History of a Sports Car: The Chevrolet Camaro

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E.M. Estes 1966 Camaro Announcement

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First Generation (1967-1970)

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1968 Chevrolet Camaro Rally SS


The Chevrolet Camaro's lineage can be traced through four generations, with the first generation Camaro a unibody structure from the windshield and firewall back, with a separate steel rail subframe for everything up front. Double A-arms made up the independent front suspension while the solid rear axle was suspended by semi-elliptical leaf springs. Braking came via four drums, the steering was manual, and Chevy's rugged 230-cubic-inch straight six (rated at 140 horsepower) feed power through a three-speed manual transmission.

The base $2,466 '67 Camaro sport coupe was lean and aggressive, as was the convertible. Drivers did have the option of picking or combining individual options or trim packages called RS and SS.

Buyers could opt for a larger 250-inch version of the six making 155 horsepower, a 210-horsepower 327-cubic-inch small-block V8 fed by a two-barrel carb, that same V8 with a four-barrel carb and a higher compression ratio was rated at 275 horsepower, or two versions of the 396-cubic-inch big-block V8 making either 325 or 375 horsepower. Those engines could be lashed to a series of wide- or short-ratio three- or four-speed manual transmissions, or one of two automatics: the slushy two-speed Powerglide or outstanding three-speed Turbobydramatic.

The Rally Sport (RS) appearance package brought deluxe interior trim and hidden headlights with it, and the high-performance Super Sport (SS) package had its own distinct decoration (including a domed hood with simulated vents, "bumble bee" stripes at the nose and SS badges), a heavy-duty suspension and larger D70-series tires on 14-inch wheels.

The SS-350 model also offered a new 350-cubic-inch small-block V8 rated at 295 horsepower (Chevy's first 350). The Rally Sport and Super Sport packages could be ordered together to create the fully decked out RS/SS. The RS/SS convertible powered by a 396 paced the 1967 Indianapolis 500. The final Camaro package, introduced in December 1966, was the Z/28 which was powered by a special high-compression 302-cubic-inch and rated at 290 horsepower.

While the 1969 Camaro's structure and mechanical elements were virtually unchanged from the '68 model, new fenders, door skins, rear quarter-panels, grille and taillights gave the car a wider, lower appearance. A redesigned dash and more comfortable seats made it more livable, too. But it was the wealth of performance equipment that marked 1969 as the greatest model year for Camaros.

A new low-performance 200-horsepower 307-cubic-inch small-block (a 327 crank in a 283 block) supplemented the low-performance 327 and a new 255-horsepower 350 replaced the better-performing 327. Chevy produced its second Camaro Indianapolis 500 pace car and offered replicas of the white RS/SS convertible with orange stripes and orange houndstooth upholstery to the public (the actual pace car was powered by a 396, but most of the replicas had 350s). In addition, two radical Camaros were produced in extremely limited numbers under special Central Office Production Orders (COPO) 9560 and 9561.

The COPO 9561 was a basic Camaro sport coupe stuffed with 427 cubic inches of all-iron big-block making 425 horsepower. Most of the 1,015 COPO 9561s were delivered to Pennsylvania's Yenko Chevrolet for conversion into that dealership's signature Camaro. Even rarer was the COPO 9560 featuring the legendary all-aluminum ZL-1 427 also rated at 425 horsepower. Only 69 of the ZL-1s were built, and because of their rarity, tremendous output and relatively low weight, they are today considered the quickest and most valuable Camaros ever built. Sales of the 1969 models extended into the winter of 1969 and early 1970; some of these lingering '69s may have been titled as 1970 models.


Second Generation (1970½-1981)

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1972 Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS 350

Though it didn't make it to market until February of 1970, the second-generation 1970½ Camaro would be in production 12 years. With styling inspired by Ferrari, the second-generation Camaro was also bigger, heavier and no longer available as a convertible.

It still used a unibody structure with a front subframe, leaf springs in the back and A-arms up front for suspension. Those A-arms were freshly designed and the steering gear moved from the back to the front of the front axle, but otherwise the basic mechanical pieces were familiar.

The 155-horsepower 250-cubic-inch six was now the Camaro's base engine, followed by the who-cares 200-horsepower 307, the lowliest of V8 offerings. A 250-horsepower two-barrel 350 effectively replaced the 327. Order the SS package and the 350 earned a four-barrel carb and additional compression to reach 300 horsepower. Moreover, SS buyers could pay even more and get a 350- or 375-horsepower 396 big-block V8.

The Camaro was offered with Rally Sport or Super Sport equipment or both. The Rally Sport package featured a unique front-end appearance with a split front bumper and a center grille cavity encircled in rubber. The SS again had heavier-duty suspension and the "SS" logos. The star 1970½ Camaro was again the Z/28, now powered by a 360-horsepower high-compression "LT-1" 350. The LT-1 was available with an automatic transmission.

Due to tougher emissions regulations, GM dropped compression ratios across the board for 1971 and also adopted "net" alongside "gross" power ratings for its engines (by '72, all engines were only net rated). For the 250-cubic inch inline six, the power rating dropped from 155-gross to 110-net horsepower. For the LT-1, the drop was a 30-horsepower plunge down to a 330 horsepower gross and 275 horsepower net. Otherwise, the '71 barely changed from the '70½ model; high-back bucket seats were new, and the rear spoiler on Z/28s was now a larger three-piece unit.

The 1972 Camaro changed mostly in the engine bay. The LT-1 produced 255 horsepower (net) and the largest big-block (still called a 396, but in reality a 402) was making 240 net horsepower.

In 1973, the bumpers were slightly revised with the base six now making 100 net horsepower and the L82 245. The big-block was off the option sheet altogether. In place of the Super Sport was the "Type-LT" Camaro, which bundled a slew of luxury options into one cohesive package. To meet new bumper regulations, the 1974 Camaro was redesigned with thick aluminum bumpers front and rear. The one-and-only grille (the Rally Sport option vanished) was now shovel-shaped and the rear taillights wrapped into the fenders. There were no changes to the available engines and trim levels.

The Z/28 engine was changed to a 250-cubic-inch six now rated at 105 horsepower, a two-barrel 350 V8 making at 145 horsepower and a four-barrel version of the same engine rated at 155 horsepower.

Distinguishing the '75 from '74 was a new rear window that wrapped down into the roof sail panels. Also new for '75 was a "Rally Sport" package that consisted of two-tone paint and some tape stripes.

The '75 Camaro sold well, so there were few changes to the 1976 model. An aluminum panel between the taillights was now used on the Type-LT, power brakes were standard and cruise control was a new option. The two-barrel 350 was replaced with a 305 producing 140 horsepower while the four-barrel 350 produced 165 horsepower.

When the 1977 Camaro appeared, there were again few changes, but in the middle of the year, the Z/28 returned as a separate model whose concentration was now on handling and appearance.

Chevrolet equipped the 1978 Camaro with a new nose that put the large bumpers under soft plastic. Five models were now offered (sport coupe, Rally Sport, Type-LT, Type-LT Rally Sport and Z/28), with translucent T-tops a new option. The Z/28's body package (with front fender vents and a fake hoodscoop) was supported in '78 with a revised version of the 350 V8 now rated at 185 horsepower.

Though nearly unchanged from '78, the 1979 Camaro would prove the most popular one yet. The Type-LT vanished in favor of a new trim level called Berlinetta, but the engines were all unchanged, even though power ratings were rattled a bit in contending with emissions requirements (Z/28 output dropped to 175 horsepower for 49-state cars). Chevy sold 282,571 Camaros during the 1979 model year - still a record.

Chevy changed the Camaro's engine lineup for 1980. A new 115-horsepower 229-cubic-inch V6 or, in California, a 110-horsepower 231-cubic-inch V6 replaced the old one, and a new 267-cubic-inch two-barrel version of the small-block V8 debuted, rated at 120 horsepower. Output of the Z/28's 350 grew to 190 horsepower, except in California where buyers got a 155-horsepower 305-cubic-inch V8 that came with a three-speed automatic.

By 1981 a new engine control computer ensured that all engines were certified for all 50 states, but output on the Z/28's 350 dropped to 175 horsepower. The Rally Sport died and the '81 Camaro lineup consisted of three well-defined models: base sport coupe, Berlinetta and Z/28.


Third Generation (1982-1992)

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1982 Chevrolet Camaro Z28

Third-generation Camaros were the first built without front subframes or leaf-spring rear suspensions. Now the front end was held up with a modified MacPherson strut system, and the hind end relied on a long torque arm and coil springs. These were also the first Camaros with factory fuel injection, four-speed automatic transmissions, five-speed manual transmissions, four-cylinder engines, 16-inch wheels and hatchback bodies.

The 1982 engine selection was changed; base sport coupes started with a 90-horsepower version of GM's 2.5-liter "Iron Duke" four and could be optioned up to a 112-horse 2.8-liter V6 (base engine in the Berlinetta) or a four-barrel carbureted 5.0-liter (305-cubic-inch) small-block V8 rated at 145 horsepower. That V8 was the Z28's base powerplant; buyers could opt for a Z28 "Cross-Fire Injection" (throttle body-injected) version producing 165 horsepower. The carbureted V8 could be had with either a three-speed automatic or four-speed manual, but the injected engine was automatic only. A Camaro paced the Indianapolis 500 again in 1982.

The three-tier Camaro lineup continued into 1983 with minimal visual differences. However the Z28 introduced the "L69" engine option. With a Corvette-spec camshaft, revised exhaust and a healthy four-barrel carb, the 5.0-liter L69 "H.O." V8 was rated at 190 horsepower.

For 1984, availability of the L69 improved on Z28s and the four-speed "700R4" automatic was adopted by most Camaro models.

In 1985 the IROC-Z hit the streets. Named after the International Race of Champions, which was contested with Camaros, the IROC featured big 16-inch five-spoke wheels and unique graphics. Carbureted versions of the 5.0-liter small-block V8 were still available, but the most significant change came with the fitment of Tuned Port Injection (TPI) to that engine to produce a flexible 215 horsepower. The TPI engine was only available with the four-speed automatic (in either the IROC or the regular Z28).

Big engines returned to the Camaro for 1987 with the 350 (5.7-liter) V8 making its way into IROC-Zs as an option. Capped with the TPI system, the 5.7 was rated at a full 225 horsepower — the highest horsepower in a Camaro in 13 years and with vastly better drivability. While the TPI 5.7 came only with the four-speed automatic, the TPI 5.0 liter was available with the five-speed manual.

The Camaro convertible was brought back; the first Camaro convertible since 1969. The high-output carbureted 5.0-liter V8 was replaced with a new 165 horsepower carbureted 5.0-liter V8 which became the standard Z28 engine. Also gone from the '87 Camaro line were the Berlinetta (replaced with an "LT" option package), and, on any Camaro with a rear spoiler, CHMSL housing on the rear glass. The CHMSL was instead built into the spoiler.

By 1988, Chevy had firmly established the IROC name, so all high-performance '88 Camaros became IROCs. Base '88 Camaros featured the 15-inch five-spoke wheels from the Z28, as well as the Z28's lower body skirting. Also, the Z28's 5.0-liter V8 was now optional on the sport coupe; it gained a throttle body fuel-injection system to make 170 horsepower. The rarest and most intriguing '88 Camaro was the 1LE road racing package optional on the IROCs with both the 5.0- and 5.7-liter TPI engines. The 1LE featured oversize disc brakes, an aluminum driveshaft and a well-tweaked suspension.

The "RS" (not Rally Sport) designation returned for the 1989 model year. Looking much like an '85 Z28, the RS was a basically a trim package atop the base sport coupe and was powered by either the V6 or a throttle-body-injected 5.0-liter V8.

1990 was the last model year for the IROC as Dodge picked up sponsorship of the International Race of Champions. The big changes that year were the growth of the base V6 from 2.8 to 3.1 liters, with a bump in output from 135 to 140 horsepower and the fitment of driver-side airbags to all models.

Chevy jump-started the 1991 model year by re-introducing the Z28 in the spring of 1990. The '91 Z28 featured a tall rear wing, new lower body cladding, new hood scoops, new five-spoke wheels and the top engine was a 245 horsepower 5.7-liter TPI V8.

The 1992 model changed little from '91, but a $175 "Heritage Package" of stripes was offered for any '92 Camaro.


Fourth Generation (1993-2002)

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2002 Chevrolet Camaro SS 35th Anniversary

While the 1993 fourth-generation Camaro was very much new, it shared some of the floor stamping and all of the rear suspension with the third-generation car. But with plastic front fenders, a new short-arm/long-arm front suspension, rack-and-pinion steering and a sleek new profile, the '93 stood apart.

For '93, the Camaro lineup was pared to two models: base sport coupe powered by a 160-horsepower 3.4-liter version of GM's V6 and the Z28 with the Corvette's 5.7-liter LT1 small-block V8 underrated at 275 horsepower.

The '93 Z28 was a hit. The LT1 was the most powerful small-block installed in the Camaro since its namesake, the 1970 LT-1, and, considering the move from gross to net power ratings, probably even more powerful than that legend. Behind it was either a four-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission and 16-inch wheels and tires; and four-wheel antilock disc brakes were standard. One of the most desirable '93 cars was the black Z28 replicas of that year's Indy 500 pace car.

The convertible Camaro returned with the 1994 model year. Designed and built by GM at the St. Therese, Quebec, plant where all F-cars were assembled, the '94 convertible's chassis was stiffer than the previous convertible's.

While the 1995 Z28 received only minor changes (all-season tires and traction control were now available), the base Camaro added GM's 3.8-liter V6 as an option. The 3800 was significantly more powerful and refined than the 3400, and by 1996 would become the only V6 in Camaros.

The RS name reappeared on the V6 coupe as a spoiler and ground effects package. On the Z28 side, the V8's output jumped to 285 horsepower and SLP Engineering brought back the SS name by adding engine tweaks and 17-inch five-spoke wheels wrapped with P245/40ZR17 BFGoodrich Comp T/A tires. The SS, with its 305 horsepower rating was the first factory Camaro to break the 300 horsepower barrier since 1971, and the first of any year using net ratings.

The fourth-generation Camaro's first refresh came for 1998 with a new front fascia design. But the real news lay behind that face where the C5 Corvette's new-age all-aluminum small-block LS-1 V8 took up residence in the Z28. The 5.7-liter LS-1 was the first all-aluminum engine offered in a Camaro since the '69 ZL-1 and carried a 305-horsepower rating.

Except for electronic throttle control on V6 models, a new oil life monitor and a Torsen limited-slip differential, the 1999 Camaros resembled the '98 models. The 2000 Camaros were pretty much the same as the '99s, except for radio controls integrated into the steering wheel, body-color side view mirrors, some new interior fabrics and an optional 12-disc CD changer.

2001 brought restyled 16-inch wheels, a new paint color and the LS-1's output rating to 310 horsepower in the Z28.

For 2002, changes were minimal. Z28s got a new power steering cooler, the sound systems were revised and V6 convertibles got the automatic transmission standard. Chevrolet did celebrate the car's 35th year, however, with a special graphics package for the Z28 SS coupe and convertible.

Next Generation

2006 Chevrolet Camaro Concept





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