BEST GRAPHICS EVER
This Was No Ordinary Camaro
This was no ordinary Camaro
The subject of big-inch mid-1970s muscle cars is mischaracterized as the story of high-compression torque monsters morphing into low-compression, smog-equipped boat anchors. Granted, it was not 1970, but it was not muscle car Armageddon either.
The hard and fast line that is often drawn at 1972 to delineate proper muscle cars continually conjures up befuddle- ment, bewilderment, and bemusement. Later 1970s cars—let’s say 1973 and newer—had a few standouts. Performance didn’t die in 1973; it was just a bit harder to find. King of the hill would have to be the 1973-1974 Firebird Formula and Trans Am SD-455 cars. They were beasts. Though a touch portly, the Colonnade-style GM cars of 1973-1977 looked like a spaceship back in the day. Any 1973 Chevelle SS454 or 1973 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 with the 455 motor would be welcome in my garage.
It’s true the new-for-1975 cataclysmic converters smelled like rotten eggs and robbed us of an unabated exhaust note. But we are Americans! There were ways around all these government intrusions. A carb, distributor, and cam swap did wonders to wake up the typical smog motor. The installation of those convenient “test
pipes” (which eliminated the catalytic converter and allowed proper evaluation of the condition of one’s catalytic converter) brought back a proper exhaust note. If you lived in a place like my wonderful home state of New Jersey, you might have endured yearly safety and emissions testing, but so what? Install the OE carb, put the catalytic converter back in place, throw six bottles of Heet in a quarter tank of gas, and that yearly renewal sticker would be slapped on the passenger-side bottom corner of the windshield. The following weekend, reinstall the good parts and be happy. Certain scoundrels literally committed said dastardly deeds.
Ask Monte Dinnell about mid-1970s performance cars and he will quickly point to the 1974 Chevrolet Z28 as a personal favorite. The Z28 package for 1974 included a 350ci L82 small-block V-8 that was rated at 245 net horsepower. This was clearly a performance-oriented engine, with fourbolt mains, a forged steel crank, impact-extruded aluminum pistons, and heat-treated and shotpeened rods. The cast-iron cylinder heads were home to 2.02-inch intake and 1.60-inch exhaust valves, and 76cc combustion chambers. The hydraulic-lifter camshaft featured 0.450/0.460 lift (intake/
“The D88 stripes are easily cooler than the Trans Am bird”
exhaust) and 346/360 duration (i/e). A dual-snorkel air cleaner sat atop the motor, while a real dual exhaust system got rid of spent combustion gases.
The Z28 package also included special sport suspension; 15x7 five-spoke-style wheels, F60-15 bias-belted, white-letter tires; a heavy-duty starter; increased cooling; power brakes; a Positraction rear axle; and dual sport mirrors. But most importantly, the 1974 Z28 featured the optional D88 sport stripes, easily the best graphics ever applied to any muscle car, pony car, or big car. Yes, the D88 stripes are cooler than the Trans Am bird on the Smokey cars. Those D88 stripes announced that this car was no ordinary Camaro, but rather the mighty Z28.
As a high school student, Monte would occasionally spot a neighbor’s maroon 1974 Z28 with D88 graphics tucked away in a garage. The frequent sighting of that car would convince Monte that he needed a 1974 Z28 of his own. In the meantime, he has had some fun with other performance cars, including his current “other ride,” a 1970 Chevelle powered by a 509ci big-block motor.
A friend of a friend reported the whereabouts of the 1974 Z28 that Monte purchased in 2015. Owned by a former police officer in Maine, the Z28 was an original, unrestored example with some 16,000
“Performance didn’t die in 1973; it was just a bit harder to find”
miles. Monte beat another customer to the bargaining table with the deposit for purchase, sight unseen. Within a month, the Camaro was transported from Maine to his home in Fox Lake, Illinois.
As anticipated, the time-capsule Z28 was even better than described. Monte touched up minor details and installed emissions equipment that had been removed over the years. In no time the car was back to assembly-line condition. These days he need only open his garage doors to gaze on the bold and brash D88 hood graphics that celebrated the excitement and beauty of high-performance automobiles in the mid to late 1970s.
n The 1974 Z28 was a one-year-only car. It featured the Camaro’s new-for-1974 front and rear styling (done largely to incorporate the federally mandated 5-mph bumpers) and the RPO Z28 Special Performance Package, which after 1974 would go on hiatus until 1977.n Chevrolet built 13,802 Z28s in 1974. The slanted front grille and header treatment did much to absorb the new bigger bumpers. Optional D80 spoilers front and rear, complemented by the color-keyed sport mirrors, kept the road racing theme alive for 1974.
n The five-spoke-style Z28 15x7 wheels are still wearing the original F60-15 Firestone Wide Oval tires that the factory put on the car.n The Z28’s 350ci L82 small-block sported a 9.0:1 compression ratio and was rated at 245 net horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. The open-element air cleaner on the 1972 Z28 was replaced with a new-for-1974 dual-snorkel air cleaner. Monte Dinnell’s low-mileage, unrestored original car is largely unmolested with just a couple of N.O.S. emissions parts recently replaced.n The Z28 is equipped with the original Rochester Quadrajet carburetor (PN 7044209) that came with all 350/245hp Z28s with manual transmissions. The automatic-transmission Z28s came with a different Quadrajet (PN 7044208). Both carburetors featured an automatic choke and were mounted on a cast-iron intake manifold.n The “75” on the firewall is original and indicates the paint code, which Chevrolet called Medium Red.n The early 1974 Z28s were built with Muncie transmissions, which is what this car has. In January 1974, BorgWarner four-speeds replaced the Muncie transmissions. The interior of the 1974 Z28 was relatively unchanged from 1973. This particular car is rather Spartan, with no console, no air, and mono U69 AM/FM radio.
The beauty of the unrestored original car is in the evidence of assembly-line processes and workmanship, good and bad. Note how the rear Z28 stripe does not line up perfectly. Whoever applied that stripe likely never dreamed it would be scrutinized 44 years later.