Enthusiasts had always been fond of the Camaro, so many were surprised and shocked when Chevy announced that 2002 would be the end of the line for its storied ponycar.
But industry analysts had expected the move. After all, Ford's Mustang regularly outsold Camaro in the 1990s, and the gap grew each year even though most critics judged the Chevy superior for go-power, handling, and, arguably, appearance. Of course, people don't always buy based on what critics say, and some sales were likely lost to pickups and SUVs.
In any event, Camaro model-year production fell steadily, dropping some two-thirds between 1996 and 2001. By that point, GM was struggling to cut costs and regain market share (then under 30 percent, a historic low that would go even lower). The ailing Camaro was an obvious target for the budgetary axe. (Ditto sibling Pontiac Firebird with its even lower volume.)
Accordingly, Camaro was not fundamentally altered after 1993, though there were developments with definite collector interest. For example, Z28s added 10 horsepower for '96, and you could up that to 305 via a new SS package available late in the model year.
Created and supplied by outside contractor SLP Engineering, the option also included a functional hood scoop (which contributed to the power boost), uprated suspension with bigger wheels and performance tires, a racy rear-deck spoiler, broad dorsal striping and other special trim, all for a reasonable $3000.
That year's base models offered a new RS package with spoiler and "aero" lower-body skirts, as well as a performance group comprising the Z28's limited-slip differential, four-wheel disc brakes, quicker steering, and dual-outlet exhaust, provided you ordered optional 16-inch wheels. The RS made a one-year stand as separate coupe and convertible models for '97, when the SS option went to $4000.
Priced at just $575 that year was a special 30th Anniversary Package for Z28s, including SS-equipped models. Recalling 1969, this delivered white paint, orange striping, and white alloy wheels, plus white upholstery with houndstooth-check cloth inserts.
A reshaped nose updated styling for '98, when V-8 Camaros got a power boost by exchanging their iron-block LT1 engine for the all-aluminum LS1 unit from that year's new "C5" Corvette. Displacement was still 350 cubes, 5.7 liters, but Z28s muscled up to 305 bhp, the SS option to 320. Base models became a bit safer for '99 by offering optional traction control previously restricted to V-8s.
For 2000, all three engines were retuned to cleaner LEV (Low Emissions Vehicle) standards, a laudable achievement that Chevy topped for '01 by extracting five more horses from each V-8.
Farewell 2002 brought another Camaro milestone, observed with a 35th Anniversary Package for Z28s. Included were the 325-bhp SS engine, Rally Red paint, checkered-flag hood/decklid stripes, anodized brake calipers, unique alloy wheels, and an ebony/pewter leather interior with strategically placed birthday logos. Chevy even threw in an "owner's portfolio" chronicling Camaro history.
That chronicle may soon need updating. In January 2006, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Chevy wowed the crowds with a concept Camaro that looked all but ready for the showroom. It was like 1967 all over again. Ford's new Mustang had been a sales smash since its '05-model debut, and GM wasn't about to let Dearborn have the field to itself. What's more, Dodge was showing a concept for a revival of its Challenger ponycar -- and all but promising production within three years.
Will Camaro be reborn too? The odds at this writing look very good. It's known to be on the wish list of key GM executives, and sales numbers for the newest Mustang help them make a business case with the bean counters.
Assuming Camaro is reborn, it's likely to be a "gotta-have" not very different from the '06 concept. That design, penned by Tom Peters of Cadillac XLR and C6 Corvette fame, reinterpreted '69 Camaro styling to achieve a thoroughly modern look, with angular lines and a muscular stance accented by 20-inch wheels in front, 21s at the rear. The interior was also retro-modern, but the powertrain was state of the art.
A 6.0-liter, 400-bhp Corvette LS2 V-8 resided under the hood. The show car featured all-independent suspension, massive 15-inch four-wheel disc brakes, and a modified, 110.5-inch-wheelbase version of the Pontiac GTO's Zeta platform. Should GM decide to build the Camaro, it looks like it will be well worth the wait, with a 2008 or 2009 debut most strongly rumored as we write.
For more on Chevrolet cars, old and new, see:
- Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
- Chevrolet Used Car Reviews and Prices