Penske and Sunoco’s Z28, Trans Am Camaro Makes Road-Racing History
Patrick Hogan of Littleton, Colorado has a fascinating collection of vintage race cars that were originally owned by Roger Penske and driven by championship racer, Mark Donohue. Among these are a ’67 Lola T70 Spyder, and the 1969 Sunoco Camaro Z28 that won many a victory at such prestigious circuits as Watkins Glen and Laguna Seca.
The Penske-Sunoco Z28 is a very hard car to miss, as decals from both sponsors are brightly-colored and adorn the car throughout. The story behind this original Trans-Am racing piece is that it took first place at Michigan International, Bridgehampton, Bryar Motorsports Park, Mont-Tremblant, Watkins Glen, Laguna Seca, Sears Point and Riverside during the 1969 racing season. Mark Donohue and the Penske Camaro Z28 won six out of twelve races to win for the Camaro a manufacturers’ championship.
Several modifications had to be made to the Camaro before it became the championship Trans-Am racer that made the Camaro nameplate into a road-racing legend. The most predominant of these was the acid-dipping process in which the Z28 undertook before being delivered to Roger Penske. Acid-dipping on race car bodies was a common practice for the time, and the purpose of dipping a car body in acid was to lower overall mass while maintaining the car’s strength and rigidity.
Other track-oriented modifications to the Z28 included air channels built-into the doors for increased airflow to the rear brakes, quick-release brake pads and a custom-lube system in which oil could be added to the engine once it reached racing temperatures. All of these modifications are primitive, or so they seem, but the Penske team was the only one at that time who was using them, which allowed Penske to be more competitive than any other racing team at Trans-Am, winning more professional races at an increasingly-faster rate.
After the finish of the 1969 season, the Camaro was sent over to Jim Hall of Chaparral, who used the Z28 as a template for the design of the Camaro that would be raced during the 1970 Trans Am series. Roger Penske eventually sold that car to Roy Woods, who had driver Milt Minter drive the car to a victory in 1970 at the “Donnybrooke” race.
A championship, Trans Am racer with cutting-edge innovations for the time, the Penske-Sunoco Z28 is one of America’s most significant pieces of Trans Am racing history.