30 January 2015

Our 10 Favorite Camaros By Generation

Like most enthusiasts, we were heartbroken when the F-body Camaro and Firebird went away after the 2002 model year. And we were elated when the pony car came back in 2010 with a design that paid homage to the first-gen 1967 car without being slavishly retro. The American muscle car ecosystem seemed whole again. So with the passing of the much-loved fifth-generation car, it seems like an appropriate time to look back at some of our favorite Camaros from each generation while we look forward to the sixth:

FIRST GENERATION

1. 1967 Yenko Camaro — Don Yenko essentially ran a kick-ass speed shop out of his family’s decades-old Cannonsburg, Pa., Chevrolet dealership and became famous for modifying Corvairs, Novas and, of course, Camaros. Advertised simply as “The Mean Ones,” the 1967 Yenko Camaros were, in fact, pretty damned mean. Yenko replaced the car’s  factory 396 V-8 with a Corvette L-72 427 that put out well over 400 gross horsepower, and Yenko Camaros went on to become among the most feared and (later) the most valuable muscle cars from the first golden age of automotive performance.

2. 1968 Camaro Z/28 — If the big-block Yenko Camaro was a straight-line drag strip specialist, the Z/28 was the first-gen Camaro that you wanted to take on a road course. Its small-block 302-ci engine was essentially a 327 block with the crankshaft from the old 283 V-8. It made for one of the most entertaining and rev-happy pushrod V-8s of all time. The buff books loved it. In its July 1968 road test, Car Life magazine said “a pint-size engine with the heart of a tiger gives it a Supercar’s performance and a sports car’s handling.” The same publication named it one of the 10-best cars of 1968. The great Mark Donohue gave the first-gen Camaro its racing chops in a big way in the SCCA Trans Am series.

SECOND GENERATION

3. 1970 Camaro Z/28 — The all-new second generation Camaro bowed for the 1970 model year complete with a fastback design and some styling cues borrowed from one of the best, the Ferrari 250 Short-Wheelbase Berlinetta of 1964 (Camaro would appropriate the name “Berlinetta” too, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves). Looks are subjective; some people like the first generation Camaro, some prefer the second. But objectively, the new car was an even better performer. Car Life noted that it was faster, handled better and was more comfortable to boot. The first Camaro with a 350-ci small block, the 1970 Camaro was one of the all-time best classic Camaros.

4. 1979 Camaro Z/28 — The so-called “malaise era” — which refers to a period of time (1974-84) when automotive performance suffered under stricter emissions laws and insurance underwriting and the U.S. was going through a post-Vietnam economic and psychic funk —gets a bad rap among car collectors. But it wasn’t all bad, and many Gen-X collectors have a big soft spot for the era. The 1979 Z/28 looked fantastic with a new front spoiler and NACA duct hood. And while 175 hp doesn’t sound like a lot, the early 1970s change from SAE gross to net horsepower made it look worse than it was. The 1979 Z/28 remained a sharp handling and by-no-means slow car. Fans of the seminal teen comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” will remember what happened to football star Charles Jefferson’s 1979 Z/28. It wasn’t pretty. Values of malaise era Z/28s have roughly doubled over the last five years.

THIRD GENERATION

5. 1982 Camaro Z/28 Indy Pace Car — Admittedly, the ’82 pace car wasn’t about performance as much as looks. But the third-generation Camaro was new and fresh and extremely good looking. The pace car’s silver-over-blue livery looked fantastic and the Pace Car edition’s take rate was high, just as it was for the Corvette in ’78. Nice examples are few and far between, but when they do show up they are bargains, trading for well under $13,000. Act now.

6. 1990 Camaro IROC- Z convertible — One of the biggest things to happen to the third-generation Camaro was the introduction of the first convertible since 1969 (courtesy of American Sunroof Corporation) just in time for the Camaro’s 20th anniversary. We like the ’90 because it was the last year that Chevy would license the IROC name from the International Race of Champions and because the convertible was available with the 230-hp version of the 305 V-8. Fantastic ones still trade for under $20,000, making this car one of the strongest “buys” on the list.

FOURTH GENERATION

7. 1997 Camaro SS LT4 30th Anniversary SLP coupe — SLP Engineering (which stands for “Street Legal Performance”) followed the Yenko formula of 30 years earlier and grabbed one of the hottest Corvette engines (in this case the 1996 Grand Sport LT4) and inserted it into one very special Camaro.  With wheel, tire and suspension upgrades to go with the balanced and blueprinted 330-hp LT4, the car cost about $18,000 more than the next hottest SS Camaro of the same model year. Accelerating from 0-60 took only 4.9 seconds, and it could cover a quarter mile in just 13.3 seconds, comparable to the Yenkos and COPOs of the 1960s. Just over 100 were built, and it takes around 50 grand to buy one today. In 10 years that price will likely look like the steal of the century.

8. 2002 Camaro SS 35th Anniversary convertible — The F-body went out of production in 2002 (by then it was being produced only in GM’s Sainte-Thérèse, Quebec, plant), and it would be another eight years before the name came back. But at least it went out with a bang—the 325-hp SS went like stink and looked great as a convertible in Rally Red with huge stripe graphics.

FIFTH GENERATION

9. 2010 Transformers Special Edition Camaro — OK, with so many super-high performance variants to choose from, we grab one that we can pivot and has an iconic look. Brilliantly announced at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con, fewer than 2,000 were produced exclusively in Rally Yellow with black stripes and Autobot badges that were strategically placed. It’s by far the best-recognized Camaro of all time and a sure-fire future collectible.

10. 2014 Camaro Z/28 — Like the original Z/28 that cleaned up on road courses in the SCCA Trans Am series, the new Z/28 has track star written all over it. With extra-careful attention paid to light weight and aerodynamics, the car is able to put to good use on the track its huge Brembo brakes, Pirelli P Zero tires on 19” wheels and 500-hp, 7-liter V8- (that’s 427 cubic inches to Chevy big block fans). The new Z/28 car is a multi-dimensional performer in a way that big block muscle cars of the 1960s couldn’t even dream about. Top speed is well over 170 mph, making it the fastest street-legal Camaro yet.

45 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Buck Idaho February 11, 2015 at 15:12
    Although the new Z/28 is a little better handling, the Fifth generation ZL1 is supposed to be faster.
  • 2
    Stephen Quarles Texas February 11, 2015 at 15:30
    1970 was not the first year of the 350 engine in the Camaro. The 350 was available in the SS350 starting in 1967
  • 3
    Steve Jameson USA February 11, 2015 at 15:36
    What about the GM 69 KICKASS Copo 427 Camaro
  • 4
    Marty SoCal February 11, 2015 at 15:46
    The 70 Camaro was not the first Camaro with a 350, the 1967 SS350 was the first one. Maybe you meant to say it was the first Z/28 with a 350?
  • 5
    Dave Tempe, AZ February 11, 2015 at 16:02
    "The first Camaro with a 350-ci small block, the 1970 Camaro was one of the all-time best classic Camaros." Actually you could get the 350 in a '69 Camaro.
  • 6
    Richard Seattle February 11, 2015 at 16:11
    I restored when I was 18 a 70 1/2 Z28in the laguna blue with black stripes. It had matching numbers 375 hp LT1 with 4 speed and I so do miss that car.
  • 7
    Rick Merkel Tracy, Ca February 11, 2015 at 16:16
    What about the 69 Z/28 Camaro?
  • 8
    Tony Hart Moorpark February 11, 2015 at 16:21
    You insure my two Camaro's '67 Trans AM Z28 6th of 602 built in 1967. '72 Z28 "a" sedan race car.
  • 9
    ALAN W SMITH BELLEVUE WASHINGTON February 11, 2015 at 16:23
    WHAT ABOUT MY 78 F/B ESPRIT - 4 ON THE FLOOR TWIN EXHAUSTS- 305 CHEV 2 BBL. ALL THE BEST ALAN W SMITH
  • 10
    Steve Las Vegas February 11, 2015 at 16:28
    Interesting group you picked for the first Gen lot. Leaving out the 69 is like ignoring a 57 BelAir in a group of Tri-Five Chevy's! Also I read that the 5th Gen was based on the 69 not the 67. They're all great cars! If I could pick one I'd go with one of the 602 produced 1967 Z/28's!
  • 11
    Rick Lappin Locust NC February 11, 2015 at 16:51
    The 1970 Camaro wasn't the first to get a 350 - that would be the 1967.
  • 12
    Gerald Arcuri Thousand Oaks February 11, 2015 at 17:24
    How in the world could the 1969 Z/28 - arguably the best and most iconic Camaro ever built - not have been given even a mention in this list? Makes the whole article a joke.
  • 13
    a digirolamo western pa February 11, 2015 at 17:29
    You say 1970 was first year for 350 engine in a camaro. Wrong, 67, 68, 69, had them.
  • 14
    71 Z28 Westfield, MA February 11, 2015 at 17:31
    One minor correction, the first Camaro with a 350 was the 67 SS.
  • 15
    Lee Thomason Bremen, GA February 11, 2015 at 18:15
    The 1970 Z-28 was the first Z-28 to have a 350 CI engine, but the 350 CI was available in all other models of Camaro starting in 1967. In fact, the 1967 350 CI engine was a hybrid and is a unique engine within itself.
  • 16
    Tom Fenton, MI February 11, 2015 at 18:20
    You indicate that 1970 was the first year for the 350 ci engine. I believe that the 350 was first used in 1967--SS350 comes to mind.
  • 17
    george snyder Canada February 11, 2015 at 18:27
    1969 best looking
  • 18
    joey san antonio February 11, 2015 at 18:32
    The current camaros followed the 1969 model, not the 67 camaro.
  • 19
    jerry ottawa February 11, 2015 at 18:58
    Where's the '69 Z28? It's one year style and its stance say "road course" Has the 302 as well. It's my favorite.
  • 20
    Fred Camfferman Byron Center, Mich. February 11, 2015 at 19:48
    I can't believe you left out the 1969 Camaro! That is my favorite Camaro by far and I'm a Ford Guy!
  • 21
    Ron Fitz Michigan February 11, 2015 at 19:55
    After having a 1974 'Bumble Bee' yellow camaro 350ci w/L88 hood, big tires, w/centerline rims plus rust in just the right places I had to buy a '84 Berlinetta brand new. Had it 14 years - no rust, digital dash pod technology (especially the stereo) best car I have ever owned. Why...WHY did I sell it.
  • 22
    Mark Columbus February 11, 2015 at 20:03
    You missed the 69 z28 which is without a fought the best pony car body ever plus a fine trans am contender. Like the 66/67 body on steroids. Optional four wheel disk brakes and cross ram dual quads. Good stuff.
  • 23
    Mark Kent, Wa February 11, 2015 at 20:46
    The Yenko and SLP are not factory Camaros and should not be on this list. My favorite Camaro is the TransAm depot 7t7 Trans Am with t-tops
  • 24
    EDDIE CAMARO BETSO staten island ny February 11, 2015 at 22:46
    I had a 1st gen 1969 Camaro / that I had for 8 yrs n was t boned n destroyed in 2012 then I picked up a 2000 ss convertible Camaro / n I loved the 69 n never thought I would feel the same but I found a 2000 ss convertible in amazeing shape completely original , hagerty is my ins company of choice / then n now ,
  • 25
    Bob Jensen Stillwater MN February 11, 2015 at 23:12
    Nice article, the only mistake I noted, is they said that the 70 Camaro was the first to have a 350 ci engine in it. I had a 69 with a 350 engine in it.
  • 26
    marsh NC February 12, 2015 at 16:51
    Does anyone know a whereabouts of any street Camaro Mark Donahue modified?
  • 27
    JohnnyD Maryland February 12, 2015 at 05:37
    Should have quit while ahead in 1979.
  • 28
    Bill Tracht Norwalk, Ohio February 12, 2015 at 07:46
    I'm sure you have already heard this. You were incorrect on the year for the introduction of the 350 small block in the Camaro. The 350 was first available in the first year, 1967. I know...I have one :) Great article. Thank you
  • 29
    Michael Poughkeepsie NY February 12, 2015 at 08:02
    The picture for the 1990 convertible is not a convertible it looks like a 1990 IROC-Z with T Tops, I own a 1988 Convertible with the same flame red color and trim
  • 30
    TJMacs Jersey Shore February 12, 2015 at 20:07
    As a guy from Jersey, you had to either own a Camaro or know someone that did. I had a red/black stripe, '70 Z28 in '78 when they were just old cars. I was completely outclassed though by a guy in my area that had a '70 too- but a Baldwin-Motion 427 ( L-88 ? ) Camaro, black with a white "Motion" stripe down the side. What a beast ! I wish I still had my car-but I REALLY wish I had his car today.
  • 31
    Skip NC February 12, 2015 at 20:13
    What about 1969 Camaro? Best looking Camaro ever.
  • 32
    Greg Andover, Mn February 12, 2015 at 08:15
    Wasn't the base motor in the 1967 SS Camaro a 350? And the LT 1 was a first for 1970.
  • 33
    Erol Dallas,TX February 12, 2015 at 20:55
    Excuse me? You say the 2014 Z28 is "the fastest street legal Camaro yet" at 170+ ?!?! I believe my ZL1 will top 180 according to several sources including Chevrolet. Don't get me wrong, the new Z28 is an incredible track car, but the ZL1 is perhaps the most capable road/track combination Camaro ever built in my opinion. I absolutely love mine for any type of driving.
  • 34
    Steve Hamilton, ON February 12, 2015 at 09:07
    I had a second gen. "Zee Car" (We call them Zedder's up here) about 8 years ago. 1981 Z/28 350, T-10 4 speed Black on black ribbon interior, T-tops, etc. Went 15.0 best time. Not bad for a smogger! Loved the Cowl Induction...
  • 35
    Kevin Flanigan DDS Buffalo ,New York February 12, 2015 at 09:07
    How does the 1969 Camaro SS , voted Cheverolet's all time most popular muscle car , not make your top ten Camaro list????
  • 36
    STEPHEN ENSELL PORTVILLE N.Y. February 12, 2015 at 00:27
    I AM A CAMARO LOVER OF THE 2ND GENERATION! MAYBE BECAUSE I OWN ONE? BUT I WILL SAY THERE ARE SOME SHARP FIFTH GENERATIONS COMING DOWN THE ROAD. HATS OFF TO GENERAL MOTORS!
  • 37
    Dennis Tesch Oak Creek, WI. February 14, 2015 at 14:54
    I was surprised you didn't include the 69 pace car convertible and this comment coming from a Mopar guy. I have a soft spot for a couple bow-ties....
  • 38
    Jack Nevada February 14, 2015 at 18:04
    Time to raise the agreed value on my 1997 LT4 SS to $50k. Thanks Hagerty!
  • 39
    Richmond Breen Reno Nv. February 14, 2015 at 22:02
    It was 1968, winter, I was 11 yrs. old. The blue and white Z-28 camaro was doing 110 mph down a quiet side street in Reno Nv. To this day I can hear that engine coming up to speed, what amazing power. So many visuals and remembrances... I was almost asleep after a big day skiing, warm in the back of my Dad's maroon 1964 Buick Riviera, man and that car rocked, I remember my Dad blazing across southern Idaho at 110+ back in the day super solid on the road.... "Hey Dad, that car is coming pretty fast..... The cops said the Camaro was doing 100mph plus when he hit his brakes, skidded 100ft. or more and broadsided us doing 60mph... Knocked our Riviera 100 ft. down the street and into someones front lawn. Ski rack and skis launched onto said lawn as well. God the smell of burning rubber and antifreeze vaporizing...The dash of our Buick was in a most surreal V shape. My father in the back seat with me, my sister's scream . Unbelievably we all walked out of that crushed mess, my Dad was so angry, we drug ourselves from the Buick and made our way to the Camaro. "What the hell were you doing!" Not much response, the guys in the Camaro, college buddies who had had a few too many beers up the street at a local pizza place were not in good shape, they were alive but damn messed up , there were two perfectly round holes in the windshield were the guys in front had punched their heads through... A lot of blood, and still the smell of smoking rubber and antifreeze. A lot for an 11 yr. old to process... Damn that incredible Z-28, front end looked like an accordion , and the driver had borrowed it from his brother for the evening, ouch... So the amazing thing is after such a horrendous crash, everyone survived...pretty incredible. I always attributed it to the huge mass of those vehicles, those heavy frames could take one hell of a shot! Oh, yeah and no one was wearing seat belts... Crazy the things back then... Two really beautiful classics totaled that night...Damn .....
  • 40
    bob burgett portville,ny. February 17, 2015 at 13:27
    camaro lover, i have a 70 1/2 L78 big block and a 2010 6.2. both are real nice cars but being old school the new camaro really impress me. looking forward to restoring the 70. i havent drove it in 20 years. awh, retirement project.
  • 41
    pat mc kinney shirley ny February 18, 2015 at 12:35
    nobody mentioned a 70 ss 396 375 definatly a beast know a guy who bought the car new and still owns it
  • 42
    Kevin Va February 25, 2015 at 18:25
    Leaving the 69 out of any top Camaro list, questions Hagerty's Reputation. The 1969 Camaro was the pinnacle of its success. The rest of the article wasn't even worth reading after that let down.
  • 43
    Kevin Va February 25, 2015 at 18:29
    Leaving the 69 out of any top Camaro list, questions Hagerty's Reputation. The 1969 Camaro was the pinnacle of its success. The rest of the article wasn't even worth reading after that let down.
  • 44
    F browning S.E Michigan February 28, 2015 at 13:12
    Rob's list is his opinion so to each his own. However, I agree with most of the comment on here. Not including the 69 Z-28 or the ZL-1 is a "huh?" moment. Having owned several Camaros over the years including a red on red 68ss 4speed car, a couple 69s including a Z-28 and a couple gen 4 and 5 cars I would add: * the 69 ZL-1. This car could do 0-60 in 5.3 sec and a qtr in under 14 (13.77) at 108, out of the box. It was the fastest Camaro For a long time * of course like everyone else (except Rob Sass) the 69 Z-28. * I would not have included the 82 Pace Car. Yea, they look good but they were not a runner and the quality was not good. Plus there are a lot of them. I would have said maybe the 91 or 92 IROC with an 5.7 * I would have included the 1993 Pace Car. Why? It had some real oomph in a new car, all the way across the line. It had the 5.7 producing 275 HP which was about 25 to 35 horsepower less than it could have because of internal politics at GM and Corvette. So with a little time you could retune it and get about 30 more horses and not cost you any more. The other thing they did was restrict the exhaust compared to the vette. So, put a free flow real dual exhaust on the car and get anothe 15 horses. Now you are running about 315 to 320 horsepower. I actually did it and the car was pretty fast and it did not cost that much. Besides, the engine got all its torque (325 lbs) at 2400 rpm. Lastly, there were only 645 pace cars built in 93 including the track cars. They are a bargain right now if you can find one. Buy it and keep it a little while and you will make some money. * one more addition would have been the 1997 anniversary Camaro. It looked great and there was only 979 built. That is my 2 cents worth.
  • 45
    Steve CA April 14, 2015 at 08:29
    I read this and had to laugh aloud.... "The first Camaro with a 350-ci small block, the 1970 Camaro was one of the all-time best classic Camaros." Are these people calling themselves Camaro experts?. I drive a 67 RS/SS Camaro.......with a small block 350 EVEN THE BADGES SAY "SS 350".....(shaking my head)

Join the Discussion