Tomorrow we get our first taste of the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro. It’s the sixth iteration of the famed muscle car, and if the rumors are true, it should be one of the best yet.
But that got me thinking— what’s the best Camaro ever built? I mean...ever
. A car that’s spanned five generations and a few dozen different versions has to have a definitive best ever, right? Here’s the list we came up with:
1970 Camaro SS
If you ask any enthusiast, typically 1, 3, and 5 are the best generations of Camaro. But you’d be foolish not to take into account the second-gen 1970 Camaro SS.
In 1970, the Camaro got a major overhaul in both power and looks. Design was spearheaded by Pontiac engineers alongside the new Firebird— which didn’t sit well with enthusiasts.
But while the design was questionable for some, the new Camaro SS pumped out 350 horsepower from a big block V8. A big upgrade from the 155-horsepower base V6.
The one, the only— the original. Still considered a hot ticket item for many enthusiasts, the 1967 Camaro was the first of its kind, and a stepping stone for Chevy engineers looking to build a performance coupe.
It took them a few tries to really get it right, but the 1967 model year was the first in a long line of great Camaros.
2010 Camaro SS
After an eight-year absence from the market, Chevy engineers got together and decided it was time for a revival. The 2010 Camaro hit the scene, guns hot, with a modern design and boat-loads of power.
The 6.2-liter V8 found in the SS produced a hefty 426 horsepower and featured a manual gearbox. Not to mention it won World Car Design of the Year.
1993 Camaro Z/28
Most fans weren’t pleased with the way the fourth-gen Camaro came out. Gone was any semblance of the Camaro’s iconic design, in its place a sleeker, more modern appearance. It was also the first Camaro built outside the U.S. in GM’s Quebec plant.
With its many faults, though, there was a glimmer of hope in the form of the Z/28. It featured a 275-horsepower LT1 V8 — previously introduced the the Corvette — a manual gearbox, and even a T-top.
2012 Camaro ZL1
Still gleaming from the success of the 2010 SS, Chevrolet wanted to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Camaro in style. That’s when engineers went to work on developing the most powerful Camaro ever— the ZL1.
It featured a supercharged 580-horsepower V8, and a host of body modifications to improve aerodynamics. By far, this Camaro was one of the most performance-oriented cars Chevrolet had ever built.
1970.5 Camaro Z/28
With 360 horsepower, the 1970.5 Camaro Z/28 was only incrementally more powerful than the 350-horsepower SS. But the key to that power came in the form of one of the most important engineering feats in Chevrolet history— the introduction of the LT1 V8.
Handbuilt from the ground up, the LT1 V8 was first introduced in the Corvette in 1970 and transferred over to the Camaro the very same year. It was a huge step above the previous 302 cubic inch V8, and paired with a new rear stabilizer bar and upgraded disc brakes, and the 1970 Camaro Z/28 was a no-nonsense performer.
1985 Camaro IROC-Z
In 1985, Chevrolet introduced the IROC-Z strain of the third-gen Camaro. For a price of $659, the performance package was added onto the Z28s and named after the International Race of Champions. So what’d it do to compete with the champs? It was lowered, got a better suspension (struts, shocks, springs), the chassis was stiffened with what Chevy called the “wonder bar,” and even took on a “tuned port injection” from the Corvette. It also grabbed the Corvettes P245/50VR-16 tires to heighten its already solid handling.
If you picked the five-speed trans, the 190-horse L69 was the biggest you could go. Otherwise, you could get the beefier 205-horsepower, fuel-injected LB9 V8. 18,418 IROCs were sold in its first year, and Car and Driver even claimed that the IROC could fetch Ferrari money, if it were seen as rarely. It’s one of the most easily recognizable muscle cars, thanks to the bold striped door tag, and will always be remembered as one of the few bright spots of the ‘80s.
1967 Camaro Z/28
As a response to the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet introduced the Camaro on June 28, 1966. It originally had Sport Coupe, Rally Sport, and Super Sport trim options, but Chevy quickly realized that it needed more guts, if it wanted more glory. So Chevy created the Z/28 to compete in the SCCA Trans-Am racing series. The "virtual race-ready" Z/28s housed 302 small block V8s with an aluminum intake and a four-barrel Holly carb. Its listed 290 horsepower number is widely known to be underrated.
These beauties also had better suspension, racing stripes, special badging and 15-inch rally wheels. Only 602 of these were built, making it one of the rarest Camaros ever produced.
2014 Camaro Z/28
It’s a little difficult to truly place the significance of a vehicle when it has yet to face the test of time, but with the new Z/28, it’s safe to say it was an instant classic. The revival of the Z/28 name (with the “/“ and everything!) brought forth a cut-down, strung-out track freakazoid. Less than 75 grand could get you the most capable Camaro.
It had a 7.0-liter dry-sump V8 (505 horsepower and 481 lb-ft), a six-speed manual, it cut 300 lbs off the ZL1 weight (air conditioning and stereo not included), a limited-slip differential, a slew of suspension tunes, and stopping power of enormous carbon ceramic Brembos. Although the car was a remembrance of the past, there was no other Camaro like this.
Z/28, ZL1, Yenko, Baldwin Motion, Big Red— those are just a few of the many iterations of the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro. That makes it pretty clear why it’s number one on our list. But it wasn’t just because it was so expansive; the 1969 Camaro signified a big future for Chevrolet.
Coming off two successful years, ’67 and ’68, Chevrolet planned to only change the ’69 Camaro slightly. The fascia became more aggressive, as did the sloped rear. And the entirety of the new design transformed the Camaro from a sporty coupe into one seriously badass muscle car. Along with an updated design, the Camaro received optional disc brakes and four-piston calipers that were used to win the SCCA Trans-Am series that same year.
Today, fans refer to the ’69 Camaro as the best one yet. And trying to snag one could set you back— a rare 1969 COPO Camaro like the one pictured here, is estimated to cost somewhere near $135,000 today.
Photo Credit: RM Auctions
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