"Chevrolet Camaro Z28
A medieval warrior on the path to a rocking chair"

From: "Car and Driver" April, 1980

The Z28, before our very eyes, has become a museum piece. The transformation required only a few years, but it is complete. Henceforth, you will find the Z28 cataloged under the heading "Warrior, Medieval." Its subheading is "Armor, Personal."

The armor is rusting in place, not yet literally, but it is surely creaking and groaning with the effort of mobilization. The reason for this progressively worsening hitch in its gait is simple: there is insufficient oil to ease its machinations. And, just as medieval jousting was phased out in the face of more modern methods of aggression, cars like the Z28 are folding beneath the pressure of more modern methods of combining excitement and transportation. The time has come when it is only right that cars such as the Z28 should metamorphose. Eventually, we may rake and suck so much from the earth that it will collapse in on itself or perhaps erupt its cauldron innards through the gaps we continue to make in its crust. Irrational machines like the Z28s have provided us with wonderful entertainment many times over, but their excesses have only served to hasten their end.

But, still, the Z28 is available. It stands on its last legs, suprisingly stong in its final battle, its fading eyes hidden behind the slits and slots and appendages of its antediluvian high-performance facade. Similar appurtenances on more up-to-date machinery tell us that the future is not without hope for good times at the wheel. On the Z28, the trim seems a sad, mailed, fist, shaking forlornly at the passage of time."

You can hear the clanking of armor. It comes at full throttle and it is real. The hood is topped with a low rise bulge that swells over the air cleaner and opens to the rear. Bang the throttle fully open and then closed on the four barrel carburetor, and two solenoid-operated horizontal doors at the back of the bulge clink-clank open and shut; a gulp of fresh air from the high pressure area at the base of the windshield has been admitted to the 5.7 liter V-8. Its reactions to your dance on the pedals are crisp and husky. The engine feels unfettered by emissions controls even though it passes every EPA test. Its dual pipes pump exhaust through a pair of resonators tuned to win over ladies normally unimpressed by outbursts of sturn und drang. But for all its flat-out ferocity, the exhaust note is somehow refined and appropriate.

The V-8 is impressive in the way it manhandles its 3660-pound load. Rated at 190 horsepower and 280 pounds-feet of torque, the motor will whomp up low-speed wheelspin for effect, or reel out easy revving for high-speed imperturbability. On the tachometer, 4000 rpm corresponds almost exactly with a loping 100 miles an hour, although it is confirmable only by stopwatch and plunging fuel gauge, since the speedometer punches out for lunch at 85 mph. All this is true assuming youíre dealing with a 49-state Z28 (Californians are straitjacketed with a lackadaisical automatic transmission and bobby-soxer 5.0 liter, two- barrel engine). The four-speed linkage is sure and light for a big gearbox, but almost superfluous considering the engineís healthy output and minimal need for shifting. For passing, the car simply picks itself up and goes whhoOOM!

Essaying all this heavy breathing through the gas pedal guarantees time lost on gas lines, but getting there is sure fun! While the engine is most impressive in third and fourth gears, the chassis is impressive almost anywhere the road is smooth. But assault some bumps and the car seems to be playing footsies with a hot bed of coals. Look, itís Disco Highway! Bumps and heaves are the Z28ís nemesis. For the preservation of tranquility, they should be steered clear of. The car changes direction posthaste. Almost with too much haste. The variable ratio power steering is so quick, it tends to snap the front end from one attitude to another.

The seats are no consolidation. They are raked too far back to brace your shoulders and balance your head properly on your spine. This is an important shortcoming because you already sit low with your legs stretched out straight, hardly the best position for leverage, and youíre shrouded by the mass of the car, the length of the hood, the thickness of the rear pillars, and the vertical shortness of the rear window. As a result, you may feel youíre not entirely on top of whatís happening outside. Thatís unfortunate, because the Z28 likes strong inputs dealt with a deft hand. Pussyfooting is to be avoided except in the initiation of steering movements, which call for careful calculation. Chevrolet has tried to build in some lateral support for the torso, but along the base of the seats itís simply inadequate unless youíre a great big fat guy. Even the heavy clutch effort is emphasized by the flaky seats. Chevrolet has missed the boat in a big way here. Shoot, even home-grown Mustangs can be equipped with Recaros.

In spite of the functional failures, the Z28 can be impressive once you discover its strengths and withhold its muscle flexings until the right times. The car is at its best on long, sweeping corners, although the nose gets a little light over 100mph. Trailing-throttle-oversteer never enters the picture, one of the good things to be said for front-heavy weight distribution and live axle rear suspension. Semi-elliptic leaves hold up the back, and coils hold up the front. Roll resistance is provided by burly anti-sway bars, 1.125 inch for the front (meaning basic understeer) and 0.625-inch for the rear. The shock absorbers are specifically valved and the springs are wound of heavier wire than those in milquetoast Camaros. Alas, suspension travel remains inadequate, and the shock valving is equally disappointing. Stumble across a challenging set of whoop-de-doos and the car sets up a great leaping and bounding; really bad pavement could buck you off altogether. The brakes, too, create subjective doubts. Stopping distances are acceptably short, yet you wonder, will the binders get the job done? They require a reasonable amount of pressure, and dive has been engineered out for the most part, but there is something worrisome in their feel and pedal heights are wrong for heel-and-toeing.

Once you force yourself to stop grumping about the seats and suspension, youíll find the interior quite up to date. The no-noís in ours were limited to a partially wacko (read, nonfunctioning) set of rear-defogger wires that left bands of glass either completely cleared or completely opaque with moisture; to a teeny-tiny glove box impinged upon by the ventilation system; and to a back seat almost as teeny-tiny. Also, the interior was done up in various tones of light gray (not shown). Theyíre fine for the sake of variety, but those tones, to a shade, were light enough to show a multitude of stains, which our upholstery and carpeting did. Easier, at least, to remedy with an order blank than the almost nonexistent trunk; for which there is no known cure.

Thatís mostly the end of the bad news. The dash layout is very good, although the tilt-adjustable, four- spoke, heavily corded wheel sometimes plays peekaboo with the gauges (volts, tach, speedo and temp, all in white on slate gray, with orange needles). The ventilation, heating, and air conditioning are exceptionally good, which makes them about average for GM. The heater is quick to respond with unflagging warmth on the coldest days, and the air conditioning, given half a chance, will fairly encase your elbows in icicles. Six vents take care of the distribution. There are electric controls for windows and door locks, and power antenna for a digital-display AM/FM stereo, which doubles as a clock.

The windshield washer-and-wiper switch can be set for intermittent operation, but oh, for controls on the stalk instead of the dash. Likewise, the push/pull button for the headlights, which by the way, are suitable for nothing faster than a moped on a brightly lit street.

The poor headlights, at least, are not the fault of Chevrolet. We have, however, criticized many things about the Z28 that are the fault of Chevrolet. The carís lack of efficiency is no longer excusable in the civic sense. That does not mean the Z28 isnít an absolute wingdinger to rassle with when youíre feeling feisty. Run the thing over the right kinds of roads and youíll make the countryside behind you retract from your path like a slingshot. There is real value to be found in entertainment of this sort. It clears your head and keeps you from seeking a rocking chair too soon. But nowadays, there are better cars for postponing rocking chairs, and the Z28 is ready for one of its own. - Larry Griffin


Email: madmike@nastyz28.com

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