The Second Generation Chevrolet Camaro was introduced to market in February 1970 and remained in production for 12 years. This generation’s styling, inspired in part by Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Ferrari, was longer, lower, and wider than the first generation Camaro. A convertible body-type was no longer available. Although it was an all-new car, the basic mechanical layout of the new Camaro was familiar, engineered much like its predecessor with a unibody structure utilizing a front subframe, A-arm and coil spring front suspension, and rear leaf springs.
The Second Generation Camaro was developed without the rush of the First Generation and benefited from a greater budget in light of the success of the First Generation. The chassis and suspension of the second generation were greatly refined in both performance and comfort; base models offered significant advances in sound-proofing, ride isolation, and road-holding. Extensive experience Chevrolet engineers had gained racing the first-generation led directly to advances in second-generation Camaro steering, braking, and balance. General Motors engineers have said that these efforts made the second generation much more of “A Driver’s Car” than its predecessor. Although it began its run with a number of high performance configurations, as the 1970s progressed, the Camaro grew less powerful, succumbing, like many production cars of the era, to the pressures of tightening emissions regulations and a fuel crisis. Major styling changes were made in 1974 and 1978; 1981 was the final model year for the second generation.
Most of the engine and drivetrain components were carried over from 1969 with the exception of the 230 cu in (3.8 L) six cylinder — the base engine was now the 250 cu in (4.1 L) six-cylinder rated at 155 hp (116 kW). The top performing motor was a L-78 396 cu in (6.5 L) V8 rated at 375 hp (280 kW). Starting in 1970, the 396 cu in (6.5 L) nominal big block V8’s actually displaced 402 cu in (6.6 L), yet Chevrolet chose to retain the 396 badging.
Two 454 cu in (7.4 L) engines (the LS6 and LS7) were listed on early specification sheets and in some sales brochures but never made it into production. Besides the base model, buyers could select the “Rally Sport” option with a distinctive front nose and bumper, a “Super Sport” package, and the “Z-28 Special Performance Package” featuring a new high-performance LT-1 360 hp (268 kW) 380 lb·ft (520 N·m) of torque 350 cu in (5.7 L) V8. The LT-1 350, an engine built from the ground up using premium parts and components, was a much better performer overall than the previous 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8s used in 1967-69 Z-28s and greater torque characteristics and less-radical cam permitted the Z-28 to be available with the Turbo 400 automatic transmission as an option to the four-speed manual for the first time.
The new body style featured a fastback roofline and ventless full door glass with no rear side quarter windows. Doors were wider to permit easier access to the rear seat and new pull-up handles replaced the old handles for which the lower button had to be pushed in to lock the door. The roof was a new double-shell unit for improved rollover protection and noise reduction. The base model featured a separate bumper/grille design with parking lights under the bumper while the Rally Sport option included a distinctive grille surrounded by a flexible Endura material along with round parking lights beside the headlights and bumperettes surrounding on both sides of the grille. The rear was highlighted by four round taillights similar to the Corvette.
Inside, a new curved instrument panel featured several round dials for gauges and other switches directly in front of the driver while the lower section included the heating/air conditioning controls to the driver’s left and radio, cigar lighter and ashtray in the center and glovebox door on the right. New Strato bucket seats, unique to 1970 models, featured squared off seatbacks and adjustable headrests and the rear seating consisted of two bucket cushions and a bench seat back due to the higher transmission tunnel. The optional center console was now integrated into the lower dashboard with small storage area or optional stereo tape player. The standard interior featured all-vinyl upholstery and a flat black dashboard finish while an optional custom interior came with upgraded cloth or vinyl upholstery and woodgrain trim on dash and console.
The 1970 model was introduced in February 1970, halfway through the model year. This caused some people to incorrectly refer to it as a “1970 1/2” model; all were 1970 models. The 1970 model year vehicles are generally regarded as the most desirable of the early 2nd generation Camaros, since the performance of following years was reduced by the automobile emissions control systems of the period and later the addition of heavy federally mandated bumpers.
The 1971 Camaro received only minor appearance changed from its 1970 counterpart. Inside, new high-back Strato bucket seats with built-in headrests replaced the 1970-only low-back seats with adjustable headrests. The biggest changes came under the hood due to a GM-corporate mandate that all engines be designed to run on lower-octane regular leaded, low-lead or unleaded gasoline, necessitating reductions in compression ratios and horsepower ratings. The 250-6, 307-V8 and two-barrel version of the 350 V8 were virtually unchanged as they were low-compression regular-fuel engines in 1970 and previous years, while the LT-1 350 V8 used in the Z/28 dropped from 360 to 330 horsepower (250 kW) due to compression ratio decline from 11.0 to 1 to 9.0 to 1, and the big 396/402 cubic-inch V8 dropped from 350 to 300 horsepower (220 kW) due to compression ratio drop from 10.25 to 1 to 8.5 to 1.
Production and sales dropped due to a 67-day corporate-wide strike at GM that coincided with the introduction of the 1971 models in late September, 1970, along with a continued declining interest in the ponycar market fueled by skyrocketing insurance rates for high-performance cars. Rumors of the possible cancellation of the Camaro after 1972 began to surface and were nearly confirmed a year later when another worker’s strike hit the assembly plant at Norwood, Ohio, which was the only plant building Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds. Camaro and Firebird production had been discontinued at the Van Nuys, California plant in 1970 in favor of Chevy Novas.
The 1972 Camaro suffered two major setbacks. The UAW strike at a GM assembly plant in Norwood, Ohio disrupted production for 174 days, and 1,100 incomplete Camaros had to be scrapped because they could not meet 1973 federal bumper safety standards. Some at GM seriously considered dropping the Camaro and Firebird altogether, particularly while the corporation was under pressure to adapt its vast number of makes and models to difficult new regulations for emissions, safety, and fuel economy.
Others pointed out the fiercely loyal followings the cars enjoyed and were convinced the models remained viable. The latter group eventually convinced those in favor of dropping the F-cars to reconsider, and Chevrolet would go on to produce 68,656 Camaros in 1972. 970 SS396s were produced in 1972, and this was the last year for the SS model. This year it was changed from “Z/28” to “Z28”. Horsepower ratings continued to drop not only due to lower compression and tighter emissions but beginning with the 1972 model year, a switch from gross (on dynometer) to net ratings based on an engine in an actual vehicle with all accessories installed. With that, the LT 350 cubic-inch V8 dropped from 330 gross horsepower in 1971 to 255 net for 1972 and the big-block 396/402 cubic-inch V8 was now rated at 240 net horsepower compared to 300 gross horses in 1971.
Federally mandated impact-absorbing bumpers were now standard. The Rally Sport option with its chrome bumperettes on either side of an impact absorbing urethane grill surround continued for one more year due to creative bracing behind the front sheetmetal. A new Type LT model was offered in 1973, with a quieter and better appointed interior, full instrumentation, Rally wheels, variable-ratio steering, sport mirrors, and hidden windshield wipers among other upgrades, intended to provide buyers an experience along the lines of a Grand Touring car. The Super Sport package was dropped, and the big block 396 cid (6.5 L) V8 could no longer be ordered. Power was down due to new emissions standards, with the top rated 350 cid (5.7 L) V8 producing 245 hp (183 kW) in the Z28, which was now offered with air conditioning as an option thanks to the switch from a solid-lifter to a hydraulic-lifter engine. The Z28 option could be ordered on both the sport coupe and LT models. When the Z28 option was ordered on the LT, the usual Z28 badges, stripes and graphics were deleted making for a “street sleeper.”
Other changes included a new console-mounted shifter for automatic transmissions similar to the Rally Sport Shifter used in Pontiac Firebirds replacing the Buick-like horseshoe shifter of previous Camaros, and the reintroduction of power windows to the option list for the first time since 1969 with the switches mounted in the console.
Recovering from the strike, Camaro sales increased to over 96,000 units this year thanks to a record sales year industry-wide and a slight revival in the ponycar market as word got out of Ford’s downsized Mustang II planned for 1974 and the planned discontinuation of other ponycars.
The 1974 Camaro grew seven inches (178 mm) longer thanks to new aluminum bumpers required to meet federal standards and a forward sloping grille. Round taillights were replaced with a rectangular wraparound design. It was the last year to have a flat rear window, with thick roof pillars. All later years had slimmer roof pillars and a wrap around rear window for better visibility.
Camaro sales increased to over 150,000 unit despite the energy crisis fueled by the Arab Oil Embargo. Two ponycar competitors left the stable this year as Ford downsized the Mustang to a subcompact based on the Pinto and Mercury upsized its Cougar to an intermediate-sized personal luxury car to compete with the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix. Chrysler Corporation would discontinue the Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger during the course of the 1974 model year and American Motors would drop the Javelin at the end of the year. During the mid-to-late 1970s, the Camaro and similar Pontiac Firebird would have the traditional ponycar market all to themselves and score record sales in the process.
The Z28 option was discontinued for 1975 despite an increase in sales to over 13,000 units in 1974 and similar popularity of Pontiac’s Firebird Trans Am. Chevy dropped the Z28 due to ever-tightening emission standards that spelled the end of the higher-output versions of the 350 cubic-inch V8, rated at 245 horsepower (183 kW) in 1973 and 1974. Engines that were offered in 1975 continued to reflect the impact of these regulations in their declining horsepower ratings. Two 350 cid (5.7 L) V8s produced 145 hp (108 kW) and 155 hp (116 kW) (Horsepower losses can seem a bit exaggerated compared to earlier cars, however, their power ratings were now net as opposed to the prior gross ratings. SAE net power ratings (used since 1972) were taken from the engine crankshaft as before, but now all accessories had to be attached and operating, and all emissions equipment and a full production exhaust system had to be in place. These power-robbing additions — along with stringent new emissions laws and the equipment they required — were instrumental in creating the vastly smaller power figures found in subsequent cars.
The manufacturers themselves also sometimes intentionally underrated engines for a variety of motives, notably avoiding provoking the insurance companies and federal regulators into enacting undesirable policies, but also sometimes to prevent lower priced models from stacking up too well on paper against their own more profitable high-end products.). The year 1975 was also the first for the catalytic converter, which was designed as a much more efficient way of reducing emissions than the previous air pump and other smog gear, allowing for finer tuning of engines to permit improved drivability and fuel economy. However, the converter spelled the end of true dual exhausts and mandated the use of lower octane unleaded gasoline, which was not only inferior in antiknock qualities but also more expensive than leaded regular gas, a great disadvantage at a time of dramatically rising gasoline prices in the aftermath of the 1973-74 Arab Oil Embargo. The catalytic converter and GM High Energy electronic ignition (previously a Z28 option, now made standard for 1975) were advertised among the components of “Chevrolet’s new Efficiency System” which was promoted to offer other benefits to 1975 Camaro owners (in comparison to ’74 models) that included extended maintenance intervals from 6,000 to 7,500 miles (12,100 km) for oil/filter changes and spark plugs that lasted up to 22,500 miles (36,200 km) compared to 10,000 miles (16,000 km) on ’74 models.
A new wraparound rear window was introduced for 1975 and the Camaro emblem moved from the center of the grille to above the grillework and the “Camaro” nameplate was deleted from the rear decklid. Also new block letter “Camaro” nameplates replaced the previous scripts on the front fenders. Interiors were revised slightly with new seat trim patterns and bird’s-eye maple trim replacing the Meridian grained walnut on the instrument panel of LT models. Announced for this year was the availability of a leather interior option in the Camaro LT, but never saw the light of day as no production cars were equipped with real hide seats. Other developments included the availability of air conditioning with six-cylinder engines and standard radial tires on all models. Power door locks were a new option for 1975. The Rally Sport option returned after a one-year absence, but amounted to little more than an appearance package.
Despite the loss of the Z28, Camaro sales remained steady for 1975 at 145,770 units. With the demise of the other ponycars the previous year, Camaro and Pontiac’s Firebird were now the only traditional ponycars left on the market, giving GM 100 percent penetration of this segment for the first time ever. Also, despite General Motors’ policy against factory-sponsored racing efforts, Camaro began to make a name for itself on the track on the new International Race of Champions (IROC) series with many top drivers winning trophies from behind the wheel of a Camaro year after year until the late 1980s.
Only minor appearance changes highlighted the 1976 Camaro, most notably a brushed metal insert in the rear tail section on the LT model. The 250 cubic-inch six-cylinder remained the standard engine in the sport coupe and a new 140-horsepower 305 cubic-inch V8 became the standard engine in the LT and base V8 option in the sport coupe. The larger 350 cubic-inch V8 was now only available with a four-barrel carburetor and 165 horsepower (123 kW). Power brakes became standard on V8 models this year. The Camaro’s popularity was soaring. Sales totals jumped significantly for 1976, the best year yet for the second generation, and were to improve even more dramatically as the decade progressed.
In the 1991 motion picture, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a second generation Chevrolet Camaro is parked in the Voight’s drive. It’s unknown whether it is actually a 1976 model (it may also be a 1978 or 1979), but seeing as how much it resembles Bumblebee’s first alternate mode from Transformers, it can be assumed that it is.
A bright yellow 1976 Camaro with black racing stripes was featured in the 2007 Transformers movie, starring as the role of Autobot Bumblebee for the first half of the movie and then eventually changing into a variant of the 2009 Camaro Concept for the later part of the movie.
The Z28 was re-introduced to the buying public in the spring of 1977 as a 1977-1/2 in response to dramatically increasing sales of Pontiac’s Trans Am, which sold over 46,000 units in 1976 and accounted for half of all Firebird sales that year. Like the Trans Am, the revived Camaro Z28 was an instant hit and was powered by a 350 cubic-inch V8 with four-barrel carburetor and 185 horsepower (175 horses with California emissions equipment), with most cars sold equipped with air conditioning and an automatic transmission for a comfort-oriented public. The cars were also available with a Borg-Warner Super T-10 4-speed manual transmission and minimal option packaging for those buyers interested in a performance-oriented vehicle. The half-year model was one of the few American performance vehicles available at the time.
The car was capable of turning in quarter-mile times comparable to many of the 1960s muscle cars, and the chassis was developed to reward the driver with a first-class grand touring experience, capable of outstanding handling, especially in the hands of a competent high-performance driver. More than one Z28 was sold as a stripped performance car, and in this trim the Z28 could outperform Pontiac Trans Ams and Corvettes on highways and canyon roads.
In other developments, intermittent wipers were offered as a new option and the 250-6 became the standard engine for both the sport coupe and luxury LT models. The 145-horsepower 305 continued as the base V8 and the four-barrel 350 optional on sport coupe and LT models was uprated to 170 horsepower (130 kW). This year the optional “Bumperettes” were offered for the LT models (front bumper only).
Output set a record for the second-generation Camaro, with 218,853 coupes produced. And, Camaro outsold Ford’s Mustang for the first time ever
The 1978 model featured new soft front and rear bumpers and much larger taillights. To go along with this new bumper, Chevrolet also gave the feature of a body kit to lower the front nose. Some of these body kits even featured sideskirts as well. This was also the first year the T-top — a t-bar roof with dark tinted glass lift-out panels — became available as an option. RS models differed from the rest of the lineup with a unique standard 2-tone paint and striping scheme. With record sales of 272,633, the 1978 model outsold the 1969 model, the previous one year sales champ. This year was the last year for the Type LT also. With dealership packages you could order a Type LT with a RS option and a Z28 option so you could possibly have a Type LT RS Z28.
The biggest changes for 1979 were the introduction of the luxury-oriented Berlinetta model, replacing the Type LT, and a restyled instrument panel with a much flatter appearance than the previous wraparound design (although the gauges themselves remained in the same places as before). The base model, RS and Z28s carried on as before, the Z28s now came with a front spoiler and fender flares much like its Pontiac Trans Am twin had, and now came with “Z28” decals that ran from the beginning of the front flares to the bottoms of the doors. Electric rear window defroster became optional this year, replacing the old blower type. Sales for 1979 were the highest ever for any generation Camaro before or since, numbering 282,571 units. Engine choices remained with the 250 I6 standard in the base and RS models, with the 305 2bbl being an option and standard on the Berlinetta. The 350 V8 remained standard on the Z28 and optional on the base, RS and Berlinetta.
For 1980 the aged 250 cid (4.1 L) inline-six was replaced with a 229 cid (3.8 L) V6, 231 cid (3.8 L) in California. The 120 hp (4.4 L) V8 became an option on the base, RS and Berlinetta models this year. The Z28 hood included a rear-pointing raised scoop with a solenoid operated flap which opened at full throttle, allowing the engine to breathe cooler air. Speedometers now read 85 mph (137 km/h), down from 130. Z28s had new optional grey 5-spoke rims (later used on the 1986-1988 Monte Carlo SS) and smaller revised graphics on its lower-door decals. The side scoops were also changed from a louvered design to a flatter one with a single opening. The 350 V8 was no longer available in the base, RS or Berlinetta models, being reserved only for the Z28 this year.
The 1981 model was nearly unchanged from 1980 and would be the last model year for the second generation Camaro. The Z28 was still powered by a 350 cubic-inch V8, however due to new emissions regulations the engine was now equipped with a CCC (Computer Command Control) unit for the first time. This predecessor to modern engine control modules had an oxygen sensor, an electronically controlled carburetor, a throttle position sensor, coolant sensors, a barometric pressure sensor, a manifold absolute Pressure sensor (MAP), and a check engine light on the dash.
The transmission was now equipped with a lockup torque converter, controlled by the CCC as well. The CCC could also be used as a self diagnostic tool. However, as the goal of this change was strictly emissions reduction, horsepower dropped dramatically, to 175 horsepower (130 kW). Moreover, that engine was now only available with an automatic transmission and those who preferred the four-speed stick had to opt for the smaller 165-horsepower 305, which was the only engine offered in Z28s sold in California, and then only with an automatic.
Canadian models, however, could still get the 350 and 4-speed combination, and were not equipped with a CCC. Canadian 1981 Camaros were thus identical to 1980 US model. RS models were dropped this year, but the RS designation would reappear in 1989. Total production had dropped down to 126,139 from a high of 282,571 in 1979, partially due to the performance loss, and partially due to potential would-be buyers awaiting the all-new third-generation Camaro set for 1982 introduction.