I took some heat from some Camaro fans because I have been writing about Mustangs and Porsches quite frequently but, believe it or not, I actually like the Chevrolet Camaro and actually had three of these cars over the years. So, that got me thinking about what is best Camaro ever built? Is there actually just one that tops the list? Well, in my opinion, that is a question that can not be answered because I believe that there are several Camaros that are the best of this breed. What you need to keep in mind is that this is a car that has spanned five generations (the last one being revised in 2009). So that is why it is difficult to choose just one.
In no particular order here is the list of what I believe to be the best Camaros ……for now:
The 1970 Camaro SS. If you ask any enthusiast about their choices you will typically get the 1st, 3rd, and 5th generations as the best but you would 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. The design was spearheaded by Pontiac’s engineers alongside the new Firebird and that did not sit well with Camaro enthusiasts. Even though the design was questionable for some, it was decided that the Camaro and the Firebird needed a design that would compete better with the European cars of the time. This Camaro SS pumped out 350 horsepower from a big block V8. A big upgrade from the 155-horsepower base V6 but who cares about a 6 banger car anyway?
The 1967 Camaro is the one, the only and always the original. This Chevy is still considered a hot ticket item for many enthusiasts as this Camaro was the first of its kind, as well as, 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. This was the car that many kids, back in my day, had as their first car only to modify much to their parents dismay.
Next is the 1967 Camaro Z/28. This particular car was a direct response to the Ford Mustang and, to be even more specific, the Shelby GT 350. 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 against Ford. So Chevy created the Z/28 to compete in the SCCA Trans-Am racing series. The “virtual race-ready” Z/28s housed a 302 small block V8 with an aluminum intake and a four-barrel Holly carburetor. Its listed 290 horsepower number is widely known to be underrated but that was done in order to keep the insurance companies happy. These beauties also had better suspension, racing stripes, special badging and 15-inch rally wheels. There were only 602 of these built, making it one of the rarest Camaros ever produced.
This list would be incomplete without the 1969 Camaro. The Z/28 (pictured here), ZL1, and Yenko are just a few of the many versions of the 1969 model year of this car. That makes it pretty clear why it’s one of the favorites on this list. What is note worthy is that this car played an expansive role for Chevrolet. The 1969 Camaro signified a big future for Chevrolet since they were coming off two successful years with the ’67 and ’68 versions of this car. Chevrolet planned to only change the ’69 Camaro ever so slightly but the fascia became more aggressive, as did the sloped rear and don’t forget those beautifully squared off wheel wells. These new designs transformed the Camaro from a sporty coupe into one 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. I refer to the ’69 Camaro as the grandfather of all Camaros but the one that stands out as the God Father is none other than the 1969 COPO Camaro. First of all, COPO stands for Central Office Production Order and the only way you could get this stripped Camaro with the famous ZL1 all-aluminum 427 big block was to special order it this way. You see, General Motors had a ban on engines in this type of car having more than a 400 inch cubic displacement, thus it took some extra paperwork along with a call to the Central Office of General Motors to be able to obtain this factory racer.
The 1970 1/2 Camaro Z/28 was a mid-year model that offered an upgrade of 360 horsepower which made this car more powerful than the 350-horsepower SS. The key point of interest here is due to that power caming in the form of one of the most important engineering feats in Chevrolet history. What is that you ask? Well it is the introduction of the LT1 V8 which was hand-built from the ground up. The LT1 V8 was first introduced in the Corvette in 1970 and transferred over to the Camaro that 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 which made this Camaro a no-nonsense performer that packed a hard punch.
Ah, the 1985 Camaro IROC-Z. This is one of the three Camaros that I had the pleasure of owning and every time I think of this car it brings back fond memories of all of my friends getting together and “riding the block” in the small town where I grew up. Chevrolet introduced the IROC-Z line of Camaros in 1985 and, for a price of $659, an additional performance package was added onto the Z28 and TA DA you now had an IROC-Z which was named after the International Race of Champions. So, what did that extra 659 bucks get you? Well, what you got was a lowered ride, better suspension (struts, shocks, springs), the chassis was stiffened with what Chevy called the “wonder bar,” and the big deal was the “tuned port injection” from the Corvette. It also grabbed the Corvettes P245/50VR-16 tires to heighten its already solid handling. Yes, I will admit that a Fox Body Mustang could beat me in a straight line but I would always make up for it in the turns as this IROC handled like it was on rails compared to other cars of it’s time.
The 1993 Camaro Z/28 did not please me as I was disappointed with the way this fourth-generation Camaro looked. The Camaro’s iconic design was a thing of the past and replaced by a sleeker, more modern appearance. It was also the first Camaro built outside the U.S. in GM’s Quebec plant which delayed production due to a strike before the car was to be released. Even though this Camaro had some faults there was a glimmer of hope in the form of the Z/28. This car featured a 275-horsepower LT1 V8 that was previously introduced in the Corvette. It also offered a manual gearbox, and even a T-top. While it may seem that I am not giving this particular Camaro a raving review, this car, in my opinion, was the foundation of what the Camaro is today and that is why the 1993 Z/28 is special to me in spite of its looks.
Remember what I just said about the ’93 Z/28? Well, fast forward to the 2010 Camaro SS. After an eight-year absence from the market, Chevy engineers got together and decided it was time for a revival. Well, it was more than just another run of the mill reissue as this beast hit the scene with it’s guns hot. This time, the modern design was more attractive while offering a hint of styling from the ’60’s versions of this car. Now, besides looking good this was a car that had power, as a matter of fact, let me tell you that it had boat-loads of power. The 6.2-liter V8 (378.35 cubic inches, yes I prefer cubic inches to liters) found in the SS produced a solid 426 horsepower and featured a manual gearbox. So, think about that for a second, the 1993 Camaro had a 275 horse-powered LT1 (solid engine) that ran from 1993 to 2002. Then there was an eight year void in the market from this car and when it came back in 2010 it gained many upgrades as well as an additional 151 horses under the hood. Needless to say, it also won World Car Design of the Year.
When 2012 rolled around Chevrolet wanted to celebrate the Camaro’s 45th anniversary in style. Enter the Camaro ZL1. Since Chevrolet was still basking in the sun from the success of the 2010 SS, Chevrolet wanted to up their game by having their engineering team produce the most powerful Camaro to date. This mean machine featured a supercharged 580-horsepower V8, as well as, a host of body modifications to improve aerodynamics. This Camaro was one of the most performance-oriented cars Chevrolet ever built and it also served as a benchmark for future Camaros to come.
The 2014 Camaro Z/28 was Chevrolet’s track car designed to compete directly against the Ford Mustang Boss 302, which ran from 2012 to 2013, in the Trans Am racing series. Now, the Z/28 line of Camaros has been around for some time and it was always revered as the epitome of the Camaro lineup. So, how do you make a car that has power like the 2012 ZL1 but yet nimble enough to enable it to dance around any track with ease? Well, that is what Chevrolet did by making the 2014 Z/28 a cut-down, strung-out track freakazoid. The Z/28 had a 7.0-liter (427.17 cubic inches) dry-sump V8 that offered 505 horsepower and 481 foot pound of torque, a six-speed manual and it cut 300 lbs off the ZL1 weight (air conditioning and stereo not included). There was also a limited-slip differential, a slew of suspension tunes, plus the stopping power of huge carbon ceramic Brembo brakes. While the 2012 ZL1 had loads of brute strength it was this particular Z/28 that became Chevrolet’s track threat as there was no other Camaro like this.
The 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE is not the first year for this model but it is the best of this particular breed (thus far). While I wished they would have kept the Z/28 name sake for this factory track racer, the way this Camaro performs on the track makes me forget about saying it’s name properly. Maybe Chevrolet should have named it HOLY CRAP! This machine is the third member of the sixth-generation from the Camaro 1LE family. The 1LE moniker is Camaro shorthand for tracked-up versions that can stop and turn better but there is no increase in power. Under that “murdered out” black hood lies the 1LE family trait which is the same Camaro-specific LT4 as the standard ZL1. What engine is that you ask? Well, it is the 378.34 cubic inch/6.2-liter supercharged, heavily intercooled, non-dry-sumped V-8 that churns 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the ZL1, the 1LE version is only available with the Tremec MH3 six-speed manual transmission. Yes, track cars should and always will be manual transmissions and one of the main reasons is due to weight reduction. For instance, the ZL1 with the FORD/GM designed 10-speed automatic tranny (yes Ford and GM worked together to bring this awesome transmission to market) tips the scales at 3,926 pounds. That is 14 pounds heftier than the 3,912-pound ZL1 with a manual. You might think that 14 pounds is not a big deal but keep in mind the ZL1 1LE was put on a diet, resulting in a 75-pound loss to 3,837 pounds. So, what does all of this mean? Well, Chevrolet put the Camaro on a diet, gave it a better air flow design (both in and around the car), improved its suspension while using the strong performing LT4 motor and what they got is simply spectacular! Yes, even a Ford fan recognizes a great track car when he sees one.
Like many of you, I have seen the previews of the 2019 Camaro to be released and while there have been some cosmetic enhancements it appears that the same line up will be available ranging from the base 1LS up to the ZL1, as well as, the ZL1 1LE. There appears to be a turbo offering in the 1LE line up but I am sure it will be a four banger motor but a turbo can be a nice change to the base line of this breed. Yes, the Z/28 is gone (for now) but I am certain that Chevrolet will continue to produce a Camaro that best suits your needs.
I hope that you enjoyed this particular blog and I encourage you to check back often for more blogs about everything automotive.
It is good to belong to the Car Savvy World.