There is no denying the Camaro has a rich history within the automotive hobby. Its history is dotted with many twists and turns, but ultimately, America’s pony car gave us the iconic, all-American hot rod template we know and love to this day. The Camaro was first launched in 1966, as Chevy’s response to Ford’s Mustang. Camaro might have been late to the party, but almost instantly, the Mustang/Camaro rivalry became one of the greatest automotive rivalries in history. In fact, there is no denying it is still a cause for heated debate at many car shows, cruise nights, and even family gatherings.
In 2002, the fourth-gen Camaro ceased to be viable in Chevrolet’s eyes and was shelved. However, after a multi-year hiatus, the fifth generation of Camaro finally hit the showroom floors in 2010. When it did, it was, once again, late to the party but ushered in a completely new era in “muscle car” one-upmanship. While keeping pace with Ford’s Mustang and Dodge’s Challenger, the current generation of Camaro has seen a slew of special edition models and variants. What’s more, the most recent models are making for some of the quickest and best-performing cars Chevy has ever produced. And with the all-new 2021 Camaro at dealerships now, it’s time to reshuffle the “fastest of all-time” deck once again.
For that reason, I decided to do a little research and find out which Camaros were/are the fastest – according to published results. The reason I am relying on published data is that I can’t go back in time and actually test drive a new first-, second-, third-, or even fourth-gen Camaro, so I will need to rely on previously recorded data to compile this list. After a cursory search, I found the information I needed. Keep in mind, the numbers posted are the result of my research. If there are a few slight variances with the numbers you think should be printed, so be it. The internet is a huge place, and everyone has a different opinion.
Also, I will keep the list focused on mass-produced models. This might strike a nerve with a few, as COPO cars are not eligible. It is no surprise that a ’69 ZL1 is an animal, but it was not a car that Chevrolet would produce and ship to a dealer without a customer order being created. In essence, this list will include those cars that could have been shipped to a dealer solely to replenish inventory without a custom order.
You’re probably not surprised the third-gen starts the list. The ’80s were not kind to performance, and even the IROC Camaro was lacking the performance Camaro owners had come to know. Sure, it was on par with the offerings of those other manufacturers, and at least it came with a V8. The 1990 Camaro offered the most power of the third-gen at 245 horsepower. In fact, the research I did shows the 1990 IROC-Z traveled 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and tripped the quarter-mile lights in 14.20 seconds.
Fun fact: The 1990 model year finished with the lowest production to date. This was due to a shortened model-year run caused by the early introduction of the facelifted 1991 models. 1990 also marked the final year for the IROC-Z; Chevrolet had decided not to renew its contract with the International Race of Champions.
Next to make the list is the second-gen. In fact, the 1970 Z28. According to Car and Driver magazine, “it’s not so much performance as performance image that’s been dulled. The engines, which have most of the say about performance, are stronger than ever. The Z/28 is richer by 48 cubic inches and 70 rated horsepower (tough break for those with insurance worries), 350- and 375-hp 396s (now actually 402 cubic inches) are still on the list and a 454 lies hidden in the fine print. No discrimination against thrill-seekers there.” Although a big block was available, they tested a small block. That actually works in our favor, as it creates an even playing field since all the Camaros on this list are small-block-powered. As tested, the 1970 Z/28 delivered a 0 to 60 time of 5.8 seconds, and a quarter-mile e.t. of 14.20 seconds.
Numbers Four and Three could actually be an either/or situation as the times each posted are so close that a clear winner isn’t a clear choice. What I found, was the fourth generation’s 1998 Z28 takes the Number Four spot with a published quarter-mile time of 13.8 at 104.8. In 0 to 60 testing, the Z28 delivered a time of 5.2 seconds.
Chevrolet would up enthusiasts this year by fitting the SS and Z28 versions of the Camaro with the all-new LS1 V8. The raw numbers for that latest edition of Chevy’s small-block were 305 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. That was 20 more ponies than the old F-body LT1. In addition, fully dressed, the LS1 is about 10-percent lighter than the previous V8. That was needed as the car was heavier than in previous years.
As I said, this could easily swap with Number Four. The first-gen inclusion on this list comes in the form of the 1968 RS-Z/28. When this pony car was tested, the results I found explain it ran a 13.77 quarter-mile e.t. at 107.39 mph. It also traveled from 0 to 60 in 5.3 seconds. As I said, it was close and could have gone either way if weather conditions and track prep were slightly different.
The car tested did possess a 302 small block topped with two four-barrel carburetors and delivered 290 horsepower. The test car was also a four-speed car.
After the Camaro’s multi-year hiatus, the fifth generation came back with a vengeance. In fact, Chevrolet engineers ran an automatic-equipped, 2012 ZL1 through the quarter-mile and clocked an 11.93-second e.t. What’s more, the 0 to 60-foot times were 3.9 seconds. Those are not bad numbers considering, at the time, this was the heaviest Camaro generation built.
Unlike the ’69 ZL1, the 2012 version is included on this list because it was a standard-production model and not a backdoor get-around-the-system option only available to those that knew how to work the ordering sheet.
The 2012 Camaro ZL1 was powered by a supercharged LSA displacing 6.2 liters. Chevrolet claimed the supercharged engine, produced at least 550 horsepower, and the car featured advanced technology including Magnetic Ride Control, the world’s fastest-reacting suspension system. These options surely aided in the car’s ability to run the times it did.
It’s probably no surprise the sixth generation tops the list. Technology has truly developed a car that can do it all, and do it all very well. However, selecting a car from this generation poses a huge dilemma as they are all seriously close when it comes to published times and mph numbers.
Year/Model 0 to 60 Quarter Mile
- 2017 ZL1 3.4 11.5 at 123
- 2018, 2020, 2021 ZL1 3.5 11.7 at 123
- 2019 ZL1 3.7 11.3 at 123
As you can see, the previously published numbers are so close that a clear winner is impossible to determine within the sixth generation. What is clear, is that when talking about performance, the latest is apparently the greatest. While some enthusiasts will say the car is too heavy, too big, and has too many options, in my world, performance is the yardstick that most use to measure the best of the best.