Vintage Car And Driver Review: 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 – Chevy’s Shelby Fighter Reaches The Streets

Chevrolet’s Mustang fighter had taken long enough to reach the market but its Shelby counterpart wouldn’t wait so long; just a few months after the Camaro’s launch, the Z28 was to reach showrooms. Chevrolet was making for lost time, and Car And Driver found the Z28 to be ‘the gutsy stormer the Camaro should have been in the first place.’

A brief recap for the uninitiated, by the mid-’60s, Ford was gaining lots of street cred with its Total Performance racing campaign. With Chevrolet finally joining the pony car wars, the brand wasn’t gonna stay on the sidelines when it came to racing. While GM’s official policy was to stay away from the tarmac, Ford was getting lots of headlines, and shining in the recently launched SCCA Trans Am series. Through some back-door shenanigans, Chevrolet got GM’s green light to join in the Trans Am fun; though to play along, SCCA rules demanded carmakers to produce 1,000 identical cars for track and street use. Thus, the race-prepped Z28 came to be and was bound to reach not only America’s ovals but also its showrooms.

The SCCA’s five-liter limit displacement is behind the creation of the Z28’s 302 cu. in. engine. At launch, engine options for the Camaro had been the six-cyl. and the 327 and 350 V-8s. With the 6 deemed too weak, and the V-8s being too large; Chevy’s engineering got an excuse to play with company hardware. Under the guidance of Vince Piggins, Chevy’s team took the crankshaft from its 283 in. V-8, placed it in the 327 block, and reached a 302 in. displacement. For SCCA competition, the 302 differed in various respects against company gear. The 302 had mechanical lifters, which were noisier than the usual hydraulics but allowed higher revs. A high-flow carburetor, large valve heads, dual-point transistor ignition, and double fan pulleys were among other mods. Horsepower estimates for the 302 were about 390 hp, but Car And Driver thought the figure was conservative (Laters tests proved them right).

The expected heavy-duty suspension bits were found on the Z28 as well. Additionally, Chevrolet tried -to some extent- to deal with some of the Camaro’s handling issues by adding a traction arm on the axle’s right side. This improved matters to some degree, but it was still insufficient by the testers; ‘one traction arm on the right side will control axle judder, but the car still comes off the line sideway.’ Meanwhile, Pontiac was already using dual traction arms in their Firebird. Car And Driver’s suggestion was to toss away the Chevy arm, and bolt on Pontiac’s Tiger Tamers.

While Car And Driver expected the Z28 to do well on the track, their focus was to test the Z28 as a high-performance street machine. In driving, they found the Z28 performed remarkably similar to the Shelby GT350, at a price of almost $1,000 less. The Z28’s engine was the car’s strongest point, being ‘without a doubt the most responsive American V-8 we’ve ever tested, although a bit uneven a low speeds… once it begins to pull, it smooths out and lunges forward like a 426 Hemi… It revs quickly to 6000 rpm.’

The clutch and transmission got good marks as well. Meanwhile, the car’s power disc performance was not impressive, although there’s mention of the front pads being incorrectly installed on the test car. Options in Car And Driver’s Z28 were identical to a previous SS 350 they had tried a few months before; vinyl top, custom interior, console, AM radio, Rally Sport package, etc. An instrumentation package with tach and oil gauge was also available, though not present on the test’s Z28.

Car And Driver was rather impressed with the Z28, ‘it’s insane it took Chevy’s idea of a road racing car to make the Camaro acceptable to us as an enthusiast’s high-performance street car. Any owner who wants to rectify the car’s drawbacks on his own is going to wind up with one of the 1000 best Camaros ever built.’

Further reading:

Automotive History: The Birth Of The Camaro