What’s your idea of the ultimate muscle car? If you had free access to any high performance, emotion inducing car part or platform, what would you assemble? That was the opportunity given the guys at Car and Driver in the late 1960s, and what they put together might be considered the ultimate Camaro. Read on to learn more about this one-of-a-kind creation dubbed “Blue Maxi” – Car and Driver’s once abused, “Company Car.”
By the late 1960s, power and muscle reigned supreme in the automotive world. All of America’s major carmakers had their own version of what would come to be known as the muscle car, each with a wide range of features, options, packages and more. But for the staff at Car and Driver, nothing on the market was quite what they were looking for.
Back in the day, a lot of strange ideas were percolating throughout the whole of the culture: some good; some bad; some just plain out there. In the automotive world, “muscle” was the key buzzword, one that implied American might, ingenuity, style and, above all, horsepower.
So it was that, in 1969, the editors at Car and Driver set out to turn a Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 into “the ultimate, ultimate”—the world’s first Z/29 Camaro. The August 1969 issue of the magazine lays out the questionable nature of such a venture in self-deprecating terms:
“When you set out to transform a Z/28 into a Z/29,” they wrote, “the world scoffs, friendly dogs turn on you and bite, relatives shake their heads reprovingly behind your back and the bank reviews your line of credit.”
Starting out with a Camaro powered by a then new LT-1 engine, they sought to create a car that could compete on the drag strip and also be practical and functional on the highway. Their idea was to operate under the working theory that whatever is good small is likely to be just that much better if made larger. “Mostly,” so ran the logic, “[the car] had to represent everything [they] thought was right about the automobile in an atmosphere of increasing criticism of anything with four wheels—especially four fat wheels.”
Putting It All Together
When it finally came time to assemble parts and components and get their Z/29 on the road, the folks at Car and Driver turned to the team that knew more than anyone else how best to unleash the Camaro’s potential: Mark Donohue and Sam Eckerd. Having previously worked their magic under Roger Penske and the Penske team of Sonoco Camaro’s, Donohue and Eckerd were the ideal choices to put that extra muscle into the car. The first step in the process was the aforementioned LT-1 engine.
At the time, the LT-1 was slated to go into the following model year’s Z/28. Car and Driver being Car and Driver were able to get their hands on one and promptly made a few adjustments that brought the car up to 370 hp (up from the 290 hp of the stock 302 in the Z/28). With Penske’s team behind the project, the car’s times decreased and speeds began to increase, exponentially. When they first started, the C&D team managed 14.2 seconds at 100 mph in the quarter mile. By the time Penske’s team had worked their magic, the car ran a 13.7 seconds at 104 mph. Add to this the vastly improved braking system that allowed the car to stop within 220 feet at speed, and they had indeed come up with the perfect combination of track and road.
Of course, these weren’t the only changes made. Penske’s team went over the entire car and ultimately improved every single element they saw as holding the car back. So pleased were they with the finished product, the team was confident they had built the perfect Camaro—a “car [that] will find its way into the hands of people who know about cars.”
“Not very many,” they continued. “Just a few for those who understand. And what they will understand when they drive it is that until that moment they haven’t understood at all.”
The Green Meanie
Hyperbole aside, the Blue Maxi did prove surprisingly easy to handle both on the track and on the road. The project was deemed a success. Car and Driver readers loved the story. And soon competing automotive publications ventured to create “ultimate vehicles” of their own.
The following year, CARS Magazine responded to Car and Driver’s supposed “ultimate expression of what a good car should be” with another idealized creation, the “Green Meanie.” Designed to be the ultimate small block hot rod, a Z/30 to the Car and Driver Z/29 if you will. With the help of Joel Rosen and Baldwin/Motion Performance Group the one-upmanship got a little out of control. Using the same 350/370 engine but ditching the air-conditioning and squeezing the small-block for all that it was worth, CARS and Rosen came away with well over 400 horsepower utilizing a dual quad, Edelbrock Street Tunnel Ram, Hooker Headers, SuperSpark Ignition, custom cam and Hooker Headers. Combined with a Schiefer clutch, aluminum flywheel, 4.10 gears, and traction bars, CARS was able to achieve a 12-second quarter mile time.
Despite being bested in quarter mile times by the Green Meanie, it is the Blue Maxi that first set the car world to dreaming and not just because of its performance. Car and Driver campaigned the Blue Maxi around the East Coast allowing many a lucky adrenaline junky the chance to experience it. At Bridgehampton the car was used as a course car during a driver’s school and the car was “mobbed by people who wanted just one lap in the car. Those who got it wandered away in shock.”
After having fulfilled their mission to “prove that a mere automobile can transcend the obvious device of transportation and become an experience,“ Car and Driver held a raffle for the car only to see the winner quickly trade it in for a new 1970 Camaro. It was here–at Fahrenkopf Chevrolet in New Jersey—that a dealership employee by the name of Jerry Schmidt happened to acquire the Blue Maxi and, recognizing it for the one-of-a-kind treasure it was, cared for it meticulously his entire life. While the Green Meanie slipped quietly into the forgotten pages of history (if you know its whereabouts – let us know!), the Blue Maxi is still very much with us.
Today, the Blue Maxi lives on. When it was shown at this year’s Carlisle Chevrolet Nationals, the car still sported the original Sunoco Blue paint, heavy duty racing brakes, LT-1 engine and M-21 Muncie 4-speed transmission. Unfortunately, Schmidt—who had lovingly maintained the vehicle over the decades—passed away several weeks prior to the show, leaving his nephew Brandon, brother Fred, and passionate group of car buddies to accompany the car to honor Jerry’s memory.
Given its historical and cultural significance, the Blue Maxi was a prime candidate for the HVA’s National Automotive Heritage Award, which was presented this year at the Chevrolet Nationals—a recognition Brandon and Fred both agreed would have made Jerry exceedingly proud.