Vintage C&D Review: 1973 Camaro Type LT Z-28: Cheaper Than the Mustang II Mach 1, Twice As Fast, And Better In Almost Every Way

(first posted 2/10/2017)    What really puts the Mustang II Mach 1 in perspective is that in the very same issue of Car & Driver (September 1973) they also tested a Camaro LT Z-28, which was not only cheaper than the V6 Mach 1, but put it to shame in a number of ways. Let’s quickly start with the most extreme difference (other than front overhang): the Camaro, even with its de-smogged 245 hp 350, ripped off the 0-60 run in 6.7 seconds, and ran the 1/4 mile in 15.2 sec. @94.6 mph. That compares to the Mach 0.5’s 12.2 seconds (0-60) and 18.2 sec. @ 74.0 mph.

Ok, there’s more to a sporty coupe than straight-line acceleration. And the Camaro delivered them too, with very few qualifications.

But the really big surprise was the fact that the ’73 version of the Z-28 was actually cheaper than the ’71, due to the way the packages were re-shuffled. That 1973 price of $4066 adjusts to $22,314 in 2015 dollars. That included power steering, the RS package, Z-28 package, instrument package, custom interior, and the 4-speed transmission. The 1974 Mustang II Mach I with the V6 stickered at $4188.

Although the 350 (5.7 L) V8 lost the aggressive mechanical cam, aluminum intake and big four barrel Holley carb of the legendary LT-1 version, the difference in real world performance was very surprisingly limited. In fact, the ’73 ran the quarter mile within 0.10 seconds of the ’71. That may be due to a number of factors, including the intrinsic range of output variability of production engines as well as the track conditions and such. C&D did mourn the loss of the LT-1’s brilliant upper rev ban and its superb responsiveness, but the improved torque band largely compensated. It was now a much easier engine to use in daily driving, with a torque band “a mile wide”.

And there was another very important compensation: air conditioning could now be had with the Z-28, as the earlier versions were just too rev-happy to be trusted with it. That was hurting Z-28 sales in the warmer parts of the country.

The stats speak for themselves.

Was all perfect? Unsurprisingly, not exactly, as the instrument panel came in for some criticism, and the shifter buzzed. But the interior was improved with an adjustable seat back for the driver (an option, pathetically). And the pedal placement was less than ideal for heel-and-toe.

The interior was well sealed and quiet with the LT’s sound -deadening package, but the engine made itself very much known with the same low-restriction exhaust system used on the earlier Z-28. let’s just say it’s a sound Z-28 aficionados mostly loved and would have canned, if they could.  Intake roar was also quite noticeable.

Handling, already a strong suit, was improved by a revised power steering system that had increased effort, to impart more feel. “the Z-28’s steering precision translates every minute correction at the wheel into a definitive action at the road”.  It didn’t get any better than this for an American car in 1973.

The lack of radial tire supply meant that the Z-28 was still riding on 60-series Firestone bias-belted Wide Ovals, which probably provided more maximum lateral acceleration than the domestic radials of the time, but were decidedly less comfortable. The Camaro generated “high cornering forces, and stays tight and responsive to the limit”, and “although there is some initial understeer…but you can easily negate that tendency with the throttle…the Z-28 is perfectly content to corner with the tail hung well out”. Quite the contrast from the flaccid Mach 1.

C&D summed it up this way: The Z-28 is still a car with which you can have a passionate affair. because few cars at any price offer the Camaro’s refinement in going, stopping and turning abilities. And that refinement is housed in one of the most handsomely chiseled forms ever to roll out of Detroit.”

That last line reminds me of this picture, which shows just how sad the Mustang II looks in comparison, in terms of that huge front overhang riding on those little wheels and tires, although these are actually larger aftermarket ones.

Here’s my homage to the 1970 Camaro, although it’s in need of some updating.