A Camaro for Every Budget

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by Bruce Caldwell  More from Author

A Generation-by-Generation Look at Top Camaro Buys.

Images by Bruce Caldwell and Jerry Heasley

There’s a Camaro for everyone, whether their budget is a thousand dollars or five hundred thousand dollars. The thousand dollar cars are barely running, and the half-million dollar cars are so valuable that they’re seldom run, but in between are a lot of Camaros. We’re going to look at Camaros by generation. Within each generation we’ll offer suggestions by relative price points – budget, real world, and dreamland.

Price points need to be relative, because regardless of what any price guide may say, used Camaros aren’t like new cars. You can’t arbitrarily say a 1969 Z/28 with 52,308 original miles can be purchased for $60,108.12. You can say with certainty that a real 1969 Z/28 with its original DZ code 302ci engine will cost more than a 307ci or 350ci Camaro. A numbers-matching Z/28 will cost much more than a clone or even an original Z/28 with a replacement engine.

Price points depend on many factors, including luck and the car’s condition. Luck isn’t the factor it once was, because there is so much price information on the Internet and in magazines and books. The Barrett-Jackson auctions’ TV coverage have greatly increased awareness of even non-enthusiasts. The odds of finding a mint collector car for sale by someone who doesn’t have any idea of its worth are very slim. In fact, all the TV exposure has helped raise prices. Too many poorly-informed sellers think their rust bucket should be worth at least half of what the professionally-restored car on TV sold for. The truth is, they couldn’t make their junker into the TV car for two or three times the price.

Body Styles
Camaro body styles are limited to two or one, depending on the year. That makes finding bargain alternatives effectively impossible. Unlike the classic 1955-57 Chevys, you can’t choose from three trim levels and a dozen body styles. As the Bel Air convertible, hardtop, and Nomad prices escalated, collectors went after the 210 variants, the two-door post sedans, and sedan deliveries. After that, they still had desirable 150 models and even four-door station wagons. About the only still-unpopular tri-fives are the four-door sedans. Camaros don’t have that latitude.

There is the variation between base, Rally Sport, Super Sport, and SS/RS trim levels, but those differences don’t offer the bargains found in 1955-57 Chevys.

Camaro coupes are the budget body style, and not by much when you consider the value of Z/28 and big-block coupes. Coupes were it from 1970 until the Camaro convertible returned in 1987.

Six Cylinders versus Eight
An odd twist to the bargain Camaro search is the question of cylinders. Since the Camaro is viewed as a performance car, it would make sense that the six-cylinder cars would be the least desirable. From a restoration or high-performance standpoint that’s true, but statistically the V-8 Camaros far outnumber the inline six cars.

What that means is you’re more likely to find a V-8 Camaro (especially in the early years) than a six-cylinder one. In 1967 and 1968, the ratio of V-8 coupes to sixes was approximately 3:1. In 1969, the V-8 advantage was over 5:1. In 1970 and 1971, the V-8 advantage was 9:1; it jumped to 13:1 in 1972 and hit 25:1 in 1973.

The six-cylinder cars are still the least desirable, which affects prices, but you’re more apt to find a base engine V-8. The 307ci engines are about as unglamorous as early Camaros get. The later V-6 engines don’t get respect until the fourth generation. Even worse were the lowly 90hp 151ci inline four-cylinder engines that arrived with the third generation Camaros in 1982.

The best value for six-cylinder Camaros is a sharp looking, economical to drive, bargain-priced fourth-gen daily driver.

First Generation Camaros

First generation (1967-1969) Camaros are a hotbed of activity. It seems that everyone wants one. With almost 700,000 produced, there should be an ample supply. Time and the elements have greatly thinned the ranks, and most of the very best examples have already been taken. The demand for pristine bodies is so great that you can now buy complete reproduction 1969 Camaro shells.

The odds of finding a “used car” type first gen Camaro are very slight. Most Camaros have been through many owners and have been hobby/collector cars for a long time. That means prices will be elevated. It’s an extremely rare 1967-1969 Camaro that’s still being driven as a second-hand car.

The low price exceptions are the roughest cars – the ones passed over in earlier rounds of the “Camaro Draft.” In sports terminology, we’re already past the free agents and we’re looking for “walk-ons” that aren’t limping too badly. Depending on how rough these cars are, they may or may not be a good deal. A super rough car can cost more to restore than an initially more expensive, but sounder car. If your budget is super tight, a rough 1967-69 may be all you can afford, but at least you’ll be in the game.

Budget Pick
Our budget pick is the most solid, least rusty coupe you can find, regardless of whether it has an engine or even an interior. A good body is the best bargain going in first gen Camaros. At the bottom end of the price spectrum (anything under $10,000), it’s hard (although not impossible) to find a running car without issues. Rust problems are more difficult and more expensive to fix than running gear, interior, or trim problems.

The exception to the rust caveat is if the car was a highly desirable model or color combination. Such a car has a greater restored value, so more extensive bodywork is warranted. Rust tolerance increases if the car is a convertible. You should compare restoration costs versus buying a finished car.

Since first generation Camaros are so popular, we’re going to throw in a bonus budget pick – a former racecar. Many, many Camaros have seen (and still see) lots of action on the nation’s drag strips. A Camaro drag racer could well be the universal symbol of sportsman drag racing.

A car that didn’t compete in the faster classes (e.g. bracket racer or stock classes) is less likely to be radically altered. It’s also less likely to have expensive equipment and more likely to be owned by less affluent racers (translation: people with more important obligations than a racecar and thus in need of selling). One of these cars can form a good basis for a modified car, especially a Pro Street style Camaro. Even without an engine, you could still be in the $10,000 neighborhood.

Real World Pick
Our real world pick is a mildly modified coupe that looks as close to stock as possible on the outside. The idea is to find a car that has a restored exterior (and hopefully interior), but doesn’t have a matching numbers drivetrain. A well-done car without a valuable pedigree can easily have much more invested in it than its asking price. These cars easily top $20,000 depending on the quality of modifications and the owner’s optimism. When prices approach $50,000, you should be extremely selective.

Dreamland Pick
Again, since first generation Camaros are so popular we’re going to split dream picks. Sticking with our earlier sports metaphors, our two choices are first round quarterback type money and mid-round lineman pick.

Our big money pick would be a 1969 Yenko COPO Camaro, preferably in Hugger Orange, Daytona Yellow, or LeMans Blue. The most original, best-documented example would take precedence over color choice. Real Yenkos long ago moved to the six-figures neighborhood.

Our less expensive choice would a 1967-1969 SS 396 with the 375hp L78 engine and a 4-speed transmission. We’d pick a coupe, because we feel it’s more in keeping with the drivetrain personality. An SS/RS example would be best.

Second Generation Camaros

The radically different second generation Camaros got a late start on February 26, 1970, but they stuck around through the 1981 model year. The second gen Camaros started out very strong but ended rather poorly (mostly due to outside influences). It would have been interesting to see how the seventies Camaros might have evolved without so much negative interference from regulatory agencies, a fuel crisis, and insurance rates. Camaros certainly rebounded from these setbacks, but they might have achieved even greater heights without the outside meddling.

The 1970 through 1973 Camaros have the rest of the series beat on both styling and performance. The pre-guardrail bumper styling is so much cleaner than the later models. It wasn’t until 1978, when body-color bumper covers were introduced, that styling improved.

An added bonus of the pre-guardrail bumpers (1970-1973) was the availability of the Rally Sport appearance package (RPO Z22). The small split bumpers and body-colored Endura grille surround make these cars some of the most handsome Camaros ever built. The aesthetic appeal of the 1970-1973 Rally Sport option gives these cars a distinct edge in both the appearance and appreciation departments.

Budget Pick
Our budget pick is a 1980 Z28. Any 1978-1981 Z28 will work, because condition is more important than the model year. The Z28 returned to the lineup in 1977 after a brief absence, but the revised 1978 styling looks much better. The 1980 version had a 190hp 350ci engine, which was the best of the late second gen Zs.

Beware of the California cars, because they had less powerful engines. For example, the 1980 Z28s sold in California came with 165hp 305ci engines. Manual transmissions could not be ordered on 1980 California Camaros. Nice 1978-1981 Z28s can be found in the $5,000-$10,000 range.

Real world pick
We have two real world picks – one stock and one modified. The stock pick is the SS350, either a 1970 or a 1971 model. In deference to price, we’ll go with a non-RS car. The full-width front bumpers aren’t as attractive as the split RS style, but they’re still handsome cars.

The SS350 was rated at 300 hp in 1970 and 270 hp in 1971. Over 20,000 SS350 Camaros were ordered during these two years, so availability is reasonable. The SS350 (especially the 4-speed cars) is close to a 1970 Z28 without being an actual Z car.

Our second real world pick closely follows our first gen pick – any mildly modified 1970-1973 Camaro that is basically stock looking. The resto mod and pro touring style first gen Camaros are very, very popular, and that trend seems to be spreading quickly to the second gen cars. That makes this an ideal time to buy a good base car. A mildly modified car can be upgraded with the expensive high-tech/high-dollar wheels, tires, suspension, and engine parts or driven as is.

Dreamland Pick
If we haven’t dropped enough hints already, we’ll just come out and say it – a 1970 Z28 with the Rally Sport option and a 4-speed transmission is the second generation Camaro. This car is one of the finest Camaros ever built. It came at the peak of muscle cars, and yet it was much more sophisticated than the big-block cars. It has ample raw horsepower (the LT1 is the epitome of carbureted small-block Chevy engines), but it’s very well balanced. The result is more of a European-style sports coupe than just a pavement pounder.

Buy the very best example available. These Camaros still have room for appreciation, but prices are rising quickly.

Third Generation Camaros

Third generation (1982-1992) Camaros are where the bargains are. The third gen Camaros don’t look especially small, but they’re 7 inches shorter, 3 inches narrower and slightly lower than their predecessors. Where they really got small was under the hood. The new base engine was the 2.5-liter 90hp Pontiac-built “Iron Duke” inline four-cylinder. That engine belongs in a Vega.

The Z28 came with a 145hp 305ci V-8. A 165hp version was optional. A 1982 highlight was the selection of the new Camaro as the Indy 500 Pace Car. In recognition of the event, Chevrolet built 6,360 Pace Car replicas. The Pace Cars were their own separate model based on the Z28 and known as Z28/Z50.

Budget Pick
Our budget pick is a fine Camaro that has been largely overlooked by people seeking Z28s and IROC-Z Camaros. The Rally Sport (RS) model was resurrected in 1989. It looked quite similar to the high-profile IROC-Z. It came with sport suspension, quick ratio steering, ground effects body panels, Z28 style mags, and a 5-speed manual transmission.

The standard 1989 RS engine was the 2.8-liter V-6, but our pick is the optional 5.0-liter (305ci) EFI V-8. This engine, combined with the excellent 5-speed and sport suspension, makes the car a lively performer around town and on long freeway onramps. A solid roof coupe is our body choice. These cars can be a little difficult to find.

Real World Pick
The 1982 Indy 500 Pace Car Commemorative Edition is our real world pick. Although enthusiasts and collectors are well aware of this car (and the Indy 500 Pace Car connection always adds value), we think there is still room for appreciation. There are low-mileage examples around that haven’t appreciated as spectacularly as some speculators would have hoped. Find one of these sellers who want to liquidate, and you could find a good deal. All the pace cars replicas were built at the Van Nuys, California assembly plant, so their data tags should verify this.

Dreamland Pick
Third generation dream picks are well within the reach of many enthusiasts. The key thing you’re looking for is the lowest mileage, most pristine cars. The closer to new condition the car is, the better it will be as a future investment. You should be able to find a beautiful low-mileage car in the $10,000-$20,000 range.

Our car of choice is an IROC-Z coupe or convertible. The convertibles are more collectible, but they’re also more prone to structural problems. A 1990 coupe (the last of the Camaro IROC series) without T-tops would be our first choice, because it’s a better driving car. Any mint condition, unaltered, low-mileage IROC-Z convertible with a manual transmission has a good chance for continued appreciation.

Fourth Generation Camaros

The radically new fourth generation Camaro arrived as a 1993 model. Many people have compared the fourth gen Camaros to baby Corvettes. The performance of the Z28, with its 5.7-liter LT1 V-8 and Borg-Warner T-56 six-speed, was incredible. We saw the needle hit 150+ mph on a banked test track at the 1993 Camaro press introduction – that was impressive. Outside of seeing the rapidly-climbing speedometer, the Camaro didn’t seem like it was going that fast. The composure and handling of the fourth generation Camaro is world class. These Camaros are high performance super bargains.

Budget Pick
As awesome as the V-8 Camaros are, it’s the V-6 models that get our nod as a great budget pick. The excellent 3.8-liter V-6 was added to the base Camaro in 1996. It’s rated at 200 hp and is a very strong and economical engine. The 5-speed manual transmission is more fun, but there’s nothing wrong with the automatic transmissions. The 1996-2002 V-6 Camaro coupes are plentiful and very affordable. They’re all over the place at sub-$5,000 prices.

V-6 convertibles are a good choice for economical open-air fun. The fourth generation Camaro was designed to be a convertible from the beginning, so typical soft top problems such as door sag aren’t an issue.

Real World Pick
We’re heading back to the Pace Car pool for another pick. The 1993 Camaro Indy 500 Pace Car replicas were all Z28 coupes with unique black over white paint schemes. There were only 645 Pace Car replicas produced. That isn’t a great amount, but the cars were recognized as future collectibles from the start, so supplies have held constant. Prices have stayed up ($20,000 plus), but they haven’t had any huge jumps. When choosing one of these cars, insist on a perfect example. The graphics and unique upholstery should be in mint condition. Many super-low-mileage examples are available.

Dreamland Pick
The end of the fourth generation Camaro (and ostensibly the end of the Camaro) in 2002 was marked by several special edition cars. The majority of the 35th Anniversary Edition cars were produced and sold by Chevrolet, but there were also some more outrageous cars built by specialty companies. These cars could follow collectibility paths similar to the COPO cars of the late sixties.

Some of the same famous sixties names appeared on the 2002 cars, most notably Berger Chevrolet, Dick Harrell, and Nickey Chevrolet. These cars were commonly known as ZL1 Camaros. GMMG, Inc. built 69 cars with 427ci engines and 6-speed manual transmissions.

Our pick is one of the wide body Dick Harrell Editions, but any of these cars, if meticulously documented and fastidiously maintained with minimal mileage, should be very collectible. Since the cars started out being very expensive and have stayed expensive, it could take a while for any big gains.

First Generation

A 1969 Yenko Camaro is a top contender on the track, at an auction, at a car show, or wherever it goes. That puts it solidly on our list of dream Camaros.

A standard trim 1967 coupe with a solid body and either a six-cylinder engine or a base V-8 is a good car to buy. Such a car will make an excellent basis for a modified Camaro.

A well-worn six-cylinder engine has extremely limited collector value, but this same space will easily accommodate any Chevy small-block or big-block V-8.

First generation Camaros with six-cylinder engines were produced in much smaller quantities than the V-8 cars, so some enthusiasts choose to restore them for their novelty factor.

1969 Camaros have become so popular that solid project cars should not be overlooked when searching for an affordable first gen Camaro.

An older first generation Camaro drag racer can serve as a good starting point for a Pro Street or Pro Touring style modified car. This car has a fiberglass front end and tubular front subframe, but those negatives can be rectified.

A modified 1967-1969 Camaro coupe with an essentially stock body and trim is an excellent choice, especially when it is a super popular color combination such as red with black stripes.

A mostly original interior is a good thing. This car has aftermarket gauges, but they could easily be replaced with the factory ones. A 4-speed car with a factory console is always a big plus.

Second Generation

1978 to 1981 Camaros, both Z28s and non-Zs, are among the most attractively priced Camaros available. The best condition cars are the best values, because proportionately they don’t cost that much more than the rough cars.

This 1981 Z28 is a solid roof car, which is better overall than the T-top cars. It only had 67,000 miles on it, which proves excellent, low-mileage examples are still available.

Any 1970-1973 SS/RS Camaro is worth pursuing, even if it isn’t finished or isn’t a numbers-matching car. All the expensive bodywork and paint were already done on this Hugger Orange second gen Camaro.

If you can’t afford a real 1970-1973 Z28, a Rally Sport with a 350 V-8 is a great way to approximate a Z28.

A 1970 Camaro Z28 with the RS (Z22) appearance package is one of the best-balanced, most handsome Camaros ever built. One of these beauties should be in every dream Camaro collection.

The heart of the 1970 Z28 is one of the finest Chevy small-blocks ever – the 360hp 350ci LT1.

Third Generation

There were some paint issues with third generation Camaros, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fun to drive. These cars are the bargain stars of all Camaros.

Camaro convertibles returned to the lineup in 1987. The Rally Sport (RS) cars are excellent, affordable alternatives to the Z-cars when they’re equipped with the 305ci V-8 and a 5-speed manual transmission.

The new third generation Camaro was chosen as the Indy 500 Pace Car for 1982. There were 6360 replicas produced.

The IROC-Z Sport Equipment Package option (RPO B4Z) was offered from 1985 through 1990, and it proved to be very popular. It was also available as a convertible starting in 1987.

Fourth Generation

The all-new 1993 Camaro was a very deserving choice to pace the Indy 500. There were 645 replicas produced, which makes them quite rare.

All of the 2002 35th Anniversary Edition Camaros SS coupes and convertibles have strong collectibility potential. Among the best of that group are the 45 Indianapolis Brickyard 400 Festival cars.

Besides the official 2002 35th Anniversary Edition SS Camaros, there were several aftermarket limited editions, such as this Berger Hot Rod Edition (36 produced).

The wildest examples of the limited edition 2002 Camaros were the 427 ZL1 Dick Harrell cars with the optional wide body kits built by GMMG. Only time will tell if these 427 ZL1 Camaros end up in the same rarified price strata as their 1969 namesakes.

Here is the 427ci engine of the Dick Harrell Camaro. The LS6 engine produces 630hp and 600 lb-ft of torque.


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