Collector Car Corner; Series 7 of the Top 10 Muscle Cars of All-Time: The amazing 1968 Camaro Z28

Collector Car Corner; Series 7 of the Top 10 Muscle Cars of All-Time: The amazing 1968 Camaro Z28The 1970 Chevelle SS454 came close to securing a spot in the Top 10 list but fell just short to the Z28. The SS454 arrived just as government and insurance mandates made it difficult to own a factory hot rod, and when the gas crisis hit a few years later the muscle car era was dead. This clever ad shows how to corral 450 horses. (Chevrolet)

Selecting a single Chevrolet from the lengthy list of true high-performance cars that the factory approved of turned into a three weeklong dilemma.

Precisely, which hot Chevy should I select?

The problem lies in the fact that when it comes to the factory being behind the high-performance push, which is a main ingredient of this top 10 list, I must go all the way back to 1955 when Chevy introduced its most famous engine of all-time, namely the Chevy 265-V8. It was Chevy’s second overhead valve V8, because back in 1918 they did produce one.

However, the modern 265 is what started it all for Chevy and its factory backed racing, amplified by lots of print advertising that let the public know racing was now officially in the DNA of General Motors’ best-selling brand.

With respect to the “Godfather of the Corvette,” Zora Arkus Duntov, I personally put the Duntov name right alongside famed General Motors designer Harley Earl as to GM’s overall success back then. Duntov’s mechanical genius centered on improving the Ed Cole designed 265-V8, as he provided spectacular performance enhancements along the way. Cole allowed Duntov’s expertise to take hold with the “Power Pack” Chevy offerings that made the little hi revving 265-V8 a true performance miracle.

Collector Car Corner; Series 7 of the Top 10 Muscle Cars of All-Time: The amazing 1968 Camaro Z28

The 1968 Chevrolet Z28 receives a spot on the Top 10 Muscle Cars of All-Time. This car was designed by the factory to compete against AMC, Pontiac, and Chrysler Pony Cars with engines of 305-inches or less and became one of Chevrolet’s top selling and popular muscle cars of all time. (Chevrolet)

The next couple of years found the 265 adding dual four-barrel carbs and fuel injection, and then growing to 283 in 1957, 327 in 1962, and 350 by 1966 with horsepower ratings all the way up to 375 in the Corvette. Even though Chevy introduced its first big block in 1958, ala the 348 series, it was the small block Chevy that still ruled and would be available as it is today in its modern “LS” code configuration with over 700 horsepower available.

Since my Top 10 of All-Time series deals with personal experiences, I remember back in 1966 when I decided to put a solid-lifter Duntov cam, known back then as a “3/4 Racing Cam” into our ‘63 Chevy Impala coupe 283, which by process of my brother’s “hand-me-down” became my first ever car.

Collector Car Corner; Series 7 of the Top 10 Muscle Cars of All-Time: The amazing 1968 Camaro Z28

The Roger Penske prepared, and Sunoco sponsored Z28 Camaros won two successive Trans-Am Championships in 1968 and 1969. The team won 10 of 17 races in ’68 and seven of 11 in 1969. (Penske Collection)

I also remember our 283-engine had Duntov’s Power Pack cylinder heads identified by a little pyramid on the front of the head stamping. We also removed the 3-speed manual on the tree and put a Borg Warner T-10 4-speed in with Hurst shifter and changed the rear gear from 3:36 to 3:55. When my brother was firmly established in active duty with the Army National Guard, I had the Power Pack heads refreshed by famed racer / mechanic / team owner of the day, namely Tony Ruberti from Vineland, N.J. When all was said and done, it was the fastest 283 Impala in the area.

Now, I’m going to explain in print the high-performance Chevrolets I considered for inclusion of my Top 10 of All-Time list, and you’ll better understand my predicament. No sports cars are eligible for this top 10 list, i.e. Cobras and Corvettes.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air: Featuring the larger 283, this car just might be the most popular collector car Chevy of all-time. It was the first year Chevy attained the one-horsepower-per-cubic-inch magic thanks to the solid lifter, fuel injected 283 that came in at 283 horsepower. A non-fuel injected 283 solid lifter version with dual quad four- barrels developed 270 horsepower. The result was extremely fast ’57 Chevys all over the place, especially at the drag races.

1958 Chevy Impala 348 Tri-Power: A beautiful machine that could keep up with about any hot car on the road, it was bigger and heavier than the model it replaced and featured three Carter two barrels with maximum output of 280-horses. This is the first real muscle car I ever got a ride in thanks to my late friend’s brother, namely Cloud Volpe from Vineland, N.J.

Collector Car Corner; Series 7 of the Top 10 Muscle Cars of All-Time: The amazing 1968 Camaro Z28

Chevrolet made it clear they were in the high-performance game with this advertisement that appeared back in 1955. To this day, Chevrolet supports numerous factor racecar efforts in all disciplines of racing. (Chevrolet)

1962 Chevrolet 409: With midsize muscle a few years away, the full-size Chevys in 1962 included Biscayne, Bel Air, and Impala that all offered the powerful “W” head 409 in two versions. The first 409 came in an 11-1 compression, single four barrel with solid lifters and 380 horses. The second 409 was the most popular that everyone wanted, namely the 409-horsepower dual-quad setup. To this day, “she’s real fine my 409” rings true and I almost selected this car as my top pick.

1965 Chevelle SS: With a 327 that put out 365 horsepower, it was one hot property and scourge to those who thought their 1966 396 with 325 horses would beat anything around. Later, a limited run Chevelle SS396 Z16 with a 396/375 made the ’65 Chevelle a very in demand high-dollar muscle car. However, only 201 Z16 Chevelle SS versions were ever built.

1966 Chevy II: Another sleeper when equipped with the correct engine, the ’66 Chevy II was similar to the ’65 Chevelle as a small-block 327 with 350 horsepower made it a serious muscle car. The desired 350-horse engine code is option L79 and when adorned in Nova SS hardtop dress, it is one of Chevy’s best looking muscle cars ever. 

1968-69 Camaro SS 396-375: Granted this big block monster was a bit heavy in the front and didn’t handle anywhere near the Z28, but if you were going in a straight line few cars around would get to the quarter mile ahead of you. With a quick shifting driver, 4.10 gears and some aftermarket bolt-ons, 12-second quarter miles were the norm. (I know as I had one.)

1970 Chevelle SS454: To keep the Chevelle SS atop the muscle car pack, Chevy took the 396/427 design, upped the crank stroke to 4.0-inches and went to a 4.25 inch bore to arrive at 454 -inches. This 450-horsepower mammoth now went zero to 60 in 5.4 seconds and raced the quarter mile in 13.81 seconds on narrow street tires. With proper bolt on parts and slicks, low 11-second quarter miles came easy.

And the Top 10 winner is?

The 1968 Camaro Z28, one of the true factory-backed hot ones from Chevy. The Z28 arrived with a Muncie 4-speed, high revving 302-inch V8 with solid lifter cam and either one or two four-barrel carbs. This car set the stage for the unique Chevrolet “Z” cars, and to this day these early Z28s command big bucks at the national televised auctions.

Built for SCCA Trans-Am Road Racing series against the likes of Mustang, Challenger, Barracuda, Javelin and Firebird, the Roger Penske prepared Chevy Z28s won two Trans Am championships with driver Mark Donohue in 1968 and 1969. They won 10 of 13 races in 1968 and seven of 11 races in 1969.

Being that the Z28 was specifically designed to compete in the SCCA Trans-Am series, which had a limit of 305 cubic inches of engine displacement, it must rate high in this tough search for Top 10 inclusion. Thus, if there ever was a “factory-versus-factory” racing series, this was it. Chevy utilized a 327 block with a 283 crankshaft to arrive at 302 inches. I know I’ll receive many letters questioning this selection, and the fact that the two-seater Corvette was not considered (no sports cars were), but Chevrolet purists know that it’s not always the size of the engine, because in real life you have to turn left and right on the highways.

Next up is our 8th selection, so stay tuned.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader interaction on collector cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at or snail mail to Greg Zyla, Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840.)

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