Take a Ride on the Seamier Side: The 5 Most Forgettable Camaros

Five Forgettable CamarosThere are many reasons that a car can make a “Five Worst” list yes, even a Camaro. Low production numbers can mark a production year as the worst for that particular model, but when you’re talking about the Camaro, you’ve also got to mention the model year that had the lowest amount of factory horsepower. Also when talking about the Chevy Camaro, the year 2002 has to be mentioned, there’s no getting around it. Finally, there are those cars that make you scream, “Why did they do that to a Camaro?” these desecrations disguised as customization and personalization must be accounted for.

1999-The Year with the Lowest Overall Production Numbers

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The 1999 Camaro “tops” the list of Camaro sales volume losers. Image via GM Media Center

Several model years of the Camaro were plagued with dismal sales and production numbers. The model year Camaro with the lowest full production year numbers was 1999. This model year’s production run only consisted of 42,098 units.

Although 1999 had the lowest production volume, it was also the year of a few notable firsts and/or “Hey, let’s bring that back!” For example, this was the first year of the oil life monitor. It was also the year that a Torsen limited-slip differential was installed in the rear.

The engines found in the 1999 Camaro. Left: The 5.7-liter stuffed into the 1999 Z28. Right: The base 3.8-liter V6.

Horsepower on the 1999 Z28 was a respectable 305 horses, while the SS with Ram Air induction had a nice 320 ponies running around under the hood. The 1999 model also saw a larger fuel tank installed, bumping up to a capacity of 16.8 gallons.

Interior and Exterior shots of the 1999 Camaro. Top Left: The 1999 Z28. Top Right: Interior shot of the Z28. Bottom Left: The 1999 Camaro Coupe. Bottom Right: Interior shot of the 1999 Camaro Coupe.

This was also the year that Chevy brought back the color Hugger Orange. Buyers of V6-powered models could also opt for traction control and electronic throttle control. The instrument cluster now had an Oil Warning Lamp added.

1973-We Were Starting to See Twinges of the Oil Crisis

The 73 Camaro is the overall horsepower loser.

The 1973 Camaro is the overall horsepower loser. Image via Auto trader.

The “OPEC Oil Crisis” of the early seventies caused Detroit’s Big Three to increase the fuel economy of all their cars. One way they did this was by making the cars smaller. Another route they chose was to decrease the horsepower output.

While the body style was still desired by many, this decrease in horsepower gives the 1973 Camaro the distinction of being the model year responsible for the downfall of horsepower output for Camaro. In 1973, the 5.7-liter 350ci V8 engine delivered just 245 horsepower. The base engine, a six cylinder, was only pumping 100 horsepower.

Three pristine examples of 1973 Camaros.

This was the first year since the Camaro’s inception, that a big block was no longer available from the factory. Chevy also dropped the SS from the lineup, substituting the LT with a bunch of luxury options. Laws concerning impact-absorbing bumpers were coming into effect in 1973, meaning this was the last year we saw the twin chromed bumperettes with the grill in the middle.

The Berlinetta-The Model with Arguably the Worst Ride

The Gen III Berlinetta's suspension made it "sashay" through corners at freeway speed. Image via caranddriver.com

The Gen III Berlinetta’s suspension made it “sashay” through corners at freeway speed. Image via Car and Driver

I was a mechanic specializing in brakes, suspension repair, and upgrades back when the Berlinetta, the worst of the Gen III Camaros, was in production. Driving this car felt like an antebellum southern belle at a ball; sashaying around the corners, and bouncing down the straights. Although the hood on the Gen III/Berlinetta looked pretty cool, the rest of the body was pretty ugly. Gen III engines were the first to offer more up to date fuel injection systems, as well as the 700R4 four-speed automatic transmission. A five-speed manual transmission was also available.

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One example of magazine advertising for the 1979 Camaro Berlinetta. Image via Ad Classix

1982 was the first year for the boxier, more angular-looking front end, including the recessed rectangular headlights. The overall body shape reduced the coefficient of drag down to .368cd. This was helpful because the standard engine was a measly 112 horsepower, 2.8-liter V6 engine. In 1982, the Z28 came standard with the carbureted 5.0-liter V8, or the optional Cross Fire Injection 5.0 liter. The carbureted engine was available with either a four-speed manual transmission or three-speed 350 Turbo automatic transmission, and only produced 145 horsepower. The fuel injected 305 was rated at 165 horsepower. The new Camaro received positive reviews for its styling and handling, but was also criticized for the low power ratings for the Camaro Z28.

In 1985, an engine improvement gave the 2.8-liter fuel injection, bumping power output to 135 horsepower.

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Magazine advertising for the Z28 and Berlinetta from 1983.

This was also the year that rear leaf springs went away, to be replaced by coil springs. Up front, the shocks and coils were replaced by MacPherson struts. In 1984, the Berlinetta’s dash cluster was upgraded to include some digital components. It also had an overhead console. The 1986 versions were easy to spot because of the first generation, third brake light on top of the hatch. There were three versions of the Berlinetta available in 1986: two of them had the 2.8-liter V6, one with a four-speed automatic and the other with a five-speed manual. The third had a 5.0-liter V8 and a four-speed manual transmission.

Left and Center: Advertising copy images. Right: The original Berlinetta badge.

The End of an Era-2002

The 2002 Chevy Camaro Z28 Hatchback. Image via Edmunds

It wasn’t the model year with the lowest production numbers. It wasn’t even the model year with the lowest horsepower. Model year 2002 was horrendous for another reason: This was the last year for continuous production of the Camaro.

GM was halting production of an American icon. New Camaros were no more. Camaro lovers, even those of us that weren’t happy with the direction the car had taken in recent years, were devastated. Was this temporary while a new direction was sought? Would the Camaro, Chevrolet’s most popular model, ever come back? We just didn’t know. GM and Chevy quoted low sales numbers as the reason for this. Camaro lovers were understandably heartbroken.

Left: A rear-view shot of the 2002 Camaro with the hatchback open. Center: The 5.7-liter 325 hp V8 in the 2002 Z28. Right: Rear shot with the hatch closed.

The 2002 Camaros were actually good looking cars. They were starting to return to their roots of having fluid lines reminiscent of the sixties and early seventies. They possessed good horsepower and torque numbers, and even got decent fuel economy for a muscle car. For example, the Z28 had a 5.7-liter V8 that pumped out 325 hp, and 350 lb/ft. of torque. This, backed by a six-speed manual, was capable of driving the car from 0-60 in 4.2 seconds. The only real drawback was that they were a hatchback; for many, the true Camaro body style has a trunk, not a hatchback.

Rear quarter, front view, and interior shots of the 2002 Chevy Camaro Z28

The King of the Eyesores-the Gold Camaro from 813 Customs

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The Gold King Camaro “ZL1” from 813 Customs takes the cake as the worst Camaro ever by dint of being the absolute ugliest.

I’ve seen some Camaro customizations over the years that have quite literally made me sick. Most of these were variations on a theme: the four-wheel drive/mud bog Camaro. It hurt the eyes and the heart to see them.

The Gen IV Camaro looks pretty terrible. However, even this doesn't take the crown for the ugliest Camaro ever thought-up. Image via imgur.com

This Gen IV Camaro looks terrible. However, even this doesn’t take the crown for the ugliest Camaro.

However, they don’t hold a candle to the Gold Camaro from 813 Customs down in Florida. Looking over their portfolio, these guys do excellent work, so I’m led to ask, when it comes to this Camaro, what in the world happened? Hopefully this is something somebody paid them very well to do, because it is an utter desecration of a Camaro.

Camaro-ZL1-2

813 Custom’s Gold King, a gold-painted and candied Camaro SS made up to look like a ZL1 is the ugliest of all Camaros.

It’s called the Gold King, and as you can see, it’s simply hideous. Medusa was a runway model compared to this thing. Although it looks like the car is plated with gold, it’s actually painted. They used a ton of Cosmichrome paint, and candied it to create the real gold look. Another interesting thing is that although they call it a Camaro ZL1, it’s actually an SS with a ZL1 body kit installed.

Inside, there’s a hand-made dashboard crafted out of fiberglass, and there are enough speakers to fill a display wall in a stereo store. There are also three 23-inch monitors inside. Under the hood is a pretty cool 6.2-liter V8 that provides power to the huge 30-inch wheels from Forgiato Maschili. These huge wheels don’t do much for the car’s stability. There’s really no middle ground when it comes to opinions on this abomination. People either love it or they hate it.

About the author

Mike Aguilar

Mike has been wrenching on cars since the early 1970s when he worked at his dad's auto repair shop. By the age of 14 Mike had built his first performance suspension, and by 16 he had built, and was racing cars in several sanctioned events in the San Francisco bay area.
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