This page will document my project from beginning to end, with details and photos.
In the late '80s, my buddy, Daniel, frequently took me by his dad's mechanic shop in north Odessa. Sitting beside their shop was this '78 Camaro Sport Coupe and a black '78 Z28 that had been in a roll-over. The Z28 was beyond repair, but the Camaro was very straight. However, there was no drivetrain or title. I always wanted a '80-'81 Z28 and knew it wouldn't take much to upgrade the Camaro to a Z28 and figured a mechanic's lein would result in a title. The Camaro had been taken to them, along with a mid-70s Monte Carlo, by a customer who wanted the engine pulled from one and put in the other. They started the project, but the customer never came back with money or parts. Both cars sat there for a long time and they realized they were stuck with them and no payment from the customer. I asked if I could buy the Camaro, along with the spoiler and fender vents from the wrecked Z and was able to work out a deal. Unfortunately, as I discovered sometime later, the bill of sale from the mechanic shop was inadequate for establishing a mechanic's lein, but I had the beginnings of a project. I pulled the parts from the Z and drug the Camaro home to begin my build. I immediately swapped the trunk lid and mounted the spoiler pieces, since Camaros look horrible without a rear spoiler. I also quickly acquired a '79-'81 style Z28 dash and installed it along with a power window and lock wiring harness, since my Camaro originally had no power options. The door window mechanisms would be acquired later, but I knew the time to install the wiring harness was while the dash was out, since the harness runs through a harness channel that is mounted high on the firewall, just below the windshield. It is impossible to get to with the dash installed.
later, another friend of mine, who had previously owned an '81
Z28 and had wrecked it, sold me the air induction hood scoop that
he had saved from his car and had sitting in his bedroom.
Fortunately, it was white with blue graphics. I bolted on the
hood scoop and cut openings for the fender vents. My Camaro had
blue pinstripes, so the added hood scoop didn't stand out as bad
as the black spoiler and fender vents.
The next step was a drivetrain. (See below)
Then, somewhat later, another friend of mine, who had previously owned another '81 Z28 and had also wrecked his, sold me the '80-'81 style fender vents, all 4 side flares and the lower Z28 grill from his car. I bought a new Z28 upper grill and added a used "Z28" emblem to it. It was now beginning to resemble an '81 Z28, but the newer fender vents and flares were dark gray.
Somewhat later, I bought another '78 Camaro parts car. It was also white, but a pure shade of white. It had a nice front bumper cover and a rear spoiler, which helped improve the looks of mine a little. After swapping those and a few other smaller parts, I sold the parts car.
I decided to attempt to recover the title for the Camaro. Upon researching the VIN at the title office, hoping to get the previous owner's contact info, I was told that the records showed a lein on the title by a car lot in Llano, TX. I immediately began worrying if I was going to have to give up on this car and find another rolling body. I decided to contact the car lot to see what the story was and if there was a chance that the records hadn't been updated. I asked about the Camaro and the gave the man on the other end of the phone the name of the registered owner. He immediately recognized the name and remembered the car. He said there was no longer a lein on the car and the title was clear. My sudden relief was quickly shattered by his news that the owner I was looking for had died. Apparently, he had been friends with the family for years. He told me that would provide the documents needed to update the lein records and would help me get in touch with the surviving family members of the Camaro's owner. I thought it was a long shot, but there was still hope. I contacted the family and explained that I had ended up with his car, was wanting to rebuild it and get it back on the road, but didn't have the title. They told me not to worry, that they would sign anything I needed to transfer the title into my name. I guess they appreciated that a piece of the loved one was going to live on. I forwarded them the paperwork and they signed and returned all of the documents necessary to process the legal transfer. The mistaken lein was a stroke of luck, because it got me in touch with the car salesman who told me that the owner had passed away. If I hadn't spoke with someone so familiar with the previous owner and his family, I may have never known that I was trying to contact an individual who would never respond to me or known how to get in touch with his surviving family.
The next step was a full interior upgrade. (See below)
Next, I found a perfect pair of '80-'81 Z28 fenders and a Z28 hood with hood scoop from an individual offering them for sale in the Thrifty Nickel.
A few years later, I came across a '78 Z28 with no motor for sale. It was fairly complete and original, except for the '80-'81 style hood and air induction scoop. It had a fairly decent original dark blue interior and a TH400 still in it, but the body had numerous areas, all the way around the car, with rather questionable bondo repair work. The body on my Camaro was absolutely stunning compared to this one, but it was only $300, so I bought it for parts. I transplanted the Z28 suspension, rear end, power windows, black Z28 "rope" steering wheel and matching door and globe box locks from it onto my Camaro. My Camaro had now transformed into a Z28 inside, outside and under neath. The Z28 and Sport Coupe share the same model-identifying VIN digit, which is different from the other Camaros, so even the VIN "model type" digit is Z28-correct. HOWEVER, the motor identification digit of the VIN is the giveaway. My Camaro came with a 305, which would not have been correct for a Z28. So in the end, the ONLY part of my car that will not be factory correct for a true "Z28" will be one digit of my VIN number. Functionally and cosmetically, inside and out, my car will have everything that an '81 Z28 came with, along with a few factory extras, such as a factory 2nd gen power truck release, which was only offered on the Firebird line for that generation.
Through the years, I've ended up collecting every wheel set that '78-'81 Z28s originally came with. However, I may end up riding on 16s, as it has on it now. To use 3rd gen Camaro 16s, you have to swap the fronts and rears and use 1/8" spacers on the front. I currently have 25/60/16s on the front and 255/50/16s on the back. They are the same height, but usings 60s on the front and 50s on the back makes the rear tires wider than the fronts for that old school muscle car look.
After dealing with gas that had gone bad on a couple of my other project cars, I finally snapped onto the idea that maybe we hadn't bothered checking for old gas in the tank before trying to start it back then. It had been so long, I couldn't remember. So, just for fun, I popped the hood, disconnected the fuel line at the front, ran a hose from a gas can to the fuel pump, dropped in a battery and turned the key,......... it started, ran and idled!
It's now running, registered and insured. I only have a few vacuum lines to sort out and some fine tuning. I intend on transplanting either a TPI motor, of which I have 8, or an LT1, of which I have 3. I prefer the performance and simplicity of the install of the LT1, but I prefer the looks of the TPI setup. I'll end up dropping the existing drivetrain in the '78 Z28 to sell it as a running car. As I drive and enjoy the car for a while, I'll eventually decide on the drivetrain and exterior color. For now, it's just thrilling to FINALLY drive my first project car!
The body was very straight and pretty much ready for paint. The only issues were a prior repair on the front of the passenger side fender, some minor rust at the bottom of both fenders and some chunks missing from the front bumper cover. Since I would be changing to Z28 fenders, I didn't really care about the fender issues. There was no meaningful rust anywhere else on the car, inside or out.
Since it had a light blue standard interior with ugly and aged fabric on the seats, I immediately removed the interior. The door panels were vinyl and in really good shape and I later traded them for a set of black Z28 door panels in nice shape. I also intended to change the dash to the '79-'81 style, so I removed the original dash.
During one of my many salvage yard hunts through the years, I came across a white '80-'81 Z28 with a very nice red interior. It hadn't been there long at all, but the doors were already gone, along with several other parts. I ended up buying the seats, seat belts and a few interior trim pieces from it. Whoever bought the doors, didn't leave behind the door panels, so I didn't bother trying to collect the whole red interior. The seats were almost flawless. There was no wear at all and the only damage was a very small torn section on the outer piping of the passenger bucket seat, which isn't very noticeable. I had already recovered the headliner in black, bought brand new black carpet, new black floor mats with red "Z28" logos embroidered in them, repainted the metal trim pieces black and had bought some nearly perfect original black kick panels, rear quarter armrest panels and upper sail panels in black. I had also traded the original light blue standard door panels for a pair of black Z28 door panels. I'm not sure why my buddy was willing to make that trade, but it worked out well for me. I also got his matching black Z seats, front and rear, that were in fairly good shape, but had a few minor issues. So after adding some red pinstripes to the hard lines on my black dash, putting in a red console and visors, the nearly perfect red seats went well with the black components. I now had a very nice red and black Z28-correct interior in my Camaro. The only interior issue left is buying a new dash pad. The dash pad from the donor car was tan. I painted it black with vinyl paint in the early stages of the project, but the years haven't been kind to it. It has since cracked in several places along the top and the paint is now flaking around all of the cracks. Since a new dash pad is about half a grand, I'll cruise a while with a much cheaper dash mat and it'll look just fine.
I later discovered another parts car at the salvage yard that originally had a red interior. There wasn't much left of the car, but it did have a nice lower dash in red. I decided to put that it mine to help balance the red/black scheme. The carpet from that parts car was in decent shape for it's age. It was free, so I figured I'd see how well it cleaned up. It cleaned up nicely, so I installed it temporarilly in my '81 TA Pace Car. The stereo section of the dash had been cut for a DIN deck, so I installed a new silver Kenwood MP3 CD player, which ties in nicely with my Z28 dash and shifter bezels:
also acquired an original red steering column that will be
installed later. I'm considering installing red door panel
armrests for the final touch.
There was no drivetrain when I bought the car.
A friend of mine had a younger brother with a '72 Chevy van. His father bought all fresh internals for his SBC motor for Christmas, then rebuilt it and his transmission. I recall seeing brand new crank, cam, pistons, rods and more wrapped in plastic under their Christmas tree that year. Immediately after the engine and transmission rebuild, the younger brother totalled the van while racing it around town. I had been recruited by the dad to assist him with commercial automatic door servicing, because of my electronics experience and my job as an alarm and security access installer. During our time working together, he heard me say that I was looking for a 350 and transmission for my Camaro, so he offered to sell the motor and trans they had removed from the wrecked van for $600. I knew they had less than 1,000 miles on them since the rebuild, so I bought them. When they rebuilt the motor, they didn't bother cleaning the exterior and it was pretty grimey looking, so I thoroughly cleaned it and painted it, along with sand blasting and painting every bracket and bolt on it. I added a chrome alternator, timing chain cover and air cleaner assembly, along with some Holley black finned valve covers. When I got done with it, it looked brand new, squeeky clean and better than a factory motor. However, due to the shady character of the dad, which I learned of later, I discovered many years afterwards that the "350" he sold me was actually a 307! Some buddies and I installed the "350" drivetrain in the Camaro and I had a driveshaft cut to fit the longer TH350 transmission. After installing the motor, we dumped in some gas and tried to start it, but it ran like crap and wouldn't idle. We were too young and inexperienced to consider that there may be some old, bad gas in the tank and lines from the car sitting for years. We brilliantly deduced that the carburetor probably needed to be rebuilt, so I paid one of the guys to do it, since he had rebuilt a couple before. After the carb rebuild, it still ran like crap, so we assumed that he either screwed up on the rebuild or something else had gone wrong inside the motor. After tediously refinishing every nut and bolt on the engine and under the hood, including a full sanding and repainting of the fender aprons and hood hinges, paying to have the carb rebuilt and ending up with a motor that wouldn't even idle, I was thoroughly disgusted and gave up on the project for a while, until I was ready to dig deeper and figure out what had gone wrong. As other project came along, as well as lots of partying and hanging out with friends, the Camaro project got abandoned for years and it just sat, patiently waiting for me to eventually take another crack at it. I still collected parts for it when I could find them at a bargain, but I was reluctant to start tearing into the motor.
After dealing with gas that had gone bad on a couple of my other project cars, I finally snapped onto the idea that maybe we hadn't bothered checking for old gas in the tank and lines before trying to start it back then. It had been so long, I couldn't remember. So, just for fun, I popped the hood, disconnected the fuel line at the front, ran a hose from a gas can to the fuel pump, dropped in a battery and turned the key,......... it started, ran and idled!
cleaned the tank, blew out the lines, circulated good gas through
it a couple of times, hooked the fuel system back together,
dumped in some new gas and drove it out of my back yard.
1978 Camaro Sport Coupe
was originally a 1978 Camaro Sport Coupe in White with a light blue interior.
Original Sticker Price:
A base 1978 Camaro Sport Coupe was $4,414.25.
134,491 Camaro Sport Coupes were produced in 1978.
Hagerty Price Guide
Original Rear Spoiler
Original '79-'81 Style Dash
Original Air Induction Hood Scoop
Original Fender Vents
Original Side Flares
Original Lower Grill
Aftermarket Upper Grill
Original Z28 Emblems
Original Chin Spoiler
Freshly Rebuilt SBC & Transmission
Original Black Z28 Door Panels
Original Z28 Air Induction Air Cleaner Assembly
Original Black Interior Plastic Panels
New Black Headliner
New Black Carpet
New "Z28" Floor Mats
Original Red Z28 Seats & Seat Belts
Original Red Console
Original Red Visors
Original Z28 Fenders
Original Z28 Air Induction Hood
Original Black Z28 Rope Steering Wheel
Original Power Windows & Wiring
New Power Locks On Original Wiring
Original Power Trunk Release & Wiring
Original Underhood Light & Wiring
Original Trunk Light & Wiring
Original Z28 Suspension & Rear End
Original '80-'81 Z28 Aluminum Wheels
Original '78-'79 Z28 Turbine Aluminum Wheels
Original '78-'81 Z28 Steel Wheels
Vintage Ronal 5 Spoke White Wheels
Original '91-'92 Z28 16" White Wheels
Custom '81 Z28 Stripe Set
New Trunk Seal
Red Emblem Horn Cap
Upgradable (could be better)
Rear Bumper Cover
Red Door Panel Emblems
It now has all of the correct body pieces from original Z28s(except the new upper grill) in perfect condition. The interior is Z28-correct and super nice, with the exception of the dash pad. It runs and drives, but not with the drivetrain I want in the end. I have installed a Rockford Fosgate powered stereo system, using all vintage equipment beyond the equalizer. I opted for a modern Pyle shaft unit made to fit older car dashes, but has line input for iPods, USB and an SD card slot to play MP3s. I'm also using a newer Pyle parametric EQ to shape the sound, since the stereo has very limited tone control. I have also installed an alarm system that controls the power door locks and pops the trunk. The factory upgrades I've added are:
Power Windows (Original wiring & motors)
Power Locks (Original wiring, but stronger aftermarket actuators in the stock locations)
Power Trunk Release (Original wiring, actuator and button from a 2nd gen TA)
Cruise Control (All Original Hardware)
Underhood Light (Original wiring and assmebly)
Trunk Light (Original wiring and assmebly)
Late '80s to Today
1978 Camaro Codes & Options