First on sale in September 1966, the Camaro was Chevrolet's response to the Mustang and looked unlike anything else on the road. Some of its platform was shared with the upcoming 1968 Chevy II, and the frame structure was a "semi-unitized" design: A front steel subframe assembly was the basis for engine, transmission, front suspension, and steering components; and from the cabin back, it was a unibody structure. While the unibody portion made the F-car lightweight and less expensive to produce, it caused the cabin to suffer from squeaks and vibrations, and inferior metallurgy and metal-prep made the body prone to rust.
Base models are referred to as the sport coupe or convertible. The next level up, the Super Sport, includes bigger base and optional engines, a different hood, badges, and slight suspension differences. There also is the Rally Sport trim level, which could be combined with the base models or the SS. Rally Sports feature a different grille with swing-away headlight doors (these have had their share of problems) and other exterior styling cues. The Z/28 was built to race. The engine just squeaked in under the Sports Car Club of America's 5.0-liter displacement limit, making it eligible for Trans-Am racing. Along with the 302 and four-speed manual transmission, it received heavy-duty front and rear suspension and a special exhaust--and came only as a hardtop. Pinstripes and bodyside stripes were available on RS and SS models, and the Z/28 received its own striped-paint scheme. But not all Z/28s came with this, as a buyer could order it without stripes.
Appearance changed little from 1967 to 1968, but there are some visual cues that differentiate these model years. The first-year Camaro's vent windows disappeared for 1968; this is the easiest way to distinguish the first from the second. The second year, side-marker lights were added in the front and rear. The front turn-signal lights, which had been round for 1967, were made rectangular for 1968, but Rally Sports used square lamps in the lower valance. Decklid spoilers first became available in 1968. In addition, the location of the VIN plate, which had been mounted to the forward door pillar on the driver's side in 1967, was moved to the top of the instrument panel in 1968. This made it visible through the windshield. While it's a bit tougher to tell a 1967 from a 1968 model, there were noticeable differences between those first two years and the third. The 1969 model was a lower, wider car, with revisions to most of the body. The grille takes on more of a V shape, taillights are wider, and the wheel openings are more squared off.
Interiors were designed for convenience, and Chevrolet's goal was to provide plenty of equipment in the base layout. Stepping up to the Custom interior trim level added upscale door panels with armrests, upgraded controls, and more stylish seats. The most notable change to the interior for 1969 was a new instrument panel.
Engines are key when it comes to the value (and cost) of a Camaro. At launch, there were two inline-sixes and two V-8s for the sport coupe and convertible. The Z/28 only came with the 302. The three 1967 Super Sport options were a 350, a 325-horse 396, and a second 396-cubic-inch big-block. Despite having the same displacement, though, the latter 396 was nearly identical to the 425-horsepower Mark IV L78 found in the 1965 Corvette--except that GM downrated the power to 375 for the F-car. Model-year 1968 added a 350-horse 396 and the L89 396, with aluminum heads. During the 1969 production year, the base 327 V-8 was replaced by a 307, and there were two unofficial choices--the COPO 427s. One was the 425-horse L72, available under COPO 9561. The other 427 was the famed ZL-1 with its aluminum block and heads. Dubbed COPO 9560, the ZL-1 was designed for use in drag racing and was factory-rated at 430. Only 69 ZL-1s were built; just two were RS-equipped. With the exception of the Z/28, which came only with a four-speed manual, all models had a manual or automatic transmission. Four-wheel drum brakes were standard; front discs, and later four-wheel discs were options. The Z/28 package required the power front-disc/rear-drum option (J50/J52) or the power four-wheel-disc option (JL8), but most Z/28s sold came with discs or drums. When it was brand-new, a big part of the Camaro's appeal was the wide variety of engine and trim levels. The downside now is that a would-be collector must be careful. Watch for unscrupulous types trying to make a quick buck on the musclecar mania by building "clones" of high-priced models out of base cars. It's crucial to be sure that, if a seller claims the car is an "original" or a rare version and is asking big money for it, the tags match. The VIN, trim-data tag, and engine stamping all define when and where the car was assembled. There are "Black Books" that decipher what the tag numbers mean. Get one before you shop.
Whether it's love of the look of the first-generation F-car, a quest to feel the power of the legendary Z/28 or a big-block, or the desire to have something to take to the Burger Biggie on cruise night, the 1967-1969 Camaro is one of the most popular muscle/ponycars out there. Don't let it get away this time.
•Great engines: 302, 327, 350, 396, 427...
•Classic body always turns heads
•NOS, factory-authorized reproduction, and aftermarket parts most plentiful as any collector car out there.
•Rust prone in critical areas
•Watch out for misrepresented clones and fakes
•Interiors will never be squeak- and rattle-free
•Even a plain-Jane Camaro can be a blast to drive; you don't have to spend $100,000 to have a good time
•Deals that look too good to be true. Watch for Z/28 and SS fakes.
•The 1969 ZL-1. Sixty-nine were produced--they have the all-aluminum 427 and went from zero to 60 in just a tick over five second
•If the ZL-1's out of your price range, the 1969 Z/28 was a 302 with a claimed 290 horsepower. Although General Motors swore this was an accurate number, others have found the power closer to 350.
Best Daily Driver
•You can't go wrong with one of the 327/350-cubic-inch V-8s.
•One of America's greatest ponycars ever; easy to restore and fun to drive.
Through The Years
•1967 General Motors needs a response to the Mustang. It builds one, which the Ford still outsells, but the Camaro becomes a legend in its own right. Eight engine options, manual and automatic trans available. Super Sport and Rally Sport options both sell well, sometimes on the same car. Only 1967s feature a vent window.
•1968 Minor changes to the second-year car. VIN plate is relocated, the grille updated with rectangular turn-signal lights, SS side striping revised. The seats are updated, as is the steering wheel, and a new 396 is added to the line.
•1969 For the final year with this body style, there are clear changes. The front end takes on a more defined V shape, and the grille contains a recessed silver or black grid. Taillights are wider, the gas cap is relocated, and the wheel openings are more square. This year also represents the year of the ZL-1, the most valuable COPO. This production year continues through November, and there are more 1969 Camaros produced than either of the previous years.
2. This paint scheme combines a Hugger Orange body with Tuxedo Black Z/28 stripes.
3. The teakwood-look three-spoke steering wheel was a desirable option, especially when combined with the tilt option. Front windows come loose from window regulators and need to be resecured with lockwashers.
4. Rear-window regulators tend to freeze up from non-use. An easy fix.
5. Vinyl-covered steel tops were available all three years, with all exterior colors, but in 1969, the vinyl no longer ran the full width of the car. Watch for rust buildup beneath the top.
6. 1967s had monoleaf rear springs prone to wheelhop, which resulted in damage to spring and shock mounts. For 1968, the system was replaced with a multileaf setup with staggered shocks, which cured the problem.
7. Early Camaros suffered from a weak motor-mount design. Make sure they're in good shape or replace them with later, interlocking-style mounts.
8. Rust can be a problem for all years, depending upon where the car lived and how it was cared for. Two most rust-prone areas to check are the front fenders, just behind the wheel openings, and the trunk floorpan on leak-prone convertibles.
9. Subframe to body mounts can disintegrate over time. There are better compounds out there today that last longer. Switching to polyurethane or aluminum can be an even longer-lasting choice, but these may squeak.10. This Z/28 has four-wheel disc brakes. The JL8 option was available only in 1969.
11. Early 1969 Z/28s used the 1968 15x6.0-inch Rally wheel, then switched to this 15x7.0-inch model.
from the March 2006 issue of Motor Trend