1970-1981 Chevrolet Camaro Buying Guide

GM’s answer to the Mustang can be a bargain performer – if you know what to look for. Here's how to find the perfect Chevrolet Camaro

1970-1981 Chevrolet Camaro Buying Guide

How much to pay

• Project £1200-3600 • Good £5500-18,000 • Concours £12,000-36,000 •

Overview

Practicality ★★★
Running costs ★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★★
Investment ★★/★★★★
Desirability ★★★

Chevrolet was playing catch-up with Ford when it drew back the curtain on the Camaro in 1967, but the Bowtie division’s entry in the Pony Car wars soon developed a passionate following of its own. The second-generation model, introduced for 1970, lasted a remarkably long 11 model years. With so many still in existence, these cars are not terribly expensive to own, maintain or restore.

There are, of course, exceptions to that rule. Certain models, such as the 1970-1973 Z28 and 1970-1972 Super Sports – the SS – are more highly coveted, resulting in higher price tags and a greater chance of appreciation in value. The burble and performance of the V8 brings a premium, but there are also six-cylinder models that combine a lower price tag with a slightly reduced thirst for petrol.

From cosseting pleasure cruiser to rubber-laying dragstrip terror, there’s a Camaro for virtually every taste. Many of these cars have led hard lives, though, suffering from road salt, hard use and neglectful owners, so it’s important to make sure the example you’re considering won’t eat into your life savings.

Your AutoClassics Chevrolet Camaro inspection checklist

Engine

A variety of engines can be found beneath the Camaro’s long hood, in inline-six, V6 and V8 guises. The venerable 250ci inline-six was offered from 1970-1979, replaced by the 231ci V6 in 1980 and 1981. The 350 is the most common V8, and was available throughout the model’s production run.

Displacements range from the pavement-shaking 396ci (actually 402ci) offered from 1970-1972, to the docile 267 that was sold in 1980-1981. Falling in between are the 305 of 1976-1981 and the 307 of 1970-1973, which make for fine driving machines.

Two high-compression, solid-lifter engines can be called out for special recognition: the 360bhp 350ci LT-1 offered in the Z28 in 1970-1972, and the 375bhp 402ci L78 found in the 600 examples of the SS built in 1970. Don’t confuse the 350 offered in the 1977-1981 Z28 with its LT-1 earlier relative; these engines employed two-bolt main-bearing caps, cast crankshafts, hydraulic cams and smaller intake valves.

Rest assured, these engines are generally among the most bombproof ever to emerge from the Motor City. Should you encounter one that needs rebuilding, all is far from lost; parts availability is unsurpassed, and the knowledge base is immeasurably deep.

If you’re interested in higher performance, you’ll have plenty of sources to rely on for advice; even while you're reading this, three new 'how to hop up your small-block Chevy V8' books have been probably published. The 350 makes a much better basis for modification than its low-compression 305 and 307 siblings.

Swaps are so common that you’ll want to be certain which motor resides in the engine bay of the car you’re considering before you pull out your chequebook. You can find the block casting number on a ledge at the rear of the block, usually on the driver’s (left) side.

Gearbox

While the Camaro came with a manual gearbox as standard equipment, a variety of optional manuals and automatics were offered over the years.

The three-speed manual gearbox was available in both the six-cylinder and V8 cars, but only the V8s were offered with a four-speed manual – either a Saginaw or the stronger Muncie unit. The Muncie was replaced in 1974 by the beefier and quieter Borg Warner Super T-10, which was the only manual available in the 1977-up Z28.

From 1970 through 1972, Chevrolet offered the two-speed Powerglide automatic on six-cylinder cars, as well as two three-speed automatics: the nearly ubiquitous Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 and 400, specified for use with high-output V8s. The Powerglide was dropped for 1973. The Turbo Hydra-Matic 200 was offered with the V6 for 1980-1981, while a lockup torque converter was introduced on the THM350 in 1981.

Among the standard gearboxes, the Muncie and T-10 are the most durable choices, while the THM350 and THM400 can live long lives behind the V8s, if properly maintained.

The majority of Camaros were built to accept a manual gearbox, even if ordered with an automatic, which makes automatic/manual swaps a piece of cake.

Suspension and brakes

There’s nothing fancy going on under the sheetmetal. The front suspension employs A-arms, ball joints and coil springs, while the solid rear axle is attached to a pair of leaf springs. Z28 models were equipped with front and rear anti-roll bars. The front suspension is carried in a subframe that bolts to the floor of the body. As with any 30-year-old-plus car, you’ll want to check for worn ball joints and perished rubber bushes. At this point, it should go without saying that all suspension components are readily available from a number of suppliers.

All second-generation Camaros were equipped with disc brakes at the front, and drums at the rear. Servo assist was an option until becoming standard equipment in 1976; it was also included with the Z28 and Super Sport option packages. Owners who wish to upgrade to four-wheel discs will find that the components from the late 1970s Pontiac Trans Am with the WS6 package will fit.

Bodywork

The Camaro is of all-steel, unit-body construction, with a front subframe carrying the front suspension and engine mounts.

These cars are afflicted by rust in all the usual places: behind the rear wheels, around the wheel openings, in the bottoms of the front wings and in the floors. Water getting past seals can rust doors from the inside out if the drains are clogged, as they often are. Rusty floors are particularly common in cars equipped with T-tops, which tend to leak. Don’t fall for the myth that cars from America are rust-free; that may be true for a Camaro from arid New Mexico, but not for a survivor of Michigan’s salted winter roads.

The coupe’s long doors put quite a strain on their hinges, which makes sagging common. Look for signs of unusual wear on the latch, or lift the end of the door to check for excessive play.

Virtually any body damage can be repaired with reproduction, NOS (of varying quality) or used sheet metal. The car’s front end and doors interchange from 1970-1977, and from 1978-1981. The move to a wrap-around rear window in 1975 dictated a change in the rear quarter panel, while the same year saw an altered floorpan to accommodate the added catalytic converters.

Interior

Most Camaro interiors are of basic, hard-wearing vinyl, and most vinyl patterns are being reproduced today. Custom interiors, often supplied as standard on the Type LT and Berlinetta, can be more challenging to replace. Most door panels can be sourced, as can the armrests, which did not wear well.

T-tops are prone to leaking, so if the car you’re considering is so equipped, check to see whether the carpets are damp. Replacement sets are available.

Cars with manual transmissions had floor shifters, whether equipped with the optional console or not. Turbo Hydra-Matic cars were floor-shifted if the console was ordered; otherwise, the shift lever was on the column. Powerglide cars had column shift.

Desirable instrumentation includes the 150mph speedometer, supplied with all 1970-1971 Camaros, and the optional gauge package. This includes a speedometer, tachometer, temperature gauge, ammeter and clock in the main panel.

History

  • 1970: Presented in base, Rally Sport (RS), Super Sport (SS) and Z28 form.
  • 1973: Luxury Touring (Type LT) model added. SS dropped.
  • 1974: New nose and hefty aluminum bumpers added. RS model dropped.
  • 1975: Wrap-around rear window added. RS model returns as an appearance package. Z28 model dropped.
  • 1977: Z28 returns to line-up.
  • 1978: Flexible vinyl front facia and bumper covers added.
  • 1979: Berlinetta replaces Type LT.
  • 1980: 231ci V6 replaces 250ci inline-six as the base engine.
  • 1981: Second-generation Camaro production ends.

AutoClassics says…

In spite of the abuse and neglect that so many examples suffered, Camaros were built in such large quantities that they’re generally neither hard to find nor expensive. But be aware that setting your heart on anything of investment quality, such as an SS 396, will probably require a significant amount of time and capital to put in your garage.

The major concerns with these cars will revolve around the condition of the bodywork and trim, as the mechanical components are anvil tough, plentiful and simple to rebuild. Sixes will get marginally better economy than V8s, but will deprive you of an important bragging point.

If originality isn’t a concern, a solid Berlinetta or Rally Sport can be modified to be just as good a performer as the more valuable Z28s.

Specifications

Base model with 250ci straight-six (1970-1979)
  Power 155bhp
  Top speed 108mph
  0-60mph 11.5sec
  Economy 19.7mpg

Base model with 231ci V6 (1980-1981)
  Power 115bhp
  Top speed 112mph
  0-60mph 12.7sec
  Economy 20.8mpg

Z28 with 350ci V8 (1970-1971)
  Power 360bhp
  Top speed 118mph
  0-60mph 5.8sec
  Economy 13.7mpg

Berlinetta with 305ci V8 (1979)
  Power 125bhp
  Top speed 112mph
  0-60mph 14.0sec
  Economy 18.6mpg

SS with 396ci V8 (1970)
  Power 350bhp
  Top speed 128mph
  0-60mph 6.0sec
  Economy 13.9mpg

Type LT with 350ci V8 (1973)
  Power 145hp
  Top speed 112mph
  0-60mph 10.0sec
  Economy 16.7mpg

Picture courtesy of Magic Car Pics

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