Best Camaros Of The Year

The Camaro Performers magazine staff picks their favorites of 2011

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A few years back, we started the tradition of putting together an issue that showcases the best Camaros of the year. That issue has since become our most popular issue. And although the main cover line has been slightly modified from year to year, the spirit in which these Camaros are picked has not.

The idea here is to give some extra recognition to the deserving candidates who have had their cars featured in Camaro Performers magazine over the past year and to shove them into the proverbial spotlight once more before we look ahead into the upcoming year.

Now, it’s important to point out that our Best of the Best list doesn’t necessarily consist of the most expensive, fastest, or best handling cars built on an unlimited budget, but it also exemplifies the coolest in the design category, and also important—what the owner actually does with it. So, even though you’ll see some super–high-end cars on the list, the fact that the owner drives the snot out of it, carries a lot of influence for the car making it into this elite group of 11.

Another thing to remember is that our list is subjective, and it wasn’t an easy task to compile. It took hours of debate between the editorial and art staff to break down over 34 car features and come away with 11 that we could all agree are deserving of our list. It gets really hairy once we get our picks down to 15. Of course, the last four all deserve extra attention in some way, but this is a Top 11 list. And rules are rules, so we gotta stick by ’em.

This year, the debate process was more civil than in years past and there were no physical altercations between staff members. By now, the hurt feelings have long-since healed and we were able to come up with what we feel is a legitimate group that represents the best Camaros of 2011.

One thing to keep in mind is that there is no real prize for making the list. No jacket, patch, or trophy here; for what it’s worth, just the distinct honor of being chosen for the Camaro Performers magazine Best of list.

As always, if you feel a certain car, or cars, got cheated and should have made the list but did not, or if you happen to agree with our eleven-car compilation, either way, we want to hear from you.

Send your comments to: camaroperformers@sorc.com.

Owner: Mark Stielow
Car: 1969 Camaro (Red Devil)
Issue: January 2011
Photographer: Steven Rupp

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock with those fellas from the Geico Insurance commercial, then you no doubt know that Mark Stielow builds some of the baddest cars on the planet. Last year it was Charley Lillard’s, Stielow-built, ’69 Camaro named Jackass that made our elite list. This year Mark built a car for himself, called it Red Devil, and competed with it in every driving event he could. Most of which he won, including the 2010 Optima Street Car Invitational.

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Mark’s Camaro features a Brian Thomson-built engine hosting a combination of LS7 and LS9 components including, most notably, the LS9 supercharger. The insanely powerful mill is good for upwards of 760 hp and 810 lb-ft of torque. For handling, it features Detroit Speed suspension components, and Brembo binders on all four corners bring it down from speed. If you ever see this car in person, check out the slick ABS system under the hood. This car is trick.

Owner: Matt and Steve Alcala
Car: 1969 Camaro
Issue: October 2011
Photographer: Robert McGaffin

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Looking at Matt and Steve Alcala’s immaculate ’69, one would certainly take notice of the sano fit and finish, custom body mods, and major attention to detail that makes this Camaro one of the finest examples of Pro Touring royalty. The gang at Best of Show Coach Works in Escondido, California, performed their bodywork magic on the vintage ride and were looking at the 2009 SEMA Show to showcase their interpretation of high-end street muscle. With all the top-shelf amenities on board including Detroit Speed suspension components, Forgeline wheels, and Z06 brakes, the LS2-powered road warrior was ready to take on the industry’s largest stage. Unfortunately, texting was more important to a certain gal in a Saturn than stopping for a red light. Needless to say, the Camaro received excessive damage, in turn, putting their SEMA plans on hold for one more year. The Alcala’s dream car would need a second round with the Best of Show crew. Well worth the wait, the car received a GM Design award at the 2010 SEMA show.

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With accolades in hand, Matt exercises the car’s agility and puts those hefty performance suspension parts to the test on the autocross and road course every chance he gets.

Owner: Mike Bighley
Car: 1988 Camaro
Issue: January 2011
Photographer: Eric McClellan

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When Mike Bighley was just 15-years old, all he could think about was having a cool Camaro he could cruise in. Mike scratched and saved for this here ’88, cruised it for a little while before his need for more horsepower became a dominant factor. The car went through various engine combinations over the years; each one more powerful than the last until it finally ended up with this turbocharged 404ci behemoth that Mike claims makes over 1,100 hp and about 1,050 lb-ft of peak torque.

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Certainly the big horsepower and the fact that it runs consistent 8.50’s in the quarter-mile contribute to this killer third-gen making our Best of list. Add in the incredible paint and bodywork, and you have one of the coolest ’88 drag Camaros we’ve seen in a very long time.

Owner: Francis Johns
Car: 2010 Camaro
Issue: February 2011
Photographer: Nick Licata

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From the get-go, quite a few fifth-gen Camaro guys have done everything they could to make their car quicker and faster. And knowing the car’s hefty weight would be a major factor in getting from point A to point B as quickly as earlier-generation Camaros, it still didn’t deter Francis Johns from bolting go-fast goodies on his Camaro. To him, the styling of the new Camaro was too irresistible. A drag racer at heart, Francis started racing the car in stock trim and reeling in 13-second timeslips. As money permitted, various bolt-on speed parts, and even a supercharger made their way under the hood, in turn, bringing down his quarter-mile times. Before long, Francis was cruising around town in a custom-painted fifth-gen with 10-second timeslips stuffed in the center console. To feed his appetite for speed, and to stay on top of the latest parts available for the new Camaro, Francis opened FJ Performance in Export, Pennsylvania. Now he’s got a legit reason for testing parts on his supercharged Camaro. It’s also a good reason why his car made our Best of the Best list.

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Owner: GM Performance
Car: 1999 Camaro
Issue: April 2011
Photographer: Nick Licata

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Generally, we like to keep the “Big Kids” on the opposite end of the award spectrum, but it’s hard to resist the lure of an LS9-powered fourth-gen. Now, this car has been around for a while and at one time even featured an LS7 under the hood. That combo was “grenaded” at Milan Dragway a few years back, but the GM Performance Parts (GMPP) “mule” has since returned with ZR1 Blue pigment, and more importantly, the aforementioned LS9 worth 638 hp. It all comes thanks to a few die-hard hot rodders at GMPP who did what many said couldn’t be done: fit that engine under that hood. It wasn’t easy, but a little ingenuity and a big-ass shoehorn made it happen. We here at Camaro Performers are confident that some day soon the car once destined for the recycle bin will return to the quarter-mile to unleash all the pent-up aggression. And if we’re really lucky, maybe those GM fellas will let one of us hacks behind the wheel when it does.

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Owner: Centerforce Clutches
Car: 2010 Camaro
Issue: May 2011
Photographer: Robert McGaffin

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Another killer car scooped up from the “Company Car” road brigade for our Best of list is this bad boy ’10 SS from Centerforce. They added it to their stable of test mules to put their clutches under the most extreme conditions imaginable. We can attest to the fact that they beat on it as hard, or harder, than any new Camaro owner ever would. We’ve seen the car compete on a road course, autocross, and at a number of dragstrips. So far, the late-model hot rod has been able to handle all the mischief the Centerforce gang has thrown its way. And since it recently received a rearend upgrade, the plan is to crank it up to 1,000 hp and take it to the next level. But its brawn isn’t the sole bit of attraction; the custom paint scheme sets the car off, while Boze wheels and Baer 6S binders make it an absolute showstopper.

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Owner: Rich Taylor
Car: 1972 Camaro
Issue: June 2011
Photographer: Robert McGaffin

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A custom mix of Black Cherry Pearl on top and a blend of Torch Red and Hugger Orange on the bottom with tangerine flames and pinstripes are just the beginning of what makes Rich Taylor’s ’72 SS special. To most, that would be quite enough, but to Rich it’s just a start, as under the hood he assembled a glamified small-block stroker sporting a polished Vortech huffer atop a 100-shot NOS plate contributing to the approximately 753 ponies and 713 lb-ft of grunt. Slammed on Firestone bags, this stellar second-gen rolls on Foose Nitrous II wheels. The car has been through plenty of incarnations throughout Rich’s longtime ownership, and he’s currently building a 383 with a one-off twin Vortech supercharger. Due to the car’s stellar fit and finish, Rich’s garage mantle is loaded with a plethora of show-winning trophies, but the real award was being able to bring his two newborn daughters home from the hospital in the same car.

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Owner: Chris Jacobs
Car: 1968 Camaro
Issue: September 2011
Photographer: Robert McGaffin

Camp 1202 15 Best Camaros Of The Year Green 1968 Camaro 16/24

Chris Jacobs had his eye on this ’68 a few years before taking ownership. Luckily, persistence paid off and he was finally able to make a deal that got it in his garage. This gorgeous one-time restoration has that day-two look, which has lately become quite popular. Chris bolted on a few upgrades to make it handle and drive like a modern muscle car should, and with the Tremec TKO 600 overdrive transmission, long drives are now a breeze. Baer’s SS4 brakes up front give Chris better-than-stock stopping ability and more overall driving confidence.

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You’re looking at the same paint that was sprayed on the car almost 30 years ago. And what makes this vintage F-body really special is the original interior. It looks just as amazing as it did when the car was new.

Although Chris has had menacing thoughts of turning this classic piece into a Pro Touring street machine, he immediately comes to his senses and realizes this car needs to be preserved just the way it is.

Owner: Bobby Culhane
Car: 1994 Camaro
Issue: September 2011
Photographer: Josh Mishler

 camp 1202 17 Best Camaros Of The Year 1994 18/24

Most guys wouldn’t give a ’94 Camaro the kind of attention and effort this badass fourth-gen has gotten, but that’s what makes this car unique and owner Bobby Culhane content. Bobby was the kid who walked around with a Chilton LT1 F-body repair manual before even owning a Camaro. It’s that kind of dedication that motivated him to take a somewhat fractured piece like this, and over time, turn it into one of the nicest LT1 cars we’ve seen. The C5 deep-dish wheels are a nice touch to the Medium Patriot Red metallic and pay a nice complement to the fiberglass “stinger” hood. But this car doesn’t rely on looks alone for attention. Estimated at 460 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque in naturally aspirated form, Bobby keeps a 200-shot of juice on tap should an urgent dose of acceleration need be applied.

 camp 1202 18 Best Camaros Of The Year 1994 Camro Lt1 19/24

All you LT1 guys should take note, as this is one way to make your early fourth-gen stand out from the rest—sitting still or haulin’ ass down the road.

Owner: Michael Manning
Car: 1969 Camaro
Issue: December 2011
Photographer: Robert McGaffin

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It’s not uncommon for a car build to take way longer than originally planned; more often than not, it’s usually the case. And that’s exactly what happened when Michael Manning dreamed up building this high-tech ’69 Camaro. And when said build takes many years to complete, the style and set course is certain to change … more than once.

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Michael’s original plan was to build something out of the proverbial box, but when the crew at Detroit Speed took over the project, things got out of hand … in a good way. Naturally, the car features top of the line DSE suspension components, and an LS7 whistling to the tune of 505 hp keeps plenty of power at the ready. But what makes the car really unique is the outstanding fit and finish throughout. From afar the car appears to invoke all the usual Pro Touring standards, but a closer look reveals quite possibly the baddest, most understated first-gen Camaro to ever grace the pages of Camaro Performers.

Owner: Mary Pozzi
Car: 1973 Camaro
Issue: December 2011
Photographer: Nick Licata

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Rarely do we feature a car in Camaro Performers magazine more than once. The only exception would be if the subject were totally redone, front to rear. That’s exactly the case with Mary Pozzi’s ’73. Mary’s car was featured in our May 2008 issue and even made the cover; not so much because of it’s outstanding fit and finish, but due to the car’s cool factor and how much abuse Mary has put it through. Any car that can survive Mary Pozzi is well worth a feature in our magazine.

Camp 1202 22 Best Camaros Of The Year 580hp Ls2 Engine 23/24

You might say the car has been reincarnated from its previous existence. All-new Hotchkis suspension replaced the antiquated leaf springs and other undergarments, a stroked 580hp LS2 replaced the small-block, and a fresh interior and killer paintjob from Cris Gonzales at JCG Restorations and Customs in Oxnard, California, gave it a new lease on life. It even went through a Jenny Craig-approved weight reduction program featuring carbon-fiber pieces in place of the vintage sheetmetal.

With the re-do still in its infancy, Mary is still getting used to that “new car smell,” and she’s gradually making nice with all that upgraded suspension. No doubt all that swearing on the autocross course will turn to song in no time.

Honorable Mention

Josh Kalis is a madman on a skateboard—he’s a pro. He’s merciless behind the wheel of his ’69 Camaro—he’s absolutely insane. He drives it like he stole it, and when the car is screaming down the highway at the top of its lungs, he hammers it for even more, knowing full well the bitch has more in it. It rolls on HRE wheels, and for some unknown reason he expects the Nitto NT05s will comply with his outlandish demands from the 760hp twin-turbo-powered LS. A Speed Tech front subframe works in conjunction with the Detroit Speed QUADRALink rear suspension system while Wilwood 12-inch rotors and four-piston calipers bring Josh back into orbit in quick fashion. Built by All-Speed Performance and sponsored by DC Shoes, the Camaro’s ominous black paint and aggressive front spoiler give off an evil vibe that Mad Max himself would take notice of and maybe even crack a smile.

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