Camaro

Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we? The year, 1964. 1969_CAMARO The White House belonged to Texas, with Lyndon Johnson’s boots parked under the desk. Motown reigned supreme on the air waves, the civil rights movement was still underway and everybody was invited to a big party in New York---the World’s Fair. Ford was about to set the automotive world on fire with a car that proved to be one of its biggest successes of all time--the Mustang, which tapped into everybody’ s automotive dreams and lighting the psirit of baby boomers everywhere. The Mustang could be just about anything you wanted it to be, and it all started at a low price of entry---remember all the ads touting $2,368?’ The success of the Mustang took just about everybody by surprise, not the least of whom was Chevrolet, Ford’s archrival then based just a few miles down river from Dearborn in General Motors’ fortress of a building in Detroit. The only thing Chevy had that was even remotely competitive at the time was the Corvair Monza, and it was nothing more than a tarted-up stock-standard Corvair, a model which was aimed at the economy market, not the sporty "pony car" market that Mustang had just spawned. It took a while for Chevy to find its voice--and its own entry--the Camaro, a car which, like the Mustang, used parts from its compact car brother. In Ford’s case it was the Falcon. Chevy drew parts from the Chevy II bin to help come up with the Camaro. The first Camaro was a rather elegant, smoothly styled automobile that came in convertible, hardtop, RS, SS and later in the year--a limited production Z28 model. The standard engine was a six cylinder one, with other options available all the way up to a 396 cubic inch engine, which was introduced late in the model year. 1969_CAMARO_RALLYSPORT A number of dealers, most notably Nickey Chevrolet of Chicago even managed to stuff the huge 427 cubic inch engine into the Camaro. Another dealer which became well known for its special production big engine Camaros was Yenko Chevrolet in Pennsylvania. 1969_CAMARO_SS The year 1968 brought only a few modifications for Camaro, with the most notable being the dropping of vent windows because Chevy was touting something that year called "Astro Ventilation" which permitted a constant flow of fresh air without opening the car windows. It also brought a new nickname emblazoned on the sales catalog: "The Hugger." The year 1969 brought bigger changes style wise for Camaro, with squared off rear wheel wells, hash marks, and more flashy striping schemes for the exterior. Some collectors value the 1969 model more than the first two years, but to many eyes, including this writer, the older styling was decidedly better. Meanwhile the Camaro continued to be "all things to all people" with expanding numbers of dealers adding their special performance touches and special engines to the car. Among them were Nickey Chevrolet, Yenko Chevrolet, Baldwin Chevrolet, producers of the "Baldwin-Motion SS Camaros," out of Long Island, N.Y., and Berger Chverolet from the Grand Rapids, Mich., area. It was 1970--officially model year 1970 and a half-- that brought the first truly dramatic changes styling-wise to the Camaro, with a fastback design that looked for all the world like an Americanized Ferrari, particularly from the front end with the squared-off grille and round lights flanking it. 1974_CAMARO One of the engines that became well known for scorching performance that year was the 360 horsepower, 350 cubic inch LT1 which was used in the z-28. The new Camaro also did not come in a convertible model, though it made up for that with quite a variety of other models in the coupe style, including RS, SS, the base Camaro and the Z-28. The year 1971 was not a terrific one for Camaro. There was a lengthy strike that put the Camaro Assembly plant out of business from September, 1970 until that November. This was also the year that insurance surcharges and environmental regulations pretty much sent performance engines to the graveyard, as compression ratios were lowered, horsepower and torque dropped. But despite all that, Camaros still sold, and they also picked up quite an honor-- being named one of Road & Track magazine’s ten best cars in the world--no small accomplishment for an American product. The year 1972 was another tough one for Camaro, with yet another labor strike---and this time there was talk of killing both it and the Pontiac Firebird, which was built on the same assembly line. The strike dragged on for 171 days, leaving tons of unbuilt or half built cars in the plant. For that model year, only 68,651 Camaros were built. And to make matters worse from the enthusiasts’ point of view, the end of the line was drawing near for the Z-28, too, which was saddled with an engine with a horsepower rating that was dropping steadily--down to the 255 horsepower that model year. In 1973, Chevy brought out the Camaro Type LT, which Chevy press releases claimed was an abbreviation for Lusso Turismo. Given that Camaro still had the same Ferrari-esque styling, that name wasn’t all that far-fetched. The LT was a top of the line luxury model which could compete with Ford’s Mustang Grande. The year 1974 was memorable because it was the last year for the hallowed Z-28 --or so it seemed at the time. It was killed by insurance ratings, engineering expense and falling sales. Unfortunately, Chevy chose to muck up the relatively clean styling with racing stripes and emblems that in retrospect, did nothing for the classic styling. This was also the year of those awful, federally mandated safety bumpers. The year 1975 brought little of note except the return of something called the Rally Sport option and larger rear windows that set it apart from earlier second generation Camaros. The following year, 1976, was marked by the introduction of the 305 cubic inch V-8 engine known as the "Small Block." The next big change was model year 1977 when performance enthusiasts rejoiced over the return of the Z-28 to the lineup. It had a blackened grille, body colored bumpers, a tachometer, sports suspension, a 350 cubic inch, performance tuned engine, a four speed manual and a lot more. The new model was called "The Camaro’s Camaro" in advertisements. It’s hard to believe, but by 1978, Camaro had produced the one millionth example. The 1978 Z-28 could be distinguished by body-colored mag wheels, side vents just above the front wheel well, and for the first time on the Z or any other Camaro, you could get a T-top--removable glass panels. If you want to tell a 1979 Z-28 from a 1978, check out the front end under the car. There’s a new front air dam down there, and you will probably also notice huge front flairs on the front end. Also new this year was the Camaro Berlinetta, a luxury model with its own unique interior, more quiet ride, and a suspension system that was unique to that particular model. There also was a new small V-8 engine introduced this year, a 267 cubic inch example. By 1982, it was time for a major change, and Chevy knew it. They rose to the challenge with a 1982 model that couldn’t have been more different from its predecessor if it had tried. It was shorter, sleeker, and more high tech looking, and a huge rear windshield was part of the package. 1981_CAMARO The instrument panel looked like something out of a jet plane, and crossfire injection became a trademark feature for Camaro’s engines. If you rear most enthusiast magazines of the era, you’ll see that they were all "wowed" by the third generation Camaro, declaring it to be better handling--and better looking--- than its predecessors. Model year 1983 brought understandably few changes, including a new 305 ubic inch V-8 and some tweaks here and there to the option list and styling cues. In 1984, you could arguably say that it was the Berlinetta model which stole the show. Remember the dashboard? There were all those European style graphics, digital readouts, map lights, cigarette pouch and heaven knows what all else, in an effort to give the car that euro-style appeal. Remember the IROC? It hit the pavement in 1985, named for a race car series known as the "International Race of Champions." By 1987, it was time for the return of a long-missed friend: The Camaro convertible, which was built from a hardtop that was sent out for a top chopping and other adjustment to Automobile Specialty Company. The Type LT, a nameplate that had not been used since 1978, returned as a replacement for the Berlinetta. A glance at the product brochure for 1990 shows that a bit of line-up shuffling had taken place by then. Instead of being the gussied up version, the Camaro RS was now at the bottom of the lineup along with the RS convertible. The IROC-Z was still kicking with both hardtop and convertible models. Other news was a new 3.1 liter V-6, for the RS, theft deterrent system that Chevy said was the most effective one in its history, a driver side supplemental inflatable retrain system, a restyled instrument panel and Scotchgard fabric protection. Color choices, once a veritable rainbow in years gone by, were now down to five choices other than black and white, and not all of those five were available on all models. In 1993, the Z-287 was chosen as the official pace car for the Indy 500 and what a paint job it had! Tri-colored with stripes of red, yellow, blue and pink, it was quite a colorful sight at the race. Certainly the 1995 Camaro looked little different from prior third generation models, and it wasn’t. This was a mark-time year bya nd large for the Camaro. By now the Z-28 was equipped with a 257 horsepower LT1 V-8, with a displacement of 5.7 liters, with something called sequential port fuel injection. That changed in 1996, which was a year for reunions and reprises at Chevy. That’s when Chevy revived its hot as all-get-out, SS model, as a package that cold be ordered on the Z-28. Al;so making a return trip to the lineup was the Camaro RS. The SS by the way, was quite a special beast. It was a Z-28 which was then modified by SLP Engineering at a special facility near the Camaro assembly plant. Changes were mainly better exhaust flow and induction, which resulted n more horses under the hood-0-all the way up to a305 horsepower. Top speed? 160 miles per hour! It was time to celebrate in 1997, as the 30th anniversary edition of Camaro hit the streets. The limited production model had a hound’s-tooth interior that was reminiscent of a design used in the 1969 Camaro Indy Pace car, along with Hugger Orange racing strips that were also on the pace car. Meanwhile, the RS could be identified by special lower body extensions and ground effects, along with fog lights, RS badges and a special RS spoiler around back. 1995_CAMARO_Z28 After a number of years of next to no changes, Chevy finally broke the mode in 1998 with a heavily facelifted new Camaro, with a front end that looked more European than ever and a hood blister on the SS that issued fair warning to challenges. The styling overall was cleaned up and slicked down, with attractive styled steel wheels that added a special note. Altogether Camaro maintained its tradition of having a separate, more elegant, less flamboyant identity from its GM stablemate, the Pontiac Firebird. But alas, all things must come to an end--so too, did Camaro. The model year 2002 included a special anniversary model with striping and other special equipment and it was the last in a long line of illustrious high performance automobiles.

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