Monday, August 12, 2013

Camaro history for the birthday girl

When my family goes to car shows, my wife’s favorite cars are ’67-’69 Camaros.  She is also starting to take a liking to the late ‘70s Z-28s, and she thinks a new Camaro might be fun to have too.  To summarize: my wife likes Camaros.  And today happens to be her birthday.  I’d love to buy her a Camaro as a gift, but I can’t afford that.  I can, however, provide a brief history of the Camaro in her honor.  For Maria, let’s take a look back at Chevrolet’s popular Ponycar.

In response to the popularity of the Mustang starting in 1964 as a '65 model, the Camaro has been making its own history ever since the first car rolled off the assembly line. Chevrolet claimed the name Camaro meant “friend” or “pal” in French. And consumers quickly befriended the latest downsized entry from the Bowtie Brigade. Ponycar fever was at full-pitch in 1967, and people just couldn’t get enough of the new Camaro.

There was a Camaro to suit nearly every taste. The economy-minded or penny-pinched among us could opt for a base coupe with a 230-c.i. inline-six. From there, engines could be upgraded to everything from a bigger six, to a variety of small-block V8’s, right up to factory-built 396 big blocks. Not enough? Special factory orders or aftermarket enterprises spawned 427-c.i., 425-hp monsters by the end of the first generation run in 1969.

The Camaro was also available in a variety of trim models. A base coupe with homely full wheel covers and a bench seat might not have seemed very sporty, but the RS package added several appearance upgrades to transform that Camaro from ordinary to extraordinary. SS models continued the Chevrolet tradition of affordable performance. Click the Z/28 option code, and you could imagine yourself in a Trans Am Series race. Whatever you preference, whether it be beauty, brawn, or both, Camaro had you covered.

An all-new Camaro appeared late in the 1970 model year, and the swoopy fastback design was not only different than the Camaro it replaced, but it was a fair departure from the looks of the archrival Ford Mustang as well. Most people seem to go for the RS package with the split front bumpers during this time, but you could order a Camaro with everything from the base six to the gnarliest SS, split bumper or not.

The mid- to-late-‘70s were not a great time for performance cars in general, and Camaros were no exception. While Ford downsized the Mustang to almost comical proportions in the name of fuel economy during this time, Chevy opted to retain the Camaro’s basic formula, albeit with increasingly de-powered and pollution device-choked power plants.

Chevrolet modernized and updated the Camaro’s appearance during this time. Urethane bumpers, wraparound back windows, and a variety of decal and stripe packages kept Camaro hot, hip, and happenin’ during the swingin’ ‘70s, but under the hood, the story was a little less exciting. By 1975, the beefiest engine a Camaro could be ordered with only wheezed-out 155-hp. The Z/28 was on hiatus. It was a dark time in muscle car history.

Yet, in spite of the world around them, people still craved real performance. The extroverted Z/28 came back in ’77. Horsepower was slowly creeping higher. There was a dim light flickering at the end of a long tunnel. In fact, 1979 proved to be Camaro’s best sales year ever, with 282,571 units moving out the door.

The Camaro saw its biggest transformation to date in 1982. It was smaller, yet had more room. The all-new MacPherson strut suspension and balanced weight distribution made the Camaro handle like nothing else out there (OK, it did handle like the Firebird). This new platform paved the way for some real excitement in the Camaro lineup.

A big piece of that excitement came in 1985 with the introduction of the IROC package on the Z28 (now sans “/”). Named after the popular International Race of Champions racing series, IROC Camaros were available with a Tuned Port Injected, 350-c.i. small block producing 215-hp. So popular was this engine that it became the go-to setup in many-a-hot rod in this era. IROCs also were equipped with 16” wheels. This kind of exotica was unheard of on a car in this price range.

Camaro celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1992, and it also marked the last year for this generation of Camaro. To mark the occasion, some were fitted with the Heritage Stripe Package, which marked the one and only time that dual stripes were offered from the factory down the center of this generation Camaro.

The 1993 Camaro was a sensation. Virtually new from the ground-up, this car was a major leap in refinement and quality.

This Camaro also brought in the free-breathing LT1 engine. It is hard to imagine today how amazing this 350-c.i. V8 was at the time. Taken straight from the Corvette’s parts bin, the LT1 was good for a copious (at the time) 275-hp in the Camaro, and it provided more low-end torque than most people had experienced in a new car in 20-years. Plus, it managed all this while getting gas mileage in the mid-20s.

The convertible returned to the lineup in 1994, the 3800 V6 enhanced the base car in ’95, and the SS (produced for Chevrolet by SLP Engineering) came back in 1996. Chevrolet continued to improve and refine the popular Ponycar.

The last big change to the Camaro came in 1998. A new nose treatment with composite headlights concealed a new 346-c.i., aluminum LS1 V8. The lightweight LS1 was good for 305 high-winding horsepower.

The Camaro forged ahead until 2002, after which Chevrolet decided to pull the plug. Slow sales and limited funds marked the end of Chevrolet’s Ponycar efforts. Affordable performance seemed bleak at the General, but Camaro enthusiasts could not be silenced.

A new Camaro concept appeared at the North American International Auto Show in 2006, and people went wild over the bulging 1969-inspired muscle car. It took a few years of development, but it finally hit the streets in 2009 as a ’10 model. The 2010 Camaro basically skipped the fastback design influence of every Camaro from 1970 on up to 2002. It looks more like the Camaro updated the 1969 notchback design during all those years.  

Since then, it has been offered in various V6 and V8 configurations in both coupe and convertible form.  Right now, the ZL1 is the Big Kahuna in the lineup, but a new Z28 for 2014 looks to take over the crown.  Look for some styling changes front and rear when the latest Camaro hits showrooms.

OK, so this isn’t as good as getting an actual car.  But at least I didn’t forget her birthday!  I’m closing this story with albums from the last three Midwest Camaro Fests: 2010, 2011, and 2012.  If you think this looks like a good event, the 2013 Midwest Camaro Fest is coming up on August 24.  Check back right here for more details!

2010 Midwest Camaro Fest

2011 Midwest Camaro Fest

2012 Midwest Camaro Fest

One last note--this is the 600th story posted on Hover Motor Company. 
How about that!


  1. Thank you for the Camaro "gift!" More importantly, CONGRATS to you on the 600th article! You work hard, and I love seeing you have success with this. Glad I could be a part of your blog milestone! Love you!

    1. You're welcome! I appreciate all your support, and hope you had a great birthday. Love you too!

  2. Thanks, my favorite Camaro model is 1969! I owned a 69 convertible once.

  3. Happy Birthday Mrs H!

    and congrats to Mr H on the 600th post. Lots of time and effort goes into this blog and I, for one, enjoy and appreciate it.

    1. Thank you. I always appreciate you sticking with us here.

    2. Thank you from me too!

    3. You're welcome, whoever y'are!


  4. As a faithful Chevrolet family, we love our Red 94 Z28 Camaro with an LT1 Corvette engine. Bought it new for my wife Gayl for Valentines Day in 1994. I have on occasion tried to talk her into selling it, but as a true Chevy Camaro girl, she just laughs at me. It is her daily driver and she enjoys driving it every time she gets behind the wheel. Being from the Grotewold Chevrolet/Oldsmobile Dealer family will be in our blood forever and a day. Enjoy your blog, Craig, now that I have found it. Roger Grotewold