I always say that I had two first cars. It doesn’t make sense logically, but I’ll defend that statement by saying that a): my first vehicle was a van not a car, and b): I didn’t get to pick out my first vehicle. When I sold my Dodge Maxivan I used the poor fuel mileage as an excuse. While that was certainly the case, I’m not sure I saved on fuel with its replacement, as the engine was only fractionally smaller but a lot harder to stay out of the throttle. But I did get to pick it, which qualifies it to be my other first car.
I had a thing for the second-generation Camaros, but somewhat unusually, I liked the later ones better with the molded bumpers. This was a happy happenstance as I couldn’t afford a decent early one anyway. But what I could afford is a really nice late example, so in a rare fit of intelligence, I went after the best example available. I really wanted a low mileage example with a manual gearbox which thinned the available options considerably. The car turned out to be a white-on-white 1978 model, which had two owners since new. Add the fact that the first owner only had it six months, it was about as close to the mythical “one caring owner” car as I could reasonably expect to find.
While the Z28 had been re-introduced in 1977, it took until 1978 for any proper performance and style upgrades to happen. Gone were the clunky steel impact bumpers; flush, body-colored urethane bumpers were fitted for a cleaner look. I’d call it one of the best solutions to the five-mph bumpers regulations. The rear tail lights also got a bit of an overhaul, and now sported three colors.
Looking back at this filthy engine compartment makes me wince now, but I’ll again use my mechanical ignorance at the time as my excuse. In 1978 the Z28 came equipped with the 350cid (5.7L) V8 topped with a four barrel QuadraJet carburetor. The power rating of 185hp @ 4000 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque @ 2400 rpm might seem a bit sad these days, but it was quite respectable for the era, and easily eclipsed anything the Mustang had to offer.
My motor was not completely stock, however. It featured an unknown aftermarket camshaft, headers and some nasty, rusty aftermarket chrome valve covers. It also had true dual exhausts instead of the factory cross over system, and sounded fantastic to my young ears. The rear axle had a 3.73 ratio with limited slip.
I never had it on the dyno, but it felt very healthy indeed; perhaps a little faster than the ’96 Mustang GT I owned later (but concurrently with the Z28). Unfortunately I punched a hole in the headers one week into my ownership due to a protruding man hole cover on a street undergoing some road work. Oops; I guess it took me a bit to realize that I didn’t have van-levels of ground clearance anymore. You can see the very white replacement headers in the photo. They didn’t stay looking that clean for long.
The 1978 models were a bit of a transition as they featured the refreshed exterior but still stuck with the older style interior. My car looked really sharp inside with the white door panels and seats. It looked very like this, but sadly I didn’t take any photographs, so we’ll have to make do with this example from a car show. The four-speed Super T10 gearbox was a joy to use. Having to lift the knob to get reverse threw me the first couple times though.
Every winter I stored it in my parent’s garage to keep the body in good shape. Here you can see the tail pipes taped up to avoid mice crawling in. I’d move it around every couple week to avoid flat spotting the tires … and of course spend just a little bit of quality time.
For the five years or so that I owned, it the Z28 it was very reliable. The one mishap involved my future wife who selected the wrong gear and over revved the engine. The fan belt came off, but unfortunately she and her father decided to leave the car on the median. When I attempted to retrieve it shortly after, it had been towed away. The car came out ok, but had a little bit of a valve tick at times afterwards. The only real repair was a failed alternator, which was also the first repair I attempted on my own. Armed with a Haynes manual and a cheap Canadian Tire socket set, I managed a successful repair. No one in my extended family did any of their own automotive work so I was on my own, but I came to realize that if I wanted drive a classic I either needed to learn to do its upkeep myself or be rich.
I’d bought the car at nineteen and managed to hang on to it all through university, but shortly after having our first child we were close to being able to afford our first home. We just needed a down payment, so with a heavy heart I knew what must be done, and put the Z28 up for sale. I got a lot of interest from the US, via a gen2 Camaro forum, but very little locally. Perhaps the car was merely an old car locally rather than a classic, or the stronger US demand could be explained by the four speed manual being relatively more rare down south. A gentleman from Atlanta flew in and drove it home, so there is little hope of seeing my first car again.
Nice, always was a fan of the soft nose styling of these and the contemporary Firebird. Not better than the earlier ones, just good in a different way.
+1 Camaro fan here also.
In the early 90’s my cousin had a pristine 78 Z28 in black and gold with 24,000 original miles passed on to him from my uncle. It was stolen from a Mall parking lot six months later. We never saw it again…we all cried. It was a beautiful car that still smelled new. It was completely stock the only modification he made was upgrading the sound system.
As the wags would have it, with a 3.73 rear end, the only thing it couldn’t pass was a gas station.
All too true, at least the gas station part. The stock 350 was pretty much the same general duty unit found in Impalas or Caprices and ran out of breath about 5000 rpm so it wasn’t a great combo, at least stock. I think even Chevy knew that the 4 speed cars would stay stock for about 15 minutes after the warranty ran out and what they were really selling was the car’s potential. They sold quite a few 4 speeds that year. The automatics got 3.42 gearing.
A stock 4 speed would run in the low 16s, one like the example above with headers, true dual exhaust and a decent cam would likely be in the high 14s. Gas mileage? You’d be lucky to see 15 on the highway. These were the last of the good old fashioned muscle cars, you just had to develop the muscle a bit.
It was more zippy than its 185hp rating would have you believe. Hopeless on the highway though.
I love the camaro and firebird of this era. In the mid nineties I bought an 80 turbo t/a. The car was white with the blue chicken and graphics. It didn’t have its original turbo hood and had a shaker t/a hood instead. It was what was under the hood that mastered. The p/o had a built 69 olds 455 and fresh turbo 400 installed just a month before I bought it. The car came with receipts for the engine rebuild and for the transmission(new) and some upgrades to the valve body a shift kit and b&m ratchet shifter. Also had a receipt for refinishing the centerlines(you know the ones) and new bfg t/a all around. The fellow and his son built it to drive on weekends but it turned out to be way too much car for them and sold it to me. To say it was nuts was an understatment. On the first drive home I noticed the kickdown cable was not hooked up so I decided to try a burnout…well the car just bogged a bit and started baking the hides. The car was quick and handled well despite its nose being a scosche heavier than stock. I’d take it up in the mountains from time to time and have some fun on the switchbacks and tight esses. Halfway through that summer the price of gas took a huge jump and I was tireing of the lack of room in the t/a so I sold it to a friend who was building a 55 Chev pickup and he used everything but the body and sold that on to someone restoring a formula. I had a lot of crazy fun with that car for the short time I had it and because of it I would have another if they didn’t have such crazy pricetags.
While I never owned one of these myself, I do have happy memories of the ’78 Z-28. As I’ve mentioned before my Dad worked at the local Chev-Olds emporium and got a new demo every so often. In the summer of ’78 said demo was a screaming yellow Z-28 with a 4 speed and not much else. No air, no power windows, no T-tops, nothing.
Exactly the way a teenage me would have ordered it, if I’d had the means. Z-28s and Corvettes were hot property at Chevy dealers in ’78 and every one went out the door at full sticker. This one was kept as the demo driver far longer than usual because virtually every one was sold before the car carrier arrived. I only got to drive it a couple of times, including one un-authorized episode that could have gotten me arrested and Dad fired had anyone found out (or at least definitively proven it was me….). Suffice it to say that the Z was sold soon after and a dull Cutlass replaced it, while I learned that flashy, easily identifiable cars were not always a good thing!
This, or a Trans Am, were THE car to have if you were a young guy in ’78. I always preferred the ’78 to the ’79-’81 cars myself. These weren’t really all that fast stock but it didn’t take much to wake them up and they handled very well if the owner resisted the temptation to jack the rear end and install mutant size tires.
White wasn’t a common colour, at least in my neck of the woods. That one looks good!
Agreed, they were THEN thing on Vancouver Island when I was a kid and THEY were not cheap. The retailed at well over $10,000 at the time and that was an el-stripo.
Ahh “The Big Boots,” most of the kids who bought them jacked them up and put fat bias ply tires to do burn-outs with them.
I alwyas liked the look of the ’78-’81 Camaros. The main thing that put me off was their underpowered smog-era motors. The bumper treatment on the last of the 2nd gen F-bodies was clean and modern. On the other hand, the schnozz on the 79-81 Firebirds just looked hideous.
Several years back I came dangerously close to buying a ’74 Camaro Type LT for $600. Light metallic blue with black vinyl top, 4-barrel 350, and even air conditioning. A friend’s neighbor up the street was selling it because a nosy neighbor kept sicing the city on him, even though it was behind a locked gate on his own property.
I hesitated because of the scary amount of rust it had. How the hell do the TOPS of the doors rust out??? Eventually some random guy passing through the neighborhood spotted it and offered him cash on the spot.
Even as a Mopar guy, I like these Camaros. As long as they stayed out of the trailer parks, they were pretty cars. Growing up in the late 70s and 80s, I have many memories of the late Gen 2 Camaros and Firebirds, they were just THE cars to have.
I came very close to buying one almost identical to this one a couple of years ago-it was a white low mileage 350/4 speed car except it had Corvette Rallyes on it and I think it was an 80? It belonged to a friend of mine in the military that was getting transferred to Alaska and couldn’t take the car with him and he didn’t want to pay to store it while he was gone so he offered it to me for the pretty reasonable price of $8K. I couldn’t swing it at the time but if it had T-Tops, I would have found a way to come up with the cash.
Interesting cutaway picture the frame rails that kick out just after the engine cradle the under floor fuel tank with filler behind the number plate, the poorly placed spare taking up too much room in the boot look very familiar to me but from something else, this platform didnt first emerge in 1971 by any chance?
The spare location in the cutaway drawing above is incorrect. The tire actually sits flat on the floor and completely takes up the right-hand side of the trunk. There may be six inches between the top of the tire and the bottom of the trunk lid. I love these cars!!
Like previous posters say and like the car, you could make these things very nice cars for less than a thousand dollars at the time. A real dual exhaust, intake and cam would easy give 230 hp but more importantly, 300 lb/ft of torque which is what really mattered. I have driven several done nicely, with stock suspension and Turbo 350 they made a very nice car for the day. I could never get comfortable in the stock seat, however.
I’m surprised such a cool car & write-up didn’t generate more of a response. These were such beautiful cars and are my favorite Camaros of them all. The following blurb is about the 1979 Z28 I used to own.
The repo company I worked for 15-20 years ago got a rough but running Carmine ’79 Z28 one day – a radical departure from the late model Chrysler, Ford, & Mitsubishi “garbage” that littered the lot. It had a few dents and some awful Keystone wheels on it but was rust-free and still had its original stripes. I wanted it badly! Oddly enough, the finance company who owned the car informed us they’d take sealed bids on the thing & sell to the highest bidder. I didn’t have much cash but put a $350 bid on it anyway…almost positive it would sell for much more.
About a week later, the repo company fired me 🙂 and a few weeks after that, the finance company called me up about the Z28 and said the highest bid was something like $700-$800 (I forgot the actual number). The caller asked me if I’d be willing to bid any higher and I said “sorry, I got fired & would only be able to honor my original bid”.
About an hour later, the finance company called me back and said they’d take $350 for it if I showed up at their office that day. The car was sitting in front of their office in Hoover, AL with three flat tires when my friend & I arrived later. Besides air, the car needed oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid, brake fluid and power steering fluid..but alas, when all fluids were replenished, the car started right up & I was on my way. It was surreal – a real Z28…
I’m usually pretty restrained behind the wheel but laid into it after I rolled away from a traffic light once I was on the other side of Birmingham. The car pulled quite hard & chirped the RR tire when it shifted into second gear. I was so excited & picked up my then-girlfriend for the ultimate test. She was VW all-the-way (drove a Karmann-Ghia) so I wasn’t sure she’d like my new Baby. She was “hmm” at first but minutes later her response was, “I like this car” as she showed me the $20 bill she discovered when going through some of the junk left in the glove compartment by the P.O.
My car wasn’t optioned nearly as nice as the subject Z. It had the THM 350, 3.42 open rear end (no posi), standard black interior, tilt wheel, A/C, and power door locks. The build sheet said it was ordered with the turbine aluminum wheels which were long gone. I eventually scored a set of them and never planned on getting rid of the car but I made a dumb mistake.
This guy I knew kept asking me about the car over and over. I repeatedly told him I was not interested in selling it until finally I got irritated & figured I’d shut him up by saying $1,000. Give me $1,000 and it’s yours… We both were poor which made $1,000 more like $10,000. So two months later he asked again about the car…only this time he pulled out $1,000 and said he came up with the money. Ugh! It was like selling a child.
He kept the car for years & did a nice job fixing it up. About three years ago he offered it up for sale & I was ready to blow $5,000 to get it back until the wife pitched a huge fit.
Here it is with standard wheels on it. The new owner liked those better than the turbines.
At least it went into the hands of a caring owner who gave it the love and appreciation it deserved, instead of some kid who would have destroyed it in six months.
That is very true.
Looks pretty darn good for $350. Great story and while it may have been sad to part with it at the end of the you enjoyed, made a profit and it went to a loving home. Hard to argue with that.
Great story and nice pic but I gotta ask….is that a grand national behind it?
A bit late to this one. Although these have traditionally not been my thing, this one with a 350/4 speed sounds like it would be a hoot to drive. It sounds like all it would need is an overdrive unit to get the revs down on the highway.
There really is nothing like the first car you get to pick out, and the one you learn some rudimentary wrenching skills on. Along with your last piece, I can see that we are off to an excellent start to another COAL series. I look forward to more.
I looked at swapping in a five speed but at the time the consensus was the T5 manual wouldn’t stand up to a mildly built motor.
As the daily pilot of a ’95 4th gen Z28 with a stick I can affirm that they are still a hoot!
Except, mine gets 24mpg… Oh well.
A friend of mine bought a ’78 in 1980. It had 3 previous owners and I wondered what made them sell it so quickly. With a modified 350 (Headers, mild cam, intake, duals) it was too cheap to pass up, so my friend paid for it, in cash, I don’t remember what it cost, but it was shockingly cheap. As he did with all his cars, the headliner was soon trashed, but the car itself was nearly trouble free for the 10 years or so he owned it. A couple of batteries, an alternator, and 2 headliners (I have no clue to what he did to tear them up) was about it. I ran it at Irwindale in 1981, and my best pass was 13.79. Not bad. The 3.73 gears made highway driving pretty unpleasant.
A 79 Camaro was my first new car. I was graduating from college and getting married that summer. My dad bought it and I made payments for the next few years. Mine was a base model with only a few options. AC, body colored wheels, and spoiler. Six cylinder, 3 speed transmission. Build quality was terrible, one seam on the passenger seat was not sewn, the passenger door did not fit right. The engine would just periodically die going down the road and it leaked oil. I took it back to the dealer multiple times for the leak and finally fixed it myself. I kept it for four years, but it had to go when the 2nd child was born. It was a big improvement from my 71 Vega, but just about anything that ran, was better than that car.
78 Z28. Was my favorite car. I. had the sister car to one used in the pics. Only diferance is mine had a automatic trans. white outside with brown and gold emblem and pin stripes. Black interior, white rally factory wheels and trim rings, fat 65’s tires. In the day time all cleaned and shined ,the brilliant white was blinding.this car would fly, factory 350 and trans. Dueled out the exhaust for a little more sound. Also added a dukes Dixie air horn to car. Had the car for 3 years before I traded it in to a car dealership in Madison tennessee back in 1984. Have kicked myself in the but ever sense for being so stupid. Hope to find it again someday or find out the end of the story on the cars life.
I had a 78 z28 which I bought in 1987. It was gold/brown with a black interior 4 speed with a 373 rear. I picked it up at the shop who had just done the motor. It had headers and everything on the motor.. including the quadrajet was painted blue. I never got a receipt for the motor work, but the car would pull to over 6 grand on the tach so it was a stout piece. I street raced it around northern Michigan and never was beat. Granted… I did not take it on a drag strip.. but a friend bought a 1987 Grand National… and I left him in the dust. SUPER fun car! I put an Alpine Deck… amp.. with pioneer speakers… was a great car for a young man to enjoy! Ive owned several Camaros.. z28’s since.. but none really compare to that car. Wish I still had it.
Picked one these up few years ago is blue on white inside 91k original miles an is up for sale to lol