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The History of the Chevrolet Camaro – The 20 Best Bow Tie Pony Cars

Vukasin HerbezJuly 31, 2018

April 1964 wasn’t exactly the greatest month for Chevrolet. Despite stable sales, their popular new Corvette and a wide arrange of models, Chevy was surprised by the new Ford Mustang. In fact, Chevrolet was caught off guard. The Mustang was not only a new car, it represented a whole new market segment that the Bow Tie guys never knew existed.

The Mustang was the definitive pony car. It was an extremely popular model and an unbelievable sales hit. It made Chevrolet and all other Detroit makes look outdated and not hip. Chevrolet needed to do something, so they decided to build a Mustang competitor as soon as possible. They wanted to reclaim their title and place on the market.

The new car had to be sportier, better built and faster than the Mustang to be a proper rival to the Ford bestseller. They prioritized the development and in just three years, Chevrolet completed the project and introduced the Camaro, Mustang’s arch enemy.

You probably already know the history of the Mustang and its fastest models. So here is a list of the best Chevrolet Camaros. It covers the first models in 1967 to its latest superfast editions, 51 years later. They were and still are among the best Bow Tie pony cars.

  1. 1967 Chevrolet Camaro

In September 1967, Chevrolet introduced the Camaro to an eager audience. The motoring journalists and the automotive public got to see the new, elegant coupe and convertible. It came with a modern design, a classic long hood and short deck proportions. It also had a sporty stance and nicely executed details and trim. Chevrolet chose to abandon the third body style like the Mustang or Barracuda.

And from this standpoint, it was a good decision. The new Camaro came with a selection of straight six and V8 engines. They started from a small 230 six cylinder, all the way to the mighty 396 V8 with 325 HP. The idea was to offer a wider assortment of more powerful engines than Ford to attract sporty buyers. That is why Chevrolet offered the SS, RS and Z/28 models. All three are performance versions.

You could call the 1967 Camaro a success since Chevy sold over 220,000 of them. The performance versions were popular with car enthusiasts. However, it was not enough to catch up with the Mustang because Ford sold 400,000 of them in 1967.

  1. 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

Although the 1967 Z/28 wasn’t the most powerful Camaro on offer, it was the best choice in handling, braking and overall driving dynamics. The SS 350 and SS 396 were pure muscle cars with big engines and loads of tire smoke. But the Z/28 was a driver’s machine and a road racing model that could handle most challenges. The Z/28 package included front disc brakes, a close-ratio four-speed manual transmission and revised suspension and steering.

It also included exterior trim details like racing stripes, a vinyl roof and headlight covers. But the real treat was under the hood. The power came from a 5.0-liter V8 with 290 HP of a high revving nature. This engine proved to be ideal for the Z/28, giving the car a thrilling performance while retaining its low weight and nimble handling.

The Mustang didn’t have such a version so the Z/28 was a unique offering. The produced the 1967 Z/28 in just 602 cars, making it rare today. But in 1968 and 1969 Chevrolet produced many more. They also won many Trans-Am races with it, beating Ford’s Mustang on the race track.

  1. 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1

As you may already know, back in the late ’60s, Chevrolet was under the General Motors racing ban. This ban meant that no official Chevrolet products could race and Chevrolet as a manufacturer couldn’t participate in any racing activity. But nobody stopped Chevrolet from helping racing teams through its backdoor programs developing special engines and components. In the late ’60s, the Can-Am was a popular racing series featuring prototype class cars with V8 engines.

Chevrolet wanted to purpose-build a power plant for this championship. So, in 1969, they produced the ZL-1, an all-aluminum 427 big block. It was a high revving, 7.0-liter V8 with around 550 HP in mild tune. Chevrolet produced around 200 of those engines. While most of them went to Can-Am racing teams, they installed 69 of them in C.O.P.O Camaros they sold to drag racing teams.

The Camaro ZL-1 was the same as the regular 1969 Camaro on the outside, but it was so fast, it was barely street legal. The official 1969 Chevrolet literature doesn’t mention the ZL-1 option for the Camaro. However, if you were a successful drag racer or a dealer, you knew about this expensive option. That is why they only made 69 Camaros ZL-1.

  1. 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS 350

In the late 60’s, the horsepower wars were in full swing. Chevrolet was busy preparing the Camaro for battle with their new Z/28 and SS models. The SS 396 was a top of the line muscle model with 325 HP in earlier versions and up to 375 HP for 1969. But the best balanced and almost equally fast was the SS 350 model.

The SS 350 was a popular model with all Chevrolet’s “go fast” goodies and the venerable 350 CID V8 engine producing 300 HP. With racing stripes and a graphics package, an optional vinyl roof and lots of extras, the SS 350 was one of the best pony cars around. It delivered a lively performance and had good handling and perfect looks. Today, it is one of the most desirable classic Camaros and a sought-after piece of Chevrolet history.

  1. 1970 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

The 1970 model year marked the arrival of the new, second generation of Camaro with a radical restyle. The modern semi-fastback roof line was the main feature, as well as new platform and absence of a convertible option. The early ’70s Camaros were proper muscle coupes with power and style to back this claim. Chevrolet retained the SS 350 and SS 396 versions with unchanged power.

But, some early brochures even mentioned the SS 454 model even though they never produced this car. However, the best all-rounder was the Z/28 version featuring a 350 LT1 V8 engine and 350 HP ratings. With the revised suspension, braking and four-speed manual transmission, the Z/28 was once again a sharp, precise sports car. It could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds and handle like a European exotic, too.

  1. 1977 Chevrolet Camaro

Like all muscle cars in the ’70s, the Camaro was faced with tightening emissions and safety regulations. This resulted in a loss of power and performance. The early second-generation models looked promising, but just a few years after, they discontinued the Z/28. It was the most powerful V8 model with approximately 165 HP. But it was just a pale shadow of its former glory.

However, the 1977 model is important for two reasons. First, it marked the return of the Z/28 option after a few years of absence. The 1977 Z/28 had just 185 horses but came with a special body kit, wild graphics package and spoiler. However, the second reason is much more interesting. In 1977, Chevrolet Camaro finally outsold the Ford Mustang for the first time since 1967.

The mid 70’s Mustang was a slow, ugly car while the Camaro looked much better with its proper muscle car styling and stance. That is why Chevy sold over 200,000 Camaros that year, while Ford only sold 153,000 Mustangs.

  1. 1982 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

After 11 years of production of the second-generation GM F-body, the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird got much-needed redesigns for 1982. The new model was much more advanced and aerodynamically designed with improvements in suspension and handling. The hottest version of the new Camaro was the Z/28 with a 305 V8 delivering 165 HP.

Although the power was low compared to the Z/28 from the late ’60s, the 1982 Camaro was a relatively fast car by the standards of the day. In fact, it was 500 pounds lighter than the previous generation. Also, the five-speed manual transmission was standard.

As soon as the Z/28 hit the streets, some backstreet hot rodders realized they could change the intake system and camshaft. This would significantly increase the power and performance of the stock Z/28, making them desirable for people wanting pure speed.

  1. 1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC

The third generation Camaro was a well-received, popular car but after a while, buyers wanted more performance and power. So, Chevrolet delivered it in the form of the legendary IROC-Z version. Chevy introduced the IROC-Z in 1985 as a tribute model to the Chevrolet-sponsored International Race of Champions racing series. However, it was much more than just an appearance package with a cool name.

Under the hood was the 350 V8 with 225 HP in the early years and 245 HP in later versions. Buyers could opt for a manual or automatic transmission and they tuned the suspension as well as the steering. Chevrolet even offered a cool-looking convertible which was the first Camaro rag top in 18 years. The IROC-Z was a popular, influential muscle car that finally brought some real performance to drivers.

  1. 1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

The year was 1993, which marked the return of the Camaro and Z/28. They put it in a new body with the improved, slightly modified F-Body platform, keeping the live rear axle setup. The fourth generation Camaro was a modern looking, capable muscle car Chevy offered in two body styles, the coupe and the convertible.

The engine lineup consisted of the V6 and V8 units and in the Z/28 version. The Camaro got Chevrolet’s LT1 engine with 275 HP. It doesn’t sound like a lot today but for the early 90’s, it was a good number translating to a lively performance. The Z/28 package also got updated brakes and a six-speed manual transmission.

  1. 2002 Chevrolet Camaro SS

The fourth generation Camaro, along with its twin brother, the Pontiac Firebird, lasted until 2002 before going on an eight-year hiatus. During its nine-year lifespan, Chevrolet improved the Camaro aesthetically with various mechanical improvements. They also offered newer, more powerful engines, adding to the performance and style of the late 1990 and early 2000 Camaros.

Arguably the best Camaro from that period is the 2001/2 SS version. It featured a 5.7-liter V8 with 325 HP. The combination of a powerful engine, sturdy chassis and six-speed manual made the fourth generation Camaro SS a classic muscle car. It had the same feel, noise and performance as the legendary models from the 60’s but with better comfort and ride quality.

The early 2000’s Camaro SS is also one of the most affordable muscle cars from that period. They were a great basis for modifications since the venerable V8 has big potential. In fact, achieving 400 to 500 HP from the LS1 V8 is relatively easy to do.

  1. 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS

Camaro fans were terribly disappointed when Chevrolet decided to retire the nameplate for the 2003 model year. It looked like Mustang had finally won the muscle car battle since they also discontinued the Firebird. So the Mustang was the only domestic pony/muscle car still on the market at the moment. However, Chevrolet was waiting for the right moment to bring back the Camaro in a totally redesigned, restyled and re-engineered form.

That moment came in late 2009 when they introduced a brand new, fifth-generation Camaro to the eager market. After a few years of showing concept cars and design renderings, Chevrolet was ready to introduce its modern interpretation of the classic Camaro shape. They planned to include some new, highly advanced chassis and engines, too. The 2010 Camaro was a triumph of retro-futuristic design and engineering.

They used GM’s Zeta platform, which was highly sophisticated and gave the new model sports car-like road holding and driving dynamics. The base engine was a V6, but fifth-generation Camaro buyers could get the SS model with a 6.2-liter V8 engine and 426 HP. This made the 2010 Camaro SS one of the fastest domestic cars at the moment.

With an advanced chassis and brutal performance, the Camaro SS was better than the Mustang GT of the same vintage. This is what helped Chevrolet beat Ford in the sales war.

  1. 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Chevrolet knew the Camaro platform could handle much more than 426 HP and deliver fantastic cornering speeds and world-class handling. So, as soon as the new generation hit the streets in 2010, engineers started developing performance versions. The first of those was the great Camaro ZL-1 they introduced in 2012 and sold throughout 2015.

The ZL-1 was a special 427 V8 powered drag beast from 1969 and its 2012 counterpart followed the same formula. Chevrolet used the biggest, most powerful engine GM had, which was the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 for the Camaro. The result was a 580 HP street terror with highly advanced Magnetic Ride suspension, performance Goodyear tires and Brembo brakes.

Although the 2012 Camaro ZL-1 was not the one trick pony like its 1969 predecessor, it was a pure sports car that could put any Porsche 911 to shame. It could also outhandle and outrun much more expensive and exotic cars, as well. However, it was not budget-friendly at $57,000 MSRP, but it was well worth it.

  1. 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

The legendary Z/28 version returned for the 2014 model year in an interesting, extremely capable package. The 2014 Z/28 was a track day car, road racing-oriented Camaro with brakes, suspension and steering dedicated to precision and driving dynamics. Under the hood was a 7.0-liter V8 from the Corvette Z06 delivering 505 HP.

Although it provided more than enough power and grunt, they engineered the rest of the car for precision. Stiffer shocks, thicker anti-roll bars, special wheels and brakes and a 300-pound lighter body helped the Z/28 achieve impressive numbers at the race track. With its supercharged engine, the Camaro ZL-1 was faster in the straight line. But the Z/28 was the better all-around performer and a perfect track day vehicle.

  1. 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE

The base Camaro SS is one of the best muscle cars around with its 6.2-liter, 450 HP V8 engine. It provides loads of torque and a perfectly-balanced chassis, and the 1LE is even better. The engine is the same as in a Corvette, which means it produces 460 HP. The suspension is more focused and slightly revised to give the driver a better driving feel and sharper response.

Imagine driving this perfectly-tuned machine on a long road trip with every mile bringing you more driving pleasure. Also, they improved the aero package, so the 1LE is an all-around sports machine. It is a capable road car that is comfortable enough for everyday use, as well as for long drives.

But the Camaro SS 1LE is still sharp enough to be a track car for tons of fun on the race track. And for $10,000 less, you can get the V6 1LE. It is less powerful and slower but still is a decent sports car for the price.

  1. Yenko Camaro 427

The Yenko family started a Chevrolet dealership in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania in 1949. And in the late ’50s, Don Yenko started managing the business. He slowly turned the company to the performance car market. He started with a series of race-ready Corvettes that Don raced himself. Soon, they were doing full conversion jobs they based on various Chevrolet models.

So, when they introduced the Camaro in 1967, Yenko started converting them to 427 V8 power, selling them as Yenko Super Cars. In addition to more power, wild graphics and a long list of optional extras, Yenko even offered a factory warranty. He also heavily promoted his models. And that is why Yenko Camaros were the most popular choice if you wanted a custom 427 V8 conversion on your regular SS.

  1. 1968 Penske Camaro Trans AM

Chevrolet wanted to promote the Camaro on the race tracks but the company was under a racing ban. So, they supplied various racing teams, such as Penske with factory-tuned Trans Am eligible Camaros.

For 1968, Penske entered two signature blue examples that were unbeatable due to some clever engineering and rule bending. However, the record set in 1968 of winning 10 out of 13 races is still unbroken, so the blue Camaro deserves a place in the Hall of Fame.

  1. Baldwin Motion Camaro

If you think that Yenko was the only classic Camaro tuner, think again. In fact, there were several well-known names in the business. However, the most extreme was Baldwin Motion. Their 427 conversions for the early ’70s models were simply the best.

Baldwin Motion installed numerous special performance parts and dyno tuned their cars. Also, they delivered them with a written warranty saying the car could achieve 10 second quarter mile times and produce 500 HP. Today, Baldwin Motion Camaros are highly desirable, valuable pieces of muscle car history.

  1. 1974 Camaro Z28

The 1974 model year was the last year for the classic chrome bumper Camaro. The option would later return, but this model year marked the end of an era. Although they produced it in the dark ages of the muscle car culture, the 1974 Z28 still had some muscle.

This was thanks to its 350 V8 that produced 245 HP. That may not sound like much, but it was a respectable number for the mid-70s. In fact, this engine gave the Camaro some much-needed performance numbers.

  1. 2012 COPO Camaro

You may know about the legendary COPO Camaro ZL1 cars of the late ’60s and their incredible drag strip performance. For the 2012 model year, Chevrolet introduced a special edition COPO Camaro which they made for the NHRA Stock Eliminator Championship.

Under the hood was a naturally aspirated 427 V8 engine delivering over 600 HP. Also, they gave it the latest racing technology to be the fastest car on the drag strip. Chevrolet wanted to pay homage to the original COPO Camaros, so they only produced 69 cars for 2012.

  1. Camaro Bumblebee

The Chevrolet Camaro as one of the most popular American muscle cars ever has appeared in numerous movies in the last 51 years. However, the most popular of all movie Camaros is the Bumblebee – the yellow and black Camaro from the Transformers movies. As such, it deserves a place on this list, both in classic and modern interpretation.

Did you choose a favorite from this history of the Chevrolet Camaro? These are the best bow tie pony cars to roll out of Chevy dealerships in America. Some are rare while others are plentiful, but there is a Camaro to appeal to every driver.

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