By on August 11, 2009

After being trapped six weeks in a 1971 time warp, I had the controls of the Curbside Classics time machine all set for the mid-eighties. But once again, fate interceded. Running some errands, I had my first encounter with no less than two 2010 Camaros. Then, on the way home, something called out to me as I tooled down Franklin Boulevard. I found it parked behind the old boarded-up Chevy dealer, and it had an important message for you and me: “beauty is not in the eye of the beholder; it’s in the object itself.”

I needed to hear that, after trying to make aesthetic sense of the new Camaro. Which was going nowhere, until it hit me: the 2010 Camaro is the Pamela Anderson of automobiles: exaggerated proportions, desperately trying to evoke a (long distant) youthful past, cartoonish, crude, clumsy, and just plain stupid—Borat would love it (“you like?!”), although he would have a hell of a time trying to stuff over-stuffed Pamela into its tiny trunk.

The fact that Chevy picked the ’69 Camaro for its “inspiration” tells it all, because the gen-1 Camaro was a rushed, half-baked stylistic lightweight. Yes, it was cheerful and youthfully innocent, kind of like the high-school Pamela. But it was hopelessly outclassed by the timelessly elegant, handsome, mature and universally praised 1970 version. Perhaps we should thank GM for leaving well enough alone, although I have a sinking feeling that if the Camaro revival doesn’t peter out quickly, its successor may well be a horrible pastiche of this 1970 Rally Sport.

I was never quite as stunned by a new car from Detroit as when I first saw the 1970 Camaro. One of the reasons was that Chevrolet managed to keep it a perfect secret right to the end: no spy shots in Popular Science or elsewhere. One day, I opened a magazine, and kazow!, that incredible front end was staring at me from a full-page ad. And such a complete break with its predecessor. Who saw that coming? It was quite the change from the three and a half years-long strip-tease we’ve just endured. Enough, Pamela, enough!

Obviously, Bill Mitchell had his Pontiac and Chevy design studios perusing old Pininfarina-designed Ferraris while they were fleshing out the 1970 F-body. If you’re going to crib, might as well go to the master. And when the master returns a compliment, bask in it. But inspiration is one thing; to put it all together in a balanced, fresh, yet timeless way requires skill, time, encouragement and most of all, taste. Either you have it, or you don’t. Bill did, often enough.

The Camaro’s perpetual nemesis sure didn’t. Ford must been mighty nervous when the ’70 Camaro was released in February of that year. The Camaro’s ads even made references to it here. Because Ford’s ’71 Mustang, due six months later, was an ugly POS: overwrought, heavy, terrible visibility, cartoonish; umm . . . sounds familiar. And it was a sales bomb, as in the dirty kind. After a few more stumbles, Ford eventually got the formula down, and now sticks to it. Unlike Chevy, which couldn’t seem to ever find its way out of the trailer park since the 1970-1981 edition.

GM knew its ’67-’69 F-bodies were immature, which explains the lack of any stylistic carry-over. The 1964 Mustang caught GM totally asleep at the wheel, as usual. And its phenomenal instantaneous success meant rush, rush, rush. The two years it took to cram the ’67 Camaro and Firebird out the door showed.

So Bill Mitchell had Chevy and Pontiac studios working on a gen-2 F-body worthy of the Mark of Excellence right from the beginning. And, not surprisingly, it was the Pontiac studio that came up with the basic shape. But both versions received enough differentiation to make them each worthy of praise, interest and attention despite sharing the same basic body—kind of like Isabeli Fontana and Izabel Goulart. Take your pick; you can’t go wrong. Personally, I favor Isabeli and the Camaro.

This particular Rally Sport (which is actually quite likely a ’71 or ’72) is not exactly how I like my gen-2 Camaro dressed and made up: no two-tone paint job, please, and either Chevy Rally wheels, Z-28 stock wheels, or minilite type vintage mags. But then this is not a “garage queen”; it’s a regular driver, has numerous dings, and an interesting crude hood cut-out for the after-market air cleaner. I’ll gladly take this for a car parked on the street.

I could go on way too long talking about the elegant lines and proportions of this car. But the front end is brilliant; the contours of the hood and fenders as they drop to that protruding nose. And that unusual windshield compound curve with a hint of a dog leg. Nobody was doing that since 1961. But my favorite part is that delicious front fender line as it tightly hugs the wheel and delicately nips and tucks into the head light. Unfortunately, that detail was ruined with the 5-mph bumpered 1974s.

The 1970 Camaro was anything but a poseur. It (not the Vega) set a new high for American passenger-car handling. The whole platform, and especially the suspension and steering were extensively re-engineered. The result was superb for its time. And not just in the race-track oriented way like the max-performance versions of Detroit’s pony cars, the previous Z-28 and Boss 302 Mustang. Ultra-stiff springs and a fast manual steering ratio are great on a smooth track, but in real world driving, especially on uneven surfaces, most muscle cars of the era were profoundly compromised.

Even the base version of the Camaro offered a level of balance, steering precision and feel, stout brakes, stiff body structure, and reasonable chassis compliance that finally brought US cars into world-class levels (of course, the ‘vette had been there since ’63). It was a huge step from the Falcon/Chevy II/Valiant based gen-1 pony cars. So good, that even at the end of its unusually long twelve year production run, the gen-2 Camaro was still being praised for its all-round handling competence, if not the performance from its de-smogged engines.

Chevrolet positioned the new Camaro much more as an all-round sports car/GT tourer than the ’67-’69 muscle/pony cars. You could still get a big-block 396 (actually a 402) SS Camaro, but it was no longer at the top of the horsepower pecking order. That would be the brilliant LT-1 powered Z-28. Whereas the previous Z-28 was a limited production Trans-Am race series homologation special, with a very peaky 302 engine, the new Z-28 essentially took the role of the old SS model. Even the THM autobox was finally welcome (if not preferred) in the Z.

The 1970 LT-1 350 cubic inch (5.7 liter) engine was the crowning glory of the Chevy small block V8, its ultimate evolution until the all-new LS-1 replaced it some twenty years later. All the goodies developed in the sixties for the Corvette were present and accounted for: four-bolt block, big-valve heads, solid-lifter cam, aluminum intake, 780cfm Holley, and that lumpy idle. It was rated at 360 hp (gross), but essentially the same parts in the smaller 327 used to be rated at 365 hp. It probably churned out at least 310 of today’s net horsepower. At 3150 lb., the Z-28 had a 10 lb/net hp ratio, resulting in a 0-60 of 5.8 seconds, and a ¼ mile of 14.2 @100 mph (C/D stats). Superb, for a small-block, non-understeering, great-handling car of the times (big-blocks need not apply).

And what has forty years of progress delivered? The porky 2010 Camaro has a slightly better 9.15 lb/hp ratio, and delivers the 0-60 in 5 seconds flat, and the ¼ mile in 13.5 @ 103 mph (Edmund’s stats). Stickier tires probably account for most of that. And GM’s sticky fingers account for the price difference. The 1970 Z-28 cost $3,412 ($18.7K adjusted) complete with the go-fast goodies. A new SS starts at $31K. In 1970, that was money well invested: Z-28s go for $40K-$80K today.

The timing of the gen-2 Camaro’s arrival was less than auspicious. The whole performance era was peaking and about to crash under the weight of insurance, smog-controls, and a change in attitudes, especially once the energy crisis hit. But it was exactly because of the gen-2 Camaro’s balance of qualities that allowed it survive, and actually prosper the whole decade, right through 1981. Well, it did almost die after the 1973 model year because the new 5-mph bumper and other safety regulations seemed like a huge obstacle especially in light of weak sales. But that’s the makings of another Curbside Classics.

For the brief golden period of 1970-1973, new Camaros graced us with their svelte elegance. And a few are still at it today, giving us a lasting lesson on how ugly and malformed way too many new cars are today. Raw attraction is all too often crude, hormonal, and indiscriminate; but true beauty is self-evident and timeless, like good art, a beautiful woman, or an inspired car.

As I got ready to leave, the Camaro had a parting thought for me: “Folks who can’t tell the difference between attraction and beauty should be held accountable for their bad taste.” Like getting stuffed into the trunk of a 2010 Camaro, perhaps, I suggested. “Yes,” it replied, “along with Pamela. That should teach them a lasting lesson.”


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70 Comments on “Curbside Classics: 1970 Camaro RS...”


  • avatar
    tced2

    My first new car was a standard 1970 Camaro. It had the 307 V8 with turbo-hydramatic – the first 3-speed automatic Chevrolet I had driven. Classic copper exterior with sandalwood fabric interior. The ’74 that I later bought (350, 4-speed manual) was a dog. Poor fuel economy and no acceleration. Early engines under the clean air act were terrible.

  • avatar
    tced2

    I can attest to the charm of this vehicle. My first new car was a classic copper 1970 Camaro with sandalwood fabric interior. A 307 V8 with turbo-hydramatic – the first 3-speed automatic Chevy I ever drove. I later bought a 1974 Camaro (350, 4-speed manual) that was a dog – the early engines under the clean air act were terrible – no fuel economy or acceleration.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    If there was going to be a new retro Camaro, this body style should have been the inspiration for its styling. Much cleaner lines, and a lot less bulk than its predecessor.

    You could modernize a design like this today quite nicely, so that it has the heritage without looking obviously dated or too overtly retro. It’s too bad that they totally lost the plot with the later models.

  • avatar
    italianstallion

    Fantastic article, Paul.

    The DIY two-tone paint job on this one really undermines the clean lines of the car. As a kid, I remember seeing the big-bumpered later models everywhere, but our neighbors had a ’70 or ’71 in metallic blue, no spoiler. Very pretty car.

  • avatar
    Kman

    I rarely like a two-tone paint job, but this one really, really, really, really, really, really works.

    Bloody gorgeous.

    Love the clean lines and proper proportions.

    Nicely written article.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    I love that car. Only Camaro that I like. Probably top 5 out of GM in the past 40 years, of which 3 are Vettes.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Paul, I have to agree. This, for me, is the ultimate Camaro especially with the split front bumper. A clean, well-proportioned, pretty design that doesn’t get enough repect these days. It still looks modern today.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Considering this car is nearly 40 years old it’s remarkable to see it as a daily driver. It takes balls to keep an antique car on the road today.

    My favorite camaros were the 67-69 variety, just a personal choice.

  • avatar
    poltergeist

    My brother had (actually still has) a ’67 Rally Sport that he bought from our grandparent’s (they bought it new on Halloween ’66). When I was looking for my first car I really wanted one of these to be a bit different. Couldn’t find one I could afford and ended up with a ’67 Malibu which became my high school “project”. Learned a lot rebuilding old GM cars but they really were pretty crude/slapped together cars. Our parents started buying Honda’s in the early 80′s and I’ve been a believer ever since.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    “Raw attraction is all too often crude, hormonal, and indiscriminate; but true beauty is self-evident and timeless, like good art, a beautiful woman, or an inspired car.”

    This is a profound truth that GM’s current “design revolution” still has yet to internalize. “More design” is not always a recipe for improvement. Of course GM isn’t alone on this: timelessness has become an increasingly scarce resource in car design.

  • avatar
    forditude

    Beautiful. I’d take this car over almost any new car available today. Whatever happened to the days when you could order a decent strippo RWD performance car with crank windows minus the TPMS, GPS, 73 airbags, buick-like steering, and all of the other crap that adds 1000 lbs and gets in the way of actually driving the car. I’m certain that this example is much more of a joy to drive than the much faster 2010 version.

  • avatar
    tscurt

    Now THAT’S a Camaro! Was the Little Caesars guy walking around with an armload of pizza boxes?

  • avatar
    NickR

    That two tone makes that car look especially good from the side.

    There was one kid at our high school how had restored an LT1 car himself (they were practically just another car back then). Green, white stripes, black interior and a 4 speed. It was awesome then, and it would be just as awesome today it was still around.

    I always thought the 67-68 looked terrible in comparison. The 69 was an improvement but still not in the league as this.

    The 1970 Z-28 cost $3,412 ($18.7K adjusted) complete with the go-fast goodies.

    What? Less than 19k in today’s prices? Aaaaargh.

  • avatar
    NickR

    The 1970 Z-28 cost $3,412 ($18.7K adjusted)

    I am glad you are not here to see me crying.

  • avatar
    mikey

    While installing gas tanks on 1973 Monte Carlo my work partner just had to have a new Monte. He wasn’t much of a car guy. So he picks me up after work in this filthy base model 1970 Camaro. The interior is a pig pen. The body has a few bruises but there is only 22 thousand on the clock. A puk
    gold,with a “leatherette” interior. 307 auto with an aftermarket 8 track.

    I knew the dealer would look past the dirt,but still try and rob him. I offered 100 bucks more than the dealer. He snapped it up.

    A weekend of washing and detailing and I had my very first really nice car.

  • avatar
    Accords

    Jeez..
    Ive never even seen one of these.

    Funny how GMs current design is such a fat ass.

  • avatar

    I think the red neck sigma stops these cars from getting the respect they deserve. The design of the 1st generation cars leaves me cold but the second generation particularly at the begging as well as regaining some style at the end are fantastic. The later ones incorporated the big crash bumpers better then pretty much anything – just compare to a Datsun Z of the late 70s. I couldn’t afford an early model so my first car was mint 4spd ’78 Z28. Great fun to drive and subjectively felt better handling than the third generation Camaro (I know the numbers don’t back this up but it felt better).

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/daveseven/134593246/

  • avatar
    geeber

    Nice article on a very handsome car. The original design was so clean and pure.

    The final years, with the integrated, body-colored crash bumpers, look good, and were one of the best-looking cars – foreign or domestic – on the road in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    I do believe, though, that the first-generation F-bodies are more valuable on the collector car market than the models from the second generation. Probably because the engines hadn’t yet been emasculated by emissions control.

  • avatar
    Wolven

    “Raw attraction is all too often crude, hormonal, and indiscriminate; but true beauty is self-evident and timeless, like good art, a beautiful woman, or an inspired car.”

    …timelessness has become an increasingly scarce resource in car design.

    BEAUTY, and those that appreciate it, have become extremely rare in America. Both in car design and many other things.

  • avatar
    Gary Numan

    Beautiful article covering one of the GM gems during GM’s zenith period of the 60′s into the very early 70′s. Thanks for providing huge credit to Bill Mitchell. His work should be shared and explored more often in this series. Unfortunately, we now have Gov’t motors trying in vain to use the past to try and achieve grace and class thru osmossis of some kind by way of retromobiles. The cold reality is that GM was once a brilliant company that no longer exists and has not for some time. The market has voted with their wallets even though those same wallets are being kidnapped into paying for failure now via taxes.

    Again, nice celebration of brilliance between man and machine….

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Paul, fabulous article as usual.

    I understand the nostalgic appeal of the 1970.5 model…..the best looking F-body ever.

    However, while the 2010 model has its faults, acceleration is not one of them. Edmunds may have only trapped 105 mph, but all the other buff books have gotten 110-111 mph trap speeds…a whole order of magnitude above the old LT1…all while delivering near double the fuel economy and probably 10% of the emissions. And another $3k in headers, cold air intake, and a tune would give you 50+ more horses at the rear wheels. Then there’s the smooth, rattle free luxo car ride, modern amenities….

    Agreed, it’s not a 1970 model, but that’s not all bad.

  • avatar

    A 70 Z28, like most are saying, is something I would like to own. I previously owned two other Z28′s, an ’82 and an ’84, but the early 70′s style is just gorgeous.

    And yes, I have the same problem with these cars that Dave brings up; the reputation of mullet driving crowd *ahem* just doesn’t give the cars the respect they deserve.

  • avatar
    ambulancechaser

    I’m not fond of GM but I absolutely adore the Gen2 Camaro. It just looks so light and unburdened. The lines are so balanced and effortless. It’s gorgeous. What I wouldn’t give for a clean ’70 RS in which to build a tasteful resto-mod from.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    The ’70 Camaro and Firebird were among some of the best looking vehicles General Motors ever built.
    Comparing it to the current version of the Camaro simply reinforces what a cartoonish, overwrought piece of junk the 2010 is.

  • avatar
    probert

    I wouldn’t conflate the 67-68 with the 69s. The 67-68s were different from the 69. I think they were a clean design. I had a 68 firebird convertible and loved it. The 69s were larger and getting baroque.

    That said, I recently saw a 70 painted in deep red and fully restored (probably to a higher standard then the original. It really does grab the eye.

    The new ones really are over styled and strangely large. This goes for the mustang too. if you’re basing it on a prior design it shouldn’t be that hard.

  • avatar
    wmba

    On North American roads, a very good looking automobile. In central London, where I was somehow singled out as the person on the sidewalk who might give good directions to a lost American, his wife and child, it looked absolutely freakish in 1971. A huge low car with no space, and dragging its ass with holiday suitcases.

    A more out-of-place vehicle I’ve never seen, with its beige exterior and huge hood. I just stared at it, wondering how my friend’s ’69 Z28 had morphed into this.

    Back home in Canada, I thought it looked great. As another commentator pointed out, some things do not translate, and this gigantic 2 door coupe just looked alien in London traffic.

  • avatar
    BostonDuce

    Thanks for the memories of my first car. ’73 Camaro sport coupe with a 307 V8 and 3-on-the-floor.

    I couldn’t afford the auto or the 4 speed, but I did
    get the $25.00 full black plastic console.

    I still have the brochure with the price scratched on it $1992.00

    With about 105 HP, I couldn’t even chirp the rear tires, but it got me through high school and college without breaking.

    Thanks Ma and Dad!

    BD

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    This car, along with its Firebird brother, was absolutely the pinnacle of ponycar design, IMHO. It just has a nice mix of American muscle and European elegance. The early Mustangs are nice looking, but the look just isn’t as ballsy as this, the first Gen 2 Camaro. It just looks like it will devour anything in its path with that huge “mouth” of a grill. I’d love to have one in my garage.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Though I have always preferred the 1st gen Camaro, this is a well done design. I think that one of the reasons these were so popular was the horrid quality/durability of the competition. The Mustangs rusted to pieces within a few years and the Challengers suffered from ultra-cheap interiors and the usual Mopar electrical/fuel system failings. These Camaros were fairly rust-free, handled well and ran for a long time.

    My roommate’s girlfriend bought a 78 as her first new car. Though I was not much of a Chevy guy, I had to admit that it drove very niceley and proved to be a good car for her for several years.

    My first actual encounter with one of these was a gold 71 Firebird owned by my next door neighbor. I was about 12 and was racing a buddy down my street on our bikes. The Firebird was usually parked in the driveway, so I did not see anything wrong with looking back to see how far behind my friend was – until I splatted myself up the back of the car, which was parked in the street that day. I remember that I broke a taillight and punched a hole in the fiberglass panel between the taillights. I was sure glad they didn’t have a station wagon.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Hey, don’t diss the 307! A recent mag article did a low budget buildup of a discarded 307 and came up with 307 315 hp @5,200rpm and 330 lb-ft torque @3,800rpm. Not bad in relatively light car like this.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    It certainly is a beautiful car. I don’t say that too often about cars from well before I was born.

  • avatar
    voodoojoo

    Just wondering, but what exactly were the differences on the road between a 70-73 Camaro and a 70-73 Firebird. I always figured that the firebirds were much prettier cars, but I don’t know what the difference is in terms of weight, or economy, or roadholding. Were they set up to be more tourers, softer and all, or what?

  • avatar
    dastanley

    Was the Little Caesars guy walking around with an armload of pizza boxes?

    I thought that was Papa Johns.

  • avatar
    Monty

    It’s articles like this that make me so angry at GM for having lost their way.

    The styling of the ’70 through ’72 Camaro/Firebird is timeless. This car is better looking with it’s clean lines than just about any car today. Throw in the Corvair, the Mako Shark ‘Vette, the Toronado, and the original Riviera and you’ve got GM styling and innovation at the top of the game. Too bad the moneymen and beancounters stepped in to destroy the legacy.

    My Mom’s best friend at the time bought a brand new ’70 Camaro base model, with the 250 I6, and 6 or 7 years later offered it to me for a fair price, and stupidly I turned it down because I was lovin’ my less than awesome 396 Chevelle SS. Oh, I wish I had had the smarts to buy it, because it is still a head turner to this day.

  • avatar
    Monty

    Stupid double post.

    Oh yeah, and add the ’71 Grand Prix and the ’67 Parisienne Grand Ville to the list of timeless designs.

  • avatar
    Gary Numan

    Monty…

    Here, here….I agree with desired coverage in this series on the 69 to 72 Grand Prix. Those were true beauties too

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    Just wondering, but what exactly were the differences on the road between a 70-73 Camaro and a 70-73 Firebird. I always figured that the firebirds were much prettier cars, but I don’t know what the difference is in terms of weight, or economy, or roadholding. Were they set up to be more tourers, softer and all, or what?

    They are just about identical in every respect, save for the outward appearance.

    That being said, I find them both to be beautiful cars. I’d have a hard time picking one over the other. Every time I look at the early 70′s Camaros and Firebirds, I wonder what the heck happened, not to mention the feeling I get when I look at a bunch of other GM hits. Immediately, I think of some of the Eldorado’s, Riviera’s, and Toronados, the G-Body Monte Carlos, Grand Prix’s, Cutlass, and Regal. I could go on. There was a time, when the General’s pen was hot. If only the engineering backed up the style…

    Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

  • avatar
    ajla

    @voodoojoo:

    Just wondering, but what exactly were the differences on the road between a 70-73 Camaro and a 70-73 Firebird.

    This is actually kind of a loaded question, but I’ll give it a shot.

    The biggest difference between the two is the engines. The Camaro got Chevy engines, while the Pontiac got Pontiac designs. The best Pontiac V8s emphasized torque while the best Camaro mills were racy and “peakier” (compared to the Pontiacs anyway).

    In 1970 the basic Trans Am motor was a 400CI ram-air engine that made 345 hp @ 5000 rpm and 430 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm. The LT1 counterpart in the Camaro Z/28 (that Paul talks about here) was rated at 360 bhp @ 6000 rpm and 380 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm. So you can imagine they’d both drive different around town.

    However, it is worth noting that the 1970 Pontiac didn’t have Corvette toes to step on so one could have opted for a 400CI ram-air engine that made 370 hp @ 5500 rpm and 445 lb-ft @ 3900 rpm.

    In 1971, GM mandates required compression ratios to fall. This killed the Chevy motors. Pontiac responded with its 455 V8 (which is actually quite a triumph of ingenuity and compact design), and in turn gave Pontiac a fairly big edge in the power department for 1972 and 1973.

    Beyond the engines, the weight distribution of the Pontiac (57/43) is less favorable, and the Pontiac weighs about 70lbs more than its comparable Chevy counterpart. Also, to make up for the lower torque of the 1970 Camaro z/28, it had 3.73 gears standard and 4.10 gears optional. The Trans Am got 3.55 gears standard and 3.73 gears optional.

    On the plus side for the Pontiac, it had a slightly faster variable steering ratio, and the bodywork actually creates some useful downforce.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    My father bought a 70 SS Camaro, but he had problem keeping the tempered beast in tune, so he downgraded to a ’70 1/2 Camaro Rally Sport. The Rallysport or RS had the 350 with a 2-barrel carb and “only” 250 horsepower. You can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that is gross horsepower at the crankshaft and not measured horsepower at the wheels. In other words, the V-6 family sedans of today are faster, but the Camaro was fast enough, when new at least.

    By the time I got my hands on the car though, in 1977 at 80,000 miles, the engine was tired and burned oil. The rust-holed body gave me the chance to experiment with Bondo and Earl Sheib paintjobs. The car ran 0-30 pretty well, but it shook and shimmied so much over 55-mph that there was little incentive to break double nickel speed limit. Even at 55 mph, you’d be lucky to get 20 MPG highway. The car needed a new muffler every two years and a complete new engine at 90,000 miles. By 1982, at 110,000 miles the frame was showing signs of going out, and one day the brakes completely failed on me. It was time to say goodbye.

    I’ll be the first to admit that the 70 Camaro was a nice looking car, and for the day, it was a fast car. That being said, about any car you can buy today is a BETTER car.

  • avatar
    drylbrg

    As the proud owner of a ’71 Camaro, I agree totally about the merits of the car. There are a few problems though. First and foremost is rearward visibility. A tiny rear window combined with miniscule mirrors makes backing up an adventure. Second is the way the rear quarters curve under. Tires kick up any and all road debris and sand blasts the paint right off. That’s why most of these have some nasty rust right behind the rear wheels. Is it worth it? Totally. Oh, and the Firebird had different engines than the Camaro along with different sheet metal.

  • avatar
    geeber

    jpcavanaugh: I think that one of the reasons these were so popular was the horrid quality/durability of the competition.

    Also remember that after 1975 these cars had no real competition. The Mustang became the subcompact Mustang II for 1974, the Cougar became a bloated personal luxury car that same year, and the Challenger, Barracuda and Javelin all died after the 1974 model year.

    The Camaro and Firebird, meanwhile, were setting sales records by 1978. The Camaro and the Firebird were THE cars to have when I was in high school – especially the Trans Am in black and gold, and the Z-28.

    It’s also worth nothing that the Mustang still outsold the Camaro through the mid-1970s.

    If I recall correctly, the Camaro didn’t outsell the Mustang until 1976 or 1977, and the Mustang came back strongly for 1979, when the Fox-platform version debuted.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Another amazing article Paul. Bravo.

    Much of Bill Mitchell’s body of work still looks good today. Compared to him, Bob Lutz is a horrific poseur.

    Once upon a time GM had some real geniuses in their respective fields working at the top of the company. Sloan, Kettering, Mitchell, Knudsen … what GM executive today is worthy of being an assistant to guys like that?

    Current Leadership Team Members like Fritz Henderson, Bob Lutz, Ed Welburn and James Queen don’t have anything close to the skill or passion GM’s best executives of the past brought to the table. Maybe it is that the brightest and most agressive minds of these past several decades haven’t walked through the front door of the likes of GM. Companies like Apple & Google are a lot more attractive to young hot shots with real potential.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Conslaw, it sounds like you lived in the snow & salt belt back in the day. I still remember being shocked to see 10+ year old cars looking great when I first arrived in California in the early 1980s. In the New York/New Jersey area where I grew up, anything much more than six years old was already being eaten by the tin worms.

  • avatar

    I always thought the GEN-II bodystyle was what really separated the F-body from the Mustang. And it had the necessary bits to keep the nameplate handling tight and fast until 2002.

    Great article, Paul. But I shudder to think how it’d look on the hard points of the Zeta’s rather tall frame. Then again, the Challenger’s blocky look can works on today’s Chrysler LY platform.

  • avatar
    dgduris

    Great read! The comparison to Pamela Anderson is…apt!

    As many have noted this 1970 version, with that great front end (sorry Pam) certainly would have been the Camaro to draw on as inspiration for the current caricature of a forgotten Camaro memory.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    The 2nd gen is my favorite style of F-Body. On the 3rd gen, I prefer the Poncho over the Chevy.

    You can see the same sense of beauty in some other GM cars: 67-72 Chevelle/Cutlass/Skylark/GTO 2dr version, some Impalas, Corvettes. Heck, even the square 80-89 Caprice looks nice.

    The first Toronado, Riviera.

    And then it’s some of the body parts, GM’s bullet mirrors are beautiful.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Sajeev: Then again, the Challenger’s blocky look works on today’s Chrysler LY platform.

    Not in my opinion. When I find an old Challenger, I’ll do a similar CC. Now I have to think of who the new Challenger reminds me of.

  • avatar

    The E-body Challenger, though, was also built on what was basically a cut-down big-car platform. The earlier Barracuda (’64-’69) were based on the A-body (Valiant/Dart), but the E-body Barracuda and Challenger were based on the mid-size B-body. The Challenger was, in some structural respects, a short-wheelbase Charger with different sheetmetal.

    The Camaro and Firebird, on the other hand, were structurally related to the Chevy Nova compact, so they were smaller and had a somewhat difference stance.

    Some other info on the second-gen Camaro: http://ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories/sports-cars-and-muscle-cars/93-second-gen-chevy-camaro-and-leaded-gasoline.html

  • avatar
    urS4red

    “The fact that Chevy picked the ’69 Camaro for its “inspiration” tells it all, because the gen-1 Camaro was a rushed, half-baked stylistic lightweight. Yes, it was cheerful and youthfully innocent, kind of like the high-school Pamela. But it was hopelessly outclassed by the timelessly elegant, handsome, mature and universally praised 1970 version. ”

    I beg to differ. Compared to the 69, the 70 is homely and ungainly.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    Are modern automotive designs unappealing, or are we simply just a bunch of hopeless nostalgics who are too busy romanticizing over the past?

    I look at this 1970 Camaro, and I find nothing beautiful about it. Granted, it appears to carry the familiarity of a Bill Mitchell design, from the gentle slope of the aft end to the chrome trimmings that accentuate its curves. But compared to his more well known desigs, this Camaro just doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t carry the creativity of the second generation or even third generation Corvettes. The straightforward boldness of the American design epitomized in cars like the ’63 Riviera is lacking, and that C-pillar blind spot is the single worst design feature I’ve ever come across.

    In all honesty, the pinnacle of Camaro design occurred in 1969.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    the 3rd shot makes it look look a really pissed off XJ6 Jag.

  • avatar
    msquare

    Despite similarities in overall profile, the 2nd-gen Camaro and Firebird were probably about 25 percent interchangeable parts-wise. No bodywork, engines, trim, or even THM transmissions because Pontiac and Chevy used different flanges on their bell housings.

    The Firebird wasn’t only endowed with bigger engines (Camaro settled on 350′s, the Firebird had 455′s until ’76, 400′s and 403′s until ’79) it also was marketed as something a bit more refined than a Camaro.

    There was even a bit of a rivalry between Camaro and Firebird enthusiasts, as there was between adherents of any GM make. Note the term “make,” not “brand.” GM’s divisions acted like separate car companies in many ways. Some technologies were shared, like transmissions, but styling and engines were very much independent.

    A Camaro drove differently from a Firebird and an Impala shared very little with a Catalina.

  • avatar
    Ronman

    when i see one of those, or same era Trans Am blasting around the streets of Lebanon, i say to myself, the don’t design cars like they used to…beautiful and soulful cars they are…but the mustang was and still is a dog (loved it till i drove one and then a few)

    Nicely Written article…

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    I secretly want a yellow one… just like Gary Busey drove in the Gumball Rally movie.

    Does anyone else think “Ferrari” when looking at the front end?

  • avatar

    I had a bit of fridge brilliance when it dawned on me that the last styling refresh for the last gen Camaro was an attempt to pay homage to the second gen model. It didn’t quite work out.

    I also had a bit of experience with that porty 71 Mustang — my uncle owned one briefly when I was a kid and on occasions, he’d drive me to school in it. He also had a 300ZX whose turbo one day decided to call call it a wrap, leaving enough black smoke behind to alert the local revenue generating units to our semi-distress.

    All I know is that it had an automatic and a V8. And boy could that V8 throw down. Two things that struck me though — first was the ridiculously slanted dashboard, with the super-recessed dials. It felt tall enough to keep me from seeing over it, which pissed me off to no end. Second was the rear seats. Which weren’t really “rear seats” in the traditional sense. It amazed me how a car that big could be that cramped.

    Way to keep that Cadavelier in the shot, to remind people of just how quick things went to pot over at the RenCen. The next “curbside classic”? *chortle*

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    My sister owned a 1970 Camaro in the late 70′s. It was a bottom end model with the smallest V8 they made. It was re painted red and looked very sharp. One thing that was a problem was how low it rode, we lived in Rural North Dakota (Is there any other kind of North Dakota?) and the country roads played havoc with the oil pan and shifter linkage, which seemed to never know what gear it was supposed to be in. Other than that, a cool and fun car.

    Defintely one of the cars that I wish I had now, my sis probably does too.

    God help us if GM tries to do a retro version of this. Mostly I’ve never cared for retro renditions, they seem to me to be the automotive embodiment of the baby boomer; trying to be what we were 30 years ago, only we’re rounder, bigger and heavier and fairly pretentious. They also say in bold print that the design department is out of ideas.

  • avatar
    redshift.flipgear

    But how was the interior?

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    redshift.flipgear :

    But how was the interior?

    Much better then what came after.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I had a 1980 Firebird Formula that shared a lot of the good looks and handling of these second-generation cars. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it didn’t bother me with too many GM gimp parts problems. Several years earlier when I still had my new 75 V8 4-speed Monza fastback I figured that I had essentially Camaro performance in a smaller, better-handling package. The mid-years of the second-generation Camaros were certainly not their best, but by the last few years they’d figured out how to integrate the bumpers into the styling again.

    When the third generation Camaro and Firebird came out, with the large front overhang due to the front wheels being right back next to the doors, I totally lost interest in them. The proportions were just all wrong.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Pontiac responded with its 455 V8 (which is actually quite a triumph of ingenuity and compact design), and in turn gave Pontiac a fairly big edge in the power department for 1972 and 1973.…

    Don’t forget that in 1974 when pre cat cars were choked with miles of vacuum hoses that attempted to control emissions, Pontiac pulled a wabbit out if its hat with the SD 455. A monster of a motor in a sea of wheezing engines.

    Surprised nobody mentioned the abysmal assembly quality of these cars as the 70′s wore on. A college friend of mine had a ’78 Camaro, painted the usual GM light blue. In the sun, you could see the different paint thickness as you looked at the whole car. Panel fit was horrible; it squeaked and rattled with indifference. It had decent reliability for its day, and handled quite well, but speed was not part of the equation.

  • avatar
    Lug Nuts

    The 1970 Camaro is one of the most beautiful American muscle cars. I often see pristine examples at classic car shows. Truly stunning from all angles. The pictures above do the car little justice. In comparison, the 2010 Camaro is cartoonish with truck tires and no windows.

  • avatar
    the_mexican

    I’ve always thought this is a gorgeous car. Some say it has an “european” style, which, after seeing that long hood-short deck design and big V8 engine, can’t quite understand. Anyway, it’s simply beautiful.

  • avatar

    damn this car is ugly, but ass ugly. Challengers rule over camaros always http://wolferadio11.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/challenger-test-drive-washabaugh-shows-his-muscle-smokes-it-up/

  • avatar
    energetik9

    By the time I started driving, I grew up thinking this car was a joke. Loud and poor handling and owned by guys who dropped out of high school with mullets. Now I just see it as a iconic fixture parked next to the trailer, behind a chain link fence, and secured by a pit-bull if it even runs at all. Not much has changed.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    Johnny Canada :
    August 12th, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Does anyone else think “Ferrari” when looking at the front end?

    You gotta be kidding me.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    My brotherinlaw owns both a 67 and 69 camaro. While the 70-72 may be the best looking of the second gen camaros, the first generation cars blow the second gen models away in most people’s opinions.
    My brotherinlaw, like most first gen camaro owners does not even like the second gen version.
    There is no comparison regarding popularity between the two. Check the going prices between the two generations, in most cases the second gen is dirt cheap in comparison.
    The first generation had beautiful lines, and most car publications considered it better looking than the stang. One publication, I can’t recall which, noted that the camaro had cleaner, smoother, more fluid lines than the mustang.
    And though the first gen model may not have been the epitome of quality construction, the interior was much better looking than in the second gen model, and had far less plastic.
    And it didn’t have those ridiculously long doors which wore out the hinges in short order, not to mention those long windows which became loose in the doors after 2-3 years of use.
    It only got worse looking in 74, with the big cow catcher’s bumpers and that big ugly back window. It looked just like the type of driver that it seemed to appeal to most by then, the fat secretary.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I liked all the generations of Camaros, but I liked the second gen the best. I started high school about the same time the second generation cars came out, and there was one senior whose dad owned a dealership who had one when school started in the fall of 71. It was a Z28, blue with black interior. I wanted one as soon as I saw it. But, I didn’t own an F-Body car until I bought my T/A in 1981. A bunch of my friends had them though, usually two or three year old 71′s and 72′s and we all loved them.

    I’ve owned 2 Camaros (a 74 Z28 I sold pretty quickly for a profit to a friend, who just sold it last year, and an 86 IROC I had for 7 years), and a Firebird (79 T/A). The two 2nd generation cars were great, pretty much trouble free, except for a full throttle fuel deivery problem in the Firebird that was only resolved when they started putting injector cleaner in the gas. I owned it for 6 years, and I did put a transmisson in at 70K, but I bought it with 24K on it, so I can’t really blame the car itself. Other than that, I put a battery, belts and hoses, and a blower motor in it. I sold it to buy the 86 Camaro, and I instantly regretted doing it. The guy who bought it trashed it, and the last time I saw it, it was sitting on blocks in front of his house. A sad end to a great car.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 1971 Camaro LT1 with the horseshoe automatic shifter. Had a couple of 350′s in it and a 327cid.

    Wish I still had it. Great car to work on, good looks, marked the end of the true performance muscle cars of that era.

    I still love the look of this car.

  • avatar
    dgb100

    Late to the thread, but as the owner of a 70 Trans Am w/ Ram Air III, I have to attest to the handling abilities of these cars, especially with modern rubber.  The 70s still had plenty of power (360ish for the Pontiac 400) and were quite sleek and aerodynamic for the time.  Of course it was all downhill with 200hp 455s, honeycomb wheels and screaming chickens not far over the horizon.  As to trunk space, you couldn’t fit one of Pam’s boobs in the trunk of a 70 FBody.  Just room for a spare and a jack.

  • avatar
    AllThumbs

    I’m surprised to hear you praise this model over the 68-69 (even in coverage of the 68). The reason I say that is because you preferred the 67 El Camino to the 69 and up and, to me, the stylistic changes are more or less the same on the two vehicles (1970 Camaros and El Caminos are both gaudier than their predecessors).

    I greatly prefer the 68-69 Camaros to the 1970 version. To me, the 1970 Camaro always looked like a big Vega. Plus my most serious high school girlfriend had a 1968 and she was hot– so maybe there’s an association there I don’t fully recognize.


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