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1970-74 Camaro
Sleek, Sweet
1971 Camaro
Phil Skinner  
In an attempt to cash in on the new “pony” car market created by Ford's Mustang, Chevrolet introduced the Camaro for the 1967 model year. Although it did not unseat the Mustang as the market leader, the Camaro was unquestionably a success. Camaro’s first three seasons established some memorable models, including the Rally Sport, Super Sport and Z-28.

Late Start, But Worth the Wait

Unlike the rest of the Chevrolet line-up for 1970, the 2nd generation Camaro was not ready to roll in the fall of 1969. To fill the gap, production of the '69 version continued up through the early part of December 1969. This kept a supply of these sporty cars in Chevy dealerships to compete with it's main competition, the Mustang. One interesting aspect of these late production 1969 units is that in some states they were sold and titled as 1970 models.

For its fourth full season an entirely new body was created for the already legendary performer from Chevy. The wait had been well worth it when on February 26, 1970, the new Camaro entered the marketplace. Limited to a single body style, a two-door coupe, it was lower, longer and about the same width as the old style. The sleek silhouette gave the impression of speed and agility, and many compared its looks to that of the most exotic sports cars coming from Italy.

 

1970 Camaro RS
1972 Camaro

Top: 1970 RS shows off it's split bumper. 

Bottom: Base '72 with the more common one piece bumper.

While the base package came with a 250 cubic-inch 155 horsepower in-line six, a total of five optional V8 engines and a stunning trio of performance and appearance packages were offered. Vinyl bucket seats and bucket-like rear seats were standard, as were front disc brakes. On top of the base $2,749 price tag, an extra $90 got you the 307cid 200-hp V8. Those looking to move a bit faster could step up to the Super Sport Z-27 group. Here the buyer received a 350 cid V8 tuned to a healthy 300 horses, as well as power brakes, bright trim around the grille opening, wheel lips and door handles, and F78-14 raised white-letter tires. For a little more "pizzazz", the RS, or Rally Sport "Z-22" edition was equipped with blackout grille, color keyed-door handles, a choice of the F78-14 or E70-14 tires, and the most distinctive feature for this package, split front bumpers. The RS equipment could be applied to any Camaro, even those equipped with a six.

If it was all-around performance a Camaro buyer was seeking, then the only choice was the Z-28. Under the hood was found the most important ingredient, a 350 V8 tweaked to produce 360 horses. This wasn't you ordinary passenger version of the famous small block. Born from the Corvette LT-1, it featured four-bolt mains, special impact extruded pistons from TRW, a forged steel crank, a Holley 780 cfm four-barrel carb and an 11:1 compression ratio. While a selection of either wide-range or close ratio four-speed manual transmissions were still offered, for the first time an automatic, the Turbo-Hydramatic 400, was available in the Z-28 package. Among some of the other items that made the Z-28 package so special were a 3.73:1 Positraction rear axle, extra-duty cooling with a special radiator, and a set of heavy-duty front and rear springs to make the "Hugger" Camaro transform into a "Super Hugger".

While the "Z" offered power and balance, the SS versions could be ordered with other performance V8s that put the emphasis squarely on straight line power. A big-block "L-34" 396 was offered with 350 horses, or, as the "L-78" version with 375 hp. Both of these brutes were rated at 415 foot-pounds of torque. A total of just 600 of the "L-78" SS-396s rolled off the assembly line.

A total of 15 different colors were offered for the 1970-1/2 Camaro, some restricted to SS and Z-28 models. Five color-coordinated vinyl roof selections were also offered.

Due in part to the late introduction of the full-fledged 1970 Camaros, often referred to as the 1970-1/2 models, production fell from 1969's total of 230,799 to 117,604. And just 8,733 of these were ordered as Z-28s, which make them relatively rare and most certainly desirable collector items.

Returning for 1971, Camaro received several minor trim variations. This was the year that more onerous emission regulations, lower compression ratios and unleaded fuel requirements began to take their toll on power output. The entry-level six saw its horsepower reduced to 145, while the base 307 V8 managed to hold steady at 200 hp.

The $314.00 Super Sport package featured the 350-4V V8, now showing 270 hp, and included all of the same items as the 1970 edition. Optionally available was the "LS3" version of the 396 V8, now rated at 300 hp. Just 8,377 Camaros carried the SS package for 1971.

 

The '71 Z-28 saw its special 350 V8 dropped to a advertised rating of 330 horsepower. Available with either the four-speed manual transmission or the Turbo Hydramatic, the Z-28 still packed a considerable punch.

As before, any model of the Camaro in 1971 could be optioned with the Rally Sport, or RS package. A cosmetic dress-up kit, it still featured the split front bumpers, black chrome finished "Hide-a-Way" windshield wipers, polished aluminum hood, wheel well, roof drip rail and window moldings, tail and back-up lights accented in simulated chrome trim, as well as package identification on non-SS or Z-28 models.

Production for the Camaro slipped by about 10,000 units this year, to 107,496 units, partially due to escalating insurance costs for performance models and partially due to substantial price increases. Out of this number just 4,862 Z-28s were produced for 1971, which makes these fairly difficult to find in today's market.

The Camaro was almost discontinued right after the start of the 1972 model year. Just as production started, a major labor strike shut down the lines at the

 Norwood, Ohio, assembly plant where all production for these was conducted this year. Literally thousands of half built cars were stranded on the lines for several months, and when work finally resumed, Federal Safety standards mandated that these cars be destroyed. GM came very close to scrapping the Camaro, as well as its sister, the Pontiac Firebird, right then and there. Only the pleading and promised returns by Alex Mair, Chief Engineer for Chevrolet, did the Camaro live-on for another 30 years.

The 1972 Camaro package was again little changed from the previous year. A new grille mesh was employed, with other changes limited to interior and minor trim applications. The biggest news was the new engine horsepower ratings. Using a new method to determine an engine's actual usable power (SAE net) reduced ratings dramatically. The base six cylinder engine was now set at 110hp, while the base 307cid V8 showed just 130 hp. The optional 350-2V engine was rated at 165hp, while the Super Sport’s 350-4V V8 now weighed in at 200hp. Up the line the Z-28s very special 350 was pumping out 255 hp, and the LS-3 396 was rated at 240 hp.

Production of the Camaro fell to an all-time low this year with just 68,656 units produced, of which 2,575 were the still potent Z-28 coupes. 6,562 Camaros received the Super-Sport package, which would be the last season for this option.

After the dismal 1972 season, 1973 sales bounced back about 40% to 96,756 units, of which 6,768 of these were destined for export.  Replacing the Super Sport edition was the new LT. Under the hood was a 350 V8 145 hp. A 165 hp version was available as well. Rally wheels, new variable ratio power steering, Hide-a-Way wipes, and deluxe interior appointments with simulated wood-grain accents made for an attractive package. Also included were dual exterior "Sport" mirrors and full instrumentation.

Still offered was the RS package. Split front bumpers that actually met the new Federal 2.5 mph impact regulations were employed, as well as the impact resistant front fascia. A black-out grille and the moldings and accents used in previous years were continued.

The Z-28 package was back, too. Despite federal controls, it still performed quite well. Under the hood the 350 V8 was now rated at 245hp. Solid lifters were done away with this year and replaced by hydraulics, and a Rochester Quadrajet carburetor replaced the Holley 780 cfm unit. One advantage to the new mechanical applications was that factory air conditioning could be ordered for the first time in the Z-28 package. Another marketing note was that both the LT and RS packages could be ordered for the Z-28, which in effect produced the LT/RS/Z-28, a very rare find in today's market.

 

As the 1970s moved on and the Federal government stepped up its pro-emission control and anti-performance stance, the muscle-car programs from American car makers faded into more of a cosmetic approach to speed. "If you can't make them go fast, try to make them look fast." Camaro was one of the victims of this scheme.

For 1974, a major front-end facelift was seen, mainly to accommodate new 5mph bumper requirements. Brighter grille work, headlight doors and a large and somewhat unattractive energy absorbing bumper system was employed. Still, sales sky-rocketed this year giving this sporty Chevrolet coupe a healthy future, and validation of engineer Alex Mair’s pleading to keep the model alive.

1974 Z28

With front and rear styling changes, Chevrolet did a

decent job integrating the big 5-mph bumpers man-

dated by the government for 1974.  At 245 net hp, it still had some punch.

On the exterior, sixteen colors were offered. Inside, the base "Sport Coupe" model was available in several levels of soft trim for a total of nine variations, while the LT could be ordered in a total of seven different fabrics. Other LT extras included color-coordinated interior appointments and installation of a newly developed Amberlite sound insulation treatment.

Under the hood the base 250 cid in-line six was now rated at an even 100hp, while the entry-level 350 V8 was advertised with 145 hp. (California equipped Camaros came with a special "LM-1" 350 rated at 160 hp). The 307 was gone.

For performance set, the Z-28 was again offered this year with the special 245hp 350 V8 and several suspension options. On the outside, Z-28 emblems were placed on the fenders unless, as one magazine advertisement of the day suggested, the buyer decided to "go bananas" and ordered the optional D-88 decal. This covered the hood in bold stripes and announced to the world in nine inch letters that you had the Z-28 option. Also available with the Z-28 package was LT trim, which created an LT/Z-28 Camaro.

What to Look For

For a long time, Camaros from the early 1970s have been under-appreciated in the market when compared to their first generation cousins, but that is changing.  Many have led hard lives, often ending up in the hands of high school kids who had little appreciation for what they might have. Blown engines, engine swaps, poor maintenance, etc. has left relatively few unmolested, all original cars for our enjoyment today.

Unfortunately, Chevrolet didn't include an engine code in their vehicle identification number, or VIN, until 1972. That year, the Camaro Z-28 was easily identified by the letter code "L" as the fifth character in the VIN, as that was the only model the 350-255 hp V8 could be found in. The following year, 1973, the letter was changed to "T", which was also exclusive and continued on into 1974.

Learning to read build tags and how to spot the tell-tale signs of repair, exchange, abuse or speed equipment, will help make the 2nd generation Camaro buyer avoid a costly mistake. One source book that is invaluable to the Camaro fan is the "Camaro White Book", by Michael Antonick. Updated every few years, this book gives you a great look into codes, production quantities, and proper equipment for varying years.

The parts reproduction market for Camaros is very strong, so replacing parts is not a problem. This is good for the restorer of an authentic example, but can make it tough for the guy looking to buy one who may have trouble not being able to immediately tell a replica from a real one.

The cars are generally quite robust, but there are some issues. Besides the obvious potential for damaged frames and suspensions from past abuse, rust around the windshield and rear window is common, as is miscellaneous body rust.

As the plastic content increased on cars, Camaro included, it created lighter cars and lower costs to build the vehicle. However, after 25 to 30 years they almost always have deteriorated to a point where they need attention.. Color fading is common as is disintegration or the loss of elasticity and subsequent cracking.

The Market Today

Muscle cars from the early 1970s have been increasing in value at rates not seen since the speculative days of the late eighties. Current prices of nicely restored, authentic Z-28s from 1970 are beginning to tick past the $20,000 mark on a regular basis.

While the Z-28, especially those with RS and/or SS packages, are at the top of the desirability list, even the more pedestrian models are also picking up in value, with lesser performance versions bringing in the $10-$15,000 range. Not everyone needs power and speed, so the tamer versions of the 350 cid V8 and even the base 307 cid version are finding a following, and at still reasonable prices. Clean, attractive, nice driving cars are all many people want, and the stylish Camaro, even in base form, fills the bill.

For latest values, click here.

Despite the tragedies that occurred on September 11, 2001, American muscle-cars have not faltered in the marketplace. With the renewed patriotism felt within the United States, many are looking to these unique domestic sports cars with special interest, wanting to capture a piece of America's past, when horsepower, color and style all mixed in a unique blend on both the street and the strip. It was a time that can never be replayed, and as a result of people wanting to keep these memories alive, prices are sure to rise on the best examples.

We'll bet that more and more people will recognize the beauty of those sleek little Camaros from 1970 to 1974.
 

(C) Copyright 2002, VMR International, Inc.  All rights reserved.