The one and only ’68 Camaro Z/28 Convertible

The one and only ’68 Camaro Z/28 Convertible

Story and photos by John Gunnell

Racing on Sunday sold cars on Monday, and Chevy promotions manager Vince Piggins wanted to build a max-performance Camaro to run in Trans-Am races. His Camaro Z/28 option was a performance equipment package designed to make the Camaro a winner. It was introduced at the American Road Race of Champions.

The Z/28 package was $358, but mandatory options jacked typical out-the-door prices to about $4,200. That included a heater, but you could not get air conditioning. Piggins got the model’s 302-cid V8 to make 350 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque at 6,200 rpm. However, GM advertised 290 hp at 5,800 rpm and 290 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm.

The 1967 Z/28 coupe could move from 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. It did the quarter-mile in an amazing 14.9 seconds at 97 mph. Top speed was 124 mph. Despite its small-block V8, the Z/28 performed like a race car. It was a fussy car, too.

Chevrolet built 602 Camaro Z/28 Sport Coupes with the Z/29 package in 1967. The next year, Z/28 production leaped to 7,199 cars. One single, solitary soft-top was made. This is the story of that rare ragtop and how it came to be.

In addition to being a one-of-a-kind car, this car was the first ever Z/28 convertible coupe. It was specially built for E. M. “Pete” Estes, the general manager of Chevrolet. The car was ordered under Dealer Code 00-500 and was assembled at GM’s Norwood, Ohio, assembly plant on July 15, 1968. The car was loaded with extras and some very special high-performance parts were added to it before Mr. Estes started driving it.

Jim Mattison runs Pontiac Historic Services ( of Sterling Heights, Michigan, today. At the time the 1968 Z/28 convertible was built, Mattison worked for Chevrolet’s Fleet Special Order Department. “A lot of muscle car fans call it COPO and associate it with 427 Camaros and things like that, but the department’s name was Fleet Special Order Department and its main job was taking special orders for police cars and taxicab fleets and those kinds of cars,” Mattison told Muscle Car Plus. “From my perspective, because I was the youngest member in the department in the late ‘60s, when a ‘hot rod’-type project came through, they always gave it to me to work on.”

Mattison said Vince Piggins called him up one day and asked, “Is it possible that we can build a Camaro Z/28 convertible? It seems that Piggins had some special racing parts that he wanted to get homologated for use on SCCA racing cars so Penske could put them on his Camaros. To achieve this, the parts had to be okayed for use on production cars. Piggins thought that getting the Chevy general manager to drive a Z/28 fitted with those parts was one way to win Estes’ approval of them. “Everyone, including Vince Piggins, knew that Estes was a convertible fanatic,” Mattison explained. That’s why Piggins asked Mattison if a Z/28 convertible could be put together on a COPO basis.

Jim ordered the car as a convertible with a special release for the regular production Z/28 package and loaded it with other regular production options. The special racing options that Piggins wanted to get approved for Penske weren’t included. When it was built, the car first went to the GM Executive Garage in the GM Building in Detroit. ‘Then, before they gave the keys to Estes, it was sent to the GM Tech Center, in Warren, Mich., where the special stuff and parts were put on it,” Mattison explained. “Then, it was taken back to the GM Executive Garage and made available for Estes to use.”

Options on Estes’ Fathom Green car included a folding rear seat, auxiliary console-mounted instrumentation, auxiliary lighting, power windows, a remote outside rearview mirror, custom seat belts, a blue light AM/FM stereo system, a rear window defroster, a Comfortilt steering wheel and posi-traction. The special racing parts were four-wheel disc brakes (a mid-’69 RPO), a performance suspension package with Koni shock absorbers, a cowl plenum fibreglass hood (more or less a prototype of the ’69 Camaro fibreglass hood), a cross-ram intake manifold and factory-built tube headers.

Reports said that Estes used the Z/28 convertible as his “everyday” car, but Mattison said that’s an exaggeration. “He had one of every Chevy model available at the time at his disposal and drove different cars,” Mattison pointed out. ”However, Estes drove the Z/28 convertible frequently; he loved the car and he okayed Penske getting his parts,”

The car officially belonged to GM, but Estes drove it for most of the year. Towards the end of 1968, it was taken back to the GM Tech Center and the special racing parts were removed. On Dec. 17, 1968 it was sold to GM employee T.H. Standen through Chevrolet dealer Bill Markley. Markley owned a dealership that was practically across the street from the GM Building. When executive cars came out of the fleet, they had to be sold through a dealer and Markley was the dealer of choice for Chevrolet products.

Two years later, Standen sold the car to Vern Nye, another GM employee. Nye retained possession of the Z/28 convertible for nearly 20 years. According to Mattison, classic car auctioneer Dana Mecum first unearthed the car at this time. Mecum had the car restored around 1990, then sold it in one of his 1991 auctions for a record muscle car price of $172,000. The car went to Milt Robson, of Georgia. Then. it was purchased by the Rock ‘n Roll Toy Store Ltd., of Highland Park, Ill. Next a man named Al Maynard purchased the car. Mattison said that Maynard found correct parts to replace all the racing goodies removed from the car. He had Scott Tiemann of Supercar Specialties in Portland, Mich. do more restoration to the car. He then took it to the Amelia Island Concours.

In 2004, Maynard took the car to an Auburn, Indiana auction. hoping to get $1 million for it. It didn’t sell, but made headlines. “A one-of-a-kind Z/28 Camaro convertible built for a former General Motors Corp. executive is missing its keys, title and original bill of sale—all of them stolen during the classic car auction,” reported The Auburn Evening Star.

Maynard sold the car to Mecum. “Dana always loved the car and decided he wanted it back,” Mattison said. “He arranged to buy it from Al Maynard for his collection and he probably won’t sell it again.” Maynard had copies of the stolen paperwork. “Also, after Dana got the car, Tom Stanton called him and said that he had paperwork on the car,” Mattison added. “The car Dana has is the well-documented real thing.”

Muscle car historian Colin Comer of Milwaukee, Wis., put a chapter about the Z/28 in his Million Dollar Muscle Cars book ( “A lot of people lay claim to having a 1-of-1 muscle car,” he wrote.” Often its rarity is based on a colour or a transmission and rear axle ratio combination or it being the only one like it assembled by Bob Smith who worked 3rd shift on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Estes convertible is truly the only one; a prototype for a car never considered for production.”

According to Comer, “The combination of it being built as a Z/28 convertible and then having all the race parts installed by hand by GM Engineering is something that could only happen back when the right guys would get involved. It is a reminder that GM ruled the world in the 1960s and basically did whatever they wanted to! A group of guys built this car to get racing parts homologated so GM could beat Ford in SCCA competition. Anybody pleased with how the Camaros did in 1969 had this car and Pete Estes to thank.”

Comer said, “The fact that the Estes car survives at all is a miracle, but to have survived so intact is testimony to all of its owners realizing its importance. For first-gen Camaros, it just doesn’t get any better. This car is indeed one of one and the real deal.”

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