Resting on an industrial pallet, the AAC staff tells us the special de-stroked engine and close-ratio M21 four-speed transmission were salvaged shortly after the 1970 crash. The mangled front fenders were likely removed for easier access to the high-revving 302. The bent front subframe and slanted firewall suggest an impact speed of at least 50 mph.

Camaro Casualty

By Steve Magnante – Photography by the Author

In 1969 Chevrolet built exactly 20,302 Z/28 Camaros. This is the sad fate of one of them. Discovered during a 2018 visit to Vancouver, Washington’s All American Classics auto parts yard (AAC, 800-955-4999), this LeMans Blue SCCA homologation special was just a year old and had under 5,000 miles on the odometer when it struck a concrete bridge abutment at speed.

When it was new in 1969, the muscle car boom was in its sixth year. Millions of “baby boomers” were getting their driver’s license and the insurance industry was beginning to see what happens when teenage drivers are given cars with 300 and 400 hp. And even though the Z/28’s 302 was factory-rated at a seemingly mundane 290 hp, the reality was closer to 350 with mild tuning. What’s more, every 1969 Z/28 came equipped with a four-speed manual transmission. As any seasoned stick jockey knows, banging gears and power shifting go with the territory—as do exaggerated fish tails and power slides. By contrast, automatics are more civilized.

The original factory-applied LeMans Blue paint hasn’t protected the body from rust. AAC tells us the car was stored under a pine tree for several decades before they obtained the hulk around 2017. The absence of chrome quarter-panel gills and rain gutter driprails tells us the popular Z21 Style Trip Group was not specified on this basic, down-to-business machine.

By 1971, the insurance industry began to push back. Armed with over a half decade’s worth of accident reports, it was becoming clear that high-powered cars and young drivers resulted in collisions—and financial losses for the insurance giants. Measures were quickly put in place to even the odds. Most painfully, insurance companies added stiff surcharges for muscle cars, and four-speed transmissions were targeted for an extra fee.

The 1972 inclusion of an engine identification digit in GM VIN tags wasn’t a favor for future collectors and restorers. Rather, it was a sure way for insurers to know how big your engine was so they could bill you accordingly against losses. The days of 123 (six-cylinder)/124 (V-8) Camaro VIN shell games were over.

Pardon the soft focus, we were shocked to see the original-spec Z/28 Goodyear E70-15 raised white-letter bias-ply tire and 15×6 Rally wheel in such a sad state. The trim ring and center cap were undoubtedly jettisoned upon impact with the bridge abutment.

Getting back to the mangled Z/28 featured here, the fact that it was destroyed in a single vehicle collision suggests that excessive speed was part of the picture. We don’t know the driver’s identity, but more than likely a single male under age 30 was at the wheel when it hit the bridge. Let’s explore deeper …

The passenger side reveals the new-for-1969 single-piston disc brake caliper, replacing the more complex and leak-prone four-piston calipers used in 1967 and 1968. The nearly new 5,000-mile rotor offers a stark contrast to the deeply pitted upper control arm. Pine needles become acidic after they fall and become wet.
The trunk floor was torched out years ago, revealing the Z/28-specific dual muffler hangers. Because the Dutchman panel (between back lite and trunklid), trunklid, hood, and cowl vent panel are missing, we can’t determine whether this Z/28 had the (hood and trunk) Rally Stripes, which could be deleted for a lower profile on the road. The 12-bolt rear axle and its standard 3.73:1 Z/28 gear ratio was scavenged years ago.
The scattered remains of the interior reveal a Z/28-spec five-leaf spring set across the bashed steering column. Note that the ends of the leaf spring have not been torched, those are fractures. The impact must have been tremendous. The back of a dash-mount speaker tells us this is not a radio-delete Camaro.
The semi-circular ripple impact formed in the leading edge of the roof stamping was likely caused by a bridge support column. The vertically oriented stubs of the A-pillars show where rescue workers lifted the roof to extract the occupant on that fateful day in 1970. The straight cuts are likely the work of an electric disc cutter. Modern “Jaws of Life” hydraulic scissor-spreaders were not in regular use until 1972 despite the fact shift mogul George Hurst patented the Jaws of Life concept in 1961. The J52 power disc brake booster and N44 15.6:1 quick-ratio steering box are still present after a half century.
Seen through the windshield area, the steering column shows the new-for-1969 ignition key position. In 1967 and 1968 Camaros the key was in the dash. The 1969 relocation merged it with a locking mechanism so the front wheels couldn’t be steered without the key in position. This Z/28 has the base two-spoke plastic steering wheel and non-tilt column. An extra $34.80 got the faux wood rimmed N34 sport steering wheel with a faux wood rim and three brushed metal spokes.
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