There some genuine Camaro unicorns out there.
The Chevrolet Camaro has a long and storied history. Born as a pony car, it has grown up to become a tried and tested world-class sports car, and a serious contender in any form of auto racing it damn well chooses. It has legendary names attached to it, including Penske and Yenko, that have helped etch the Camaro into the American consciousness. However, Chevrolet hasn't needed outside help to make the Camaro one of the most enduring names in car culture and has even carved its name into the fabled Nurburgring by showing up in Z/28 form and laying down a supercar-baiting lap time.
Now, as the Corvette goes mid-engined, the Camaro is Chevrolet's foremost front-engined rear-wheel-drive weapon for road and track - and it's not disappointing. These are the most extraordinary and rarest Camaros to have graced automotive culture since it first emerged in 1966.
We'll start at the beginning with the rarest of all Camaro cars. VIN #100001 is documented as the first of 49 hand-built "pilot assembly" vehicles to come out of the Norwood, Ohio plant in 1966. These were Camaro models built for evaluation before production started, and came powered by a 3.7-liter inline-six engine and a three-speed manual transmission. It was used to introduce the Camaro to the world, featuring in PR photos and videos. It was later sold through a dealer and went out into the wild; then several owners later became a drag racer in the 1980s. It was restored to its original glory in 2009 with help from the GM Heritage Collection.
You could argue that the 1969 Camaro ZL1 is the most valuable production Camaro in existence. The Cortez Silver Camaro ZL1 pictured below is number 66 of 69 built through 1969, and one of only 12 ordered with the legendary Muncie M22 "Rock Crusher" four-speed manual transmission. It's also one of only six ordered with Rally wheels. The 1969 ZL1 production models were built to homologate the Camaro into Super Stock racing class eligibility and ordered through the COPO system.
COPO is a term you'll hear a lot when it comes to Camaros and stands for Central Office Production Order. At the time, production Chevrolet engines were limited to 6.6 liters of displacement and 396 horsepower. The COPO system allowed cars ordered with non-stock options to be made on the production line. The 1969 Camaro ZL1 had a modified chassis and suspension and an all-aluminum 6.8-liter big-block engine rated at 430 hp.
After a two year absence, the Z28 Camaro returned. While the 5.7-liter small-block V8 making 185 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque didn't make it the most powerful Camaro, it was the best handling yet. It came with tuned shocks, stiffer springs, thicker stabilizer bars as well as blacked-out trim and a unique hood graphic. It was a big seller as well, with 14,349 1977 Camaro Z28 models sold. That contributed to 1977 being the first year that the Chevrolet Camaro outsold the Ford Mustang.
The IROC-Z Camaro is an iconic name in Camaro culture, and early models are getting rare, but the 1987 Camaro IROC-Z convertible is an even more precious specimen. As an IROC-Z car, it came with the requisite aero package, four-wheel disc brakes, beefed-up suspension, 16-inch aluminum wheels, and a 5.0-liter small-block V8, but the T-top coupe body style was converted to a soft top by ASC International. The one below has just 4,072 original miles on the clock, making it the most factory-fresh example out there.
After a 24-year absence, the SS badge returned to the Camaro in 1996 as an optional performance package for Z28 models. The SS package was built in conjunction with SLP Engineering in New Jersey and included an underhood forced-air induction system, a new rear decklid spoiler, revamped suspension, and the 6-speed manual transmission was standard equipment. Optional was a Performance exhaust system that added an extra five hp, a Torsen limited-slip differential, Level II Bilstein Sport suspension, and a Hurst 6-speed short-throw shifter. Only 2,410 were ordered in 1996 and could hit 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and stop again in just 117 feet.
When the Camaro ended production in 2002, it didn't mean it was gone for good. In 2006, a silver pre-production concept vehicle was shown at the American International Auto Show in Detroit, and it went down well. The concept blew everyone away with its modern take on the first generation Camaro's design cues, and, amazingly, was virtually the same as the production model that debuted for 2010.
In 2012, Chevrolet built 69 COPO Camaros - the same number that was built in 1969. These were a different breed though and were factory drag-racing cars designed to compete in NHRA Stock Eliminator and Super Stock classes. They were built to meet the strict safety regulations and complete 9-second quarter-mile times. They were stripped out and fitted with a full Chromoly steel roll cage and safety harnesses, a competition floor shifter, Chevrolet Performance gauges, a solid rear axle, and Bogart racing wheels wrapped with Hoosier full slick racing tires. Under the hood was a 5.3-liter supercharged V8 engine, and the non-street legal race car cost $89,000. There was also a collector's package available that included a 7.0-liter V8.
This is the Camaro that lapped the Nurburgring in 2013 in a time of 7:37.47. That's faster than a contemporary Porsche 911 Carrera S and Lamborghini Murcielago LP640, and the Camaro Z/28 did it on a damp track that turned into a wet one by the end of the lap. Like the production version, it included racing-derived dampers, a helical-gear limited-slip differential, and a 505-hp 7.0-liter LS7 V8 engine with a dry-sump oil system.
GM's technical partner, Prat & Miller, put together a race-ready Camaro, and it went on sale in 2017 for $259,000. It's no track day toy and features a Chevy Racing-developed 6.2-liter LT1 V8, a six-speed sequential transmission, limited-slip differential, an adjustable traction control system, two-way adjustable Ohlins suspension, and all the safety equipment needed to go racing. It has competed in private hands in both IMSA's Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the Pirelli World Challenge.
We don't know if this will be peak Camaro, but the current Camaro ZL1 with the 1LE package is a candidate for the greatest road-going Camaro of all time. The 650-hp supercharged 6.2-liter V8 is pulled straight out of the Chevrolet Corvette Z06, and a manual transmission is standard. The ZL1 is an incredibly fast yet balanced car, but adding the 1LE package puts it in supercar territory in terms of performance. In runs on an adjustable suspension with spool-valve dampers, semi-slick near-race tires, and brakes that can stop it from 70 mph in 143 feet.