The Best Camaro Variant of Each Generation

The Chevrolet Camaro was legendary even before it was introduced. Codenamed the "Panther" project, this supposed Mustang-fighter is now in its 6th generation of production, each one with its own distinct flair and memorable style. Here are the best variants Chevrolet has put out for each generation of their famous muscle car:

1st Generation: 1969 Yenko/SC

Yenko var

Many say the 1969 Camaro is the best ever built. That makes the 1969 Camaro Yenko SC the best of the best, and for good reason.

The Yenko Camaro was designed by Don Yenko (who else) of Yenko Chevrolet. This variant was created in spite of GM's corporate edict preventing the Camaro from carrying anything larger than 6.6L V8. Yenko got around the limitations by putting the Corvette's L-72 7.0L V8 under the hood of the Camaro.

The 1969 Yenko SC also included power disc breaks, heat treated axle shafts, a heavy-duty 4-core radiator, and a Z-28 anti-sway bar. For the exterior, the '69 Yenko SC received front and rear spoilers, a cowl-induction hood, and specialized "Yenko 427" badges. Today, the 1969 Yenko SC still holds up, and it'll cost you a pretty penny to get your hands on one.

2nd Generation: 1970 1/2 Z28

Z28 var

Why 1970 1/2? Because by the time this Camaro was introduced to assembly plants, it was already February 1970, nearly halfway through the model year. Chevrolet held off in part because the 1969 model was selling so well, but as the saying goes, some things are worth the wait.

The new Z28 - considered by most to be the finest Z28 ever built - packed one of the best small blocks ever built: the LT-1. This high-compression 360hp engine was capable of more than 6,500 RPM, and gave the this Z28 the pop and growl of a legendary muscle car.

3rd Generation: 1985 IROC-Z

IROC var

The 80s weren't particularly kind for the Camaro, but in a decade of low to average output, there was a bright spot that emerged in the form of the 1985 IROC-Z. As an option package of that year's Z28, the IROC-Z ended up on Car and Driver's Ten Best list for 1985.

What made the IROC-Z so special? The LB9 V8 engine for starters, which could pump out 215 hp. The IROC-Z was also given special performance upgrades such as an upgraded suspension, Delco-Bilstein shocks, and a steering brace called the "wonder bar." Still, the one aspect that puts the 1985 IROC-Z above the rest is its looks. The refreshed nose and front spoiler makes the 1985 IROC-Z an unforgettable sight, and one we wish Chevrolet would have taken into the 90s.

4th Generation: 1998 SS

SS var

As the Z28's performance package, the Camaro SS was simply the best of what the decade had to offer. The 4th generation's updated engine, chassis, and braking already made this Camaro a solid ride, but the SS options made it unforgettable. Under the hood was the 1997 Corvette's LS1 5.7L V8, which was pushed from 305 to 320 hp thanks to a composite hood and functional air scoop. Also included in the package were Goodyear Eagle F1 performance tires paired with a 30inch stainless steel exhaust tip. Though just 48,495 Camaros were produced total in 1998, the SS package was definitely a muscle car to be excited about.

5th Generation: 2012 ZL-1

ZL1 var


Photo: 
Sarah Larson

The Camaro ceased production in 2002 due to low sales but came back with a vengeance eight years later with its fifth generation. And in 2012, the Camaro was back to form with the ZL-1.

The ZL-1 is the type of muscle car that gave it the moniker in the first place. The project was even codenamed "HP" while it was in development, which is appropriate since the 6.2L LSA engine puts out 580 horses.

With over 30% of its parts exclusively re-engineered, the ZL-1 borders on supercar territory with technologies like a 5-mode launch control, magnetic ride control, and a performance traction management system.

The body of the ZL-1 is in the form of past Camaros, too. In the name of aerodynamics, the ZL-1's face was adjusted for added airflow and a lower splitter was added instead of a spoiler. All that aids in its 12 second quarter mile time and 184 mph top speed.

6th Generation: ???

Building off the renewed hype, success, and popularity of the Camaro, the sixth generation debuted in 2015 with the 2016 model year. With one year in the books, we're excited about the direction of the nameplate. As for the best of the generation, check back in 10 years for the answer - we can't wait to see where the Camaro goes.