Chevrolet is about to confirm one of the worst-kept secrets in recent automotive history: the 2015 edition of its beloved Camaro will be the last of the fifth generation. Like most enthusiasts, we were heart-broken when the F-body Camaro and Firebird went away after the 2002 model year. And we were elated when the pony car came back in 2010 with a design that paid homage to the first-gen 1967 car without being slavishly retro. The American muscle car ecosystem seemed whole again. So with the passing of the much-loved fifth-generation car, it seems like an appropriate time to look back at some of our favorite Camaros from each generation while we look forward to the sixth:
1. 1967 Yenko Camaro — Don Yenko essentially ran a kick-ass speed shop out of his family’s decades-old Cannonsburg, Pa., Chevrolet dealership and became famous for modifying Corvairs, Novas and, of course, Camaros. Advertised simply as “The Mean Ones,” the 1967 Yenko Camaros were, in fact, pretty damned mean. Yenko replaced the car’s factory 396 V-8 with a Corvette L-72 427 that put out well over 400 gross horsepower, and Yenko Camaros went on to become among the most feared and (later) the most valuable muscle cars from the first golden age of automotive performance.
2. 1968 Camaro Z/28 — If the big-block Yenko Camaro was a straight-line drag strip specialist, the Z/28 was the first-gen Camaro that you wanted to take on a road course. Its small-block 302-ci engine was essentially a 327 block with the crankshaft from the old 283 V-8. It made for one of the most entertaining and rev-happy pushrod V-8s of all time. The buff books loved it. In its July 1968 road test, Car Life magazine said “a pint-size engine with the heart of a tiger gives it a Supercar’s performance and a sports car’s handling.” The same publication named it one of the 10-best cars of 1968. The great Mark Donohue gave the first-gen Camaro its racing chops in a big way in the SCCA Trans Am series.
3. 1970 Camaro Z/28 — The all-new second generation Camaro bowed for the 1970 model year complete with a fastback design and some styling cues borrowed from one of the best, the Ferrari 250 Short-Wheelbase Berlinetta of 1964 (Camaro would appropriate the name “Berlinetta” too, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves). Looks are subjective; some people like the first generation Camaro, some prefer the second. But objectively, the new car was an even better performer. Car Life noted that it was faster, handled better and was more comfortable to boot. The first Camaro with a 350-ci small block, the 1970 Camaro was one of the all-time best classic Camaros.
4. 1979 Camaro Z/28 — The so-called “malaise era” — which refers to a period of time (1974-84) when automotive performance suffered under stricter emissions laws and insurance underwriting and the U.S. was going through a post-Vietnam economic and psychic funk —gets a bad rap among car collectors. But it wasn’t all bad, and many Gen-X collectors have a big soft spot for the era. The 1979 Z/28 looked fantastic with a new front spoiler and NACA duct hood. And while 175 hp doesn’t sound like a lot, the early 1970s change from SAE gross to net horsepower made it look worse than it was. The 1979 Z/28 remained a sharp handling and by-no-means slow car. Fans of the seminal teen comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” will remember what happened to football star Charles Jefferson’s 1979 Z/28. It wasn’t pretty. Values of malaise era Z/28s have roughly doubled over the last five years.
5. 1982 Camaro Z/28 Indy Pace Car — Admittedly, the ’82 pace car wasn’t about performance as much as looks. But the third-generation Camaro was new and fresh and extremely good looking. The pace car’s silver-over-blue livery looked fantastic and the Pace Car edition’s take rate was high, just as it was for the Corvette in ’78. Nice examples are few and far between, but when they do show up they are bargains, trading for well under $13,000. Act now.
6. 1990 Camaro IROC- Z convertible — One of the biggest things to happen to the third-generation Camaro was the introduction of the first convertible since 1969 (courtesy of American Sunroof Corporation) just in time for the Camaro’s 20th anniversary. We like the ’90 because it was the last year that Chevy would license the IROC name from the International Race of Champions and because the convertible was available with the 230-hp version of the 305 V-8. Fantastic ones still trade for under $20,000, making this car one of the strongest “buys” on the list.
7. 1997 Camaro SS LT4 30th Anniversary SLP coupe — SLP Engineering (which stands for “Street Legal Performance”) followed the Yenko formula of 30 years earlier and grabbed one of the hottest Corvette engines (in this case the 1996 Grand Sport LT4) and inserted it into one very special Camaro. With wheel, tire and suspension upgrades to go with the balanced and blueprinted 330-hp LT4, the car cost about $18,000 more than the next hottest SS Camaro of the same model year. Accelerating from 0-60 took only 4.9 seconds, and it could cover a quarter mile in just 13.3 seconds, comparable to the Yenkos and COPOs of the 1960s. Just over 100 were built, and it takes around 50 grand to buy one today. In 10 years that price will likely look like the steal of the century.
8. 2002 Camaro SS 35th Anniversary convertible — The F-body went out of production in 2002 (by then it was being produced only in GM’s Sainte-Thérèse, Quebec, plant), and it would be another eight years before the name came back. But at least it went out with a bang—the 325-hp SS went like stink and looked great as a convertible in Rally Red with huge stripe graphics.
9. 2010 Transformers Special Edition Camaro — OK, with so many super-high performance variants to choose from, we grab one that we can pivot and has an iconic look. Brilliantly announced at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con, fewer than 2,000 were produced exclusively in Rally Yellow with black stripes and Autobot badges that were strategically placed. It’s by far the best-recognized Camaro of all time and a sure-fire future collectible.
10. 2014 Camaro Z/28 — Like the original Z/28 that cleaned up on road courses in the SCCA Trans Am series, the new Z/28 has track star written all over it. With extra-careful attention paid to light weight and aerodynamics, the car is able to put to good use on the track its huge Brembo brakes, Pirelli P Zero tires on 19” wheels and 500-hp, 7-liter V8- (that’s 427 cubic inches to Chevy big block fans). The new Z/28 car is a multi-dimensional performer in a way that big block muscle cars of the 1960s couldn’t even dream about. Top speed is well over 170 mph, making it the fastest street-legal Camaro yet.