This Z28 Survivor From 1979 Is the Best-Selling Camaro of All, Despite More Show Than Go

Here’s the story: in 1979, General Motors was again faced with the prospect of yet another not one, but two smashing successes on the American market. The last year of the decade was – and still is – the high-water mark for the Chevrolet Camaro sales, following a two-year battering administered to the rivals from Ford in ’77 and ‘78. However, in 1979, the third generation of the Mustang made its debut, completely dwarfing the Chevrolet in the sales charts. The pony from Dearborn sold over 87,000 more cars than the Bowtie’s cash-cow division. And the Camaro wasn’t a rarity that year, with 282,571 units.
1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 All-Original Survivor 9 photos
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 All-Original Survivor1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 All-Original Survivor1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 All-Original Survivor1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 All-Original Survivor1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 All-Original Survivor1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 All-Original Survivor1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 All-Original Survivor1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 All-Original Survivor
1979 was a double-record year for Chevrolet’s most famous pony car; once - because it established the all-time sales milestone for the model, and second – the “high-performance” Z28 version also went sky-high in sales, at almost 85,000 units. The reason for the quotation marks guarding the descriptor of the famous Z28 can be traced back to 1970 December 31. That’s when President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, strangling performance for the following two decades.

Despite its commonality when launched, a Z28 from 1979 is not a car that gearheads get to rub bumpers with on a regular basis. Unlike its corporation cousin, the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, the Camaro wasn’t getting all the love and care from every owner, so many of these classics are now lost. (It’s appropriate to call them what they are, even if they aren’t even 50 years old yet. And the age is random – after all, an SVT Cobra Mustang from 1993 is as much a classic as a ’64.5).

Granted, some build quality hindrances might have annoyed Camaro owners to the point where the TLC faded below the ‘I’ll keep it for my kids’ level. One nagging bug of the ‘79s was the disproportionate doors relative to their respective hinge mechanisms. The bushings weren’t up to the task of holding the long, heavy doors and wore out quickly. If we were cynical, we’d say that the Camaro nameplate had a rubber-consuming reputation to defend.

1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 All\-Original Survivor
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
Sadly, in a 1979 Z28, that rubber wasn’t the rear tires that would leave parallel marks at the stoplights but the stingy cylindrical linings on the doors. Small wonder since the only available engine was the famous Chevy small-block 350 V8 (5.7 liters) that debuted with the first Camaro in 1967. A dozen years later, that same powerplant was muffled to 175 hp and 270 lb-ft (177 PS, 366 Nm). Even considering those figures are measured as net ratings, it still looks like a chihuahua putting on a wolverine suit and going trick-and-treating in Yellowstone National Park.

But there are exceptions to this saddening rule that haunts the Camaros from the Malaise. Some survivors are a splendid opportunity to bring back nostalgic smiles and youthful memories from 44 years ago. Look at the beautiful black Z28 example in the video – a perfect display of what top performance was like in the pony car segment from the closing year of the eighth decade.

There’s a lovely story about this Chevy: the car was bought new in 1979 by a discerning gearhead, and one year later, it was passed down to the man’s son (then in his high school years). The young man took a personal approach to piston addiction and painstakingly impeccably kept the Camaro. Months of ownership turned into years, years rolled into decades, the millennia turned over the hourglass, and the Camaro never changed its owner. In the meantime, the proud proprietor grows into a responsible man, starts a family of his own, and has a son (the youngster smiling next to his father’s heirloom Z28).

1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 All\-Original Survivor
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
Over the past 44 years, this pride of Chevrolet covered 48,335 miles (77,771 kilometers), and it did its job under some very favorable auspices – that’s obvious from a mile away. Granted, there are some issues with the engine, or so it would appear from this video – the V8 needs some encouragement to get its burble straight. It could be that the gasoline in the Z28’s tank isn’t fresh out of the refinery, or perhaps a tune-up is required.

The 350 V8 is a Chevrolet monument of American automotive engineering – the same engine has powered trucks without batting a valve guide. With four degrees of camshaft timing retarding, the emissions could be slightly lowered, and the low-end torque could go up. This Z28 has some options, like the Turbo Hydramatic 350 three-speed gearbox (a $70 option in 1979), intermittent windshield wipers, cruise control, or cyclone wheels. The rear duckbill spoiler was standard on the Z28 and its little performance brother, the Rally Sport. Still, the brawny Z28 was the first Camaro to surpass the $ 6,000 mark for the manufacturer's suggested retail price.

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About the author: Razvan Calin
Razvan Calin profile photo

After nearly two decades in news television, Răzvan turned to a different medium. He’s been a field journalist, a TV producer, and a seafarer but found that he feels right at home among petrolheads.
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