1st – 3rd Generation Camaro Timeline
By Kelley Timms
The mid-sixties saw Camaro competing against Mustang for street and track bragging rights; while at the same time GM and Ford were competing for showroom sales. This era has been etched in history as the “Pony Car” Wars. This being a special Camaro issue; we thought it might be fun to run down the timeline for the Camaro. We’ll also be taking a look at things that were happening in the World of Camaro at that time. Along the way we’ll throw in a few weird or rare Camaro options, just for fun.
August 1964 – June 1966
The car initially known just as the “F-car” was born inside GM design studios under the leadership of Elliot M. “Pete” Estes. Many names were considered for the new car such as Chaparral, Nova, Panther, Wildcat, G-Mini, Gemini and several others. Pictures do exist of models actually wearing the Chaparral and Panther emblems. Pete finally settled on the word “Camaro” from an obscure French dictionary which meant friend or companion.
September 21, 1966 – 1967
The Camaro was finally offered for sale to the public; this was two full years after the Mustang was introduced. It was available in coupe and convertible form with power teams from a thrifty 6-cylinder to the ground-pounding 396 375HP Super Sport big block. The Camaro hit the big time with a full-length movie, an off Broadway play and a clothing line. Later in 1966, the Z/28 with 602 units produced and its high-winding 302ci engine was born to compete in the Trans-Am series. Due to the market frenzy surrounding the Camaro, it paced the Indianapolis 500 in 1967 and 100 “Festival” look-alike Camaros were available for sale to the public.
The Camaro stayed much the same from 1967. Gone were the vent windows. Since the Camaro had competed in the 1967 SCCA Trans Am series and it was discovered Camaros were extremely prone to wheel hop under acceleration, the rear shocks were staggered in an effort to combat this problem according to Paul Van Valkenburg author of Chevrolet-Racing. The D80 spoiler option was the first GM option to go straight from the clay model to the production line. An extremely rare option this year was the rear seat shoulder belts (standard & deluxe) of which only 133 units were produced.
The Camaro changed its looks with 2” wider sheet metal on the body, ZL2 Cowl Hoods and a more aggressive stance. This year gave rise to the awesome, all-aluminum ZL1 engine in the COPO Camaros of which only 69 were built to compete at the drag strip. Meanwhile in the Trans Am series, the dual-quad, Crossram intake sitting atop the 302 with headers and transistorized ignition was dominating the circuits. A very rare option on the 1969 Camaro was the JL8 four wheel disc brakes which could haul the Camaro down to legal speeds in a hurry! Only 206 units received this highly desirable option. Production continued on the 1969 Camaro well into February of 1970. As a result of the new body design, the Camaro was once again brought to task to pace the Indianapolis 500 with 3,675 replicas available to the public.
The first year of the Camaro’s Second Generation saw a wider coupe body with more flowing lines driven strictly by the design group. Because of this, radio antennas found their way into the windshield. However, many of the design flaws of “The Hugger” suspension were fixed this year which made the Camaro much more fun to drive. The convertible was gone and would not be available again until 1987. The SS 396 big block is quite rare this year with only 600 units produced.
Not much changed in 1971 with exception of the high-back seats which were adapted from the Vega to replace the 1970 “Brick Headrest”, low-back seats. A rare option for this year is the Muncie M22, close ratio transmission with only 1,290 units sold.
This year saw prices on Camaro actually drop because of the repeal of the 7% Federal excise tax. However, the UAW struck April 8, 1972 and severely limited and in some cases ceased production altogether. Because of this, one of the rare options for this year is the Z/28 with only 2,575 units produced. This makes the 1972 Z/28 the 2nd rarest Z behind the 1967 version.
This year marked the end of the 2nd Generation chrome bumper cars. Due to USDOT crash standards changing for minimal body damage during 2.5 MPH or less crashes, the ’73 Camaro required many extra braces for the front and rear bumper to make this standard. Power windows came back for the first time since 1969, and it wins as one of our rare options with only 217 units (unless we count the Trailer Towing Package with only 28 units sold).
The Aluminum Bumper era was ushered in this year with a front fascia painted body color above the bumper. With the update of the USDOT crash standards the previous year; these Camaros actually became 7” longer with the bumper supported by springs to lessen body crash damage. This was the first year for High Energy Ignition (HEI) in the Camaro. 1974 was also the last year for the Z/28 as the Federal Government stressed fuel efficiency over performance. It appears the 1974 Camaro was more apt to tow a trailer than the previous year, with 389 Trailer Towing Packages sold.
1975 ushered in the “wrap around” style rear window to help alleviate blind spots. This is the same year GM, under Federal pressure to reduce emissions, gave us the wonderful catalytic convertor. The loop carpeting was replaced with cut pile carpeting. But, this may have been a late-1974 switch according to some sources. Sadly, the Z/28 was killed off due to more pressure from the Federal Government and nothing was left to fill the void. Except…You could go into the dealer and order the Type LT with the LM1 (the most powerful V8 that year) and the Z86 “Gymkhana” suspension package. This combo gave you the largest V8 and a suspension package with quick ratio steering and big, fat sway bars. The box was checked only 3,711 times for the Gymkhana suspension package.
Keeping with the times, GM kept the same body style as the previous year and not too much was different in 1976. Voltmeters became the standard fare over the warning light or Amp meter. Power brakes finally became standard and the 305 V8 graced the engine compartment of the Camaro for the first time. “Cruise Master” cruise control wins the rare option contest with only 990 units sold.
1977 saw the last year for the Aluminum Bumper 2nd generation Camaros. There were not too many rare options or “big news” for this year except the Camaro finally outsold the Mustang and the Z/28 was back! The Z/28 was its own separate model this year rather than an engine option. Intermittent wipers were introduced with 16,190 units sold and the 4-speed shift pattern changed from a “reverse up” to a “reverse down” configuration.
The “Urethane Nose” era was ushered in this year and received rave reviews from the public. 1978 saw the 2 millionth Camaro being made on May 11, 1978 and T-tops were available for the first time as RPO CC1 which were installed in 9,875 Camaros. There were not too many rare options as the cars became more “option rich”. However, there is a very rare color introduced 1978 and only used that one year known as Yellow-Orange. Only 2,311 cars received this awesome hue. Looking through and old paint chip book, it appears to be a cross between DOT road cone orange and Cheez Whiz.
The body remained the same for the most part with different graphics packages available for the different models. This was the first year for the 3-piece front spoiler design that everyone wants on their 1979-1981 Camaro. The biggest changes were in the interior where the dash went from the “Flat Front” Style which had been in use since 1970 to the more modern “Wrap Around” Style. One of the rarest options for 1979 was the UP5 AM/FM radio (not Stereo) with the CB and power antenna available at the princely sum of $489.00, which would be $1522.24 in today’s inflated dollars– and you don’t even get a GPS!
Since the U.S. was under a recovery of sorts from the gas crunch, the new Camaro debuted with subtle changes to the exterior and interior (i.e. 85 MPH speedo) and major changes to the available engines to entice buyers with fuel economy. This was the first year for the V6. California cars received the Buick 231 engine and the other 49 states received the Chevy 229 to lessen weight and improve fuel economy. Parts store countermen have been having nightmares since because the average consumer had no idea GM played “Musical Engines”. This was the first year for the functional, AIR INDUCTION rear facing hood scoop on the Z/28 which was a throwback to the ZL2 Cowl Induction on the 1969 Camaro.
1981 marked the last year for the Urethane Nose 2nd generation Camaro and closed the chapter on the 2nd generation altogether. The body was pretty much the same as 1980 and the RS was not available for the first time since 1967. Under the hood, the Camaro received an upgrade with its first computer controlled engine known as “Advanced Computer Command Control”. The console housing is different this year because the computer module was hidden under the front of the console where the map pocket was on previous years. Sales were lackluster at best in 1981 (lowest since the strike of ’72) due possibly in part to the public getting word of the release of the new 3rd generation Camaro.
1982 dawned with the newly designed 3rd Generation Camaro being the Motor Trend car of the year. The Camaro had undergone a major change with the wheelbase being shorter and the weight being reduced by almost 500 pounds. For the fuel economy minded consumer, the Camaro was finally available with a 4 cylinder engine which was the “Iron Duke” found in the 1975-1977 Pontiac Astre (Rebadged Vega) models. Four wheel disc brakes were available again as an option since the JL8 option in 1969. Once again, the Camaro was pressed into service to pace the Indianapolis 500 and 6,360 Silver & Blue replicas were again available for public consumption.
This year the Camaro remained largely unchanged over the previous year due to the short production run in 1982. 1983 saw the first year for a 5-speed transmission and a 4-speed automatic transmission in the Camaro. Only available in 1982 & 1983, the LU5 V8 with the Crossfire Injection was a throwback to the Crossram intake system of 1969. Later in 1983, the HO engine became available with its aluminum intake and Quadrajet carb. This optional engine proved to have more horsepower and better reliability in the long run. The L69 engine only mustered 3,223 units its first year; but eventually became the power plant of choice in the Z/28 until the debut of the IROC.
As 1984 dawned, accolades poured in from the likes of Car and Driver and Road & Track which led to the Z/28 taking top honors over the Corvette in the US. Unique to the 3rd generation in 1984-1986 was the Berlinetta model. The Berlinetta had been around since 1979. But, this “Starship Camaro” was light-years ahead of its time with its all-digital dash and stalk mounted AM/FM Cassette player which was attached to the console forward of the gear selector. One odd option to the Camaro in 1984 was the ’84 Sarajevo Olympics Package which consisted of red/white/blue stripes and Winter Olympic decal emblems placed on 3,722 all white cars.
The Camaro remained virtually unchanged on the outside with the exception being a new front fascia and grille treatment, rear tail light changes and a new color palette to choose from. A new option which has since gone down in automotive history was the B4Z package. Checking that box on the order form for your Z/28 in 1985 got you the all-out performance IROC (International Race Of Champions) package which boosted the Camaro’s performance to .92G on the skidpad and low 7 second 0-60 mph times straight off of the showroom floor. Mid-year in 1985, the venerable L69 HO engine (ironically only available in the IROC with a manual transmission) began its slide from grace (2,497 units in ’85 to 74 in ’86) in favor of the more powerful LB9.
This year saw the death of the Berlinetta Starship Camaro with only 4,479 units sold due to an odd change in the automotive market. Apparently, consumers wanted more performance over bells and whistles…Imagine that?! The 5-speed was the only choice for a manual transmission for that year and the third brake light appeared in the compound curve rear window. The IROC remained as an option package. Two colors: Light Brown and Copper were deleted from the palette that year with four Camaros painted light brown and two in the copper hue. Looking in the paint chip book, we can see why they were deleted. I can’t really imagine a Light Brown IROC-Z.
The convertible was finally resurrected from 1969 this year in a very short production run. These convertibles were not actually built by GM; but rather conversions of T-top models done by ASC. The convertible could be ordered in any flavor, including the IROC-Z. The low production option for 1987 was the Sport Coupe Convertible with only 263 units sold. It is fair to say that ASC converted Camaros for their customers as well, and some 1986 convertibles not sold through Chevy dealers have been documented.
1988 saw the Z/28 fade into obscurity again in favor of the IROC-Z that took its place. Two models were available in coupe or convertible: the Sport Coupe and the IROC-Z. However, RS models were available in some areas to the tune of 7,038 units. These were V6 cars designed to look good and save fuel. There were also around eight 1LE Camaros made in the Van Nuys Assembly Plant. More about the 1LE shortly…
This year saw the Sport Coupe fall by the wayside and be replaced by the RS. Now, the Camaro stable consisted of the coupe and convertible RS and IROC-Z. A curious little option was the 1LE. Checking the right boxes on the order form (without Air Conditioning) tripped the light fantastic and brought you a Camaro to be used on the SCCA Showroom Stock Class circuit with big Corvette brakes, aluminum driveshaft and items removed for weight savings. Chevrolet built around 111 1LE Camaros and they are highly sought after today.
First year for the supplemental restraint system required by the Federal Government (airbags, in layman’s terms.) Models were the same as 1989, and much remained unchanged. The 1LE saw only 62 units built.
Chevrolet did not renew their contract with the International Race of Champions, so that was the end of the IROC-Z. The Z/28 returned to active duty with the RS again in coupe or convertible form. The 1LE could be ordered under the Z/28, which was done 478 times. A new package appeared this year which was the B4C Special Service Package or “Police” package. The B4C got you an RS with the rip-roaring Z/28 drivetrain– which was offered for sale to police departments nationwide. 592 were sold.
1992 was the 25th Anniversary of the Camaro, and all dashes had an emblem touting this fact. The RS and Z/28 were back in coupe and convertible and a “Heritage Package” was available, which gave your Camaro the stereo stripes up the hood and down the deck. 705 1LE cars and 589 B4C cars were built that year. 1992 closed out unremarkably as the end of the 3rd generation.