History of the Camaro Second Generation – 1970-1981
The second generation Camaro was introduced to the public in the Spring of 1970 — along with a slightly revised Corvette. While it shared the “semi-unitized” body concept with the first generation car, virtually every part was new. The new body had a definite European influence. Front end treatments were distinctively different based on whether or not the Rally Sport package was ordered. Because SCCA trans-am rules changed and allowed “destroking” larger engines, the new Camaro Z-28 came with a 350ci engine developing 360 horsepower. The ultimate SS Camaro offered an optional 396ci engine with 375hp. The convertible was dropped for the second generation. Due to a short model year, only 124,901 1970 Camaros were produced.
While the ’71 Camaro was considered a “carry-over” due to a short 1970 1/2 build, there were differences — from wheel trim to exterior and interior colors. A new seat design featured “high back” buckets. Horsepower ratings changed in 1971 — from “gross” to “net” — and with the coincidental drop in compression ratios, it appeared the power loss was greater than it actually was. Production was down to 114,630 units — primarily due to a long strike at General Motors in the Fall of 1970.
Grilles on the non-Rally Sport models gave a new appearance with a coarser mesh. Vinyl roof covers now had a “wet” look. The 1972 Camaros were the last Camaros to offer “big-block” engines and, in fact, only 930 were produced with the big block. This would be the last year for the “SS” for a number of years. Camaro production was reduced to 68,651 due to a 117 day strike at the Norwood, Ohio assembly plant. When the strike was over, nearly 1,100 partially assembled 1972 models were scrapped because they could not be brought into compliance with 1973 bumper requirements!
New for ’73 was the “type LT” which offered a more luxurious interior. The “LT” model could be ordered by itself or with Rally Sport or Z28 or any combination thereof. This would be the last model year to offer the distinctive Rally Sport front end treatment. Power windows became an option late in the ’73 production run — an option missing since 1969. The 2-speed “powerglide” automatic transmission was no longer offered. Solid lifter engines were no more on the Z28 — replaced by hydraulic lifters instead. A total of 96,751 units were produced in the ’73 model year.
A major facelift was in store for the ’74 model year — primarily due to federal bumper impact standards. New extruded aluminum bumpers were featured both front and rear — and added nearly seven inches to overall length. The Rally Sport package disappeared for ’74 — only to reappear later in the decade. Radial tires were now an option. Am/Fm stereos were now offered as an option — missing since 1969. Sadly, the Z28 would disappear in the ’74 model year — but it would return! Production of the Camaro was up, despite energy concerns — 151,008 were built for the ’74 model year.
A new wrap-around rear window gave better rearward vision on the ’75 Camaro. While the Z28 was no more, there was one 1975 Z28 built — however, it was used within the GM corporate fleet and was never resold — rather, it is believed that the vehicle was scrapped. Power door locks became an option as did cruise control. The Rally Sport appearance package became available late in the model year but was primarily a paint and stripe package, rather than a separate front end treatment. Total ’75 model year production came to 145,770.
Styling for ’76 was changed little. A bright aluminum fascia panel was added to type LT models between the taillights. Also, simulated leather replaced wood grain on the instrument panel. The optional vinyl roof cover had a new “landau” appearance in that the cover stopped short of the rear window leaving a painted band between the vinyl top and rear window. For the first time in Camaro history, no striping package was available. A total of 182,959 units were produced this model year.
The biggest news for Camaro fans was the return of the Z28 during the Spring of 1977. The Z28 could not be ordered with either the rally sport equipment or with the “LT” trim. However, a special “custom interior” for Z28 was available. Colors available for the Z28 were limited to black, brown, orange, light red, silver, antique white or bright yellow. Production rose to 218,853 units.
The ’78’s featured the third and last face-lift for the second generation cars. Body color fascias gave the front and rear ends a cleaner, more aerodynamic look. This was the first year for option “cc1” removable roof panels — better known as “t-tops.” The two-millionth Camaro rolled off the Van Nuys (Los Angeles) assembly line on May 11, 1978. Production of the 1977 model year was 272,631.
While exterior styling remained the same, the ’79 Camaros received a new instrument cluster design. The type LT was now replaced with the “Berlinetta.” The Z28 received changes to the air dam and several modifications were made both mechanically and appearance wise. A new electric rear window defroster was now available replacing the forced air type used previously. Sales of the Camaro continued to climb — production for the 1979 model year reached 282,571. This would also be the last year for an ‘in-line’ six cylinder engine.
While styling changes were minimal, the big change concerned engines. For the first time, a V-6 engine was available in a Camaro. While 49 states received a 229ci engine, California received a 231ci engine built by Buick. Z28’s received a new hood that featured a rear facing hood scoop with an intake door that was solenoid controlled. The optional aluminum wheel was of a new design. As with the ’79 model, customers could order a variety of radios — including an integral “cb” radio — which was a popular option on automobiles in the late 70’s and early 80s. Production dropped to 152,005.
Appearance changes for the last year of the second generation cars were limited to color and trim. At 126,139 units sold, this was the lowest volume Camaro model since the ’73 — due in large part to a difficult national economy. The Rally Sport model disappeared, leaving the Sport coupe, Berlinetta, and Z-28. Manual transmissions were once again available in California after a 4 year absence. All ’81 Camaros were equipped with Chevrolet’s “advanced computer command control” for enhanced fuel economy and better drivability. This would be the last year for a 3-speed manual transmission in a Camaro.