Come Monterey, this Camaro could be the most expensive ever
Chevrolet had loads of success in Trans Am racing in the ’60s. It started with this Camaro right here.
After an illustrious racing career on both sides of the Atlantic and languishing as a basket case for decades, the first-ever Penske Sunoco Z/28 will be going up for sale as part of Gooding & Co.’s Monterey Car Week festivities. Gooding estimates this historic SCCA racer will sell for between $1.4M–2.0M. If it comes close to that number (and there’s no reason to think that it won’t) the sale would mark the highest auction price ever for a Camaro, a title currently held by a 1969 ZL-1.
Courtesy and copyright of Gooding & Company, photography by Josh Hway
Courtesy and copyright of Gooding & Company, photography by Josh HwayChevrolet didn’t have the proper race engine just laying around on the shelf ready to start the 1967 Trans Am season, but it did have a lot of the right parts. All it took was the proper combination. To keep under the maximum displacement of 5.0 liters required for SCCA competition, Chevrolet paired the 4.0-inch bore of the 327 with the 3.0-inch stroke of the 283. The 302 was born. This early racing version used a four-barrel atop a high-rise dual-plane intake. The striking cross-ram intake would come later. What is characteristic of this car, and of many racing cars of its era, is the intake ducting that feeds the engine from the cowl, rather than from under the hood. Chevrolet rated the production 302 at a paltry 290 horsepower, but in race trim, the screaming small-block was producing somewhere around 450 hp.
As we mentioned, Chevrolet did a bang-up job in Trans Am racing with the Camaro, taking the 1968 and 1969 championships in the hotly contested series thanks to the Penske team and the fantastic driving of Mark Donohue. However, the Penske team’s eventual dominance got off to a bumpy start. The 302 V-8 in this Penske Camaro had a teething issue, with a bad fuel system plaguing the car in its first two competition outings. It wasn’t until the seventh race of the season that Donohue and co-driver Craig Fisher would put team Penske at the top of the podium at the Marlboro Double 300, lapping the field twice.
Donohue went on to pilot 1968 and 1969 Camaros to the Trans Am championship before switching to AMC and taking a Javelin into the winner’s circle for the 1971 season. As it was no longer highlighting the newest and fastest that Chevrolet had to offer, Penske’s first ’67 Camaro was sold to McNamara Racing, where it was shipped to Germany to compete in FIA sedan races. McNamara racing was quite successful in racing the car in the 1968 season and also in 1969, when Dr. Helmut Marko took over behind the wheel. After changing hands a few more times, the car was retired from racing in 1979, its historic past seemingly forgotten. The Z/28’s current owner, who previously owned team Penske’s second Sunoco Camaro, discovered this car in Europe in 2015 after a 25-year search. Apparently, the car was disassembled shortly after its 1979 retirement and had spent 35 years in pieces. Luckily, plenty of the original equipment was intact and the car’s serial number, roll cage, and lingering blue-and-yellow overspray identified the race veteran as the real deal.
After returning to the states, the Z/28 was treated to an extensive restoration and no expense was spared. It once again wears the distinctive blue and yellow Sunoco livery and #16 gumball on the door as it did during its inaugural Trans Am victory. 1967 Camaro Z/28s are rare, with just 602 production versions built, and only 25 (the first 25 built) were sent to become SCCA racers. However, only one 1967 Z/28 can claim the honor of being the first Camaro, or first Chevrolet of any model for that matter, to claim a Trans Am victory. This car’s unparalleled history and its gorgeous restoration would make it the cornerstone of just about any collection, and Gooding’s 2021 Pebble Beach auction should give us a new record for the most valuable Camaro yet.