Chevrolet’s cross-town rivals, Ford may have been the first into the pony car war but the bow-tie boys were not about to be outdone. Three years after the pony car paraded on to the scene the Camaro came out to dethrone the king. Not only in sales but also in performance, on and off the track. See, Ford had not only created a sports car sales success but also had given up on a gentleman’s agreement to not race their cars – Chevy was eager to get back in the fray.
Over the course of six generations Chevy’s Camaro had duked it out with the Mustang. Not only furthering competition between brands but creating one of the biggest rivalries between fans in motorsport in addition to the entire automotive community. Nothing showcases this more than the best Camaros Chevy could conjure up. So, we have taken the best, of the best from each generation and highlighted what made them great. Here they are:
First Generation: 1967-1970
1969 Camaro ZL-1 COPO
While the Z/28 that came out in 1968 was bearing the flag of Chevy at Trans Am races, the unspoken star of the first generation was the ZL-1. It was unspoken because only 69 of them were made for several reasons, the foremost being the price. At almost $7,000, the Camaro ZL-1 was absurdly expensive for the era. The other reason is because Chevy kept the option very low key and for good reasons.
The ZL-1 had an all-aluminum, 427 V8 that was derived from their Can Am racing cars; so the price increase wasn’t truly unwarranted. The block weighed 160 lbs (72.5 kg) less than the regular V8’s and produced 430 horsepower. That made it quick enough to hit 13 second quarter-miles.
Second Generation: 1970 ½ – 1981
1970 ½ Camaro Z/28
Inspired by Ferrari’s the Camaro’s exterior design was radically different in the 1970’s. Over all, the Camaro grew larger in every dimension: weight, length, and width. Other changes were made to the suspension and steering, but in all the package was pretty much the same as before.
The best of this breed though has to be the 1970 ½ Z/28. The LT-1 V8 proved good for 360-horsepower, could be had with an automatic transmission, and because it was a Z/28 it handled well too. Unfortunately, the LT-1 only endured for that first year and was discontinued after.
Third Generation: 1982-1992
1987 Camaro IROC-Z
The International Race of Champions was a series dedicated to crowning the best driver in the world. Identical cars were given to the best of the best and only one walked away with the title. Chevrolet provided the cars in 1985 and by 1987 the street version had become the key Camaro to own.
With 225-horsepower it was the most powerful Camaro to have come out in the last 13 years. Aside from that, it was the first time the IROC-Z could be had with a manual transmission. This made for an excellent track car because the 3rd Gen Camaros were the first to feature McPherson suspensions and were developed alongside Corvettes. The suspension was even further tuned in the IROC’s because of their racing heritage. The ‘87 IROC may not be the best looking Camaro and is certainly the one to be most likely found in a front yard but it is without question the most important Camaro because it brought the car into the modern age.
Fourth Generation: 1993-2002
1998 Camaro SS
When the fourth generation came to us in the 1990’s it carried with it new, sleek arrow-like styling. Although the styling may be a bit polarizing it would be the car that finally reunited Camaros with V8’s that made 300+ horsepower – that is a good thing.
The LS-1, derived from the Corvette, was all-aluminum (the first since 1969) and boasted 320 horsepower. Making this possible was the Ram Air induction system that worked with the functional hood scoop. 1998 was also the year the Camaro had revised styling that, we think, made it look far more muscular. Four years later the Camaro would be discontinued and Chevrolet promised it would not make them again, they lied.
Fifth Generation: 2010-2015
2014 Camaro Z/28
Plenty of Camaro enthusiasts were annoyed when Chevrolet launched the car in 2010, and it didn’t help that the car was heavy, boxy, had-poor visibility, and a host of other problems. All of that aside it looked spectacular, drawing heavily from the 1969 Camaro with side hashmarks, recessed grill, and a stout stance.
The pride of GM came in 2014 when the Z/28 moniker returned. Chevy crafted a track monster that set a blistering Nurburgring lap time of 7 minutes 37.47 seconds, officially besting for more expensive cars like the Lexus LFA and Ferrari F430. Weight reduction, tons of aerodynamic tricks, including the “flow-tie” (hollow Chevy emblem), and Corvette killing power all helped make it a track-day super star.
Sixth Generation: 2016-Present
2016 Camaro SS
The newest Camaro is just that, new. Most of us eagerly await the foretold ZL-1 and Z/28 versions but for now the SS is a stellar performer. GM says 70% of the car is new and in total it weighs some 200 lbs (91 kg) less than its predecessor. The SS has 455-horsepower from a V8 and that makes it one of the fastest Camaros ever created. It also has a version of GM’s first 8-speed transmission that sounds like a lot of gears but assists the car to 60 mph (100 kph) in only 4 seconds flat. Add in functional aerodynamic aids like hood vents and a spoiler and you have a Camaro that feels solid at its 160 mph (257 kph) top speed.
Camaro is not stopping there. It’s next muscle car, the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is going to boast a mean 650 horsepower. It has 195 more horsepower and 94 additional lb-ft of torque and you guessed it, is quicker around the Nurburgring by a whopping 12 seconds! The beefed up V-8, modified suspension and all-new 10-speed automatic transmission beating last year’s Ford Shelby Mustang GT350R, Ferrari F12Berlinetta, and the Koeniggsegg CCX. You can check out the record lap in the video below.
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