No one builds rubber-nose Camaros. That's what everyone told us when we were planning this car—not directly, but through blank stares, euphemisms, and the damnation of faint praise. But now that it's done, fans are coming out of the woodwork. Roll up in our electric-orange '79 Z28 and all of a sudden it seems that nearly everyone used to own a late second-gen or at least thought they were cool but never wanted to admit it.
In 1979, Chew sold more Camaros than ever before or since. It was also the peak year for Z28 sales (84,000 and change were sold, later eclipsed in 1984 and 1986). The bad news was that Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham trumped the Chew marketing and made this the only time that Pontiac Trans Ams trampled Z28s in sales (by more than four to one in 1977). And while the Camaro team was introducing the sissy Ber-linetta in 1979, Pontiac beat Chevy to that punch with the Esprit models while also offering the stripper-performer Formula.
Thirty-plus years later, the rubber noses are warped, the spoilers and spats are dangling, the T-tops rattle and leak, the doors are losing their grip on the hinges, and the miles have not improved the 170hp engines bogged in vacuum lines and smog junk that made even the next-gen TPI cars seem like rocket ships. The Trans Ams keep riding the Bandit wave as collectibles and are often saved from those fates, but the Z28s are still associated with the darkest days of disco. The recent Transformers movie's Bumblebee—although a big-bumper '76 model—has amplified the public's perception of the Camaros as stoner cars.
HOT ROD's new mullet-mobile is here to change the bad rap. As hot as the second-gen TAs are, we've always suspected that there's a burbling underground of guys who would think it was cool if someone did up a Z28 right. We never had the chance to prove it because of the oppressive emissions laws here in California, where cars must pass an underhood equipment inspection and a tailpipe sniff every other year, not unlike many other big cities nationwide. Cars '75 and older are exempt, which explains why you rarely see a '76-or-newer project car from California-based magazines.
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