05-29-12

45 Years of American Muscle – The Chevy Camaro’s History

Chevrolet introduced the 1967 Camaro as its entry into what would later be called the “pony car” segment, though the actual release date was September 29, 1966.  Offered in coupe and convertible models, with 69 available factory-installed options and 12 dealer-installed options, the Camaro was designed to be many things to many people.  First and foremost, the Camaro is to be adriver’s car, which is reflected in its handling, ride, high-performance engine availability and styling.  It was intentionally designed to do what the Corvette can do for less money.  Judging by its popularity, it accomplished this goal exceedingly well.  Although it has always been available with options to suit a wide range of sports-coupe buyers, performance has been what the name Camaro brings to mind for most people. 

Engine choices are what makes a Camaro a Camaro.  At its introduction, Camaro was offered with a choice of either 230 or 250 cu-in. 6-cylinder engines.  For those who wanted a Camaro with more authority, two 327s and a 295-hp 350 cu-in. small-block V8 were offered.  In May of 1967, a 396 cu-in. big-block V8 with 325 hp became available in the SS model.  And this was only the beginning of a series of big-blocks that could be installed in Camaros over the next several years.  Camaros with these engines required a driver with a very disciplined right foot or a good lawyer to keep their record clear of speeding tickets.  Braking action on the first Camaros was provided by 9 1/2-in. drums, front and rear.  Later models offer ventilated front disc brakes as optional or standard equipment depending on the model and year.  Rear disc brakes adapted from the Corvette were offered as a factory-installed option on 1969 Camaros on a very limited basis.  This system was offered in order to meet the homologation requirements of the Sports Car Club of America, who sanctioned the Trans-Am races Camaro competed in.

During the late 1960’s the Camaro went through some basic changes of its design:

Camaro styling was largely a carryover for 1968, with notable changes being the addition of side marker lamps and the deletion of the front vent windows. Cloth and vinyl seat trim were available for the first time in Camaros (in a hound’s-tooth pattern). The optional console-mounted auxiliary gauges changed to a two-tier, stacked arrangement and the automatic transmission floor-mounted shifter changed to a “stirrup” design. This was the last year you could order a Camaro with a front bench seat. The RS package continued as before, but its hideaway headlamps were vacuum-operated instead of by electric motors.  The Camaro SS package added a 350-hp 396 V8 to its specification sheet and all SS models had a black-painted rear panel. The Z/28 got exterior identification at the leading edge of the front fenders: a “302” insignia early in the model year and a full-blown Z/28 badge later that year.

The 1969 model stands alone as the most unique of the bunch. Except for the hood, roof and deck lid, no sheetmetal carried over from 1968. Neither did the instrument panel, which was completely new for 1969 and would change again in 1970. Why did Chevrolet go to all the trouble and expense to freshen the Camaro with a deeply recessed grille and scalloped wheel openings for 1969 when an all-new replacement was due one year later? Truth be known, Chevrolet was locked in a knock-down drag-out battle for the number-one sales position with Ford in the late 1960s and a three-year-old Camaro needed help if it was to gain any ground on archrival Mustang, which was all-new inside and out for 1969. Other elements set the 1969 Camaro apart from all the others. A few hundred 1969 Camaros were factory-equipped with a 427 cu in. V8, either the all-aluminum ZL-1 or iron-block L-72. While the 427 V8 option never appeared on dealer order forms, these could be special-ordered under codes COPO 9560 and COPO 9561.  The resulting COPO rat-motor Camaros (COPO standing for Central Office Production Order) are valuable collector items today.  Along with the COPO Camaros was an electrically operated cowl induction hood, with a ram air set-up, which could also be ordered on SS and Z/28 models. Also 4-wheel disc brakes (adapted from the Corvette) could be factory-ordered as options on the Z/28 and SS. Headlamp washers made their first and only appearance in 1969, standard on the RS and optional on all other models.  Various under-the-skin improvements made their debut in 1969.

During the 1970s, key changes were again made and added to the Camaro.  Chevrolet in 1970 launched their 2nd generation Camaro, which would be their longest running and most profitable production in GM history.  The 2nd generation Camaro would be in production from 1970-1982 in where the 3rd generation Camaro was introduced.

Some key changes were new emblems both front and back, side marking lamps that flash in unison with the turn signals, soft vinyl steering wheel, also in 1973 full form rear seat cushions were introduce.  A history piece in 1974 shows when federally mandated seat belt interlocking system were installed into the Camaro.  1978 shows the a factory-built iconic T-roof option with twin removable smoke-grey glass panels became available for the first time.

In the 1980’s the Camaro also went through some changes to make it more safe and stylish for drivers to drive.  Some examples are in 1982 the newly design Camaro was at the time the most aerodynamic car at its time. 1983 the Camaro introduce an optional 5 speed manual transmission that came standard  in the Berlinetta and Z28 models.  1985-1986 Shows the birth of the iconic IROC Camaro for the International Race of Champions.    1987 saw the return of the of the 350, which die hard Camaro lovers were waiting for.  The 350 put out 225 HP and was the first Camaro Convertible since 1969. 1989 also showed the birth of the IROC-Z model, the model was mostly aimed at the younger car owners and people in their early and mid 20’s.

The 1990’s shows some minor changes again for the Camaro.  Some key changes are that in 1992 Chevrolet celebrated their 25th year anniversary by releasing a special Heritage Package option that had two racing stripes over the hood and trunk, a body color grille, and other minor cosmetic changes.  1993 saw the 4th generation of the Camaro, nothing more changed but more cosmetic to give it a more sleek look. 1998-1999 made the debut of the LS1 model.  It has a aluminum 350 block, a brand new plastic intake manifold, new and larger brake disks and Acceleration Slip Regulation system.

The 2000’s also had some minor changes but brings us up to the current model.  Nothing from the late 1990’s changed in the car, other than style, color and design.

The Chevrolet Camaro still to this day stands as an iconic American legend and one of the most sought-after cars by collectors and enthusiasts alike.