The Last Camaro . . . Again? 

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It looks like the Camaro is about to get retired – again.

This time may be the last time, though. And it’s different this time, because Camaro isn’t selling poorly, which was the problem last time.

The problem, this time, is keeping Camaro alive when the federal government is doing everything it can short of an outright ban to stop the beating heart of the Camaro – and every other V8-powered muscular car, too.

The word is used – and italicized – to reflect the fact that Camaro (and its traditional rivals, the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger) aren’t really muscle cars, as a point of pedantic technicality. They are high-performance pony cars, the italicized latter denoting a sporty coupe – nominally compact-sized – with a V8 engine. Muscle cars were mid-sized, two-door versions of sedans – usually with even bigger V8s. They focused on straight-line acceleration, 0-60 and through the quarter mile. Plus attitude. High-performance pony cars also focused on those things – and handling/agility, which muscle cars didn’t usually offer much of. 

Anyhow, muscle cars got killed off a long time ago.

The equivalent of the KT Boundary layer – the line in the geological record above which you will not find any dinosaur fossils – is probably 1974, after which the muscle car (like the dinosaurs) ceased to exist. 1975 being the first year catalytic converters and (usually, because of the cost of cats) single exhaust corked through one cat became all-but-mandatory to “achieve compliance” with government emissions regs.

Big block and even merely high-powered V8s could not breath through such stifled piping and that was the end of them – the last of them being the first of them, Pontiac’s GTO. It had already been reduced – by 1974 – to an options package for the Ventura coupe/hatchback – with a small (for the GTO) 350 cubic inch V8 as its only engine choice. But it still had dual exhaust that final year and offered 200 horsepower. With single exhaust plugged up by a cat, this would have fallen to embarrassing lows – and so the GTO (and every other muscle car) passed into history.

Pony cars like the Camaro, its Pontiac cousin the Firebird and the Ford Mustang survived the die off because they weren’t muscle cars. Their reputations didn’t hang on their straight-line acceleration prowess exclusively and so they could get by with V8s less powerful than many modern fours.

But it was a really close shave, even so. 

GM gave serious thought to cancelling the Camaro – and did cancel the high-performance Z28 variant for the 1975 and 1976 model years. Ford transformed the Mustang into a Pinto-related, almost-economy-car. Pontiac got by on the appearance of high-performance. The Trans-Am version of the Firebird still had its still-shaking (but not scooping) “shaker” hood scoop poking through the hood, along with a screaming chicken on the hood – which Ford promptly copied for the King Cobra version of the ’77 Mustang II.

But they sold well because they still had more appeal than everything else – and because there was nothing else, if you were looking for more than just a car.

And – in time – they recovered.

By the ’80s, the engineers had figured out how to increase performance – while lowering emissions. Computer-controlled fuel injection (more about that, here) plus next-generation catalytic converters that cost less and flowed more air (allowing two cats and so dual exhaust, again) were mostly responsible for this.

The surviving pony cars thrived, especially Ford’s Mustang. So much so that Ford cancelled plans in the ’90s to replace the rear-drive/V8-available Mustang with a front-wheel-drive/V6-only car that came so close to production as the new Mustang that Ford produced it – as the Probe – alongside the Mustang.

Which continued to be produced long after the Probe no longer was.

Camaro – and Firebird – also did well. Until a polarizing re-styling was unveiled for the 1993 model year (teased very clumsily in the truly awful made-for-TV movie, Knight Rider 2000; watch this only after having had at least three stiff drinks). Both got cancelled after the 2002 model year.

The Firebird, for good.

This left the Mustang the last pony car standing – until 2008. That year, Dodge resurrected its pony car, the Challenger – which had been cancelled back in 1974, too. The revived model looked almost identical to the old model – which was hugely appealing to people who mourned the passing of the old model. Also back was the Hemi V8, which was never available in the last of the old Challengers.

The massively positive response to the resurrection of the Challenger prompted GM to reconsider its cancellation of the Camaro – though not the Firebird, which was gone for good this time (along with Pontiac, itself).

In 2010, the Camaro returned – and has been with us, ever since. It will be gone, soon. The scheduled date of execution is 2025. It will walk the Green Mile not because people aren’t buying them but rather because it will become all-but-impossible for GM to continue offering them – courtesy of the regulations bum-rushing “electrification” onto the stage by de facto banning cars that aren’t “electrified.”

Dodge has hinted it will attempt to deal with this by partially electrifying the Challenger (and its four door donor car, the Charger) which means some iteration of hybrid-electric drivetrain – and no more Hemi V8.

But this will result in something that isn’t a muscle car – or a pony car, either. It may be a performance car – but that is an altogether different kind of thing. A Tesla is performance car – but only someone who doesn’t understand what the words mean would call it a “muscle” or a “pony” car.

Hence, probably, GM’s decision to retire the Camaro before the name gets run through the mud, by affixing it to a thing that isn’t – and never can be.

Will Ford will hang on? The proposition appears doubtful. A new “probe” is already in production – the “Mustang” Mach e. It gives you a whiff of the future.

And it doesn’t smell very good.

. . .

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39 COMMENTS

  1. I bought my 67 Camaro years ago. It’s looking like I”ll have it together and on the road this year. Of course gas might be $7.60 a gallon by summer, but at least I’ll be able to drive her a bit. As was said in the past “A camel is a horse built to government specifications”, and that’s why new cars all look the same and are now (un)reliable appliances, overpriced and nothing to lust or even get excited over. I’ll own a tesla once I’m given one for free.

    PS- funny how the site’s spell check doesn’t recognize the word “Camaro”.

    • Similar here, Landru –

      I bought my ’76 Trans-Am way back in 1992. I am thankful I was young when it was still feasible – common – for young guys to buy and drive (as daily drivers) old muscle cars. Today, even a fairly run-of-the-mill car like mine would cost much more to buy than most young guys can afford. But I hold onto mine, to keep the flame alive – and perhaps, someday, I will give the keys to a worthy young man (or even woman). But not before I’m ready to shuffle off this skinsuit!

      • eric, this reminds me of other epic failures by GM. They took the “Corv” from the Vette and the “Air” from the Bel and made a dang nice little car only to let a slimy lawyer beat them in the news without putting up a fight. No telling how good a car the Corvair might have become and might still be.

    • A camel is at least a USEFUL beast of burden, as many an old Bedouin will tell you…if you can handle those smelly, foul-tempered mounts. I’ll take a Camel over anything built or bought by the “Gubmint”, even the legendary “government mule”, which supposedly chows down as no head of livestock can match.

  2. makes me want to go order a charger scat pak right now. makes me think of a recent song I like.
    ‘last of my kind’ by Jason Isbell
    unfortunately, my practical side steps in and says: it will just sit, because the Ram rides better, is roomier, does more, and while not as quick, the ram v8 is pretty darn good (and fun) even pushing 5000lbs.
    I will buy the last v8 made in the ram though for sure.

  3. I had a 95 Firebird with the 3800 V-6 and it was a fun, relatively inexpensive to own and operate machine. It was the perfect rear-wheel drive machine for a youngster learning how to control a real car. I later traded it for an EK Civic that I heavily modified, but I still miss that car.

    At that time, I remember all of the fun cars on the road, the RX-7 (better know a rotary mechanic), the 300ZX, the Supra, the Firebird, the Camaro, the Mustang and that was in the bigger GT category. The NSX and Corvette played in a different sandbox.

    You had the 4-cylinder fun cars like the Prelude (had one of those too with the 4-wheel steering and the pop-up headlights), the Celica and the Diamondstar cars which were like the Challengers in that you could get a low-powered NA 4 cylinder or buy an AWD monster with the turbos that could give the cars in the previous sentence a run for their money.

    You even had the economy fun stuff like the Sentra SE-R, the Civic Si and the Paseo.

    Now it’s just mind-numbing crossovers that are simply station wagons on stilts. There are so few fun cars to drive now that it breaks my heart. The EVs are the final nail in the coffin of driving enjoyment. Our rulers want us eating bugs, drinking soy milk while growing man boobs, sweating to death in our uncooled tenements and living under the social credit system that requires us to navigate a terms of service agreement that is ever-changing with the caprices of these lunatics.

    They are vinegar-drinking scolds who want everyone (except for them, the ruling class) in the hell on Earth they’d call utopia.

    I’ll just keep my ICE car, thank you very much.

    • My sentiments exactly, Dr. Mantis!

      I was fortunate enough to arrive on the scene – as a car jockey-journalist – in the early ’90s, when there was still a lot of fun to be had in a lot of different kinds of cars. One of these days, I will write a book about the memories – which included a foray in a twin-turbo Mitsu 3000 GTVR-4…

      • I loved your bit about the 3000GT. Can’t believe I forgot about that monster. The 90s was to me the height of exciting cars to drive. I miss that 91 Prelude with the pop-up headlights and 4WS, which made parallel parking a breeze while using the most simple yet effectively engineered mechanism. I wish I still had that car.

        • If I hadn’t spent so much on a new, highly modified drivetrain for my Elco, I would have bought a 3000GT. They looked great and ran like a barrel racing horse with nose candy.

      • I always look at the 90s and early 2000s car and wonder how the hell we went from our own personal cars that fit us to One sized fits all crossovers

        My friends are a mixed group, but at least 2 of them have trucks as Daily’s and fun toys (’17 V6 Mustang, ’16 STi, and the one none truck guy, ’15 GT ‘vert), while one is convinced of being responsible, like you’re not gonna knock some slut up and marry here, so get something fun, not a dad’s car.

        Still, we need to shift the mindset away from “Being practical all the time” back to “You don’t like it, take your own damn car or learn to drive”

        • I like the sentiment, Zane –

          But I think the problem – as regards the boringness of cars (crossovers) – is the inevitable homogenization into what I like to style the Universal Transportation Appliance (the crossover) via acceptance/acquiescence of this business of government regulating cars for “safety” and “emissions.” The former needs to be rejected utterly as the “safety” of a vehicle is no one’s business except the person who chooses to own/drive it. If I want to drive a Lotus 7 – without doors or air bags or even seat belts – that’s my business, because I want to drive one and no one else has any business ordering me to have doors, air bags, or even seat belts. Period. End of discussion. Emissions ought to be something that – at the most – is predicated on provable harms caused. It is one thing to expect or even require that a new car have a catalytic converter; it is obscene to decree that no one may drive a TDI VW because the engine “emits” fractionally more NOx than some arbitrary standard says is allowable.

  4. The Puritans strike again. After having “evolved” into Yankees, and now “evolved” into Progressives, NO FUN ALLOWED!! Except approved fun. Like bullying others to accept your fun while denying them theirs. Like changing one’s sex.

  5. I had a 4-cyl ’93 Probe non-GT. Fun car, which competed well with the Celica.

    The problem with the car, and why I got rid of after eight years, was that it was a rattle trap, having been built at Flat Rock, and the rubber trim deterioration happened at about twice the rate I’ve seen in any other car before or after.

    The final straw was a $1000 idle air bypass control valve, which went when the car was worth about $2000 due to appearance.

    • Hi Roscoe!

      I have a Probe story for you. Circa ’95 or so, I drove down I-95 in Virginia, toward Richmond, in a brand-new press car Probe GT. A late-model Mustang GT sidled up – and we got into it. The Probe topped out around 138 as I recall – with the GT just barely edging it out. We thumbs-up’d each other as we went our separate ways…

    • One time I was in a small narrow parking lot at a big university and someone backed into me, smashed up the driver door pretty good. He stops, pulls forward, cops come & his front tire was in contact with a Probe that was parked next to him. I’m not sure if it did any damage, but the cop noticed & wrote him up for both.

      The driver was just off the boat from China. About a year later he joined the same research group I was in at the time. Smart guy, I hope driving skills improved.

  6. Sad to see them go. But the same reason they were phased out before is happening again. The young men who are the target for these vehicles can’t afford to own them. And open roads are hard to find in the ever-expanding cities, so what’s the point?

    Oh, they got a few years of reprieve from the grey beards looking for an accessory for their Viagra prescription, but that trough is getting emptied out as they (we?) age out and start thinking about our new lives at The Villages.

    • Hi RK,

      Yup. They’re just too expensive for most under-30s and not only to buy. Insuring one of these – if you’re under 30 – is a killer.

      Even if – as I once suggested to GM (and Ford) – that they offered a “de-contended” version of the Camaro/Mustang with minimal amenities but all of the performance upgrades that come in a Z28/SS or GT Mustang. Sell it for several thousand less than the cost of a Z28/SS or Mustang GT, so that young guys could afford such cars again.

      Except, of course, for the insurance.

      More reason to loathe the insurance mafia.

      • Hi Eric

        By a poster at another site:

        At one time I was a “fixture” at things like the Barrett-Jackson Auctions as part of my job. Sold cars for clients, attended the cocktail parties, blah, blah, blah. A big thing I discovered was that the big “players” were exactly that. They weren’t enthusiasts, they didn’t drive the cars, they weren’t even real “collectors.

        They were “commodity traders” in the game for the sole purpose of making money. And just like any commodity, if the price goes up, the profits are higher. And to make sure that happened they would, by dumb luck or clever planning, “trade” certain makes and models of cars among themselves to create a “demand or desire” for said make/model among the general public all while inflating the prices.

        The fads would grow to such an extent that entire cottage industries of support for the restoration of these vehicles was created for some! Between them and the blingmasters and posers the collector car hobby, as far as the enthusiast is concerned, has been terribly spoiled and priced out of reach for many, who I believe, ought to be the real caretakers of these, and many other makes/models of, cars.

        So, enjoy it while you can afford to, as I don’t see much hope for future enthusiast caretakers considering the crap that has come from manufacturers in the last 20 or so years!!!

        Good point about if anything will end up collectible that was made in the last twenty years.

        • It’s much more blatant in the video game cartridge collecting from what I’ve seen in a youtube video someone made on it. I don’t collect but watched much of it out of curiosity. The graders, the hype, etc it’s all manufactured by a few to make money.

        • Hi Anon,

          When a ’77 SE Trans-Am (the knock-off/mass-produced version of the car driven by Burt Reynolds in Smokey & The Bandit) with the nothing-special base 400 or 403 (Olds V8) and an automatic transmission goes for $50,000 (or more) and an actually rare Trans-Am such as a ’73-74 SD-455 or ’72 455 HO goes for twice or three times that… you know it’s time for a drink… or three.

          • Hi Eric,

            Quote from poster: I don’t see much hope for future enthusiast caretakers considering the crap that has come from manufacturers in the last 20 or so years.

            What do you see?

        • This is what happens when you have access to unlimited cheap/subsidized credit. If you’re buying on margin there’s no reason at all to pay a fair asking price. If you can get a marker from the house for $10,000 you’d better use all of it, especially if the table is hot. And because everyone else has the same leverage it just comes down to what you buy, not how much. Back up the truck on everything because you’ll only wish you’d bought more.

          Of course there’s this story over at Zerohedge. Bad news if you’re a cyclical chartist…

          https://www.zerohedge.com/markets/55-day-rule-expires-tomorrow

      • Old people in modern society are the poster children for “If you subsidize something, you get more of it.”

        This country used to belong to the young (especially young men.). And it was great.

        My professional success, in my view, correlates much less to hard work and creativity, than it does to getting older.

        • Hi Publius –

          Yup – and it happened so fast.

          It was only about 30 years ago that a guy in his 20s could afford a used V8 muscle car, both to buy it and to own (insure and feed) it. I know, because I was one of them. Now such cars are mostly old guy’s cars – me included, again. I could not afford to buy my Trans-Am now, were I a young man now.

          We had it good – and are probably the last generation of Americans who will. Until there is a new America.

          • The Baby Boom (my parents’ generation) inherited the Land of Opportunity, and they are leaving a smoldering pile of wreckage behind them.

            History will not be kind.

            The ‘rona will be their legacy.

            They will blame everyone else, and claim they were just along for the ride. Just like the campus protests that got out of hand in the late ‘60s (and everything else they screwed up).

        • There does seem to be a lot more “pulling up the ladder behind you” attitude from the people at the top. Maybe because they see how easy it was to topple the old guard and want to make sure it doesn’t happen to them. Nearly every sector of the economy has seen wholesale change and/or consolidation in my lifetime. Firms that were around for 100 years or more, gone in a leveraged buyout or just left to rot in their shopping mall anchor store. The new guard hides behind patents, global supply chains, regulatory capture and good old fashoned monoplistic behavor to keep out new competition. Most small companies’ exit strategies include being acquired by a big fish, not going toe to toe with a new idea. This is the true reason why the US can’t grow the economy but no one wants to admit it.

  7. “..next-generation catalytic converters that cost less and flowed more air..”

    Speaking of that. There seems to be an increase in catalytic converter theft, at least in the truck, lifted vehicle category. All sorts of anti-theft gadgets, plates, even alarms are popping up in the marketplace.

    A world without Camaros and the rest is sad and gray, a lesser diminished place.

    • Hi Manse,

      My sister had the cat stolen off her Honda Element, which she parks curbside in southern California. Apparently, this is happening all over the area… they decided to just have a straight pipe bolted in place since there’s little sense in spending the money for a new converter that’s just as likely to be stolen.

      Time to raise the black flag…

      • Hi Eric

        bombe…..use the cat for what???
        They take the honeycomb center of the cat, grind it up, mix it with other drugs and snort it like cocaine, there could be a huge profit selling it on the street, so the drug addicts are snorting your cat.

        maybe this should be given as an alternative to the killshot, they both have the same health benefits, immunization qualities, both are very safe and effective and reduce symptoms, for one billion dollars fauci will promote both based on fake science.

        bombe sounds like way more fun, you get a big high off it, fauci’s killshot is just death, grief and suffering, you might live longer using bombe.

        https://www.autoblog.com/2021/09/28/kinshasa-congo-bombe-drug-car-catalytic-converters/

        • Just think, the center of your cat might be worth more then the whole car………….They take the honeycomb center of the cat, grind it up, mix it with other drugs and snort it like cocaine, there could be a huge profit selling it on the street,

      • How is going to pass CA state inspection? CARB requires OEM exhaust components. Any deviation and it’s a fail. Or has CA stopped doing visual inspections and merely does an OBD2 check?

        • Hi Brent,

          It’s not going to pass, of course. But they no longer care. There are drug-addled derelicts passed out in the street in front of their house. They are tired of obeying laws for thee but not for me. The cops aren’t going to lift a finger to stop the next dirtbag from stealing the new cat – so why bother?

          I encouraged them to raise the black flag. I’m about to do the same, myself, as my truck’s exhaust needs to be replaced and a pipe plus a muffler will cost maybe $100 vs. several hundred for one with a cat and 02 sensor.

          It’ll sound “high performance,” too!

  8. I got a used 94 Z28 back in the late 90s and drove it until I got a new 2011 SS, which I still drive. I suspect I’ll be holding on to this Camaro for a long time…

    • Hi Steve,

      I have many fond Camaro memories, having owned a ’78 with T-tops, an ’80 Z28 with a stroker small block and a stock ’86 RS with the 2.8 V6.

      I am grateful I still have my Trans-Am, which of course is closely related to the Camaro.

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