Over the last 48 years, the Camaro has fielded a lot of engines with outputs from a low of 88 to a high of 580 horsepower. There were the glory days of the late ’60s and the tearfully sad performance caused by the oil embargo of the ’70s. Then things got better as technology ramped up in the ’80s, which led to the most powerful engines ever in today’s Camaros.
“From the day it was introduced, the Camaro has been part of American culture and a reflection of the state of the American performance industry,” said Dean Guard, General Motors executive director of global gasoline engine engineering, whose first car was a 1982 Camaro with a 5.0L V-8.
“What has never changed was the Camaro’s fun, attainable performance for a broad spectrum of customers, and the personal connection it inspired with generations of owners,” said Guard.
In the nearly five decades since the Camaro was launched, the types of engines and technologies used have evolved tremendously, from the carbureted inline six-cylinder base engines and hard-thumping big-blocks to the EFI-fueled all-aluminum wonder-engines of today.
With fifth-gen production shutting down in preparation for the new sixth-gen, Chevrolet has compiled a historic look at the engines that have powered America’s favorite ponycar over the last 48 years.
First Generation – 1967-’69
The Camaro debuted in the burgeoning personal coupe market and at the height of the muscle car era. Entry-level models offered two versions of Chevrolet’s Stalwart inline-six engine, with a minimum of 140 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque.
Higher-performing models were available with a smorgasbord of V-8 engines, ranging from 200 horsepower in the 307-cubic-inch small-block, to the 375 horsepower in the 396 big-block. Sixty-nine special-option COPO Camaros were built with 427-cubic-inch engines. Intended for Stock and Super Stock drag racing classes, their respective 425- and 430-horsepower ratings were widely believed to be underestimated.
Second Generation – 1970-’81
The Camaro’s second generation occurred during a tumultuous time in the auto industry as regulatory changes, including the change to unleaded fuel for lower emissions and an increased focus on fuel economy in response to the Arab oil embargoes that led to lines at gasoline stations. As engineers worked to meet these new requirements, the industry saw dramatic reductions in engine compression, horsepower, and torque.
Camaro output peaked in 1970, with 375 hp and 415 lb-ft, but by 1975 the most powerful V-8 model offered only 155 hp. The Camaro wouldn’t see more than 200 horsepower again until the mid-1980s.
The big-block engine family was dropped after 1972, while the venerable inline-six engine was replaced by more modern V-6 designs in 1980. The small-block was the only engine family to last through the entire second generation, ranging from a high of 360 horsepower for the 1970 Z28 to 115 horsepower by the mid- and late-1970s.
Third Generation – 1982-’92
The third generation of the Camaro saw the introduction of new technologies, each progressively improving output and performance.
For the first time, the Camaro was offered with a four-cylinder engine. Between 1982 and 1986, the 2.5L inline-four produced 88-92 horsepower, depending on whether it was fitted with a carburetor or a new electronically controlled fuel injection system.
Fuel injection also spread to the V-6 and V-8 engine families, enabling engineers to balance efficiency with greater performance. Early editions used Throttle Body Injection (TBI) and, later, the highest-performing models of the 305 and 350 engines featured Tuned Port Injection (TPI).
In 1990, the Camaro 350 TPI engine peaked at 245 hp and 345 lb-ft of torque – making it the most potent Camaro since 1973.
Fourth Generation – 1993-’02
A streamlined powertrain lineup greeted the Camaro’s fourth generation, with a single V-6 and small-block V-8 offered in each model year.
The base engine evolved from a 160-horsepower version of the 3.4L V-6 to a 200-horsepower version of the renowned 3.8L V-6. The lightweight, compact powerhouse offered performance comparable to most of the third-generation Camaro V-8 models.
The small-block V-8 was available with up to 305 horsepower in the 1996-’97 Camaro SS.
An all-new, Gen III “LS1” small-block V-8 was available in the 1998 Camaro, delivering 305 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque, making the Camaro SS and Z28 models worthy rivals for anything from the muscle car era.
Fifth Generation – 2010-’15
After an eight-year hiatus, the Camaro roared back with more standard horsepower than ever – more than 300 horsepower from a sophisticated DOHC V-6. By 2012, the Camaro V-6 had increased to 323 hp, and 278 lb-ft of torque, while enabling up to 30 guilt-free miles per gallon on the highway.
The Camaro’s new, 6.2L Gen IV small-block V-8 was rated at 426 horsepower in SS models with the manual transmission – more than any regular-production small-block or big-block engine from the muscle car era and rivaling the advertised output of the special-order COPO 427 engines from 1969.
The Camaro ZL1’s introduction in 2012 reset the bar for horsepower and torque, delivering a staggering 580 horsepower and 556 lb-ft from a supercharged version of the 6.2L Gen IV small-block. It remains the most powerful production engine in Camaro history.
In 2014, the Camaro Z/28 delivered the first factory-installed 427-cubic-inch engine since the legendary COPO models. The naturally aspirated 7.0L engine was rated at 505 horsepower and 481 lb-ft of torque, helping the Camaro Z/28 power its way to Motor Trend’s 2014 Best Driver’s Car award – the first American-brand car to receive it.
Sixth Generation – 2016
The future is now and the new sixth-gen is offering a lineup of engines more capable than ever. The “starter V-8” is the new direct-injected LT1 that puts out 455 horsepower and we can’t wait to see what Chevrolet stuffs between the fenders of the Z/28, ZL1, and other Camaro variants they will undoubtedly release.