This is a story without the usual ending. In the classic barn find narrative, our hero unearths a long-lost muscle car in some barn in rural Iowa discovered after accidentally overhearing a lunchtime conversation. He then completes a meticulous restoration that wows the assembled throng, who sings his praises, making him an instant celebrity.
None of that happens here.
Like the drag racer who said, "I'd rather be lucky than good," this story is all about being at the right place at the right time and sweetened with a heaping tablespoon of dumb luck.
When I somehow managed to bluff then-Car-Craft-Editor Rick Voegelin into hiring me as a wet-nosed feature editor in the spring of 1979, my future ex-wife, Susan, and I moved to Burbank, California. After a few weeks of learning the art of negotiating L.A. freeways, we began the search for the she wanted-a red '66 Mustang fastback. While I harbor no ill feelings toward Fords, I secretly planned to convince her that an early Camaro was a far better choice. We spent a whole Saturday looking at a rash of unworthy Mustangs.
After dismissing all the previous Fords, there was a Camaro just around the corner that we investigated. After a quick once-over, the Camaro appeared a bit shabby but straight. During the test drive, the engine detonated badly, but I had already decided to buy the car-with her money. The Camaro was fitted with what I assumed was a 275 hp 327, a Powerglide with a nonstock but OE shifter that looked like it came out of an early Vette, front disc brakes, 15-inch Rally wheels, and dual exhaust. The Granada Gold color and gold interior were lame, but we drove the Camaro away for $1,250. As we learned later, that was the deal of a lifetime.
One thing it did do well was accelerate, especially for a Powerglide car. Nailing the throttle produced impressive tire spin from both tires, but it detonated badly. What was odd was what appeared to be a factory-installed square-tube traction bar on the passenger side of the car. After we had owned the car for a couple of weeks, I decided to determine if the engine was original to the car. The sequence stamped into the block matched the VIN stamped in the doorjamb, so it appeared this was the original engine. When I looked up the two-letter MP code stamped into the block, my motor's manual listed this as a '67 290hp 327 with AIR. I knew that couldn't be correct because that was a Z/28 engine-and at this point I didn't want to believe this was a Z/28. Where were the aluminum intake, Holley carb, and four-speed?
I began to do research in earnest, and most of my contacts at that time scoffed at the idea that the car was a Z/28. I mentioned all this one day to Jim McFarland, who at this time was the vice president of R&D at Edelbrock. He told me about someone named Jim Losee who had previously worked at Edelbrock and knew an awful lot about Z/28s and that I could find him at Gledhill Chevrolet in Wilmington, California. I called Jim and we took the car to him one weekday evening.
Jim and I spent the next few hours partially disassembling the car looking for clues. The fact that the engine numbers matched was a puzzle to him, and he was equally skeptical. We counted tire revolutions and realized the car had a 3.73:1 rear gear, which was the standard Z/28 gear along with what Jim recognized as a factory traction bar. Up front the car had the correct disc brakes and Z/28-only 15-inch Rally wheels. It even had this rectangular hole cut in the firewall that was the exact dimension for what would have been a cowl-induction air cleaner. All this pointed to the fact that the car was a Z/28, but Jim was still not convinced.
The previous owner told me he had put an Earl Scheib paint job on the car, and Jim and I already knew that in 1967 the only external cue for the Z/28 was the factory stripes in a contrasting color. After a couple of hours of searching, we had not found anything conclusive. Remember, this was long before anyone had deciphered the mystical trim tag hieroglyphics, so we were hunting without knowing about the magic 4L code I would learn much later. That's when Jim saw a faint yet visible paint contrast just at the base of the rear window where the trunk seal met the body. There he saw two sets of what had to be factory-applied black stripes that carried over in the trunk seal area.
"You see that?" Jim asked me, pointing to the stripes that were all but painted over.
"Yeah!" I said because we both knew at that point, we had proved to ourselves that this was a Z/28.
"You, my friend, own a '67 Z/28 . . . wanna sell it?"
At that moment, a guy I had previously never met instantly became a good friend that I am proud to say extends to this day. Jim now lives in Texas and is still deeply buried in this wonderful automotive lifestyle that affects everything we both do.
Along the way, I also learned much more about the Z/28's history. The gentleman who sold me the car was a mere intermediary. We'll get back to him in a minute. In the glovebox was a collection of receipts all pointing to a woman by the name of Mary Bobel. From these records, it appeared she had owned the car since 1969, and I found her living in Monrovia, California (yes, that's almost Pasadena). Susan and I set up an appointment to talk, and this wonderful lady filled in much of the car's missing history. In 1969, she was looking for a car, and her son found this Granada Gold Camaro with black stripes sitting on the used car lot at Lindy Chevrolet in Arcadia. The car was equipped in much the same condition as I purchased it 19 years later, but Mary was quick to point out that it was in fact a Z/28
In a disappointing sidebar to this tale, in the middle of our discussion, I asked Mary if she had ever seen a small plate that looked like a metal credit card. This perky little lady immediately said, "I think I still have it." She disappeared into a side room for several minutes only to reappear with a frown. "I just remembered that I cleaned out the closet where I kept that a couple of weeks ago. I threw all that stuff into the garbage. I'm sorry." For a moment or two, I had this vision of me sifting through mountains of garbage, searching for a '67 Camaro Protect-O-Plate.
After driving the Camaro for 10 years, Mary sold it to a friend for the princely sum of $500. At the time, Mary said she told him the car was a Z/28. "But I don't think he believed me." That would be his loss. He had the car painted and then sold it to us.
I now knew more about the car's history and slowly began collecting a few OE parts in anticipation of a full restoration. But since Car Craft was never a restoration magazine, there was never a push to rebuild it. Plus, there always seemed to be other projects that were more important. I eventually moved to Hot Rod as editor, and the demands on my time with travel and two young children meant the car just sat. We bought a new house a few miles away with a bigger yard to store more cars, and that's when my marriage came apart and I ended up with the car.
The Camaro has changed very little from the days when Susan drove it every day to work. The disc brake calipers began to leak back in the early '80s, which was a common affliction. I had Stainless Steel Brakes install stainless liners in the calipers, which is how that company got its start-rebuilding Corvette calipers. The engine is still disassembled and sitting in my shop, maintaining the same state of disassembly for more than 25 years. Like I said in the beginning of this soliloquy, this story has not yet arrived at its Cinderella ending. The car is exactly as you see it in the current photos. I have most of the parts to put it back together, and I've even toyed with the idea of building the engine, tossing a wide-ratio Muncie behind it, and getting it running, shabby seats and all. Maybe that's the next new movement for barn find . It might be a hoot. Then again, maybe not...
By Jeff Smith, Photography by Jeff Smith, Wes AlIison
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