'84 Z28 Camaro

Z28 Camaro, 1984

My second (really third) car. Finally some horsepower! This car has the 5 liter H.O. engine. Bought used with 9,200 miles on it. I put a lot of miles on this car over the years, and wrecked it twice. It's on its second engine now, but rarely gets driven. I should sell it, but I can't yet bear to part with it knowing it'll get trashed or wrapped around a tree. Too many miles, tickets, road trips, wrecks, dating `experiences', memories, to just want to give it up.

About the picture, yes, the hubcap is gone. I've gone through about a dozen of these winter-wheel hubcaps, as I seem lose one or two a winter, and now I'm down to three. (Not a quorum!) I haven't seen this style for sale in years now. Last time I bought a half dozen at the liquidator's, I should have bought a gross. The new styles don't match the car well, and who wants to invest in the winter beater anyway?

A (partial) list of its repairs and upgrades.

When I bought this car, I'd been driving the '69 Mercury Montego for 2.5 years. (That car bought as a temporary replacement for the Falcon, which had crapped out.) I hated the Mercury, but it was cheap transportation. Of course, I neglected to go about actually shopping for the car I did want, until the Mercury itself started having problems. That finally got me off my butt, and I enlisted the aid of my brother (the mechanic) to find something good.

He called around, and scraped up this car, via an acquaintance of his who sold used cars. Of course, the over-the-phone estimated price was grossly low, as it turned out.

We drove in, and looked at the car. Looked good. Drove good. The power was very nice. With four of us in the car, seating was tolerable. (The salesman didn't miss a trick, at one point I had my brother drive, and I got into the back seat to see how it was. But I was behind the salesman, who racked his seat all the way forward when I wasn't looking. [My brother has stumpy legs, so his seat was well forward anyway.]) I decided that I really liked this car, and my brother gave it a clean bill of health. It was nearly new, after all. It had been traded in on a pickup truck, probably the car had turned out to be too impractical for its previous owner.

We entered into negotiation, and it was about as pleasant as you'd expect. It took forever, with lots of the old "I've got to check with my boss" crap. They would only give me $500 for the Mercury, so that was not part of the deal. Straight sale, no financing, no trade. It should have been very easy, but it wasn't. My fault, in a way, I wasn't up to the game then. (Probably still am not.) The key component is an obvious willingness to walk away.

Eventually we settled on $10500 for a price. (Several thousand over the "You gotta see this car!" price.) It took awhile to get it all done, this car was probably the last one sold in town in 1985, as this was late on New Year's Eve. They accepted my check, since the salesman knew my brother, and off we drove. My brother was having a small party that night, and I gave the salesman and his wife a ride to it. On the way down the driveway in my new car, my dad observed that I hadn't had the car for a day and already I'd picked up a girl! (He couldn't see her husband in the back seat. Poor visibility [both ways] in the rear seat is a hallmark of these cars.)

The personal check for the full amount confused them, and two days later I ended up going with the salesman to the bank to draw a Cashier's check instead. I should have just insisted they cash mine. Who knows what kind of nutty deal was actually going on? I sure don't.

The car is fairly fast. A nice amount of power. It feels stable and sure on the road. Several experiments showed that the car's top speed was 143 mph (indicated). There just isn't any more. But, over 120 mph it gets kind of hairy, and pretty light in the front. Not pleasant. It's also noisy, and slow to accelerate up there as you'd expect. But as a 100 mph cruiser it's very nice. Not that you can do this anywhere.

My brother had for a time an '84 Mustang convertible, also with a 5 liter engine and stickshift. Pretty comparable car, really. So of course we decided to race them! We made two runs, and I beat him handily both times. He claimed his clutch was going out, and he couldn't beat me like he should have. I declined any future rematch, as I had nothing to gain!

The car has been pretty reliable. It has an appetite for fuel pumps (and tires, but that's because of my driving), I think it's on number four or number five. But those are easy to change, and not too expensive. It ate one transmission, due to a slow fluid leak and an incompetent dealer service department. (They said the LOF special included transmission oil, but only a few thousand miles later the transmission was dry.) I ended up eating this one, but I should have been more aggressive.

The car handled nice, but was a deathtrap in snow. Hitherto, I'd never had snow tires, because the Falcon didn't really need them. (The Mercury came with two.) But my luck ran out. While crossing Snoqualmie Pass one evening, when the roads were clear and dry, I hit a patch of black ice. Even though I knew I was in trouble and tried to slow down gently, I spun out. I left the road going backwards, and the car came to a stop in a snowbank. As it stopped, it gently rolled over onto its top. There I was hanging from my seat belt. Oops!

That was fun. The whole car was wrinkled on the outside. The State Patrol didn't give me a ticket, because I wasn't speeding, and the ice was a surprise. They didn't even notice it at first, because it wasn't in their lane. (But they could see it when they looked.)

The tow truck got the car righted, and towed it to their shop. The roof was pushed in, and the windshield was broken, but otherwise nothing affected driveability. The engine started, and I took a short drive. Everything seemed OK, and it was a long way back home, or to a place that could fix the car, and getting later all the time. As there was a little patch of clear glass in the center, I drove on home, leaning sideways to look out my porthole. Insurance covered the repairs, to the tune of $5000 or so.

One day at around 170k miles, on a road trip with my girlfriend, the engine started to make a little noise. At first I wasn't sure I heard anything, but not too many more miles elapsed before we were very sure we heard something, and starting to get pretty nervous. A mechanic at a service station in a town thirty miles from our destination was not sanguine. We decided to press on to our destination, where there were plenty of people we knew. It's amazing how rapidly the noise progressed to a truly scary level. I coasted down hills with the engine off, just to try to eke out a few more miles. Finally I coasted to a stop in town, and we walked the last half mile to the park. I wasn't sure the engine wouldn't blow up if we tried to get any more out of it.

So, instead of a nice relaxing day playing in the park in a massed band, I spent the afternoon calling around. Not to mention that my girlfriend at that time was not very tolerant of this sort of thing. I got the car towed to a local dealership, but as it was the weekend they couldn't look at it. Back at the park, I was able to play some, but the enjoyment factor wasn't really there. We hitched a ride back home with one of the other band members that was going our way.

It was clear that the car was in serious trouble. Getting it fixed promised to be very expensive, but not nearly as expensive as replacing it. Plus, I still really liked the car, and saw no reason not to repair it and get another 170k miles out of it. Or whatever.

Back home, I made some local calls too, and found the best deal I could for an engine rebuild. (The dealership's price wasn't very good as you might imagine, but they did get their shot at my business.) I rented a dolly and took the truck down to fetch the car. When I brought it back, I stopped at the shop that I'd arranged with, but they were closed. I was a day early, due to the way things worked out, but still... Even after a lengthy lunch they weren't back, so I drove on to my second choice place, and they got the business.

When they tore into it, they found that the engine had spun a bearing. Many more miles and it would have thrown a rod. They replaced it with a rebuilt motor (rather than rebuilding mine), and I was back on the road again, with a 5-year warrantee. I was ready for many more miles. I have a penchant for driving too slow in fourth gear, as the car seems very happy to do so. And, I'd never been all that diligent at changing the oil on time. Perhaps I'll do better in future!

Many miles later, I was driving at night and turned in front of an oncoming car. (I still don't know how I did this. What a maroon.) Now I know which is stronger, a Mustang or a Camaro. The Mustang was clearly totaled, air bags popped, fluids all over the place. He left on a hook. I just used the tire iron to bend the sheet metal away from the tire and drove home. Seemed to drive just fine, though. (Yes, I got a ticket for this one!)

It was clear that the car was again in serious trouble. And, getting it fixed again promised to be very expensive, but still not nearly as expensive as replacing it. Plus, I still really liked the car, and saw no reason not to repair it and get another bunch of miles out of it.

But insurance wasn't so kind this time, and they wanted to total the car. However, the damage didn't really look that bad. We (my brother and I) took the settlement money and bought some crash parts. He used the tractor and a chain to yank out some of the tweak and then put the new parts on the car (I was gofer). I took the car to Maaco and got a $500 paint job, which just about used up the last of the settlement money. The car was repaired, looked fine, and drove as well as ever. A little bent looking, though, but nothing intolerable. The Maaco paint job isn't as nice as the other one, which was indetectible as a repaint, even by my brother. But it serves.

Shortly after this I got stuck in stop-and-go traffic (rare for me) in Seattle, and noticed the temperature gauge heading up into the red zone. Yikes! Fortunately for me I was at an exit ramp, so I took it. By the time I got to the stop sign, the car had cooled perceptibly, so I turned around and took an alternate route, one that didn't require much stopping. The electric cooling fan was jammed, and not working. Probably had been killed in the wreck but not noticed. It's rare that the fan needs to go on, usually only in stop-and-go, or when the AC is on. I could have lost the new engine! A new fan motor cured it.

I have put a lot of miles on this car, nearly 190,000 of them. I find that it is very comfortable, and fits me well. I still think it's one of the best-looking cars out there. Now, in spite of its having been wrecked twice, it looks better than most of them I see these days. Lots of these are starting to show up in the junkyards, and they're usually in very nasty shape when compared to mine. So far as I can tell, this car is ready for many more miles.

Times change

But shortly after all this some good fortune came my way, and I was able to purchase some other vehicles, such as the MB's and the Dodge diesel pickup truck. After all this effort and expense to keep the Camaro going, it now was no longer necessary, nor even particularly desirable. Though a fine car, its build quality is not the best. And, it could be said to suffer from excessive familiarity...

For more than three years, it was hardly ever even started. (It's on a battery maintainer, which seems to work well.) When we got married, as the car had snow tires and we were expecting many guests I prepped the car for action. Put on the snow tires, got it licensed, etc. But nobody needed an extra car, so that was wasted effort. Back in the `barn' it went.

It's funny, this car nearly tops my `should sell' list, but my wife (who is always pushing for a reduction in our fleet) expressed an interest in driving this car this last winter, now that she can drive a stick. As the car is one of our less valuable ones, and already had a set of studded snow tires (on the car, even!) it was OK by me. It was about time we burned up the old gas that had been sitting in the tank for more than two years. I got it out and cleaned it up, put in a cupholder and fixed the radio (again), and got it licensed and insured. (The cupholder and radio are the only requirements my wife has put on me. So long as she has these things she says she doesn't care what she drives.) This is what she and I have been driving this winter instead of the 450 SL (while it gets some needed attention), and it's been trouble-free. It's nearly time to put it away again, who knows for how long this time. At least its in-service stint has been good for it. Cars don't take sitting for too long very well.

Return to Site Home