This brief article, written for the short-lived “Sports Driver & Road Monthly”, is what looks like a transcription of Archie Vicar’s impressions of the 1977-and-a-half Chevrolet Camaro Z-28.
During the late 1970s the motoring correspondent Archie Vicar was in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. He would fly from Heathrow to New York on Concorde, do a test drive and fly back to his next assignment in the Midlands, six times a month. Photos by Karl Olsensen. Due the poor quality of the original images stock photos have been used.
What is this then? A sporty Camaro? It sounds like a contradiction in terms but somehow Chevrolet have decided to have a go at making a Camaro that can negotiate bends in the road. It still looks brash and crudely assembled in the American style. There is nothing here to scare even the most careless assembly-line workers at British Leyland. The nose cone evidently comes from a different car and the rear bumper is made of a plastic as convincing as an amputee’s orthosis. Is it a kind of American XJ-S?
The Camaro’s main mission in life is to trounce its arch-enemy, the Firebird Trans-Am made by Pontiac. Doubtless many of Chevrolet’s managers thought it humiliating for Pontiac to win all the business. So, if all goes well, all Pontiac’s customers will switch to the Camaro leaving the Pontiac high and dry in abandoned showrooms. What a fiendish plan. At some point a secretary at GM might want to send a circular to the chaps at Pontiac and Chevrolet to inform them that they are part of the same conglomerate.
The Camaro Z-28 has one big V-8 350 cid engine as standard. As to the rest it is very much the same as its antediluvian predecessor: a “monococque” structure and a V-arm front suspension. There’s a solid rear axle at the back with leaf springs would you believe. In 1976. Goodness me. Volvo use those.
Most customers are too lazy around here to do their own gearchanging so thankfully Chevrolet have added an automatic ‘box. The GM people know their customers. It has four speeds, or one too many. The steering is very light and there’s really little to do in the car once it is up and running due to the speed limits in force.
I went for a bit of drive in the car to see how it fared. I collected it from Idlewild Airport in New York on a wet and nasty day. How did it go? The car willingly span its wheels (and that was in the covered car-park). On the motorway ramps it was barely controllable: 3.1 seconds from 0-30 is a good enough figure when bragging at the traffic lights. Trying that on a curved road with a surface greasier than a hot cup of lard is rather unwise. The chassis just can’t handle the horsepower. The tyres can’t handle the horsepower and nor can the brakes.
The quarter mile time (apparently something the editor thinks matters) is about 15 seconds. Indeed. With the photographer squashed into the passenger seat the car seemed balanced enough. With him on a litter-strewn verge in some blasted outlying district of Albany it was another story. The car kept pulling to the right. Idlewild to Albany took 14 gallons of petrol, near enough to the recommended average MPG but almost as bad as Rolls-Royce.
It’s a ghastly drive, New York to the north. I think it shows up the limitations of the Camaro Z-28. It is hazardous to drive in a sporty fashion when you get bored and you might as well drive a Cadillac if you are going to drive calmly.
The stiffer springs and revised shocks notwithstanding, the Camaro’s manners are still worse than Alfa Romeo, BMW or Lancia’s best. It might be good in comparison with the other cars made in the US but for any driver concerned with proper roadability this won’t do. The ashtray is very big but coarsely made and fiddly to use. It had no interior light or else it was out of order. I liked the boot.
A lick of rain and a firm right foot ended my drive. The car managed some impressive over-steer on a road with barely any noticeable curvature. The Camaro slid without a noise off the tarmac and into a sign advertising a nearby diner. As luck would have it, American beer is mostly appalling so I had nothing to fear when the police officer inquired about my sobriety.
The diner served up some decent food, I have to say. And root beer is alright, in moderate doses. An optional chrome strip for the wheel-arches will be available in mid-1978.
7 thoughts on “1977 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28 roadtest”
Thank you for that transcription Richard. Archie was indeed a man out of his time, and I’m reminded of his intransigence in all things by his insistence on referring to JFK Airport as Idlewild, many years after its name was changed. Our US visitors will doubtless be further aghast to hear of his usual call of ‘just popping over to the colonies to test one of their death traps’, although his opinion on US cars had little to do with Mr Ralph Nader and more to do with a nasty experience with the low friction between a pair of nylon slacks he once purchased and the bench seat of a Ford Galaxie in pre-seatbelt times. He also called a 50 pence piece, ten bob until his dying days.
There’s no doubt about it that Vicar harboured a lot of prejudices concerning the US and its cars. Seemingly this is what his US editors wanted as it generated a big post bag and cheers from American fans of European cars. I believe Vicar met David Frost on his Concorde trips.
No wonder Sports Driver & Road Monthly went under. Nobody read it then and nobody does so now.
Inside the publishing industry, it’s still sometimes referred to as The Vicar’s Curse. Of all the many publications he contributed to, there isn’t one left. Was it something he said?
Simon: Only you know as you seem to have the most experience of those who might conceivably have worked with him. I expect Setright copied Vicar. Didn´t he also move to the US at some point?
LJKS could often be scathing about Vicar but, in private, it was apparent he was in awe of the man and this does show in his writing. Vicar did reside in the US for several months at one time. I forget which penal institution it was, and the charges were finally dropped. He was apparently greatly respected by his fellow inmates.
If I didn’t know your sly sense of humour was at play I would be outraged at the suggestion Vicar did time. I believe he was convalescing with a sprained knee.