Twenty Years With a 2002 Camaro SS: The Ultimate Review

My Camaro 11 photos
Photo: Andrew Nabors
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Study hard in high school and you will be rewarded with scholarships. A normal person would use the cash on books and tuition, but you need basic transportation. That’s why a new Camaro is always a smart idea!
The year was 2001 and I was a senior looking at colleges. I drove a 1987 Camaro Z28 that wouldn’t be socially acceptable on any campus. Knowing full well Chevrolet was killing the Camaro and Firebird, I took a gamble by cashing my scholarship in on a 35th Anniversary Camaro SS. It was delivered September 10th, a day before the terrorists' attacks.

Celebrating 35 years of the Camaro, 3,368 examples of the SS were given unique graphics, wheels, interior, and several pieces of memorabilia. GM didn’t sugar coat the reality that Camaro was not coming back, my main motivation in buying a collector car. Pontiac worked up a similar package for the Trans Am, with their Collector’s Edition WS.6 models, with convertibles topping $40,000 in 2001 dollars.

Every option was included with the package, and my car was a hair under $36,000. For that, I received a very capable contender. The SS package launched in 1996 as a comprehensive set of performance and styling upgrades developed by Street Legal Performance, or SLP. Each car began life as a Z28 before moving next door to SLP’s Canadian headquarters. It was there that a team carefully finished each one by hand. Bilstein suspension, 275/45/17 tires, and incredible downforce could potentially cannibalize potential Corvette sales, so Camaro’s advertising budget was likely spent on more important projects like the Pontiac Aztek...

My Camaro
Photo: Andrew Nabors
Indeed, the car was capable of 1.0G in the corners, even on the terrible Goodyear Eagles. That didn’t stop critics from attacking the '90s styling inside and out. The windshield has a ridiculous rake that covers the LS1 5.7L V8, with a dashboard the size of a football field. Front passengers are forced to deal with a cramped floor, as the catalytic converters need a place to hide under the low-slung body. The rear seats are small but manageable for skinny adults.

The hood, doors, and fenders are composite, leaving the rear quarter panels as the only exterior steel. This allows it to weigh in at 3,300 pounds while maintaining a favorable weight distribution. In stock form, my only legitimate gripes stem from the motions induced by the solid rear axle and the propensity of the wide front tires to follow the grooves in Florida’s crumbling infrastructure.

In addition to having better paint quality than any other GM at the time, SLP also developed a line of accessories and upgrades for their cars. Before the company was sold to Jack Roush, they were a tier-1 supplier to the automakers, so the quality was top-notch. This is what initially sold me on my first round of upgrades.

My Camaro
Photo: Andrew Nabors
In order to go 12.99, I added SLP’s long-tube headers along with tubular control arms. All I needed was a billet torque converter to allow the automatic transmission to put more torque to the ground. The point of no return was reached after installing a Chevrolet Racing camshaft that was intended for the ASA dirt track series.

By 2009 it was making 400 horsepower to the rear wheels, more than enough for such a light car. While it was my daily driver in college, this Camaro has earned its keep with dozens of consistent drag races. Through hurricanes, crazy relationships, and a few police interactions, this car has always had my back.

As of late December 2021, the only maintenance it has required are window motors, an alternator, and starter after 101,900 miles. These cars have bottomed out in price, with V8 examples being very affordable as a daily driver or a track day weapon. The Camaro is going away again soon, so find a 4th generation car and you won’t regret it!

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