This Was No Or­di­nary Ca­maro

Muscle Car Review - - Contents - By Arvid Svend­sen

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.

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