1978 Plymouth Fury Police Pursuit (top); 1977 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 (bottom). Images by the author.
[Editor’s comment: Please note that the This or That column is not a comparison report between two or more vehicles (in the original spirit of the Hemmings Special Interest Autos/Hemmings Classic Car/Hemmings Muscle Machines articles), but rather a feature that enables us, in an idyllic world, to add a collectible vehicle into our dream garage on a regular basis — with a catch: We can only pick one vehicle from this group, and it has to be for enjoyment purposes rather than as an investment. So let’s climb into the ultimate automotive fantasy time machine and have a little fun.]
During the summer of 1978, Foreigner’s Hot Blooded hit the airwaves, mixing it up with tunes from the Bee Gees, Wings, and Rolling Stones. Odds are good that a few of you may have been hot-footing it down a country road, belting out your own rendition of “Who Do You Love” (by George Thorogood & The Destroyers), when “The Man” lit up your rear view mirror with a set of wig-wags. Whether your brief encounter ended with a warning or a citation, the flashback continues in this edition of This or That featuring the cars pictured above: a 1977 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, or 1978 Plymouth Fury Police Pursuit, both of which were previously featured in our Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine.
Let’s start with the antagonist: the Camaro Z28. The performance trim level was put to pasture as the 1974 production season came to a close, seemingly just another nail driven into the lid of the muscle car coffin. But after the ’77 models were rolled out to the public, Chevy reversed its decision and reintroduced the Z28 mid-year.
Though more details are outlined in the original article, the basic features of the ’77 Z28 began with a unique version of Chevrolet’s LM1 small-block 350-cu.in. V-8 engine. Its 4.00 x 3.48-inch bore and stroke and 8.50:1 compression were standard 350 features, as was a Rochester four-barrel carburetor; however, a power-friendly camshaft (.390/.410-inch lift and 310/320 degrees duration) bumped output to a healthy 185 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque in every state except California, where emission regulations kept output to 175 horses. Backing the engine was either an aluminum-cased, close-ratio four-speed manual (a Borg-Warner Super T-10) or Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 automatic. At the far end was a “corporate” 10-bolt differential containing a 3.73 (in conjunction with the manual) or 3.42:1 gearset (against the automatic). The G80 Posi-traction setup was still on the option chart in either arrangement. A tuned suspension, power front disc brakes and body-color Kelsey-Hayes 15 x 7-inch wheels were all standard equipment. During the abbreviated season, 14,349 were built.
Motor Trend (May 1977) tested a Z28 when unveiled, recording a 0-60 mph time of 8.1 seconds and a quarter-mile sprint in 15.4 seconds at 90.05 mph. The only caveat was that the staff assumed the engine was a standard 170-hp version and subsequently listed it as such in their results. Two years later, and with a little more fine tuning under Chevy’s belt, Road & Track tested a ’79 Z28, though its report listed a proper 185-hp 350 under the hood. Their team managed to squeeze a 0-60 mph time of 7.3 seconds from the V-8, while traversing the quarter-mile traps at 90.5 mph (no E.T. was published in that October 1978 report).
While fictional Buford may have been roaming Texas for a particular suspect in his Poncho, a high number of legitimate police departments across America had established fleet contracts with Chrysler Corporation for Pursuit Dodges and Plymouths during 1978 for good reason: These special-built cruisers were, when properly equipped, the fastest set of factory wheels during the model year. Before you laugh, consider these Joe Friday facts.
The Police Pursuit package was given the A38 order code, but it didn’t guarantee a hi-po big-block. The package, which was also available within the A-body family of cars, consisted of a heavy-duty tuned suspension, 7-inch-wide heavy-duty wheels fitted with radial police pursuit tires, heavy-duty front disc/rear drum brakes, a 500-ampere heavy-duty battery, 100-ampere alternator, high-capacity radiator, oil gauge, 140-mph calibrated speedometer, and–among a few other items–Chrysler’s 9 1/4-inch differential containing one of a variety of ratios suited to department needs. An engine oil cooler was optional.
The real bonus to the A38 package was the three engine options that could have supplanted the base 318 V-8. Of the well-tuned versions of the 360, 400, and 440–all of which were furnished with a four-barrel carburetor–the most noteworthy then, as now, was the E86-coded 440. Limited to fullsize Chryslers in 195-hp civilian trim, police 440s were outfitted with enhancements that pushed their official power rating to 255 hp and 355 lb-ft of torque. In case you were wondering, the venerable TorqueFlite automatic was the only transmission available with the A38 package, even one with the E86 big-block.
How did that power stack up against John Q. Public? According to the 1978 Michigan State Police Vehicle Evaluation Tests, a 440 Fury furnished with a highway-friendly 2.71:1 gearset outpaced the competition, recording 0-60 mph in 9.2 seconds, 0-100 mph in 24.8 seconds, and registered a top speed of 132.7 mph. It was enough to out-accelerate a same-year Corvette and could match a Ferrari’s top-end pace. The A38 440 Fury–a true muscle car for “The Man”–was just one of a number of police Plymouths that helped capture 80 percent of the law enforcement market. A year later, the 440, like the rest of Detroit’s original big-blocks, was no more, and Fury’s performance results would not be surpassed until the release of the LT1-equipped Chevy Caprice 9C1 package in 1994.
Having reviewed the facts, would you rule in favor of the Camaro or the Fury, and why?