To say the Chevrolet Camaro is an icon would be an understatement. The car is one of the most recognizable Chevrolet’s you can still find prowling the late-night street hangouts. It doesn’t matter what generation we are talking about, enthusiasts know it’s a Camaro. But what many might not realize, is initially, the Chevy Camaro was a knee-jerk response. GM was forced to build the car, only because of Ford’s surprise release of the wildly successful Mustang.
It’s well known the 1964 introduction of the Mustang caught virtually everyone at GM and Mopar off guard. That surprise meant Chevrolet needed to come up with something affordable to compete with the new Mustang. GM surely couldn’t position the Corvair against the Mustang, and the small Chevy II — while cool — didn’t seem like a logical choice. Something new would have to be designed and built.
Being late to the game forced GM execs to give the go-ahead for designers to rush a comparable car into production. Usually, when something is rushed, it turns out badly. Luckily, that was not the case for the Camaro. What the powers that be were demanding, was to have a marketable car in dealer showrooms by the fall of 1966. This edict was to be met in slightly more than two years.
We found this statement by then-vice-president of Global Design, Ed Welburn, “The Camaro should not have been a design success, as it was based on existing architecture and admittedly hurried to market to address the personal coupe revolution occurring with Baby Boomer customers. However, the first-generation Camaro delivered a pure, classic proportion that will forever be regarded as one of the best-looking cars of its time.”
Redesigning An Icon
That widely popular first generation only lasted for three years, and in 1970, the pony car saw design changes that created the second generation. The European influences are easily noticed as the new body style features a Ferrari-like fastback roofline and an elongated hood. And while many loath the decision, gone were the door vent windows. The doors were also much wider, designed to aid access to the rear seat. Buyers immediately fell in love with the second generation and sales numbers continued to climb.
The second-gen Camaro continued to receive many design changes during its tenure, and in spite of that, many enthusiasts have a hard time narrowing down a favorite model year. For Jim Seprish of Snow Shoe, Pennsylvania, the 1979 model year stands above the others.
“It was the late-’90s when I first found out about the car, it was left for dead behind a body shop,” says Jim. “The car was in really poor condition. I had to replace the floor from the firewall to the rear bumper. Aftermarket panels were not available at the time, so I had to find rust-free donor parts.”
If you think everything looks great — and it really does — Jim gets all the credit. He spent a couple of years getting the car’s metal ready for paint, and when it was finally ready to be covered with the shiny stuff, he sprayed a new mix of GM’s Camel Metallic to make it all look factory fresh.
Once the exterior was looking great, it was time to focus on the inside. Jim planned for this Z/28 to be driven, so he worked with Dressler Upholstery and Classic Industries to create a great-looking place to spend a lot of time. At first glance, you surely noticed the factory buckets were highly modified. For starters, additional foam was added to create a more comfortable seat, and an opening was installed at the top to allow the safety harnesses to pass through. When was the last time you saw a Hurst Dual-Gate shifter? Remember, Jim built this car many years ago.
In this day and age, one might expect to find a high-zoot suspension under this Z, but remember, this car was built more than a few years ago. The stock Chevrolet suspension was rebuilt to factory specs, and the disc/drum brakes were put back into service. One look at it’s easy to see the car is not designed for high-speed cornering, and the freshened OE parts do just fine. If you’re a fan of the wheel and tire package, The aluminum rollers are Jeg’s SSR Spike wheels measuring 15×8 and 15×10 that are wrapped in BFG radials.
Proper Motivation For A Camaro
Throughout its time, the second-gen Camaro was privy to utilizing almost every engine Chevrolet offered. There were six cylinders, small blocks, and even big blocks stuffed between the fenders. Although a big block was not available in a ’79 Camaro, that doesn’t mean it will not fit. Jim chose to utilize the space by filling it with a 496 cubic-inch monster. The rotating assembly features an Eagle crankshaft and rods that build the streetable 10.5:1 compression ratio with forged SRP pistons. A hydraulic-roller cam with .589/.601-inch lift and 228/234 degrees of duration allow the Canfield aluminum heads to breathe the fuel and air from the Edelbrock RPM intake and 950 cfm ProForm carburetor.
It’s not hard for many enthusiasts to proclaim they have a favorite model year Camaro. From 1967 through the present day, Chevrolet’s two-door hot rod has proven time and again why it deserves to be America’s pony car. Jim Seprish understands that, he just prefers his hot rod Camaro hails from a time when performance needed a shot in the arm. Luckily, he was able to deliver that needed boost.