The 67-69 Camaro is arguably the most
popular incarnation of the famous pony car, and with the Z/28 package available,
why shouldn't it be? Chevrolet built the Camaro specifically as competition for
Ford's pony car, the Mustang, but in addition, they needed a car to compete
against the Mustang in SCCA Trans-Am racing as well; thus the Z/28 was born.
Because of the 305 cubic-inch limit in the Trans-Am class, Chevrolet mated a 283
crank with a 327 block to produce 302 cubic inches of displacement. Installing a
high lift, high duration solid lifter cam along with an aluminum high rise
intake mounted to a 750 cfm Holley 4 barrel, this 302 was way underrated at 290
horsepower for the street, in actuality making approx. 400 horsepower,
and able to rev well to 7000 rpm.
This DZ-code engine dropped in the relatively lightweight F-body platform with
the limited-slip differential and road racing suspension made it a force to be
feared both in a straight line and in the corners.
On the drag strip, the Z/28 with the high-revving 302 was capable of consistent 14-second
flat E.T.s on skinny 7" bias plys with next to no traction. Bolting on
a set of modern radials to a bone stock '69 Z/28 rockets it to low 13s in
the 1/4... not bad for a 60s small block pony car designed for road racing.
In addition to this already amazing performance package for the Camaro, another
rare option was available. In 1969, 206 lucky buyers checked off the little box
on the options sheet next to RPO JL-8. Chevrolet swapped the 750 Holley with two
4-barrel carbs sitting atop a special cross-ram intake. The drive train was then
upgraded with the M-22 "Rock-crusher" 4 speed manual transmission,
special 4.88:1 rear diff, and a 140-mph speedometer mounted in the interior.
Radio and heater delete were a pre-requisite, of course. However probably the
biggest plus to the JL-8 package was in the form of 4-wheel disc brakes. With
the ultra-short gear ratios and higher horsepower thanks to the twin 4-bbl setup
(racing Z/28s with this package dynoed at almost 500 hp), the JL-8 Z/28's have
been known to hit high 12s on decent tires.
Amazingly enough, almost all of the racing Z/28's parts were completely stock,
both engine and suspension. The only suspension additions were spindle
extenders, and running the spec Hoosier tires, could pull over 1.2 g's in the
This formula obviously was a success, as the Camaro not only sold in record
numbers on the street but, more importantly, had amazing success in SCCA. Mark
Donohue and Roger Penske gained victory three times in the 1967 season during
the Z/28's "break-in" period, then went on to claim the championship
in 1968 with a record 10 out of 13 race wins. Their domination continued with
the Camaro, winning the championship again in 1969.
Take That, SCCA...
Another famous racer who used the Camaro to gain great success was
Smokey Yunick. In 1967, Yunick ordered a brand-new '68 Z/28, and decided to go
SCCA Trans-Am racing as well. On a test day in 1967, Yunick somehow managed to
sneak his way into Riverside Raceway for a few laps, during a Ford-only test
session. Officials knew something was up when Yunick blew away the lap times of
pole-sitter Jerry Titus by over 0.60 seconds. The car was promptly protested and
numerous rule infractions were found. The car was banned from Trans-Am, so
Smokey Yunick packed up the hauler and took a trip to Bonneville. There on the
salt flats he proceeded to break numerous endurance and speed records with the
Camaro. The F-body ran 174 mph with the original DZ-302 small block, then Yunick
dropped a worked 396 rat between the front fenders and ran 183 mph. Touché.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the car was how it was constructed
despite being illegal. To trim down the curb weight many of the body parts were
acid dipped, and all the factory glass replaced with lightweight safety racing
glass. The front sub frame was modified to lower the front of the car and
improve front tire traction under braking. The windshield was laid back slightly
and the floor pan moved upward to make room for a belly pan to improve
undercarriage aerodynamics. And of course, the original 302 small block was
doctored a little to produce about 450 hp at over 7000 RPM. One of the
most intriguing tricks is the rear end... taking a glance at it revealed a
standard GM-12 bolt...but beneath the 12-bolt differential cover was a rebuilt
Today the original Smokey Yunick Camaro is owned by Vic Edelbrock, who still
competes in Nostalgia Racing with F-body... appropriate for one of the legendary
racecars of the 60s.