Fifty years ago, today was the day. It was August 11, 1966. Your humble author was about three weeks from turning the ripe old age of one. The Mustang had a two year head start, but Ford was about to get a wake-up call with buzzwords like Z/28, Rally Sport and SS396.
What was it? Why it was the release of the all-new Camaro from GM’s mainstream brand Chevrolet. And, as they say, the rest is history. So, today, August 11, 2016, we here at LSX Magazine, Chevy Hardcore and Street Muscle want to shout out a happy and healthy birthday to our favorite sporty two-door coupe known as the Camaro. Happy Birthday, Camaro! We love you!
So, while you cut the cake, load it onto paper plates and pass it around with plastic forks while we’re all wearing those goofy conehead caps with straps under the chin, let’s dole out a quick history lesson on this GM icon that is only really only matched by its two-seater sibling the Corvette and its cross-town rival the (cough) Mustang in terms of historical significance.
Buried somewhere inside a GM Inside News forum thread, it said today, “The first Camaro drove out of a manufacturing plant in Norwood, Ohio, on this day in 1966. The 1967 Camaro coupe was named just weeks before production, when General Manager Elliot (Pete) Estes, publicly announced the name and quipped, ‘I went into a closet, shut the door and came out with the name.’” Camaro is actually French for ‘comrade, pal, or chum.’ The Camaro was a hit with the public, sporting a base price of only $2,466 with a six-cylinder and a three-speed manual transmission.”
Ok, sounds good to us but what else is there? Well the First Generation ’67-’69 cars that went on sale on September 29, 1966, are still pretty much the most collectible Camaros of all. The RSs, SSs (many of which were 396 big-block-equipped cars) are blue-chip collectibles and you if you have a jones for one of the first ’67 Z/28s, plan on pretty much scrounging up six figures for one because only 602 were made with that screamer 302 small-block that was essentially created by outfitting a 327 block with a short-stroke 283 crank. Of course these first-gen cars are probably the most popular platform out there for LS swaps, if that is your thing. It sure is ours.
The second-gen cars produced from 1970-81 had their ups and downs. One of the major ups was the honkin’ 360-horsepower LT-1 that came out in the ’70 ½ Z/28s. Also equipped in the Corvette from 1970-72, this LT-1 was pretty much the highest output carbureted small-block Chevy of all time. The Z/28 went away after 1974, but came back in 1977 and carried the Camaro nameplate as best as it could through the mid-to-late 1970s malaise era.
For 1982, an all-new third-generation car was introduced and the Z/28 with its wheezing Cease (we mean Cross) Fire Injection 305 handled well, but that was about it. This was also the IROC era and the L98 TPI 350 that came out for the ’87 models gave the IROC-Z some form of respectability go along with the honestly quite good handling.
In 1993, the fourth-gen Camaro Z28 and its gen-II LT1 with 275 horsepower (same as the current sixth–gen turbo four-cylinder by the way) was a big deal 23 years ago. We remember driving one when new and it still gives us sweet memories these two-plus decades later. The LT1 with its Opti-Spark ignition and reverse-flow cooling was high-tech stuff back in those days as was the first use of the T56 six-speed manual transmission that’s still basically in use in updated TR6060 form today. The fourth-gen died off after 2002, but not before getting blessed with the LS1 for the 1998 model year.
After a seven-year hiatus of enduring “my-whatever-car-is-better-than-your-’03-’09-Camaro” jokes, we were finally shown the love with a fifth-gen 2010 model and its modern-classic 6.2-liter LS3 and L99 engines. Among fifth-gens there were several specials like the 1LE, ZL1 and, of course, the ’14-’15 Z/28 and its LS7 that makes any Camaro “Z” before it seem like a rickshaw.
Finally, the all-new and current sixth-gen model and its full line of engines topped with the new LT1 and LT4 that the 2017 ZL1 will have are now on the scene. There will also be an anniversary package that you can order to help celebrate the 50th of this one-of-the-greatest and back better-than-ever American icons.