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Upgraded But Not Restored

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by John Gunnell  More from Author

"Car Guy’s" 1969 Camaro Z/28

Sometimes writing about great Camaros isn’t easy. There were several slants to take with this story, and all of them were interesting.

Number 1: Young man buys 1969 Camaro Z/28, drives 15,000 miles the first year and 692 miles the next 40 years.
Number 2: Young man buys 1969 Camaro Z/28 and converts it to a Trans-Am racer with Smokey Yunik’s old parts.
Number 3: Young man buys 1969 Camaro with the aim of keeping the car forever and lives up to his goal.

When you’re writing about a vehicle owned by “Car Guy” Guy Carpenter, it’s difficult to pick out one angle, since he gives you so many. Guy is best known as the man who purchased a 1972 Corvette ZR1, stored it away, never titled it or had it dealer-prepped and put only 290 miles on the car before selling it in 2009. This is the story of a 1969 Camaro Z/28 that Guy also purchased new. Today, this 15,692-mile Sport Coupe still looks new, but has some interesting upgrades.

The July 1968 Car and Driver cover blurb “Trans-Am Racers for the Road” explains the tweaking Guy lavished on his Z/28. “That magazine article compared the Z/28 with cross-rams, multi-carburetion and disc brakes at all four corners to the tunnel-port Mustang with four-wheel disc brakes, multi-carburetion and special racing components,” Guy recalled. “It kind of lit the fire for what I eventually wanted to do with the Z/28 that I was ordering.”

Guy ordered a Camaro after finding out that insuring the 427 Corvette he wanted would be prohibitive. Like every red-blooded American male graduating high school in 1967, Guy wanted a new muscle car. He had been in love with Corvettes for years, but his father suggested talking to their insurance agent. “I had the 1969 Corvette on paper, but the insurance man said that if underwriters would write a 427 Corvette to a 19-year-old at all, it would probably be $1,000 a year,” Guy remembers. So he went to Plan B – the Z/28.

Guy had been frequenting Wheeler Chevrolet in Marshfield, Wisconsin since his junior high school days. He built up a good rapport there. Salesmen were smart enough to see the car-crazy kid as a future customer. They put up with him and shared product knowledge. Between that and magazine articles, Guy knew about the Z/28.

“I had a 1969 Z/28 on paper exactly the way I wanted it,” Guy beamed. “It wasn’t a letdown. I wasn’t settling for a Camaro, because I liked both cars. I had been anxiously awaiting Chevy’s answer to the Mustang.” Guy knew that even though insurance companies didn’t understand the Z/28’s small-block 302 V-8, it was a car purpose-built so Chevrolet could enter Trans-Am racing. Guy was into road racing, rather than drag racing, and followed Roger Penske’s Sunoco Camaro efforts. He knew that the Z/28 was a car he wanted.

Even as a teen-ager, Guy planned things and stuck to plan. Everything was thought out, and nothing got rushed. He wanted racing goodies and RS equipment, but he didn’t want a whole lot of frills that added weight. His uncle, who lived in southern Wisconsin, found a 1968 Z/28 RS at Humphrey Chevrolet in Janesville. It was even LeMans Blue with white stripes and had the optional Sport steering wheel – everything Guy wanted, except for its custom interior.

“It was pretty much exactly what I was thinking of ordering,” Guy remembered. “But I didn’t have as much money as I thought, and I just kind of felt like I had always wanted to order exactly the car I wanted and not take something off a dealer’s lot.” In the end, he’s happy he passed on the 1968 because the local dealer got in the salesman’s advance information on 1969 Camaros.

“It was their training program to learn the next year’s models, and they invited me to watch the filmstrip and see the new models,” Guy explained. “When I saw the 1969 – especially the Rally Sport – I said, ‘Boy am I glad I waited!’ The 1969 was really a unique looking Camaro, and when we got to the options I found four-wheel disc brakes were being offered, and the engines had been updated with floater wrist pins, four-bolt mains and all the race upgrades.”

Guy sat down with a salesman and put a Z/28 on paper with the things he wanted: M-22 gearbox, four-wheel disc brakes, rosewood steering wheel and Rally Sport package. He waited patiently for the first date that Chevrolet would accept orders at the Zone. His order went in that day. It wasn’t too long before the dealer notified Guy that four-wheel disc brakes weren’t available. Chevrolet didn’t have things ready to go on the cars yet. Guy had the order re-issued, but it came back again. Instead of September, October or November, Guy got a confirmed order in December for a January build date. The car arrived at the end of January.

The day Guy picked the car up, it snowed. He has pictures of him signing papers with a salesman named Al Burris and Daniel Wheeler, who owned the dealership at the time. He has pictures of him and his Z/28 in the snow. Guy never rushes things, so he stored the car and started driving it that spring. “When spring came, there were things that had to be done to it, like getting rid of the smog equipment and getting a set of good tuned headers,” he explained.

Right from the start, Guy knew he was going to keep the car. It wasn’t something he bought out of excitement to sell the next time another car excited him. He had heard his father talk about a 1937 Chevy coupe he should have kept. He had heard his uncle talk about a supercharged Auburn sedan he shouldn’t have sold.

While waiting for the car to come in, Guy read the Car and Driver article. The magazine had challenged not only Chevy and Ford, but AMC and Chrysler to build street versions of their pony cars with all the homologated racing options. AMC said it wasn’t ready, and Chrysler had no interest because only independents were running Mopars in Trans-Am. Chevy and Ford jumped on the bandwagon, and Guy just couldn’t get that cross-ram Z/28 out of his mind. Of course, he wasn’t going to rush either.

The first summer he had the Z/28, Guy practically lived in the car for seven or eight months. He put 15,000 miles on it, because he was on the highway all the time. He told us the Z/28 loved highways and hated towns. The car would go from running good on the highway to being a poor runner around town, since the plugs fouled at low speeds. Guy would generally pick out a destination to go to – a town 40-50 miles away – hit the scene and make it back the same evening.

On weekends, Guy hit the drags in Kaukana or the road races in Elkhart Lake. He made trips to visit his uncle in Janesville and his brother in Illinois. “The car spent a lot of time driving up north to a buddy’s cabin near Minocqua,” Guy noted. “So it wasn’t that hard to do 15,000 miles in that amount of time, and it was the greatest experience I’ve ever had in an automobile.”
Guy’s intention was to enjoy the car that year the way it came from the factory, but with the idea of upgrading it with the cross-ram conversion, optional front and rear sway bars, heavy-duty cooling on the water and engine oil, transistor ignition, etc., at a later date. Things got set on the back burner when Guy was drafted in July. On September 8, he was inducted into the U.S. Army, though he was able to drive the car until November. Then it was put into storage.

By the time Guy got out of the service in the fall of 1971, a lot had changed in the muscle car world. But Guy knew he was going to keep his Camaro and still hoped to get the components he had postponed buying. Chevrolet published lists of Service Components with part numbers needed to modify a Camaro or Corvette. There was a single number for the complete cross-ram conversion, so Guy went back to Wheeler Chevrolet with the part numbers. Unfortunately, only some of them worked. He got special front brake calipers and rotors, a disc brake rear axle, a base plate for the air cleaner assembly, a couple of fuel lines (the cross-ram setup has many), a gasket and miscellaneous stuff.

“I had a lot of the stuff I needed to convert the Z/28 into a Service Component car, but I was missing the all-important cross-rams, so this really set my project back,” Guy admitted. While he looked for the missing parts, the calendar flipped several times. It wasn’t until 1978 that he hit pay dirt after spotting a classified ad in a hobby magazine.

“I found somebody who had some Trans-Am components for sale, and one of them was a special hemi-head 302 that Chevrolet had developed but never put into production,” Guy revealed. “I answered the ad figuring that if they had that, they might have some other stuff.” Amazingly, the seller from Kansas City had purchased Trans-Am hardware from Smokey Yunik. The price for the motor was out of Guy’s range, but the man said he also had a complete cross-ram setup for the 1968-1969 Trans-Am Camaro, from wing nut to engine gasket.

“He had absolutely everything,” Guy said. “I asked him how much he wanted for it, but I didn’t argue with the asking price. I just asked how quickly he could have it crated up and shipped to Wisconsin.”

Once Guy had the cross-ram goodies, the car was taken apart and put back together following instructions from mimeographed “Green Sheets” that Chevrolet used to issue. These basically gave Guy all the information that Chevrolet engineers had learned over the years, what spring rates to use, what front sway bar to use, what the rear sway bar had to be to compensate for the front bar and balance the car, what shocks to use, etc.

After the car had been converted to a Service Component car, it was no longer very streetable. The competition metallic brakes must be warmed up before they stop the car. The full-race Second Design cam and valve train are lumpy. The cross-ram is really a strictly-for-racing unit. The twin 600 carbs have no chokes, so the car starts hard. This explains why it has gone only 140 miles since the Service Component conversion was done at 15,552 miles. “I enjoy the car,” Guy stressed. “But it’s not something I use like I did originally.” The car was recently driven back to Wheeler Chevrolet so the Marshfield newspaper could photograph it next to the first 2010 Camaro the dealership got in.

As with all his vehicles, Guy focused on keeping the Camaro in very good original condition. “That interior is as nice as you can keep something,” Guy noted. “I enjoyed the car and I drove it fast, but if people rode with me, I gave them specific instructions on how to get in and out of the car. I told them not to drag their feet on the sill plates, not to scuff the door panels and never to kick a kick panel. I told them we were going to be going very fast and they shouldn’t flail all over the car. I told them to grab onto their legs, but not to claw the car up.”

Guy said the car picked up a few door dings when he drove it to work (we didn’t notice any) and thinks the paint is aging, but the Z/28 looks just like new. It still has its factory chalk marks and stenciled codes. For all its upgrades, it has never been restored in any way!

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