Photos by Ryan Merrill.
The second-generation Camaro represented the maturation of Chevrolet’s hugely successful first-generation F-car platform, originally offered in 1967. The intent of the F-car was to counteract Mustang’s impact on the factory performance car world. While coming to the table somewhat late in the game, the Camaro–and to some extent the Firebird–put a big dent in Mustang’s dominance within the muscle car field. During the first three years, Chevrolet sold over 700,000 Camaros.
But time was marching on. Design work for the second-generation Camaro started just after the successful 1967 launch. At the head of the project was the very talented Design Vice President Bill Mitchell. Mitchell was the genius behind many of GM’s leading-edge designs including the 1963 Buick Riviera. When offered the second-gen Camaro project, he initiated a mission to up the ante on the styling of Chevrolet’s most beloved ponycar. A big fan of European sports cars, Mitchell urged his styling team to mimic, as much as possible, the styling cues from the likes of Ferrari and Maserati.
When the second-gen Camaro was first introduced in February 1970, both automotive journalists and the public praised the car. Its styling was leading edge in every way. Traditional quarter windows were gone, doors were lengthened, the cowl was lowered, and front and rear styling was unique from any other domestic carmaker. While it still sat on the same 108-inch wheelbase as the previous generation, the total package was light years ahead of the previous platform. Powertrains ranged from a 155 horsepower, six-cylinder engine to the 375-horsepower, L78 big-block V-8. America’s performance car love affair was once again in bloom.
There were few major changes made to the platform in 1971 and in 1972. High back bucket seats became standard and all engines were designed to run on regular gas. Horsepower ratings were lower due to a combination of added federal emissions mandates, and the changing of ratings from gross to net horsepower.
By 1973, the Camaro was a different breed of youth-market car. While it continued to exhibit great styling, horsepower dwindled again due to ever-tightening federal emission requirements. For the first time since 1967, a big-block engine was no longer available. With pressure from the insurance industry and OPEC, things were changing in the muscle car world.
Models for 1973 included the base Camaro, the Rally Sport, the new Luxury Touring Camaro (LT), and the Z28. The new LT package replaced the Super Sport option from 1972 and included the 165-horse, small-block V-8, Rally wheels, variable-ratio power steering, special wood-grain dash, deluxe interior, and increased insulation. Most felt the additions were well worth the extra $396 over the base car. Additionally, the combination of V-8 power and quiet comfort gave it a true luxury feel.
The 1972 high-back bucket seats were carried over for 1973. Power windows, which had not been available since the 1969 model year, again became available mid-year 1973; however buyers were required to order the optional center console, because that is where the power window switches were placed. The previous year’s stirrup-handle transmission shifter was changed to a more conventional design. The four-spoke steering wheel, which had been an option, became standard equipment for 1973.
Emissions standards and high development costs caused powertrain options to change for 1973. The most powerful engine for 1973 was the 245 horsepower, 350 cubic-inch small-block available only in the Z28. Known as the L-82, it replaced the LT-1, which was considered to be the ultimate small-block Chevrolet engine. One advantage the new L-82 engine had was that it made air conditioning available for the first time in a Z28. Other changes to the Z28 engine included replacing the aluminum intake with a cast-iron one, and replacing the Quadrajet carburetor with a Holley replacement. All 1973 Camaros included a coolant recovery system to prevent coolant loss.
When all was said and done, sales surprisingly increased to over 96,000 units–and more surprisingly, Z28 sales quadrupled from the previous year. Nineteen seventy three would become the last year of the split-bumper and steel-bumper Camaro, with all 1974 Camaros featuring a rather unattractive aluminum bumper system required to keep up with federal guidelines. Many feel that 1973 offered the last of the traditional look along with adequate performance to back it up.
Fuel For Thought
First year without a big-block
Powerglide eliminated from option list
First year for A/C on the Z28
Second gens only years without a convertible
Power windows once again available
Number built – 11,574 Z28s
Construction – Unibody
Engine – 350 cubic-inch V-8
Power/Torque – 350 cubic-inch V-8, 245 horsepower, 280 lb-ft torque
Transmissions – Close ratio four-speed manual, wide-ratio four-speed manual, three- speed automatic (6,107 manuals, 5,467 autos)
Suspension front – Independent with upper and lower control arms and coil springs
Suspension rear – Longitudinal leaf springs
Steering – Recirculating ball
Brakes – 11-inch front disc, 9.5-inch rear drums
Length/width/height – 188.4/74.4/49.1 inches
Wheelbase – 108.0 inches
Weight – 3,689 lbs.
0-60mph/quarter mile – 6.7 seconds, 15.2 seconds at 94 mph (Car and Driver, September 1973)
Top speed – 123 mph
MPG – 10 - 13.5 mpg
Price – MSRP - $3,713; Today – $11,050 - $27,900
Engine – The revised L-82 was a solid Chevy engine. The Z28 option included four-bolt mains, a forged steel crank, big-valve heads, and a lumpy .450/.460-lift hydraulic cam. While lower in power due to increased emissions standards, the Z28 provided more than adequate punch, and could hit 100 mph in 17.8 seconds.
Handling – Handling was one of the best features of the second-generation Camaro. Suspension engineers worked hard to maximize the added weight of the car with better spring rates, anti-roll bars, and quicker steering. They succeeded, and the Camaro proved to be a terror on both the street and racecourse.
1973 Pontiac Trans Am Super Duty
Number built – 252
0-60/quarter mile – 5.4 seconds, 13.9 seconds at 104 mph
Top speed – 135 mph est.
Price – MSRP - $4,204; Today – $14,580 - $44,415
1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Number built – 35,440
0-60/quarter mile – 8.5 seconds, 16.2 seconds at 88.7 mph
Top speed – 120 mph
Price – MSRP - $3,088; Today – $8,800 - $27,600
Room for four
Air conditioning available
Convertible not available
Big-block not available
Lower horsepower ratings at every level
L-82 had less power than the solid lifter LT-1
Most 1973 Camaro Z28s are weekend drivers. They are regularly shown at drive-in events and local shows. Well-restored examples may be trailered to events; however that’s not typical of the Camaro owner. They enjoy taking their cars out as much as possible.
What to pay
1973 Camaro Z28
MSRP – $3,713
Low – $11,050
Average – $18,100
High – $27,900
*Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Corvette & Chevy magazines are sold.
Insurance cost is $183/year for an $18,100 1973 Camaro Z28. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
Z28 stripe kit $85.95
Standard interior kit $315.00
Door panel $129.00
Fuel pump $45.95
Complete trunk pan $539.00
*Based on information from
Year One Inc.,
Camaro Z28 And Performance Specials by Jason Scott and David Newhardt
Camaro (Motorbooks Classics) by Anthony Young
Camaro Forty Years by Darwin Holmstrom
Camaro (Muscle Car Color History) by Steve Statham
Camaro Restoration Handbook by Ron Sessions
The second-generation Camaro was a tribute to the hard-working design team at GM. More than a straight-line, go-fast car, the Camaro performed as well in corners as on the dragstrip. When first offered in early 1970, no one was prepared for its leading edge European styling and vast array of powertrain options. Simply put, it is a testament to the forward vision of Bill Mitchell and his team.