Chevy Camaro History
The Chevy Camaro is one of America’s most recognized muscle cars today. The Camaro found its beginnings in the 1960s when performance vehicles were first getting popular. Since then, the Camaro has experienced many changes. Still, its characteristic muscle and spirit for high-performance have remained the same throughout its half-century on the market.
Discover the Chevy Camaro’s history and learn more about the different Camaro model years that brought it to where it is today. Whether you’re new to Camaros or you have a retro Camaro of your own, you’re sure to enjoy learning more about this favorite American vehicle.
The History of the Chevy Camaro
Let’s take a closer look at all Camaro models that defined Chevy’s place in the muscle car market. Each one has its own unique features, and every decade provided its own contributions to the Camaro’s evolution from its beginnings to today.
Chevy launched the first Camaro in 1967 as a response to Ford’s Mustang. Ford released the Mustang a few years before and enjoyed a great response, so Chevrolet wanted to cut into the market with a sporty performance vehicle of its own. Chevy was open about their intentions to compete with “pony cars” like the Mustang. Legend has it that when asked what a “Camaro” was, a higher-up at General Motors responded by saying it was a “small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”
The first generation of Camaro rested on a rear-wheel-drive GM F-body platform like the Pontiac Firebird. It came in two models, one being a hard-top coupe with two front seats and two back seats to make room for passengers. The other released model was a convertible that was a little more expensive than the hard-top coupe. Buyers also had a choice between two engines, one being a 3.8-liter straight-six with 140 horsepower and the other being a 6.5-liter V8 reaching 375 horsepower.
Sales were decent for the first generation — still, the Camaro lagged behind the Ford Mustang. After a couple of years on the market, Chevy decided it was time for a redesign to help boost its sales numbers and keep up with tightening governmental regulations. The first-generation Camaro’s life span lasted from 1967 to 1969.
The Introduction of Camaro Trim Options
Chevy released a few different trim options during these early years, including the Chevrolet Camaro Z28. The idea arose from Chevy’s desire to sell a race-ready Camaro at every Chevrolet dealership. While this option was great for speed-lovers, few people knew about it. Chevy chose to leave it out of their sales literature, so it went under the radar and remains a rare and sought-after Camaro model to this day.
Other trim options included the RS edition, which stood for “Rally Sport,” and the SS edition, which stood for “Super Sport.” Costing only a little more money than the standard model, customers who bought the Camaro RS enjoyed upgraded features like roof drip rail moldings, chrome wheel well mouldings, lower body molding and the defining RS emblems. The RS also included its defining feature, which was hideaway headlights.
The Camaro SS unlocked stronger engine options for customers, reaching into the 300 horsepower range. The SS also used a unique hood to make room for these powerful engines while making it look a bit different form the other models. The Camaro SS also boasted unique exterior trim details, like SS emblems on the wheels and body.
Chevy would keep these options around to varying degrees as the years continued, sometimes combining them and sometimes rebranding them. Yet the fact remains the same — Chevy knew their target audience wanted options, so they provided them and continue to provide them for their famed line of sports cars.
The Yenko Camaro
Another type of Camaro sprung up during these early years. This is the Yenko Camaro, an aftermarket Camaro built by Chevy dealer and racecar driver Don Yenko. Yenko knew a market existed for Camaros with even more powerful engines than the ones offered at launch. This led him to order special Camaros from Chevy, which he upgraded and retrofitted to boast impressive specs like a 450 horsepower engine. He also modified the exterior and interior to include special Yenko emblems and designs.
Yenko worked closely with Chevy to get Camaro models that suited his purposes. Chevy put a limit on how much horsepower their Camaros could get, so Yenko sidestepped this limit by swapping those engines for Corvette engines. He sold these Yenko Camaros right from his Chevy dealership in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. But it’s important to note that these were not factory models and were instead special aftermarket upgrades made by Don Yenko. Clearly, Yenko left his mark on Camaro history as collectors still seek Yenko Camaros to this day.
Chevrolet released the second-generation Camaro in 1970. This model shared many engineering qualities with the first-generation Camaro, including a unibody rear structure and front subframe. Chevy even carried over similar engines from the previous generation to their new models. Yet, it had some noticeable differences. The Camaro still looked like a Camaro, but now Chevy was setting itself apart from Ford’s Mustang more than it had during its first-generation run. Chevy was carving its own path on the muscle car market.
The exterior of the vehicle looked bigger and sharper than before. Chevrolet decided to remove the convertible option from their lineup for the second generation, limiting their customers’ choices to hard-top, coupe varieties. They made up for this with more angles, a long engine area and a uniquely shaped hood.
One of the major body changes Chevy made to the second-generation Camaro was a redesigned front end. It now featured aggressive angles, a pointed nose and a large grille. In short, the new Camaro had an attitude. But before long, the federal government rolled out some new regulations for motor vehicle safety. Starting in 1974, Chevy had to apply a bumper to the Camaro’s front end. With such a wide, angled front end, it’s impressive to see how Chevy accommodated these new laws while keeping the Camaro stylish.
The second-generation Camaro packed less of a punch than the first generation. The first generation was fast and unafraid, while the second-generation Camaros coming off the assembly line were more mature and reserved. For instance, the 1971 Camaro Z28 now had a 5.7-liter small-block LT-1 V8 with 360 horsepower. And when the government released new emissions laws during the mid-1970s, the Z28’s LT-1 dropped to 245 horsepower in 1974. Yet the second-generation Camaro continued to thrive and lasted from 1970 to 1981, the longest of any generation of Chevy Camaros.
The third-generation Chevrolet Camaro ushered in the 1980s with a completely redesigned look. Chevy gave their new model the signature “flat” appearance common on many of the 1980s’ most recognizable vehicles. It had a new coil-spring rear suspension and a full, unitized structure alongside and a boxier appearance with sleek, straight edges and inset headlights. And, to set it apart from previous models even further, Chevy designed the third-generation Camaro with a hatchback to put the finishing external touches on their brand-new performance vehicle.
While the outside of the new model was gorgeous to look at, the 1980s Chevy Camaros’ performance left people wanting more. Compared to the first and second generation, the third-generation Camaro wasn’t anywhere near the same power and speed capabilities. The base model came off the assembly line with the maligned “Iron Duke” engine. It was a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that could only reach 90 horsepower, which is a far stretch from the first-generation’s 375 horsepower engine.
Even the third-generation Z28’s 5.0-liter V8 could only reach 145 horsepower. Its redeeming quality was that it came in a four-speed manual. Plus, it was a heck of a lot of fun to drive with a tight suspension and weighing 500 pounds lighter than the second-generation model.
By the mid-1980s, Chevy was bringing performance back to the forefront with models that could reach 190 horsepower with four-speed manual transmissions. The 1985 Camaro IROC would receive a 5.0-liter V8 pushing 215 horsepower. And with its eye-catching 16-inch, five-spoke wheels, the Camaro was looking imposing once again. And in 1987, Chevy even brought back the convertible option for the first time in almost 20 years.
The third-generation Camaro would last until the 1992 model year, ending its rocky but memorable 10-year life span. By then, it was time for another change to bring in the 1990s.
Chevy released the fourth-generation Camaro in 1993 to impressive reviews. It had some of the same features as the original Camaro, including a coupe body, two front seats and two rear seats.
The 1994 model reintroduced the convertible option, and buyers also had the choice of a T-top roof. Yet, most of the other characteristics were entirely new for the Camaro nameplate. The fourth-generation model had a curvier, more subdued appearance while providing some of the muscle under the surface that Camaro fans craved.
The new model was a powerful performer with a six-speed manual transmission and rack-and-pinion steering capabilities. The standard model engine at launch was a 3.4-liter V6 that reached 160 horsepower and was the first V6 engine that Chevy ever offered for the Camaro. A more powerful 3.8-liter V6 with 200 horsepower followed in 1995.
This generation’s Z28 came standard with a 5.7-liter V8 that reached a horsepower of 275, approaching the performance glory days of the first two generations. In the middle of the decade, some engineering tweaks enhanced the Z28 further, giving it an engine that reached 305 horsepower and 17-inch wheels. These Camaros were fast and sleek, and they handled exceptionally well. Chevy celebrated the Camaro’s 30th anniversary with a Z28 model with two orange stripes, commemorating the 1969 Camaro pace car.
By the turn of the century, the fourth-generation Camaro was losing steam on the market. The public began viewing the Camaro as archaic. They wanted Chevy to focus on new models and viewed the Camaro as an attempt to hold onto the past. Chevy said goodbye to the fourth-generation Camaro with the Z28 SS coupe and convertible, an impressive model that could go from 0 to 60mph in 5.2 seconds. This generation lasted until 2002, and then the Camaro line came to an end, seemingly for good.
The Camaro in the 2000s
Seven years passed before Chevy announced the new fifth-generation Camaro in 2009 for the 2010 model year. Chevy built the new model on an Australian Holden chassis with an all-independent suspension. They completely redesigned the new Camaro to keep up with modern trends, giving it a muscular body, large wheels and smaller windows. It was a big machine, but the question was whether it would live up to its decades-long history of performance and handling.
When the fifth-generation Camaro launched, it came back with a vengeance. People wanted a vehicle that could perform like a beast, and Chevy delivered. The base model had two engine options. The first was a 3.6-liter, 24-valve V6 that reached a healthy 304 horsepower. The other option was a 6.2-liter LS-series V8 with a whopping 426 horsepower that could go from 0 to 60mph in 4.8 seconds. This model was, by far, the most powerful Camaro Chevy had produced to date.
Chevy decided it wasn’t time to rest on their laurels. They took the Camaro a step further in 2012 when they released the ZL1. This monster of a vehicle contained a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 with an enormous horsepower rating of 580 that could go from 0 to 60mph in 4.1 seconds. It was almost like Chevy was making up for its underpowered models from previous generations. Camaro fans figured this was a great way to celebrate their favorite car’s 45th anniversary.
The Z28, now stylized “Z/28,” returned to the scene as its best iteration yet. It had ultra-wide tires measuring 305mm across with 19-inch wheels. These wheels helped carry a 7.0-liter V8 engine reaching 505 horsepower. All things considered, the fifth-generation Camaro was a strong muscle car comeback for Chevy that lasted until the 2015 model year.
The Sixth-Generation Camaro
Chevy released the sixth-generation Camaro for the 2016 model year, in time to celebrate the storied vehicle’s 50th anniversary since its first model in 1967. The new Camaro arrived lighter in weight with a more toned-down exterior, giving it better handling and a sleeker look than its predecessor. Chevy also announced that 70% of the parts used on the new model are unique to the sixth-generation Camaro.
The new Camaro rests on GM’s Alpha platform, the same platform first used on the Cadillac ATS. This gives the Camaro a noticeable dynamic superiority to the fifth-generation model as well as the newest Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger. Drivers can feel the decreased weight right away, and even its more powerful trim levels handle like a charm.
The sixth-generation Camaro has three base engine options:
- The C7 Corvette’s 6.2-liter V8, clocking in at 455 horsepower
- A 3.6-liter V6 with 335 horsepower
- A 2.0-liter four-cylinder reaching 275 horsepower
The new four-cylinder model is Chevy’s attempt at reaching a new audience who want the Camaro’s signature looks without all the bells and whistles under the hood. Yet Chevy still invests in high performance, as you can see in their new Camaro ZL1. It houses a supercharged LT4 V8 engine with a horsepower of 650. It can go from 0 to 60mph in an impressive 3.4 seconds.
Chevy Camaro Restoration Parts From Raybuck Auto Body Parts
Of all the Chevy Camaro years, the most important is the one you call yours. You carry on the history of the Camaro every day whenever you engage the ignition in your Camaro or take it out for a spin. Even the retro Camaro sitting in your garage waiting for you to restore it represents a piece of Chevy Camaro history. Only the best parts will do to restore your Camaro.
Whatever model you have, you can get all the Camaro body parts you need from Raybuck Auto Body Parts. From door handles to ignition locks, emblem decals to door frames, we have a wide selection of the heavy gauge stamped steel parts you need to get the job done. A tough car like a Camaro needs tough parts, and that’s exactly what you’ll get when you order what you need from Raybuck.
Choose Raybuck Auto Body Parts When Restoring Your Camaro
We’ve been selling quality restoration parts to car enthusiasts and do-it-yourselfers alike since 1985. Our heavy gauge stamped steel parts are high quality, made to last and affordable. We have parts for all makes and models, so make sure you browse our easy-to-navigate website to see if we have what you’re looking for. We look forward to helping you restore your Chevrolet Camaro!