I’m going to flat out say it. I loathe Michael Bay movies. Out of the ten or so films I’ve seen that he directed, I have enjoyed exactly one – 2016’s 13 Hours – about the events at the US Embassy in Benghazi. I appreciated that film primarily because it was grounded in reality, and dispensed with the over-the-top and absurd shenanigans that litter the rest of his movies.
I’ll cut the man a touch of slack as he is a known gearhead with a sizable collection of exotic and sports cars. Also, there is no disputing a lot of his pictures feature some pretty awesome rides, many of which were his own.
Perhaps none of his movies contain a cooler muscle car than his box-office smash Transformers (2007). Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about that bitchin’ 1977 Camaro Z/28, the subject of this installment of “Rob’s Movie Muscle!”
Transformers was theatrically distributed by Paramount Pictures in 2007. Based on the Hasbro toys and the subsequent animated television series, The Transformers, that saw 98 episodes air from 1984 to 1987, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman wrote Bay’s live-action version. The film starred Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Jon Voight, and John Turturro.
The movie’s story centers around two rival factions of shape-shifting extraterrestrial robots; one that is bent on exterminating the human race, and another determined to save it. Pivotal to both groups’ plans is LaBeouf’s character, a high school student named Sam Witwicky. Together with the girl of his dreams, Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), the two get unintentionally embroiled in the fight to save humanity.
Early in the film, Sam goes to buy his very first car with his father’s help. After browsing a number of uncool steeds, his fancy is grabbed by a well-worn, but appealing, 1977 Camaro Z/28. He takes the car home, only to subsequently learn his choice of vehicle is much more than just your average muscle car – it’s a disguised robot sent to protect him.
Camaros have a long and illustrious history of appearances in Hollywood films. Indeed, a number of them were the four-wheeled stars of movies I have previously covered, such as Aloha, Bobby and Rose, Christine, Better Off Dead, The Gumball Rally, and Eat My Dust. However, I’d argue that never before has a Camaro held such an integral role in a movie, as it does here.
The 1977 Camaro was part of a generation of muscle cars that most aficionados consider being a malaise era. The stringent EPA standards and the gas crisis of the early-’70s forced automakers to detune their monster powerplants of the ’60s and focus more on efficiency.
As such, the most potent engine one could have in a Camaro in 1977 was a rather milquetoast 5.7-liter V8 with a four-barrel carburetor producing a measly 185 brake-horsepower (that figure dropped down to 175 ponies in cars with California emissions equipment), and an adequate 280 lb-ft of torque.
Discontinued for the 1975 model year, the performance-oriented Z28 trim level was reinserted in the lineup in ’77 as a 1977½ model, mainly owing to the sales success of its F-Body Pontiac twin, the Trans Am, during the Z28’s hiatus.
However, the 1977 Z28 was a shadow of its former self, with the engine lacking much of the performance niceties that the 1970-74 cars enjoyed. Gone were the forged internals, hot cams, and 4-bolt-main-bearing engine blocks of old.
The car wasn’t totally neutered, however, as the Z did come with either a four-speed Borg-Warner T-10 aluminum tranny with an Inland or Hurst shifter, or an optional Turbo 350. A heavy-duty 11-inch diameter clutch adorned manual cars with a 3.73 final-drive ratio (autos got a 3.42). Braking included 11-inch front disc brakes with 9.5-inch rear drums. Dual exhausts, and 15 x 7 rims with Goodyear GR70-15 steel-belted radial tires, completed the car.
Other features included a blacked-out grille, standard front and rear spoilers, air conditioning, Z28 decals on the hood, front fenders, front and rear spoilers, rocker panels and door-handle inserts, black anodized headlight, taillight and window trim, and special dash instrumentation.
Performance was meh, with 60 mph arriving in 8.6 seconds, the quarter-mile falling in 16.3 seconds at 83.1 mph, and a top speed of only 105 mph.
In spite of its lukewarm powerplant, the automotive buying public was happy to see the Z back, and snapped up 14,349 examples.
The Z28 in Transformers, affectionately named “Bumblebee” for its yellow paint with black stripes, has been modified in several ways. Aesthetically, the most notable features are a non-factory, cowl-induction hood scoop riveted on, Cragar SS wheels at the front, Eric Vaughn Real Wheels outback, a non-standard steering wheel, shifter and boot, aftermarket yellow and black vinyl seats, aftermarket gauge,s and an 8-track tape player in the dash. Sam also added a small disco ball that hangs from the rearview mirror.
A brief glimpse under the hood gives us a peek at an aftermarket SEMA-style engine that Mikaela describes as having “…a high-rise double-pump carburetor. It squirts the fuel in so you can go faster.” It looks to me like it has quad Weber IDFs on a cross-ram manifold, but I digress…
In actuality, at least one of the stunt cars used in the movie packed a 400-cubic-inch V8, General Motors crate engine, outfitted with Edelbrock fuel injection, a Turbo 400 transmission and a positraction rearend with a 4.11 gear. This car was sold on eBay by Michael Bay for $40,100.01 after its production and publicity duties finished.
The production’s other stunt cars are believed to have had fuel-injected, high-output 350 cubic-inch V8s.
Bumblebee is put through its paces on several occasions before its transformation into a 2006 concept prototype for the then-forthcoming fifth-generation Camaro. One particularly memorable scene pits Bumblebee against a sinister 2005 Saleen S281 Extreme Mustang police pursuit vehicle. It’s a hell of a scene that lasts close to seven minutes and looks mostly to have been the result of practical stunts as opposed to computer-generated imagery.
Once again, I was less than enthralled by one of Michael Bay’s films while sitting through Transformers. Its silly dialogue, implausible plot twists, and excessive violence failed to suspend my disbelief through much of the movie. A two hour and 24-minute running length didn’t help, as the second and third acts seemed to drag on forever. While I can see how this fare would go over big with kids and young adults, I am neither and prefer higher-brow storytelling.
A lot of that can be forgiven as far as I am concerned, however, owing to the excellent automotive action in the movie and the superb choice of vehicles present. Had producers about 20 minutes of robot battles, and replaced them with an equal amount of car action featuring the Camaro, I would have been a much happier viewer. Ride on, Bumblebee. Ride on.