Curbside Classic: 1982 Camaro Z28-Rally Wheels Absolve Many Sins

Ok, I don’t want to get too carried away with all this absolution of sins business. Yes, we laid pretty hard into the gen 3 Camaro the last time, honoring it with Deadly Sin status. And of course it was well enough deserved, but every car has another side, just like humans. And like a repentant child who comes up and gives you a big squeeze after they broke…something, this Camaro knew exactly how to get in my good graces, by wearing a set of Rally wheels. Now that wasn’t so hard.

This CC is going to be as much or more about Rally wheels, and how or why something seemingly so insignificant can make such a big difference in my perception about cars. I already touched on it in the Diplomat CC, but this example really hits it home: I literally can’t resist feeling some warmth when I see Rally wheels, no matter what they’re on. “And how long have you had this problem, Mr. Niedermeyer?”

Since 1967, of course, when they first appeared on the very rare original Z28 and and that year’s Corvette. That’s because they were designed to work  with the new disc brakes that were now standard on the Z28, and optional on the full-sized Chevrolets, and as a result were only in 15″ size. By 1968, rally wheels started showing up as a wheel trim option in the Camaro brochures, in 14″ size, I assume, unless it had the discs. But my introduction to them came via another route.

In 1967, Baltimore County bought a fleet of new big Chevy police cars, and they were rightfully graced with the optional disc brakes. But the wheels weren’t full-on Rallys; they were the same vented wheel, but had a unique little dog-dish, or rather more moon-ish hubcap, and no trim rings.

I’ve racked google to find a clear picture of that wheel, and struck out, except for this picture of a Baltimore City (no less) ’67 Chevy cop car with those wheels. Except that one can’t see them in this dim vintage picture. So you’ll have to take my word. Anyway, the Balto. County P.D. HQ in Towson was just a few blocks from our house, so I saw rows of them sitting there with these wheels. And why did that make such an impression on me?

I know it sounds odd, but they represented a sea change, although it was a bit slow in coming. Not only was Chevy finally offering disc brakes, but that style of wheel is essentially European: a simple ventilated wheel, often painted silver, with a nice little hubcap. It was a first sign of the “Europeanization” of American cars: better handling packages, bigger wheels and tires, better steering, even rear sway bars and radial tires! How novel indeed.

And for the most part, it was GM leading the way, although Chrysler actually had made some steps earlier. But around this time, GM seemed to suddenly “Get It”, and within a couple of years, their products were pretty consistently the best handling (on average) of the Big Three. And those 1967 cop car wheels were what started it.

Now I’m not really going to redo this vintage Camaro in great detail again, but there’s a couple of things worth noting here. I’m not exactly certain of the year; it could well be a ’83 or ’84. When in doubt, I go with the earliest year of a particular generation, until some astute reader corrects me.

The odds of it being an ’84 are probably the best, because that was the biggest selling year for these, with over 100k just of the Z28 coupes being sold. And the first year ’82s probably had the worst assembly quality, although these cars always suffered for that.

And let’s just skip the engines all together, since undoubtedly the ones still on the road like this one have long been absolved of those sinfully strangled small blocks. Undoubtedly, whatever is under the hood now breathes a deep sigh of relief though its big carburetor or fuel injection. It’s so easy too.

Well, there is that truly remarkable interior of rock hard plastic, not quite so easy to fix. I guess for an old car like this, it makes for easy upkeep. This particular example looks to be warmed over a bit, with that B&M shifter and gauges; and those Rally wheels, of course.

Rally wheels have become ubiquitous, and a bit over used. But they still get me to look at Chevys that I might not otherwise look at, and see their better side.