Written by Eric Becker
The Camaro is an American motoring icon, recognized the world over for its unmatched style and performance. It was Chevy’s entry into the pony car wars, a car Chevrolet general manager Pete Estes candidly billed as “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.” Chevy was raring to go – and go they did.
Since that late-1960s introduction, the Camaro has gone on to be a knockout success. Well over 5 million have been produced and sold across six distinctive generations. Each step of the way, the Camaro has evolved, becoming faster, safer and meaner.
Chevy’s “small vicious animal” continues to be a poster child for the American muscle car, with the timeless allure of the original first-generation Camaro continuing to inspire today.
Built from 1967-69, few cars have a following as devoted as the first-generation Camaro. Whether factory original or fully custom, a goodly part of the allure of Chevy’s pony car is the ability to make it one’s own. From boulevard intimidators to canyon carvers and even drift cars, gearheads from around the world have expanded the canvas the early Camaros provided and created rolling works that showcase personality and engineering prowess.
But there are two names that always grab attention in the world of “Camaroland” – the Super Sport and Z/28.
Since mid-year 1961, nearly all Chevys were offered with a Super Sport variant. For the Camaro, the Super Sport package was a gateway to a variety of powerful engines. These were the high-displacement powertrains designed to rule the dragstrip, the 396ci and 427ci V8 being among the most notorious.
Most know the Camaro Z/28 as Chevy’s track star, a homologation special built to compete against its Detroit rivals in what many consider to be the golden era of the SCCA Trans Am series. When the lighter and faster Z/28 debuted in 1967, just 602 were ordered with what Chevrolet called the Regular Production Option (RPO) code. As for the name, the brass agreed that Z/28 had a nice ring to it. The rest is history.
Chevrolet added several go-fast goodies all over the car to improve the standard car’s handling and performance. Luxury amenities were shed, and the Z/28 left showroom floors as a focused driver’s car motivated by the high-revving and rowdy 302ci V8.
While certainly not the largest engine offered, the 302 more than made up for it. The factory claimed an output of 290 horsepower, but many agree the real number far surpassed it.
The V8 was fed by a Holley 800 CFM carburetor and used high-flow cylinder heads, uprated pistons, an 11:1 compression ratio and high-lift camshaft. The Z/28’s 302 screamed all the way to 7,000 rpm and put power to the ground via a 4-speed close-ratio M21 4-speed manual gearbox with 3.73 gears.
The Z/28’s famed stripes served as warning colors to any challenger foolish enough to take the bait.
The SS and Z/28 paved the way for performance Camaros to follow and serve as inspiration for many of the incredible builds we see. At the 2021 Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas Auction, be on the lookout for six incredible first-generation Camaros that will cross the block as part of the Bryan Frank Collection – including three beautiful Z/28s decked out in the patriotic colors of red, white and blue.