Chevrolet Camaro: A Brief History

© General MotorsChevrolet Camaro: A Brief History
One of the most recognized models of the last half century, Camaro was Chevrolet’s answer to the Ford Mustang, and its emergence created a fierce automotive pony car rivalry that continues to this day. Today’s Camaro is a thoroughly modern car and offers many levels of performance — even in entry-level form — that would have been hard to image at its inception more than 50 years ago. Let’s consider the history of the Chevrolet Camaro sport coupe, from its introduction for the 1967 model year to the sixth-generation vehicles of today.

© General MotorsCamaro First Generation: 1967–69
The original 1967 Camaro arrived in 1966 at the height of the muscle car era, during a time of growing demand for a sporty coupe. Chevrolet rushed the front engine, rear-wheel-drive Camaro — based on the Chevrolet Nova — to market to compete with the Ford Mustang, which had debuted two years earlier with unexpected sales success. The ensuing horsepower-fueled rivalry between the sporty coupes eventually created a new segment in the market known as “pony cars.” The first-year Chevrolet offered the Camaro as both a coupe and a convertible, with a long hood, short rear deck, 2+2 seating and a wide range of engine choices — from inline 6-cylinder units to big-block V8s — to appeal to a wide range of customers.

© General MotorsCamaro First Generation: 1967–69
Officials selected Camaro as the pace car for the 1967 Indianapolis 500, and the car that brought the field to the green flag had the Rally Sport and Super Sport packages, powered by a 396-cubic-inch big-block V8 engine that produced 375 horsepower. A 140-horsepower inline 6-cylinder engine powered the base Camaro for 1967, with a number of V8 engine options including the big-block 396. During the model year the Z/28 option became available, with a 302-cubic-inch V8 engine that qualified for the Trans Am racing series, where the Camaro/Mustang rivalry increased. Penske Racing and driver Mark Donahue won the Trans Am Championship for 1968 and 1969, driving Camaro Z/28s.

© General MotorsCamaro First Generation: 1967–69
Ed Welburn, vice president of GM Global Design, had some straightforward words about the original Camaro design: “The Camaro should not have been a design success, as it was based on an existing architecture and admittedly hurried to market to address the personal coupe revolution occurring with Baby Boomer customers,” he said. “However, the first-generation Camaro delivered a pure, classic proportion that will forever be regarded as one of the best-looking cars of its time. It was very lean and muscular, with comparatively minor embellishments for high-performance models. That was in contrast to some of the brasher competitors during the muscle car era, and it has helped the first-generation Camaro maintain timeless good looks,” reflected Welburn.

© General MotorsCamaro First Generation: 1967–69
The first-generation Camaro was only produced for three years. Minor changes for 1968 included federally-mandated side marker lights, removal of the wing windows and a new grille in the base version. Designers tweaked the sheet metal for the 1969 model to make the car look wider and more muscular, including new front fenders, wider rear fenders, wider taillights, a dual-plane grille and available cowl-induction hood. The 1969 Camaro is considered by many to be the iconic Camaro design, and was again chosen to pace the Indy 500. The 1969 pace car was a white Camaro SS with Hugger Orange stripes and orange interior with houndstooth cloth seats. Not offered as a regular option, dealers used the Central Office Production Orders process to order Camaros with the aluminum 427-cubic-inch V8 engine. A total of sixty-nine cars were built with the 427, and they have become known as COPO Camaros — the rarest Camaros most sought after by collectors.

© General MotorsCamaro Second Generation: 1970–81
Chevrolet’s 1970 model lineup included a redesigned Camaro, eliminating the convertible and leaving only the coupe. Built on new dedicated architecture, the Camaro’s design evolved over the next 12 years of production to include soft body-color bumpers and a wraparound rear window. Notable elements of the 1970 model include a horizontal crease that runs the length of the side (with the body wrapping below the crease to expose the tires), signature Chevrolet round taillights, a hood flowing straight back from the grille, and a distinctive split-bumper design on the RS package.

© General MotorsCamaro Second Generation: 1970–81
Ken Parkinson, executive director of design for Chevrolet Trucks and Global Architecture described the 1970 Camaro design as “a radical departure from the first gen. For the first time, it was built on its own dedicated architecture, which gave the design team the freedom to create a pure expression. What that team created was a powerful expression of American muscle, influenced by a European grand-touring aesthetic. There was simply nothing else like it,” noted Parkinson.

© General MotorsCamaro Second Generation: 1970–81
A 350-cubic-inch V8 engine that produced 360 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque powered the 1970 Camaro Z/28, and for the first time it had an available automatic transmission as well as a 4-speed manual. The SS 396 offered a big-block 396-cubic-inch V8 engine produced 375 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque. After the 1970 model year, in the face of tougher emission regulations, power began to drop dramatically and Chevrolet eliminated the big-block V8 after the 1972 model year. By 1975 the most powerful V8 engine available only produced 155 horsepower.

© General MotorsCamaro Second Generation: 1970–81
For 1974 the refreshed Camaro received new aluminum bumpers front and rear to meet new safety regulations, a new sloped grille and wraparound taillights. The Z/28 went away for 1975, but returned in the middle of the 1977 model year with a renewed focus on handling and appearance, but powered by the same 170-horsepower 350-cubic-inch V8 available in other Camaros. For 1978 Camaro received a new nose with a soft bumper cover, along with a soft rear bumper cover and an optional T-Top roof with removable glass panels. The Z/28 continued with fender vents, a fake hood scoop and a power increase to 185 horses.

© General MotorsCamaro Third Generation: 1982–92
The third-generation Camaro debuted for the 1982 model year as a hatchback coupe, with a more aerodynamic shape, a more sophisticated MacPherson strut front suspension and rear coil springs. The aggressive front-end design featured quad rectangular headlights, and the rear hatch was primarily a large compound-curve piece of glass that was a technological achievement for automotive glass production at that time. The ground-effects on the Z28 were inspired by Formula 1 cars, and were the first production application for a mass-produced American car.

© General MotorsCamaro Third Generation: 1982–92
Engine options for 1982 included the first 4-cylinder engine in a Camaro, with the base engine an 88-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-banger used through the 1986 model year. Other engines included a 112-horsepower 2.8-liter V6, a 145-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 and an optional 165-horsepower fuel-injected version of the 5.0-liter for the Z28. The 1982 Camaro Z28 was the pace car for the Indy 500 that year, and was named the 1982 Motor Trend Car of the Year. For 1983 the Z28 was offered with an optional 5.0-liter H.O. V8 that produced 190 horsepower and could be combined with a 5-speed manual transmission.

© General MotorsCamaro Third Generation: 1982–92
“This was a uniquely American design with a form developed for function — and its aggressive front-end styling was deemed almost too aggressive by some in the company,” explained John Cafaro, executive director of Chevrolet Global Car Design. “Perhaps more than any other generation, the third-generation Camaro was a car of its time,” said Cafaro. “You can see that influence in every detail of the car, from the aerodynamic details of the exterior, such as the ground effects on the Z28, to the introduction of digital instruments on the interior,” observed Cafaro.

© General MotorsCamaro Third Generation: 1982–92
The Camaro IROC-Z arrived for the 1885 model year, with an available tuned-port injection 5.0-liter V8 engine that produced 215 horsepower. The 350 cubic-inch (5.7-liter) V8 returned for 1987, touting 225 horsepower. Power peaked in 1990 at 245 horses and 345 lb-ft of torque with tuned-port injection — the most powerful Camaro offered since 1973. The Camaro convertible also returned for the 1987 model year — the first convertible since 1969. Chevrolet dropped the Z28 for 1988 in favor of the IROC as the top performance model, but returned in 1991 with a larger rear wing, new lower body cladding, new 5-spoke wheels, with motivation coming from the 245-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 engine.

© General MotorsCamaro Fourth Generation: 1993–2002
The 1993 fourth-generation Camaro featured a very sleek, aggressive new design with a low front end, a steep rake to the windshield and a strong wedge-shaped profile. “More than 20 years after its debut, the fourth-generation Camaro still looks as sleek as anything on showroom floors today,” said Kirk Bennion, Chevrolet Camaro exterior design manager. “It was a very aggressive design intended to evolve the proportion from the third-generation car with a provocative exterior and greater aerodynamic performance.” Chevrolet offered the 1993 Camaro in couple form only, running a 160-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 for the sport coupe, while the Z28 housed a 275-horsepower version of the LT1 small-block V8 engine that was introduced a year before in the Corvette.

© General Motors
Camaro Fourth Generation: 1993–2002
For the fourth time in as many generations, Camaro became the pace car for the Indy 500. The 1993 Camaro Z28 Indy 500 Pace Car featured black and white paint with a colorful multi-stripe design; 645 cars left showroom floors with the Pace Car package. The convertible returned once again for 1994, and for 1995 Chevrolet added an optional 200-horsepower 3.8-liter V6; it became the standard engine for 1996. For 1996 the RS returned as an appearance package for the V6 coupe, Z28 horsepower increased to 285, and the Camaro SS returned with 305 horsepower, 17-inch 5-spoke wheels and BFGoodrich Comp T/A tires.

© General MotorsCamaro Fourth Generation: 1993–2002
For Camaro’s 30th anniversary, Chevrolet designers penned a white 1997 Z28 with orange stripes and hounds-tooth upholstery, similar to the 1969 Camaro Pace Car. For 1998 Camaro received a new front fascia, and the Chevy engineers dropped the all-aluminum small-block LS1 V8 from the Corvette into the Z28 — rated at 305 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque. The Camaro SS added ram-air induction to increase the LS1 output to 320 horsepower. Chevrolet offered a 35th anniversary graphics package for the 2002 Camaro Z28 SS coupe and convertible. Camaro production ended after the 2002 model year and lay dormant for eight years.

© General MotorsCamaro Fifth Generation: 2010–15
After eight long years, the Camaro returned to the Chevrolet lineup for the 2010 model year with a modern design that drew inspiration from the iconic 1969 Camaro. “After an eight-year absence, the return of Camaro was a thunderbolt that reignited the passion of Camaro enthusiasts around the world,” said Tom Peters, Chevrolet Camaro exterior design director. “It’s a car design for those who like to drive, and its elegant design makes you smile every time.” Peters explained the challenge of designing a new Camaro: “Distilling the timeless essence of the design and translating into a fresh, contemporary Camaro was a challenge. The final design perfectly straddled that razor-sharp line between heritage and retro — and with five straight years at the top of the segment, clearly the fifth-generation Camaro connected with a whole new group of enthusiasts,” Peters noted.

© General MotorsCamaro Fifth Generation: 2010–15
A new Camaro concept debuted at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and went on to appear in the 2007 Transformers film, which built pressure to put a new Camaro into production. The 2010 Camaro that went on sale in 2009 remained true to the 2006 concept and fans enthusiastically received the new Camaro. The standard engine for the 2010 model is a 304-horsepower 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 engine rated at 29 mpg highway. The 2010 Camaro SS is powered by a 426-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 engine with a 6-speed manual transmission, or a 400-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 engine with a 6-speed automatic, which features the Active Fuel Management System and is paired exclusively with the 6-speed automatic transmission to achieve an EPA highway fuel economy rating of 25 mpg. Officials selected the 2010 Camaro SS as the pace car for the 2010 Indianapolis 500.

© General MotorsCamaro Fifth Generation: 2010–15
The Camaro Convertible returned for 2011, and the pace car at the 2011 Indianapolis 500 was a 2011 Camaro SS Convertible in white with orange stripes and an orange leather-trimmed interior — a look evoking the styling details of the 1969 Indy 500 pace car.

© General MotorsCamaro Fifth Generation: 2010–15
For 2012 Chevrolet added the Camaro ZL1 Coupe powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine that produces 580 horsepower and 556 lb-ft of torque, and can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and reach a top track speed of 184 mph — clearly supercar levels of performance with technology to match. Camaro ZL1 features the first sports car application of third-generation Magnetic Ride suspension, which uses valveless damping and Magneto-Rheological fluid technology to adjust the suspension for road and driving conditions. The ZL1 also features Performance Traction Management which was first introduced on the Corvette ZR1 and integrates magnetic ride control, launch control, traction control, electronic stability control and electric power steering response — all to improve performance.

© General MotorsCamaro Fifth Generation: 2010–15
Chevrolet offered a 45th anniversary package for the 2012 Camaro and Camaro SS variants, which included specific hood / deck stripes, badging, new-design 20-inch wheels and special interior trim. For 2013 Camaro received the 1LE Package for the SS with manual transmission, adding different gearing, suspension tuning and tires for improved track performance. The 1LE features a matte black hood, front splitter and rear spoiler, as well as 10-spoke ZL1-based wheels also finished in black.

© General MotorsCamaro Fifth Generation: 2010–15
Camaro received a new front fascia and rear treatment for 2014, including new headlights and taillights for a sleeker look — except for the ZL1, which retained the previous fascia since it is optimized for engine cooling and aerodynamic downforce. The LS and LT coupes and convertibles are powered by a 323-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, achieving up to 30 mpg highway for the 2LS trim. The Camaro SS is powered by the same 6.2-liter engine producing 426 horsepower with the 6-speed manual, and 400 horsepower with the 6-speed automatic. The Camaro Z/28 returned for 2014 and is the most track-capable model in Camaro’s history, building on the legacy of the original Z/28; it lapped the famed Nurburgring road course in Germany four seconds faster than the ZL1.

© General MotorsCamaro Fifth Generation: 2010–15
The 2014 Camaro Z/28 was chosen as the pace car for the 2014 Indianapolis 500, driven by three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti. It was the eighth time that a Camaro was chosen as the pace car for the race, starting with the original Camaro in 1967, followed by the 1969 Camaro. Camaro also led the field to the green flag at Indianapolis in 1982, 1993, 2009, 2010 and 2011. The Camaro Z/28 is powered by a normally-aspirated 7.0-liter V8 engine that is SAE-certified at 505 horsepower with 481 lb-ft of torque delivered through a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission and a Torsen limited-slip differential. The Z/28 includes Brembo carbon ceramic brakes, lightweight forged aluminum wheels and Pirelli PZero Trofeo R tires. Priced at $75,000 without air conditioning and with only one radio speaker, the Z/28 weighs 300 pounds less than the ZL1. The only available option is a package that includes air conditioning and six speakers.

© General MotorsCamaro Fifth Generation: 2010–15
For 2015 Chevrolet built a limited run of 69 hand-built, factory-assembled COPO Camaros designed to compete in NHRA Stock Eliminator drag racing. The 2015 COPO Camaro No. 001 debuted in the fall of 2014 at the SEMA trade show in Las Vegas, finished in Abalone White with matte gray and orange accents and “15” graphics. This first 2015 COPO Camaro sold at the Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach auction in April 2015 for $400,000, with the proceeds going to the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, which helps wounded Vets compete in marathons. A 350-cubic-inch racing engine with a Whipple supercharger powers the 2015 COPO Camaro, rated by the NHRA at 555 horsepower; it is capable of running the quarter mile in less than 9 seconds. The COPO Camaro has an NHRA-approved roll cage, safety equipment and racing suspension including a solid rear axle in place of the production Camaro’s independent rear suspension. The COPO name comes from Central Office Production Order — the process Chevrolet dealers used in the 1960s to order special option combinations. Some savvy dealers worked the system to order Camaros with Chevy’s 427-cubic-inch-engine of the 1960s.

© General MotorsCamaro Fifth Generation: 2010–15
With the new sixth-generation Camaro coming for the 2016 model year, Chevrolet wrapped up production of the fifth generation with the 2015 Camaro Commemorative Edition, which was available on 2LT and 2SS coupes and convertible and includes the RS package. The Commemorative Edition has special 20-inch wheels, a unique stripe, a body-color front splitter, a ZL1 rear spoiler and Commemorative Edition fender badges. Five exterior color combinations were available and the SS received a body-color hood insert. Chevrolet offered a new Adrenaline Red interior only on the Commemorative Edition, which included adrenaline red and black leather seating surfaces, an adrenaline red instrument panel insert and red stitching on the seats, steering wheel, shift knob, shift boot, door trim armrest and center console lid.

© General MotorsCamaro Sixth Generation: 2016–
Chevrolet took the wraps off the all-new sixth-generation Camaro at a special event on Belle Isle in Detroit on Saturday, May 16, 2015. Although easily recognizable, the fresh generation was completely new with the exception of the Chevy bowtie on the rear and the SS badge. Slightly smaller than the outgoing model, the new Camaro shed more than 200 pounds, with the goal of improving performance as well as fuel efficiency. Three engines are available, ranging from a 2.0-liter 275-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder Ecotec engine (the first turbo ever in a Camaro) to the 6.2.-liter LT1 V8 engine boasting 455 horsepower — the most power Chevrolet has ever offered in the Camaro SS. The driver-focused interior is greatly improved with high-quality materials and unique ambient lighting. Overall the new Camaro is updated in practically every way possible, and offers much greater performance, making this iconic car relevant for many years to come.

© General MotorsCamaro Sixth Generation: 2016–
The Camaro ZL1 returned for 2017, powered by an LT4 supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine producing 650 horsepower and 640 lb-ft of torque, combined with either a 6-speed manual transmission with Active Rev Match or a new 10-speed automatic transmission. The new ZL1 is 200 pounds lighter than the previous generation with 70 additional horsepower and 80 more lb-ft or torque. Additional performance upgrades include specially calibrated Magnetic Ride suspension, an electronic limited-slip differential, 20-inch forged aluminum wheels, Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires with an exclusive compound for the ZL1, as well as Brembo 6-piston monobloc front calipers and 15.35-inch 2-piece front rotors. Inside, Camaro ZL1 features Recaro front seats, a suede-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel, a suede shift knob and an available Chevrolet Performance Data Recorder. For 2018 Chevrolet added the 1LE Performance Package for the ZL1 Coupe with carbon fiber aerodynamic enhancements, Multimatic DSSV dampers, adjustable ride height, adjustable camber, 19-inch aluminum wheels and reduced weight.

© General MotorsCamaro Sixth Generation: 2016–
The Camaro received exterior updates for 2019; however, it still carries elements reminiscent of the original 1967 design. New for 2019 was a revised front-end design with a new grille, hood, dual-element headlights, LED signature headlights, front fascia, LED taillights and rear fascia. The 2019 Camaro is available in a LT, SS and ZL1 trim levels. Either a turbocharged 275-horsepower 2.0-liter engine or a 335-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 powers the LT. The Camaro SS features a 455-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 and the extreme ZL1 boasts a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 generating 650 horsepower. A 1LE performance package is offered with the 2.0-liter engine, and the ZL1 1LE has an available 10-speed automatic transmission. The Camaro convertible features a multi-layer soft-top that mimics the shape of the coupe, with a hard tonneau that covers the roof when stowed. The fully automatic electro-hydraulic power roof system can be opened or closed at speeds up to 30 mph.

© General MotorsCamaro Sixth Generation: 2016–
For 2020 the Camaro SS receives a new front-end look based on the design of the Camaro Shock show car that debuted at the 2019 SEMA trade show. Chevrolet offers the 2020 Camaro in LT, LT1, SS and ZL1 trim levels. Either a turbocharged 275-horsepower 2.0-liter engine or a 335-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 powers the LT, and the new LT1 combines the style and features of the LT with the 455-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 engine from the SS. The extreme ZL1 boasts a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 generating 650 horsepower. A 1LE performance package offered with either the 2.0-liter engine or the 3.6 V6 adds FE3 suspension, Brembo front brakes and heavy-duty cooling. The SS 1LE package adds Brembo 6-piston monobloc front brake calipers, 4-piston rear calipers, 2-piece brake rotors, an electronic limited-slip differential, dual-mode exhaust, Magnetic Ride Control, FE4 performance suspension and 20-inch wheels; the SS 1LE is only available with a 6-speed manual transmission. The Camaro ZL1 1LE has an available 10-speed automatic transmission.

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