowhere to be found.
n Hideaway headlights, part of the Rally Sport package in 1969, were in good condition. Today, unrestored cars are popular with muscle car collectors. They like to see originality, like this original Z/28 badge in the grille.
n When a Z/28 is equipped with RS equipment, the RS badges are deleted from the fenders. However, the RS logo remains on the steering wheel.
n The trunk was full of debris, but the spare tire appeared to have never been on the ground.
n A big surprise under the hood was finding the original smog system intact and in place.
n Incredibly, the original radiator cap remained.
n The rear window had traces of rust around the moldings.
n The biggest surprise of this treasure hunt was finding the original tires, with ample tread and probably about 500 original miles on them, concealed under 7-8 feet of boxes and toys in the corner of the garage.
n “CEA” stamped on the engine pad, passenger side, denotes a Counter Exchange, which was warranty work.
n The odometer showed 37,403.4 miles.
n Loaded on the trailer, the Z/28 was ready to be shipped to its new home. Michael Lightbourn’s plan is for the car to remain in its original state. The original Rally wheels were stored in a storage shed in the backyard.