The Best Camaro From Each Generation
Chevy Camaros are classic muscle cars that have been burning up American highways and backroads since 1967.
Designed and developed to compete with Ford’s Mustang, the Camaro was first buzzed about under the codename “Panther.”
Unveiled at a General Motors press conference at Detroit’s Statler-Hilton Hotel, Chevy officially introduced its new car as the Camaro.
When automotive journalists asked what exactly a Camaro was, GM executives replied, “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”
And so it began. The competition between Chevrolet and Ford for muscle car domination.
Since the first generation launched in 1969, Camaros have evolved over the course of five generations, with the sixth generation poised to launch in a few short days, much to the delight of Chevrolet dealers.
If you’re Interested in owning a piece of the Camaro legacy, now is an excellent time to start looking.
Check out these top picks from each generation, and see why Camaro was and continues to be a top contender in the pony wars.
The Best of the Best
Trying to pick only one model from each generation is quite a challenge as each one offers something unique and considerable in terms of power, speed, and appearance.
The fifth generation birthed a number of special and limited edition models, so if you’re a fan of the Transformers movies, specifically the Bumblebee character, your favorite would likely be the 2012 Camaro Transformers Special Edition model.
But, Camaros have appeared in a variety of media, including books adapted for the big screen like Nicholas Sparks’ romance, A Walk to Remember, which also became a box office blockbuster.
Camaros have also appeared in Martin Scorsese’s mob hit, Goodfellas, as well as the comedy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, starring Sean Penn.
They have also been immortalized in a number of songs from rap to country.
Camaros are iconic attention-seekers, satisfied by a wide and appreciative audience.
Spotlighted here are the models from each generation, upon which a few limited and special editions are based.
First generation: 1967-1969
The first generation Camaros were built on the same GM F-body platform and shared the same main components as the 1967 Pontiac Firebird.
Stylistically similar to the base model, which valued looks over performance, the first generation Camaros, available as coupes or convertibles in RS, SS, or Z/28 trim levels, came with rectangular, rather than square headlights, additional side markers, and the lack of side vents.
The Super Sport or SS model was the most popular of the series. Although it was a powerful upgrade from the base model, it was no match for the race-ready Z/28.
A triple threat of looks, power, and speed, the Z/28 Camaro was not a make believe muscle car. This was the real deal. A race car for public consumption.
The two-door Sport Coupe featuring an upgraded suspension, rear-wheel drive, manual four-speed gearbox, 302 cubic inch V-8 engine with 290 horsepower and 290 lb.-ft. of torque, able to reach a top speed of 140 mph and hit sixty miles per hour from zero in 5.5 seconds.
Equipped with mandatory disc brakes, this was a barebones racecar. No bells and whistles. No automatic transmission or A/C options. Just serious speed, able to crush the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 107 mph.
Second generation: 1970-1981
Growing pains marked much of the second generation Camaro production, in the form of increased governmental safety and emissions regulations as well as labor strikes at GM factories.
However, the second generation proved to be the longest to date, releasing some impressive models, including the 1971 SS350, which Road & Track named “One of the World’s Ten Best Cars.”
For the first time, a Camaro was outfitted with a 350 cubic inch V8 engine, which inspired the development of two more drag-race ready models: the COPO and Yenko, making the 1971 SS350 a truly iconic American muscle car.
Third generation: 1982-1992
In 1985, the International Race of Champions (IROC) made the Camaro its official vehicle, and so Chevy released the Camaro IROC Z28.
Equipped with a TPI 305 cubic inch V-8 engine, the IROC was available in either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, producing 215 horsepower with 275 ft-lb of torque.
A variety of race-inspired exterior colors and 16-inch aluminum wheels made this speedy stunner unmistakable on the roads and at the MSRP starting around $11,500, the Camaro IROC was far more affordable than its Corvette competitor.
Car and Driver named it one of the years “Ten Best Cars.”
Fourth generation: 1993-2002
Looking for a true Camaro classic? Look no further.
The fourth generation delivered the original tire smoker, arguably the most powerful of this nine-year production generation.
Blazing in Arctic White with Hugger Orange stripes, the 1997 Camaro SS LT4 30th Anniversary SLP Coupe boasted performance exhaust, lightweight drive shaft, Bilstein sport suspension, and Torsen limited slip differential.
This beast was made for speed, zipping from zero to sixty in 4.9 seconds, and flying past the quarter-mile marker in 13.3 seconds.
Sporting 17-inch by 9-inch Arctic White cast-aluminum wheels, only 100 of these beauties were produced, most of them never seeing the showrooms because they were already spoken for before they got off the assembly line.
Good luck finding one.
Fifth generation: 2010-2015
As the fifth generation wraps up, it can claim some serious victories.
With the 2010 Camaro SS, Camaro enthusiasts witnessed a throwback to features reminiscent of the 1969 Camaro, including rear fender “gills” and a power bulge hood, similar to the “cowl induction” hood from the first-generation.
The 2012 Camaro ZL1 is touted as the most powerful Camaro to date, at least for now, with a V8 engine getting 580 horsepower.
But the most recent claim of this generation came with the release of the 2014 Camaro Z/28, the fastest street-legal Camaro yet.
Once again, more competitively priced than their rivals, these cars have been credited with bringing true performance machines to the working class.
Powered by a 3.6-L V6 engine, able to reach 323 horsepower, this car is also surprisingly fuel efficient, getting an EPA estimated 30 city miles per gallon.
Keeping up its racing reputation, in 2013, Chevrolet decided to use the Camaro for almost all of its NASCAR Series teams.
So, what’s next for the Camaro?
How will Chevy start its next chapter?
Sixth generation: Go for Launch!
In just a few short days, on May 16, the sixth generation Camaros will be revealed at Belle Isle Park in Michigan.
What we know so far is that the 2016s will be built on the GM Alpha platform, as seen on the Cadillac ATS.
Speculation over model type continues to grow, but all rumors will be put to rest sooner than later when Chevy unveils its latest equine eating animal, which sounds furious.
Backed by a history rife with legendary cars and on the cusp of the next release, this is the right time to strike up a relationship with the Chevrolet dealers in your area and find out which one of these menacing machines satisfies your need for speed.
If you ask a GM executive the real meaning behind “Camaro,” you’ll find out that it is actually rooted in an old French word for friend or companion.
Are you ready to shake up your social circle?