Lee Storch finally had a second chance with his 1969 Camaro Z/28, but it took him a long time to get it.
Saying that Storch, a resident of Neenah, Wis., had seller’s remorse after he sold his Hugger Orange Z/28 back in 1972 would be a bit of an understatement. He beat himself up pretty good for that decision over the years. More than that, it drove him through a dogged pursuit for more than three decades to try to get the car back.
Luckily for Storch, the Camaro never left Wisconsin, and through plenty of gumshoe detective work, a lot determination and some helpful fellow car enthusiasts, he was able to buy back the car he wishes he never parted with.
“I was the second owner of the car, and I’m the ninth owner of the car,” jokes Storch, who was able to buy the Camaro for a second time back in 2004. “I got it back about 32 years after I got rid of it. I think I paid about 20 times what I sold it for, but I got the car back!”
Storch will admit that having a sweet ’69 Z/28 with the Rally Sport package as a 19-year-old was a pretty sweet deal. He had a lot of fun with the car for a year, and the early fling made him a Camaro fan for life.
“In 1971 I saw the car at a local dealership and bought it and had it one year. Then I sold it because I was getting married and had a little one on the way and it wasn’t the kind of car to keep,” says Storch. “So I sold it after one year and of course I regretted it right away … Then in roughly the mid-’80s, I was curious where the car was and if it was crushed or whether it still existed. So a friend of mine’s wife worked at the police station and I gave them the VIN and was able to track the car down and it was in Junction City [Wis.]. So I went there, knocked on the door, and the owner of the car showed me the car, but it was painted a different color. I asked him if he wanted to sell it and he said ‘no.’
“I think I gave him my name and number and asked him to call me if he ever wanted to sell, but that didn’t happen. So then quite a few years after that, in the late ’90s, I could no longer go to a police station and get information, so I filled out a form with the DMV and was able to locate the car up north in a town called Chetek. I called the person that owned it at that time and he was in the middle of restoring it and didn’t want to sell it. So I knew this person didn’t keep cars real long, and I called him once a year for four or five years and he finally sold it to me.”
A LEGEND TAKES FLIGHT
You couldn’t blame Storch for falling hard for the ’69 Z/28. He was no different than countless other car lovers — of all ages — who were blown away by the early ‘Z’ cars that first took the muscle car world by storm for the 1967 model year.
“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” was the battle cry in board rooms of the Big 3 automakers during the late 1960s, and it was a motto that fueled the muscle car race and led to the unveiling of one of the great American performance cars of its era.
At the time the Sports Car Club of America’s new Trans-Am “sedan” racing series was popular among race fans and influential on what was to come from Detroit. In Trans-Am Cup competition, engine size was capped at 305 cubic inches, so Chevrolet’s answer was a Camaro powered by a small-block 302 V-8. RPO Z28 was born and aimed squarely at making the new Camaro a winner on Trans-Am race tracks.
In the production car, Chevrolet combined the 327-cid block with the 283-cid crankshaft and came up with a 302-cid V-8. With a big four-barrel carb, an aluminum high-rise intake and L79 Corvette heads, engineers were able to squeeze out 350 hp and 320 lbs.-ft. of torque at 6200 rpm. Publicly, the Z/28 was conservatively advertised at 290 hp at 5800 rpm and 290 lbs.-ft. of torque at 4200 rpm.
The Z/28 performed very well and, since it was designed for competitive road racing, it had terrific handling and braking to go with its impressive straight-line acceleration. The 1967 first-year model could move from 0-to-60 mph in 6.7 seconds and did the quarter-mile in an amazing 14.9 seconds at 97 mph. Its top speed was 124 mph.
Only 602 Camaros with the Z/28 package were produced for 1967, but demand escalated quickly and sales leaped to 7199 cars in 1968, then made an even bigger jump to 20,302 assemblies for 1969, which many buffs still consider the greatest year ever for the Camaro.
The restyled 1969 Camaro body featured more defined sculpturing and a squarish, race-car-like look. The Z/28 package was again offered only for the Camaro coupe in 1969. Some sources say that it came in a basic version priced at $458 and a version with dealer-installed headers for $758. However, there were actually at least six variations. The basic package released Sept. 26, 1968, included the 302 V-8, dual exhausts with deep-tone mufflers, special front and rear suspensions, rear bumper guards, a heavy-duty radiator with a temperature-controlled fan, quick-ratio power steering, 15 x 7 rally wheels, E70 x 15 special white-lettered tires, a 3.73:1 rear axle and special hood and trunk stripes. Chevrolet mandated a four-speed manual transmission and power disc brakes and recommended a Positraction rear axle.
There were several changes to the Z/28 package during the 1969 model year. On Oct. 18, 1968, bright engine accents and Z/28 emblems for the grille, front fender and rear panel were added and rally wheels were no longer specified, but wheel trim rings were added. The price remained at $458. On Jan. 2, 1969, a tachometer or special instrumentation was made mandatory and the price rose to $474. On April 1, the specs were changed to read “dual exhausts” only, wheel center caps were specified along with a front valance panel and rear deck-lid spoiler.
There are many variations between Z/28s, as well as between original cars and the written factory specifications. For example, very-early-in-the-run 1969 cars were manufactured with the 1968-style stripes and 15 x 6-inch rally wheels. Buyers ordering a spoiler on the early cars got the 1967-1968 style spoiler. And these earlier Zs were the only ones to carry the chambered dual exhaust system.
AN ORANGE CRUSH
Storch had just about the hottest car in town when he was 19. He bought it used in 1971 with just over 20,000 miles on it, and he had a blast. “It had the original Z/28 302 with the smog system, chambered exhaust and the car has the Rally Sport package with the hide-away headlights and the custom or deluxe interior. It was really a nice car when I got it… And unfortunately the first thing I did was take the exhaust manifolds off and the smog system and throw it in the garbage, and now those things are worth quite a bit of money!
“And I kind of pounded it so the car really went backwards when I had it. I probably was the worst owner of the car. I was 19 years old and was pounding the car and I actually blew the engine up back at the time. I think all the other owners after me likely took better care of the car than I did. Then I sold it and regretted it and for years kept thinking, ‘I’d sure like to have that car back.’”
Storch’s road to recovering the car is a lesson in patience and perseverance. He had several near-misses in his attempts to buy it back. He lost track of the car a few times, too, but somehow always managed to eventually get a lead on it again. It was never more than a few hours from his Neenah home, and over the years he kept running into people who helped him figure out where it was and who had it.
“In the ’80s after I looked at the car and the guy didn’t want to sell it, I actually became aware that the car was for sale [in central Wisconsin], but unfortunately I was building this house at the time and was not in a position to buy it. And by not buying it then, and then getting back in the position to get it later, that probably stimulated my desire to get it.
“Finally, when I found it and the person was willing to sell it, I was just determined to get the car back. Of course, the guy knew I was the second owner and there was no wiggle room. His price was firm, and I was OK with that.”
The car that came back to Neenah had been nicely restored inside and out, but it was now Daytona Yellow — a popular and flashy choice, and also a factory color in ’69 — but Storch just couldn’t get used to it. He drove it for several years, then finally decided to pull the trigger on a repaint and go back to the Hugger Orange.
“So I took it to a guy named Rick Gipp in Seymour [Wis.] and he did a beautiful job on the car. He stripped and did some repairs to it. I bought some quarters for it and he just re-did little pieces around the wheel openings and I think a few spots around the windows and doors, and the trunk lid was replaced because of a bunch of body filler and corrosion in it. But all in all, it’s a quite solid car for a Wisconsin car.”
Storch says the car ran fine with the same replacement engine that was in it, but he decided to seek out a new engine. Well, actually two engines.
“I blew the engine up in back in ’71 so it did not have the original engine. Then when I got the car back, it had a Z/28 engine in it, but it was newer than the car. So I found a Z/28 engine out East that was only 20 VIN numbers away from my car, so it was likely built the very same day. So I bought that short-block and I put it in the car, and then a few years after that I found an original cross-ram ]intake manifold] and added it to the car. I did a few things to bring it back [to original] and I’m kind of a numbers person and it has the original transmission, original rear end, and now it has a Z/28 engine only 20 numbers away from the original. That was the best I could do.”
The thought of breaking the 302 engine again — even though he drives much gentler these days — weighed on Storch’s mind, however. He had gone through engine swaps twice with the car and he didn’t want to do it again, so he decided to preserve the car’s most recent power plant.
“I decided I was going to put a ‘play’ engine in it and I found in a magazine an engine called a Little Wolf and it’s kind of a hopped-up version of the Z/28 302. So I built that up and put that in and I have the other engine on a cart in the garage. I also put in a TREMEC five-speed with the Wolf engine. It looks just like the original stuff, and I have the original transmission and engine in my garage.
“It makes pretty good power, and the Z/28 originally had the 4.10 Posi rear, and that’s a low gear. When it was new it had chambered exhaust and when I got it back I put chambered exhaust back on it. The chambered exhaust is pretty loud and it’s fun to drive with that snotty sound going down the road, and it certainly accelerates pretty well.”
Two things that Storch didn’t have to replace were the spare tire, and the jack that came with it. Amazingly, he still had them from his first go-round with the car.
“Originally, I ran an ad in the newspaper and nobody bought it, so I wound up selling it to a dealer. I didn’t get the price I wanted and I was irritated so because of that, I pulled the spare tire and jack out of the car, never thinking I’d get that car back again!” he recalls. “But I have that original spare tire from pulling it way back in 1971-’72 … I think it was a value thing. ‘Well that’s worth something and I’m not getting what I want for it.’ And it’s a good thing I did, because now I have the original spare.”
Storch has made it something of a mission to find out everything he can about the car during the years he didn’t own it. He knew the car had been sold originally at Reeck Motors in the small Wisconsin town of Weyauwega — he later found the original dealer and car’s first owner and they each had their picture taken with the Camaro — but filling in the later years took some doing.
“Through all the nice people I met at car shows and things like that, I was able to nail down every owner of the car, and I’ve put together a nice little book with the ownership of the car from new,” he says. “There is really a lot of nice people at car shows, and I was able to fill in a lot of the blanks just by talking to people and getting information and getting leads.”
A bright orange 1969 Camaro Z/28 with racing stripes and hidden headlights and all the muscle car goodies draws plenty of attention at shows these days, and Storch is happy to re-tell the car’s long and winding story. Even if nobody noticed the car, however, he knows the quest to get it back again was worth it.
“You know, a common theme at car shows is people will come up to you and tell you they had a car like this and ‘I wished I would have kept it,’” he says. “And I know just where they are coming from.”
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