THE CHEVROLET Z34 was torch red with a louvered hood. I fell in lovewith it instantly.

It had big, 16-inch tires -- Goodyear Eagle GT+4 radials -- thathugged the road like you want to be hugged when only a hug will warmyou. And it had chromed, dual exhaust pipes and brushed aluminum wheels,which shone brilliantly against its red body.

Lordy! It had some kind of an engine, too -- strong, smooth,powerful. Some engines just go vroom, vroom; they go fast, but leave youfeeling disconnected to what's going on. The Z34's 3.4-liter, 24-valve,210-horsepower V-6 went vroom, vroom, too. But it gave good torque, 215foot-pounds at 4,000 rotations per minute. You felt it.

This was the kind of Chevrolet that Chevrolet's marketers must'vebeen thinking about when they came up with their "heartbeat of America"slogan, which ought to be changed to the "heartbeat of North America" inthe case of the Z34, inasmuch as the thing's built in Canada.

Anyway, the car got my heart pumping. It was totally funky -- sofunky, it brought back memories of the famed '57 Chevy Bel Air. It evenhad a back bench seat!

The Z34 had its shortcomings, of course; but I was willing to livewith those. Love is like that, see? Ain't nothin' that sizzles thatcan't splatter grease; ain't nothin' that's hot that can't burn. Loveain't perfect, but in the case of the Chevy Z34, it's worth the risks.

Background: The Z34 is really a Chevrolet Lumina, but I haveemotional difficulty mentioning Z34 and Lumina in the same breath.Regular Lumina models, of which there are too many, flirt withmediocrity. They are nice, reliable, front-wheel-drive family cars,decently styled, but there's little about them that's exciting ormemorable.

Take, for example, the standard 2.5-liter, four-cylinder,110-horsepower engine found in the base Lumina sedan. In compact cars,that engine is great. But the Luminas are full-size cars, despite theEnvironmental Protection Agency's insupportable classification of thosemodels as "mid-size." Bottom line is that a four-cylinder engine in aLumina body -- mated to a dinky three-speed automatic transmission,egads! -- is a mismatch that guarantees boredom.

The Lumina only becomes interesting in its Euro version, which isequipped with a quite nice 3.1-liter V-6; and in its top-line Z34 dress,equipped with a darned good engine, big tires and other suspensioncomponents to match.

Base and Euro Luminas are available as two-door and four-door models.The Z34 comes as a two-door only.

Complaints: Door-mounted safety belts for front-seat occupants. Agoofy, cumbersome design made more goofy by the absence of air bags.Also: The Z34's designers made a noble effort to make something of thenarrow, striplike, instrument-gauge package that GM was willing to payfor; but no amount of tinkering can turn that particular sow's ear intoa silk purse.

Praise: The Z34 is one of the best, affordable, sporty coupes on themarket. It's a solid, well-constructed road runner, quite comfortablefor five occupants. I really enjoyed driving this one. What a hoot!

Head-turning quotient: People with an affection for designer jeanssneered at the Z34. People who have to wear jeans every day to work gaveit thumbs up.

Ride, acceleration and handling: God, it was fun! Braking was prettydarned good, too. Credit four-wheel power discs with anti-lock backup. Ifound myself hunting for curves in the Z34, the handling was so good.Credit the four-wheel-independent suspension system with McPhersonstruts up front and tubular struts in the rear.

Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and compact disc by Delco/Bose. WhatI listened to was okay but I didn't spend much time listening to thestereo. The entertainment in this car was in the driving.

Mileage: About 24 to the gallon (16.5-gallon tank, estimated 386-milerange on usable volume of required premium unleaded), running mostlyhighway and driver only.

Price: Base pr ice for the tested Z34 is $18,400. Dealer's invoiceprice on base model is $16,100. Price as tested is $19,731, including$826 in options and a $505 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: Pretty decent price for what's offered. Youprobably can bargain.