It may have been a bit late to the pony car party when it debuted in 1966, but the Chevrolet Camaro quickly made it clear that it would be around for a long time. The Camaro has gone through drastic transformation over the past 48 years, coming within an air filter of being canceled for good on two different occasions. But in 2014, the brand has never been stronger.
Spurred on by nostalgia and rapidly improving technology that has reach new heights of both performance and efficiency, the Camaro continues to lead the pack and set trends in the automotive industry. From the original Camaro to the no-holds-barred Camaro Z/28 of today, there is certainly a lot to celebrate – so let’s dive right in. Here are ten of the best versions of the Chevrolet Camaro ever made.
|1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28: Chevrolet introduced the stylish Camaro to show that they wanted a piece of the muscle car wars, and they included the Z/28 option to show that they meant business. Only 60 were made, mostly because almost no one knew about them. The Z/28 was not well known because it wasn't advertised anywhere except as a $400 option on the base V6 Camaro. What you got was well worth it, though – built to qualify the Camaro to race in the Trans Am series, the Z/28 packed a 4.9L V8 engine with 290 horsepower under the hood, specially-tuned handling suspension, four-speed Muncie transmission and racing stripes. The Camaro had arrived, and the Z/28 made it loud and clear.|
|1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: Just two years after its birth, the Chevrolet Camaro had already reached cult status among American gearheads. A design refresh stirred up interest even more, and a recent AutoWeek poll tabbed the ’69 Camaro as the best Chevrolet of all time. If that’s true, then the ’69 Camaro ZL1 might be one of the best American cars ever. Chevrolet began to quietly offer COPO Camaros, designed for extreme performance, and the big daddy had an L88 427 big block called the ZL1. It is still a marvel of engineering. The hand-built ZL1 made extensive use of aluminum to reduce the weight of the huge engine, rated at 430 horsepower but truly pumping out something in the range of 550. Only 69 were made, and perhaps it’s better that way. The ZL1 is an automotive unicorn – a tire-smoking, fire-breathing unicorn.|
|1973 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28: Chevrolet had quickly built a reputation with the Camaro, but moving even more quickly were government regulations that would cripple the horsepower wars. A new design arrived in 1970, and the best performing car in that generation turned out to be the ‘73 Z/28, one last gasp at an inspiring sports car before the malaise era began to set in. It packed a 350 V8 engine from the Corvette under the hood with 360 horsepower, truly whopping numbers even for today. Long, flowing lines gave the Camaro a Euro-inspired look that is still one of the most recognizable American cars to this day. It would be the last truly good Camaro for some time.|
|1982 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28: Things were looking bad for the Chevrolet Camaro as time went on. When the 1982 refresh finally came around, they still weren’t great. Think, 90-horsepower base four-cylinder engine bad. But the new Camaro did show some signs of life, most notably in a lightweight body and vastly improved handling, plus the looks, while not as inspired as past models, were certainly better than most other American cars at the time. The Z/28 came equipped with a 5.0L V8 with 145 horsepower, or a slightly better 5.0L 305 V8 with 165 hp. Stripes, hood ducts and blacked-out headlamps showed that the Camaro still had some fight in it, but had a long way to go to recapture the old glory.|
|1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z: Chevrolet took a step closer to dignity by introducing the Camaro IROC-Z, named for the International Race of Champions, and it lived up to the billing. Handling again became a priority, with upgrades made to the suspension, shocks, sway bars and more. Aggressive touches could be found all over the body, hinting at the High Output 305 V8 with 190 horsepower or 5.0L 305 V8 with 215 hp underneath. These days, the IROC has been reduced to punchlines about mullets and posers that lived the faux-glamour 80’s life, but at the time, Car And Driver called the ’85 Camaro IROC “probably a better buy than its stablemate the Corvette” and said it looked like a $100,000 car. Show me an affordable sports car that hits either of those marks today.|
|1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28: Still, the Chevrolet Camaro limped along through the early 90’s and again almost didn’t make it to a new generation. But when the ’93 Camaro debuted, it sparked interest in the iconic coupe once again with a long, sloping body and aggressively-pointed nose. As usual, the Z/28 was the one to have – a 5.7L V8 from the Corvette made 275 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft of torque, plus an optional Borg-Werner six-speed manual transmission kept enthusiast interest piqued. Traction control and ABS were introduced in this Camaro for the first time, bringing the car up to speed with the times. They were relatively modest improvements to the Camaro name, but kept the car alive.|
|1998 Chevrolet Camaro SS: A few years later, the Camaro had made minor changes to its design with flush headlamps and a more flowing body, but as usual, the biggest change came under the hood. Chevrolet decided to make a Camaro SS for the first time in twenty years, signaling either a new commitment to performance or a last desperate gasp to keep the car alive. Whatever the case, the Camaro SS made the most of its Corvette V8, bumping the power up from 305 horses to 320 hp. It was the car that every high school senior dreamed of, which could not have been more important at the time. The Camaro had only five years left until Chevrolet finally did kill it off. But eventually, those seniors grew up and got paid. Which led to…|
|2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS: Pleading fans and a couple of well-received concept cars finally brought the Chevrolet Camaro back to life in 2009, with styling cues instantly reminiscent of the iconic old brutes from the 60’s. A pointed front fascia led a chopped roof and curvy haunches, and most importantly, the power was back where it should be. The Camaro SS topped the line, with an automatic transmission mated to a 6.2L V8 with 400 horsepower or a manual transmission packing 426 hp and 420 lb.-ft of torque. Sport mode and Launch Control made their appearances for the first time, and the Camaro instantly took off.|
|2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: In keeping with the retro theme, Chevrolet began rolling out some of the old Camaro ideals and the old Camaro names. Hence, the 2013 Camaro ZL1, which turned the spunky sports car into an outright monster. Under the ducted hood, a 6.2L supercharged V8 engine with 580 horsepower. Chevrolet wanted everyone to feel the attitude of the ZL1 deep in their souls. It came with black 20-inch wheels standard, and utilized the astounding Magnetic Ride Control suspension for when things got twisty. It also featured a comfortable, modern interior and 7-inch touchscreen display to appeal to both hardcore racers and drivers looking for some fun without the demands of the old muscle era. It was the ultimate Camaro. Was.|
|2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28: No one saw the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 coming, to be honest. It seemed like the ZL1 had already squeezed as much performance out of the chassis as possible. But only this storied name could top it, so Chevrolet pulled it out of retirement to designate the most track-ready Camaro of all time. It packs a 7.0L LS7 V8 with 505 horsepower and 481 lb.-ft of torque, which isn’t as much as the ZL1, but the Z/28 makes much better use of it. Throttle response is off the charts, it’s 300 lbs. lighter than a ZL1 and posted an astounding lap around the Nurburgring in less than 7:38. It harkens back to the glory days of the pony car and takes it to new heights – a triumphant return from a troubled past. Does that make it the best ever? You decide.|