Camaros & Firebirds
presented by Freysinger Pontiac GMC Buick
October 23, 2009 through April 5, 2010
The AACA Museum will be celebrating the return of the Chevrolet Camaro to production by having a special exhibit of Camaros and Firebirds! We will have over 20 Camaros and Firebirds on display ranging from 1967 to a brand new 2010. Some of the featured cars will be a 1967 big block convertible Camaro, an original unrestored 1969 ZL1 Camaro, 1969 COPO Camaro, 1978 Firebird Trans Am that was driven by Burt Reynolds, 1987 Firebird Concept Car Prototype, USA1 the 1968 Camaro drag car owned and driven by NHRA world champion Don Larson. This exciting display will trace the history of these two GM Muscle cars from their 1967 introduction through their final model year in 2002 and then the Camaro return in 2010. The exhibition opens on October 23rd and runs through April 4th of 2010.
General Motor’s debuted the all new “F-Body” Muscle Car twins, the Camaro and Firebird, in the fall of 1966 (as 1967 models) in response to Ford’s highly-successful Mustang. The “F” designation was a reference to GM’s small rear wheel drive body or platform that supported the cars from 1967 through 2002. Mid-1960s car magazines had previously featured stories about a car named the “Panther,” intended to be Chevrolet’s answer to the Mustang. When the car emerged it was called “Camaro.” Not one to simply follow suite, GM upped the ante on Ford by taking the best elements of the dominant Pony Car and infusing them with a unique styling flair and unmatched power. Initially, Chevrolet and Pontiac hoped to field two distinctively different designs. However, an extremely competitive Pony Car market, coupled with economic restrictions from the parent company required that the two cars share a common platform and the majority of their sheet metal. This arrangement proved extremely successful with each car forging an individual identify throughout its subsequent models.
The first generation Camaro and Firebird (1967-1969) offered something for everyone with a wide range of engine choices and a long list of available options. Buyers could design their cars exactly as they wished – low price economy car, full optioned sport/luxury ride or big-engined boulevard bruiser. Excellent styling by both GM divisions guaranteed that the two cars had separate and distinct identities. The Exhibition illustrates the full range with highlights such as a 1967 396 cubic inch “big block” convertible and a slew of 1969 models including an authentic Pace Car and several ultra rare, ultra high performance “COPO” models (Central Office Production Order) specially ordered with the powerful all aluminum ZL1 427 cubic inch engine. The “COPO” ordering system allowed performance oriented dealerships across the country to special order cars that were not available as regular production models. Certain Chevrolet dealers such as Yenko in Canonsburg, PA and Baldwin on Long Island, NY had begun converting cars to 427 cubic inch power for select customers. The “COPO” system saved them some work and helped them keep up with increasing demand. The resulting cars were very fast, limited in number and much coveted by muscle car collectors today. The first generation Firebird shared Camaro’s basic shape, but featured a completely different front design at front and back. Design influence from Pontiac’s first muscle car, the GTO, is evident in the grill and an initial similarity in engine choices. A first year 1969 Trans-Am is featured in the Exhibition.
Through the years, both cars have offered numerous special additions and commemorative models. Perhaps the best-known Firebird Trans Ams began in the early 1970s with “Super Duty” 455 cubic inch monster engines under the hood and large bird graphics above. As the muscle car era ended the big engines went away while the big graphics remained. The Exhibition boasts a high point from both eras with a red 1973 Super Duty and a black 1978 that was originally owned by Burt Reynolds.
Over the years, the Camaro and Firebird have waged a performance and sales war with many different competitors. By the mid-1970s, the F-Body Twins and the Mustang were basically all that remained of the once mighty Pony Car/Muscle Car market. Rising gas costs, insurance concerns and a dramatic increase in government-mandated pollution controls and a changing market all combined to essentially put an end to the high horsepower car. While the big engines were gone, Camaro and Firebird held on with sleek designs. The same could not be said for Mustang as it temporarily “downsized” itself from 1974 to 1978 as a Pinto-based vehicle called the Mustang II, initially offered without any type of V8 engine.
By the early 1980s, performance began to find its way back into American cars, much to the delight of automotive enthusiasts. Camaro and Firebird were reborn as a new generation of drivers enjoyed the second coming of the muscle car. Cars like the IROC Z Camaro, named in reference to the International Race of Champions, a driving series that used the car for all of its competitors, the 5.7 Liter Formula Firebird and a slew of special editions Camaros and Firebirds kept the brands alive and well, while doing battle on the track and street with an equally revitalized Mustang. This new horsepower war continued on with vigor through the 1990s. In fact, some of the best of the breed were built during this time, many of which are included in the Exhibition.
By start of the new millennium, the Camaro and Firebird were at their peak in terms of performance and at the top of the Pony Car pack; however sales were down and the end was in sight. GM pulled plug on both cars after the 2002 model. Both cars went out in grand style as evidenced by the 2002 examples on display: the Camaro Convertible had 310 horsepower and was the first ever to feature a 6-speed manual transmission; the WS-6, Ram-Air equipped Firebird Trans Am was built on the last day of production. It is a true muscle car and possibly the fastest production Firebird ever built.
Camaros & Firebirds traces the history of GM’s prized muscle cars through an exhibition of over 20 outstanding vehicles. All eras are represented, along with select high performance and special editions. The Exhibition runs through April 4, 2010.
Camaros & Firebirds Vehicle List
Also available as a pdf download.
- 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Big Block Convertible
- 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 (all original, lowest mileage known ’67 Z28)
- 1967 Pontiac Firebird 400 Convertible
- 1968 Chevrolet Camaro “USA 1” Drag Car (arrives Nov. 15th)
- 1968 Pontiac Firebird Sprint Convertible
- 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Pace Car (real Festival car, not replica)
- 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 – all original
- 1969 Chevrolet Camaro COPO Car L78 427 Big Block (gold)
- 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL 1 (yellow – uniquely optioned)
- 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Baldwin Motion Custom Roadster
- 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am
- 1971 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 (from 21 Tractor Trailer Muscle Car Find)
- 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Super Duty
- 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am (Burt Reynolds 1st Owner, first Y-84 model)
- 1987 Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z28 (one owner)
- 1987 Pontiac Firebird Suntour Concept Car Prototype
- 1989 Pontiac Firebird GTA Turbo/20th Anniversary/Indy Pace Car Replica
- 1983 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (low mileage, original owner)
- 1994 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 25th Anniversary Model
- 2002 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Berger GMMG Performance Package
- 2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am WS-6 Ram Air (built last day of production)
- 2010 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 SS (Tom Henry Performance Package)