4 unique Camaros that time forgot

1986 Chevrolet Camaro GTZ Glen Martin/The Denver Post/Getty Images

With the Camaro nameplate retiring soon, we’re honoring the beloved two-door with a series of love letters, fun lists, and memories that you can follow here. Many performance cars, especially nowadays, aim for an anodyne version of perfection that only a few can afford. The Camaro is for the rest of us—and it’s always ready to party.

If there’s one thing that my obsession with automotive history has taught me, it is to be very careful with declarations of the absolute. In the annals of any long-running nameplate, there seems to always be an odd one out, an exception, an often-forgotten footnote. That’s what makes the subject so rich and interesting, and that of Chevrolet’s pony car is no exception. In the spirit of our recent love letters to the departing Camaro, here are four unique Camaros that time forgot.

1968 Camaro CS Coupe Frua

Chevrolet Camaro CS 327 Coupé Frua front three quarter

A key element of the Camaro story is the development blitz that took place after the 1965 Ford Mustang’s success caught GM off balance. Still, none of that haste was apparent in the Camaro’s refined looks. Under the stern watch of the legendary Bill Mitchell, GM Design hardly put a foot wrong with its pony car. But Mitchell was dismissive of the first Camaro’s design due to the many compromises deemed necessary for cost reasons. We’d nevertheless argue that the original Camaro looked great even in basic trim, thanks to its crisp lines, perfectly judged proportions, and deftly modeled surfaces.

Most would conclude there was little room left for aesthetic improvement, but that didn’t stop the Italians from saying “Hold my Nebbiolo.”

Presented by the Turinese coachbuilder Pietro Frua at the 1968 Paris Motor Show, the Camaro CS Coupe was a sleek 2+2 that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Maserati showroom. But while Frua’s Camaro exuded an air of sophistication that belied its humble Chevrolet underpinnings, it was far from an original design.

You see, in those days, Italian design firms had no qualms about selling variations of the same design to multiple clients. Frua’s one-off Camaro CS Coupe is one of several cars sharing a common design theme that the coachbuilder made between 1967 and 1971. Notably, this group includes the 1967 Monteverdi 375 S, the 1969 AC 429 Coupé, and even a one-off in 1970 based on the Dodge Challenger.

1976 Camaro “Europo Hurst” Frua

RM Sotheby's

Nearly two million second-gen Camaros were built over the model’s 12-year production run. (There will never be enough of these around if you ask me.) Contrary to the previous model, GM designers were given adequate time and significantly more leeway. In my view, it shows.

Particularly in its purest early incarnations, the second-generation Camaro stands out as one of General Motors’ finest designs this side of a Corvette. I would say that the second-gen Camaro’s design embodies the best of both worlds. Its overall shape, stance, and details drew heavily from period Ferraris, but the final result exuded the kind of bravado that only an American car can pull off.

Pietro Frua exhibited his own take on the second-gen Camaro at the 1976 Turin Motor Show. However, the Turinese coachbuilder left most of the donor car alone this time, save from a rather slick hatchback conversion. As we noted in 2020 ahead of its sale via RM Sotheby’s auction (just $31,900!), Frua’s slick version was not your daddy’s Camaro.

Integrating a large hatch door required a near-complete redesign of the Camaro’s rear end, which lost its curvaceous haunches. Nonetheless, the result is rather graceful and could easily pass for something built by GM itself. Another neat detail: the clever use of black paint to visually connect the donor car’s window profile with the new rear quarter windows. The same can’t be said for the redesigned front clip, though, which looks rather bland and generic.

This Camaro started life as a regular coupe but was treated to a Hurst T-top conversion after it arrived in the U.S. in early 1977. Later the same year, Frua repeated the trick on a Pontiac Firebird, which was displayed on his company’s stand at the Geneva Motor Show.

1985 Camaro GTZ Concept

Camaro GTZ concept yellow front three quarter studio

A childhood spent watching Knight Rider reruns means that third-gen GM F-bodies will always hold a special place in my heart.

But, besides my tender years’ fascination with The Hoff’s talking Firebird, I consider the 1982–92 Camaro one of the few genuinely outstanding designs to come out from GM during Irv Rybicki’s tenure as Design VP.

Upon Bill Mitchell’s retirement in 1977, the GM top brass wanted a gentler, more malleable design vice president. They got their wish, but the tradeoff came at a tremendous price. As GM Design lost its edge, the cars got blander, and the differences between each division’s offerings became harder and harder to spot. The latter point was put in stark evidence in 1983 by Fortune magazine, with its infamous cover featuring GM’s four near-identical A-body intermediate sedans.

But that nadir proved to be the jolt GM’s management needed. Chuck Jordan, who would succeed Rybicki as design VP in 1986, spearheaded the creation of an awe-inspiring array of show cars to demonstrate GM wasn’t brain-dead after all.

The Camaro GTZ concept car was presented at the 1985 Chicago Auto Show. It was based on a production T-top coupe but sported redesigned front and rear ends whose smooth design didn’t quite gel with the donor car’s more angular middle section, which remained unaltered. Instead of the usual Chevy small-block V-8, under the Camaro GTZ’s clamshell hood sat a 4.3-liter V-6 rated at 240 hp and mated to a five-speed manual transmission.

Contrary to other more spectacular GM concept cars from the same era, the Camaro GTZ was quickly forgotten once its auto show run ended. It remained stored at the company’s Heritage Center until 2009, after GM’s bankruptcy, when it was auctioned off along with other vehicles from its collection.

1989 Camaro California IROC-Z

1989 Camaro California IROC-Z

As the 1980s drew to a close, automobile design had completed its transition away from the folded-paper style of the ’70s and was heading fast toward the opposite end of the spectrum.

Earlier during the decade, the trend for smoother shapes had been primarily driven by the pursuit of aerodynamic efficiency. But by the time the Berlin Wall fell, that singular focus on aero began to fade in favor of a newfound playfulness. The inspiration came from nature, and the new trend became known as bio-design.

Created by GM’s advanced design studio in Newbury Park, the 1989 “California Camaro” perfectly epitomizes that period. As the aim was to “prepare” the public for the radical design of the upcoming fourth-gen Camaro, the California IROC-Z took the same design theme and cranked it up to eleven. With its short rear overhang, elongated prow, and large “butterfly” doors, it was as striking a vision of the future as any of the legendary Motorama show cars from the ’50s. GM Design had definitely gotten its mojo back.

Despite its less extreme proportions and a somewhat compromised stance, the fourth-gen Camaro launched in 1993 lost little of the California concept’s visual impact. It may not be everyone’s favorite Camaro, but it undoubtedly was the most daring one. It eschewed the classic long hood/short deck proportions in favor of a dramatic wedge profile with a steeply inclined windscreen and a scuttle stretching forward atop the engine.

That turned out not to be what buyers wanted. The more traditionally styled Ford Mustang consistently outsold the Camaro, so GM played it safe when it came time to reboot the nameplate after its 2002 demise.

It’s sad to see the Camaro ride into the sunset again. Still, I hope that whenever GM brings it back, it’ll return looking confidently toward the future rather than like an overblown caricature of its 1960s namesake.



Matteo Licata received his degree in Transportation Design from Turin’s IED (Istituto Europeo di Design) in 2006. He worked as an automobile designer for about a decade, including a stint in the then-Fiat Group’s Turin design studio, during which his proposal for the interior of the 2010–20 Alfa Romeo Giulietta was selected for production. He next joined Changan’s European design studio in Turin and then EDAG in Barcelona, Spain. Licata currently teaches automobile design history to the Transportation Design bachelor students of IAAD (Istituto di Arte Applicata e Design) in Turin.

Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Read next Up next: This Oldsmobile 98 Fiesta resurrects Motorama’s glory days


    The first two were forgotten for a reason.

    The last two are well remembered .

    The GTZ is in private hands today. The California is still at GM.

    The California played a roll with the Stingray 3 and the Jordan, John Cafaro Fight.

    The 4th gen still took much from the 1989 Fiero GT. The car was canceled but Schinella said they lifted much of the design for the 4th gen.

    Even the dash panel from the 89 Fiero ended up unchanged in the Girebirdcand later Camaro.

    Just take a profile shot and you can see both cars.


    You can say that but the second gen was pure Euro influence.

    Bill Mitchell was all about the Italian styling.

    Even the one Firebird he had built for his use was powered by a V12 Ferrari Daytona. GM still owns the car but never really showed it since it was not under their power. It was called the Pegasus.

    While even the Fiero people debated the styling John Schinella said they used it as a base as the styling was too good to throw away. I was at the dinner John first showed the 89 at against GM’s wishes.

    There was a great amount of bad blood back around 1990 in Pontiac MI between Pontiac, GM and the union.

    John Middlebrook was ordered not to show the car where it was expected to be show,. Hence Schinella brought slides and showed them at the Pontiac Silverdome to show the Fiero event what they were working on. These same photos were quietly released to a magazine 6 months later.

    The Fiero, Corvette and the GM80 program could really make for a telling book on just how bad the culture was in GM at that time. The divisions all worked harder against each other more than Toyota and Honda.

    What is Ironic is Chevy fought to cancel the Fiero due to fears the 89 GT would rob sales from a dying C4. In the end the C5 was still canceled and they hid the program like Pontiac did the Fiero and the car was styled by the same people that did the Fiero program. Ironic?

    The Fiero saved Pontiac in the 80’s from closure as it brought people to the show rooms and sold a ton of Grand Ams leading to Olds getting cut.

    Then the people who worked on the Fiero program joined the Corvette group and they worked together to save the Corvette.

    The book All Corvettes are Red is a great book missed by many and tells the whole story in saving the Corvette. Several people put their careers on the line. It is a story more should know about.

    I had never seen the first two. You can barely see the Camaro in the second’s side view but that’s it. The others I remember.

    I actually saw the 1985 Camaro GTZ Concept in the showroom of a Chevrolet dealership in Canada about 10 years ago. There were many cool cars there, including a numbers matching ’71 Z28 that I ended up purchasing.

    The GTZ has a lot of the future 4th gen in the nose. It is almost certain that design dating from 1985 was used at least for the nose and hood, which also is more sloped than the 3rd gen. On a smaller scale, the 1989 California IROC-Z certainly has a familiar side profile to the 4th gen. And by then GM was already deep into the design concept of the 4th generation.

    Also regarding the GTZ and hints of the upcoming 4th gen, that large rear spoiler (which you’ll have to dig around for out there to see a good shot of it) looks VERY similar to that which was put on the upcoming new 4th-gen 1993 Firebird Trans Am. As one who has owned two third gens (a 1984 Camaro Z28, L69 and 5-speed, as well as a 1989 Trans Am GTA) and a 4th gen (1993 Firebird Formula), I will always have the F-body near and dear to my heart. I wish I still had them all!

    Actually the GTZ was a production car they just applied some styling changed to mimic the coming 4th gen,.

    The car has a VIn and that is how GM sold it. The dealer in Canada owned it for a long time and I am not sure where it is now.

    The California Iroc was more a fight between the design departments and the GM lead designer. He was pitting them against each other and it was a mess. It also involved the Corvette.

    I know this is not a ‘concept’, more of a dealer creation but the Black Panther from Gorrie’s in Toronto Canada with the 007 inspired switch pod/console. One sold at Mecum a few years ago, pretty funny creation from us Canucks

    I had an ’80, ’99 SS and all time personal favorite 35th Anniversary. Very sorry I let the last one get away and tried to get it back – no luck. With the end of the line? Just bought a new Mustang. Sorry GM but loyalty and loving a particular marque doesn’t override not wanting an ‘orphan’ car.

    And those of us who recall Broderick Crawford on “Highway Patrol” still have calloused hands from when we built the Earth…

    Or……”Bewitched” reruns. Darin had,at one time a’67 Camaro. Larry had a Corvette. Members of the “Witch’s Council” popped-in with a 19teens electric Brougham, either a Baker or a Raunch & Lang. Samantha’s father, warlock Maurice, once drove a prototype Excalibur into the house.

    The first Camaros were design perfection. These prototypes, not so much.
    I don’t know why Chevrolet is discontinuing the Camaro- there must be a market for a 2+2 sports car still. I guess there’s more money in selling monster trucks.

    Yes, the profit margin is very high compared to “specialty” sporty cars. And Ford has consistently created excitement for the Mustang, which GM didn’t care to do for the Camaro. It’s a sad repeat of the 2003 cancellation.

    Although, Ford has proven that you can be successful with both. Go figure.

    Many years ago at an auto show I met a former GM design employee. I asked him if he knew why Chevrolet took so long to develop the 5th generation Camaro after the 4th generation died after the 2002 model year for both Chevy and Pontiac. He said that GM had no plans to bring it back at all for Chevrolet only. It was only the pulling of some high level marketing managers who were pony car fans to get GM top brass to pull the lever for development. Those guys couldn’t stand seeing Ford’s Mustang go unanswered. They decided to save money by using an existing Holden chassis (like Pontiac for the GTO). The rest is history, but it was apparent GM really wanted nothing to do with the Camaro and just tolerated it…and the successive years of design neglect (interior as well as exterior) showed that. Such a shame.

    This is pretty close to what happened.

    The reason they killed the car was there was no money for the new Camaro and the old one would not meet crash standards that had changed.

    The Managers were Al Oppenhieser, Scott Settlemire the previous F body manager and several others.

    The one that really helped was Bob Lutz. He wanted this and listened to the managers. He also wanted a Zeta GTO but that model died with the killing of Pontiac.

    What many forget is GM was broke and selling 60K cars was not as important as fixing the Malibu and selling 250,000 cars and creating the Equinox that sold 300,000 models.

    Performance models are great and if they make money they are safe but in this day and age if they do not make enough then it is a liability. If they can put that money to another car and make more money and more volume they will. The Coupe market is dying because it is the car everyone says they want but no one buys. Future regulations are also in play that will make it difficult to keep them alive.

    Even the Mustang now is going to face real challenges. declining sales and the fact Ford Stock is in the tank is not good for a limited market model like this.

    We need to recall even the Corvette was killed in the 90’s before some managers broke some rules and continued the car in secret.

    An example of the lack of money at GM at that time was the GTO. There was no cash to style the car other than the needed bumpers and plastic. The gas tank is in the trunk because it was the only cheap way to pass crash standards. GM did that car so cheap that it should never had made it.

    The duel exhaust and hood scoops had to wait a year for more money in 05.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *