A Look Back at the Very Best of the Chevrolet Camaro

The Chevy Camaro is a long-standing piece of Americana. Its existence is fused with American culture in a way that’s hard to separate. In much the same way as the Camaro is inextricably linked to its rivals, the Mustang and the Challenger, it is linked to Americana.
Camaro Z/28 7 photos
Photo: Chevrolet
Camaro Z/286th Generation Camaro Collector's Edition6th Generation Camaro Collector's EditionCamaro ConceptCamaro IROC ZCamaro 1LE
Obviously, that means the quiet death of the Camaro, which won’t continue production beyond its sixth generation, is quite a sad thing. But, like any good funeral, it’s better to look back on what made the Camaro great rather than what effect its absence from the world will have. So, let’s do just that.

2024 Chevrolet Camaro SS Collector’s Edition

It feels right to start with the car that’ll capstone the Camaro lineup as it exists in 2023. Is it a shining example of the best the Camaro has to offer? No, but it is what loads of people will remember the Camaro for being. This special edition SS trim has your usual run of gimmicky cosmetics, like numbered plaques, that are supposed to artificially create value for collectors. That’s irrelevant.

What it does have is the front and rear wing from the 1LE package and up to 650 horsepower. Chevy says that it will offer the Collector’s Edition, which also includes special Panther Black Metallic paint, for the LT/RS, LT1, SS, and ZL1 trims. Like it or not, this is probably the last new Camaro we’ll see for some time, if ever.

6th Generation Camaro Collector's Edition
Photo: Chevrolet

1966 Camaro Z/28

Let’s turn the clock back to hi-po Camaro Genesis. The Z/28 was first offered in December 1966, and a racing-derived V8 was crammed under the car’s hood. Famously, the option was a sort of “secret menu” offering, as it wasn’t advertised in any way. Perhaps more famously, Chevy notoriously low-balled the V8’s power output at 290 horsepower. Estimates as to the car’s true power figure range from 360-400 horsepower.

It wasn’t all power, though. That’s an idea that permeates through the Camaro’s lifespan, always pushing the car to toe the line between muscle and sports car. As the Z/28 was essentially a Trans Am racer with an interior, it also got upgrades to its suspension, brakes, cooling, and a four-speed manual transmission. For an entire generation, this was “The Camaro.”

Camaro Z/28
Photo: Chevrolet

1985 Camaro Z/28 IROC-Z

Yes, this is technically still a Z/28, and including two of the same trim feels like a cop-out. Still, I’d argue the IROC is sufficiently different for a lot of folks to consider it apart from that legendary badge. The idea came as a nod to the International Race of Champions series – brainchild of Roger Penske. Real IROC racers weren’t really Camaros, and instead sat on a NASCAR chassis; what races on Sunday (or what appears to be racing on Sunday) does still sell on Monday.

IROC models got a host of upgrades over even the lauded Z/28, which by this point, was kind of like the 911 Turbo of Camaros, to put it in Euro car terms. These changes included badging, of course, new 16-inch wheels, special body cladding and wings, IROC graphics, a new exhaust, and an option for a tuned-port V8. Unfortunately, power was pretty abysmal, at 225 hp, but the looks helped make up for it.

Camaro IROC Z
Photo: Chevrolet

2017+ Camaro 1LE

This Camaro is kind of a technicality – again in that it’s a trim and not an entirely different Camaro model. Still, when Chevy decided to add some of the lineup’s best track and performance-oriented mechanical fixings to any Camaro you’d like, magic was made. The real heroes know that while the SS 1LE is great, removing a few hundred pounds of engine and car by getting a V6 Camaro 1LE makes for one heck of a bargain track car- especially since everyone has gotta have the V8.

Regardless of the engine, you could have a manual, which is incredible in this day and age. On top of that, ticking the box for the 1LE Performance Package added a host of new upgrades for Camaro track rats, including more aggro damper settings, bigger brakes, bigger tires, and an e-LSD (for the V8 only). The result really tipped the Camaro scales from muscle car to sports car, and there are members of the media (myself included) that hold 1LE Camaros as some of the best American sports cars ever built.

Fifth-generation Camaro

This one’s perhaps the broadest selection on this list, but for a good reason. For an entire generation, the fifth-generation Camaro was a star car they grew up with – myself included. Michael Bay’s Transformers debuted in 2007, and with a bright yellow concept car none of us had ever seen. I still remember the scene where Bumblebee transforms from a beater to the concept Camaro, which would, of course, go on to be the 5th generation of the iconic muscle car.

That, aside from some rose-tinted glasses, is why this generation is so important. It brought the idea of the Camaro into the modern age. Without it, we wouldn’t have the Camaro as it exists today, and that, especially with the car’s future now in question, would be a shame.

Camaro Concept
Photo: Chevrolet
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About the author: Chase Bierenkoven
Chase Bierenkoven profile photo

Chase's first word was "truck," so it's no wonder he's been getting paid to write about cars for several years now. In his free time, Chase enjoys Colorado's great outdoors in a broken German sports car of some variety.
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