Any time you post a message in a forum or a video on YouTube, you run the risk of getting roasted by the keyboard warriors. You know the ones–they have an opinion on everything but expertise in nothing. Luckily, there are some really good people online and all it takes is one good connection to make the effort worthwhile.
I had one of those good experiences recently. I have a number of videos on my YouTube channel and one of them about 1977-1978 Camaros is pretty popular. That video (shown below) was published two years ago and still generates comments.
One of those comments from Dave Rhinehart recently caught my eye, and started a terrific interaction offline:
“Great videos. I am giddy about the yellow 77 with the Fisher t-tops and 78 steering wheel. That would be a great car to find. Have you read Walter Banacki’s book about the 18 show cars for unveiling of the 1977 Z28 at Daytona in February of 1977? I own one of the 18. Found it 7 years ago.”
I was excited to read that comment, as Dave made some keen observations about one of the cars featured. I asked to learn more about his special 1977 Camaro Z-28, so we took the conversation offline.
A Brief Z-28 History
Before I get into the conversation with Dave, let me get you grounded on some Z-28 history. The original Camaro launched in the 1967 model year. Around the time of the launch, Chevrolet engineer Vince Piggins pushed for a race-ready version of the car. The Ford Mustang had a two year head start on the Camaro, so Vince believed a production race car was needed.
The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) had a relatively new Trans-Am sedan series racing class. In order to fit in that class, eligible vehicles were limited to a 116 inch wheelbase and a 305 cubic inch engine displacement. In order to qualify as a sedan, the car had to have a back seat.
Engineering assembled a potent package and Chevrolet management approved it. While the package was internally named Cheetah, it ultimately was named Z-28 after its regular production option (RPO) code. The Camaro Super Sport RPO was Z-27, so Z-28 was the logical next number.
The Z-28 model continued when the second generation Camaro launched in the middle of the 1970 model year. SCCA rules changed, allowing for the 350 cubic inch engine to be installed in the Z-28. When it launched in 1970 ½, Chevrolet engineer Jim Ingles claimed it “was the least compromised car we ever sold.”
A host of outside influences killed the Z-28 model at the end of the 1974 model year. These included the Arab oil embargo in December 1973, rising insurance rates for performance cars, and government mandated noise and emissions standards. Chevrolet felt it was better to cancel the Z-28 rather than let it die a slow death.
The Return of the Z-28 in 1977
Chevrolet continued racing the Camaro, now in the International Race of Champions (IROC) class. People watching the IROC races wanted a car like they saw on TV, so Chevrolet decided to resurrect the Z-28 in the middle of the 1977 model year.
Instead of making the Z-28 an appearance package, Chevrolet focused its efforts on making the Z-28 a handling machine. Improved suspension and steering changes helped make the 1977 Camaro Z-28 a responsive, road-hugging warrior. It was also equipped with the LM1 350 cid engine and either a three-speed automatic or four-speed manual transmission.
It was the 1977 Z-28 that started my obsession with the Camaro. By sharing my various videos and articles, I attracted the attention of a fellow Camaro lover, Dave Rhinehart.
Related article: 40 Year Obsession: A Z28 Story
Dave Shares His Camaro Story
During our initial email exchange, Dave shared that he bought his first new Camaro, a 1977 Type LT, prior to the introduction of the 1977 Z-28. He later traded that for a 1977 Corvette, then life took a turn. He traded the Corvette for a house, got married and started a family.
About 20 years ago, Dave started looking for another Camaro. He has since bought seven Camaros, but is down to just these four (all are 1977 model year):
- A red Z-28 with Black Type LT Interior, 4 speed manual transmission. This one is a survivor car (not restored) with 34,000 original miles;
- A white Z-28 with Black Type LT Interior, automatic transmission. This is one of the original eighteen showcars noted in the next section.
- A silver and gray two-tone Rally Sport, Type LT with black Interior, automatic transmission and 61,000 original miles.
- A white Type LT, with black Interior, 4-speed manual transmission. This is also a survivor car with 29,000 original miles.
Dave clearly likes the 1977 Camaro! While there is some rarity in the cars above, he also previously owned two 1977 Camaros with American Hatch t-tops. The 1977 Camaro was not offered with t-tops, and the typical aftermarket tops were made by Hurst or ASC (American Sunroof). The American Hatch tops were extremely rare.
Original Eighteen Z-28 Show Cars
There is a great story to go with one of those Z-28s noted above. When Chevrolet decided to bring back the Z-28 in 1977, the engineering team needed to rush eighteen cars through the assembly plant. Those eighteen cars were essentially hand built at the plant using Z-28 specific parts provided by engineering. Once built, they were shipped to the February 1977 Daytona 500 for the media introduction.
One of the engineer’s involved in that production event was Walter Banacki. In 2009, he recounted that adventure in the book “Camaro Z-28 Is Back!” (available HERE to purchase). Dave acquired this book in 2009, and began his search for one of those early cars, including the Pace Car shown on the picture at the top of the page.
Dave was able to locate 1 of the initial 18 Z-28s online about seven years ago. He contacted the seller and asked for a few pictures and a picture of the cowl tag. Once he saw the cowl tag, he knew what it was and bought the car (the build date was as described in Walter’s book).
He made contact with Walter back in 2009 when he got his book, and has kept in contact over the years. Dave sent Walter some pictures of his found car and a copy of the build sheet that he found on top of the gas tank. Walter sent him a letter certifying that this car is one of the two white show cars. Cool!
Since publishing this article, I had a chance to meet with Walt Banacki. You can read more about that visit at the article below:
Related article: Chevrolet Engineer: Still A Car Guy at 95
The White Show Car
When I talked with Dave, he told me the original owner was a young engineer working for NASA. He was looking for a Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am, but couldn’t find one. He was driving by the Chevrolet dealership in Melbourne, Florida and saw the Z28 in the showroom. He bought the car then and there.
The original owner sold the car to his niece’s husband around 1985 in upstate New York. Apparently, the car sat outside for several years. The odometer is assumed to be over 100k.
Many years later it appears the car was sold to someone in Pennsylvania and changed hands at least once more. Dave is at least the 5th owner.
The car has not been abused, modified, or cut up, but certainly neglected. There is a hole in the passenger’s floor pan and some areas of rust. Looks like a battery leaked and corroded the inner fender and front fender. The frame rails are good.
The original owner told Dave he repainted the car before selling it. The car ran and drove when Dave bought it but hasn’t run since he lowered the gas tank looking for a build sheet (which he found and got Walter Banacki to certify it was one of the original white show cars).
At this point, the car needs a full restoration. Based on what I know about Dave, nothing less than a high dollar restoration will suffice.
Final Thoughts & Questions
While the focus of this article is on the second generation Z-28, the Z-28 model lived on through the fourth generation Camaro, ending in 2002. It returned briefly during the fifth generation during the 2014-2015 model years, but not in the final sixth generation.
It has been great getting to know Dave and his Z-28 history. We are roughly the same age and both experienced these cars when they were new in the 1970s. Dave is ahead of me in collecting Camaros, but that may change soon. Either way, this quick friendship with Dave shows how the car hobby can bring people together.
Want to learn more about me? Go to this article: Who’s Your Nanny?