Curbside Classic: 1997 Chevrolet Camaro – Conspicuously Purple

With the exception of the 1967-69s, Camaro models tend to be long-lived; in fact, there have been only five Camaro generations in 45 years. Even after taking into account its 2003-2009 absence from the Chevrolet roster, that’s still not much change. If you want to put it into perspective, consider that there have been five generations of the Honda Accord between 1989 and 2012. Despite the increasing cost of pony-car insurance since the ’70s, despite the import invasion of the 1980s and 1990s, and despite reduced demand for two-door passenger cars in the Oughts, the Camaro is still with us. But for many years, Gen Four was thought to be the end of the line.

There was plenty to be excited about when the fourth-generation Camaro debuted, as a 1993 model. After all, Chevrolet didn’t just trot out an all-new Camaro every day. It was, at least for the early ’90s, a very sleek machine. The outgoing 1992 Camaro had changed little in appearance after debuting in late 1981. Yes, it still looked good, but by now its design seemed a bit dated. The ’93 changed all that.

(Editor’s Update: The Gen Four sat on essentially the same platform as the Gen Three, and its dimensions are almost identical (wheelbase: 101.10″; overall length: 193.20″. It was a tad wider, and (not surprisingly) a couple of hundred pounds heavier.)

Production of the 1993 Camaro (and Pontiac Firebird) moved from Van Nuys, CA, to Sainte-Therese, Quebec. One interesting feature of the new Camaro was its use of SMC (sheet moulding compound) instead of steel for the roof, doors, spoiler and hatch lid (or trunk lid, in the case of the new-for-1994 convertible).

Base Camaros received a 3.4-liter, 160-hp V6. Befitting their status in the lineup, Z28 models got the LT1 V8, with a healthy 275 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. The standard transmission was a five-speed manual, with a four-speed automatic being optional. Z28s could also be had with a Borg-Warner six-speed manual transmission. It was a big deal in 1993, and the F-body twins were the first GM cars to offer this new transmission.

As mentioned previously, a Camaro convertible joined the lineup for 1994. Like the coupe, it was available in both base and Z28 guise. In 1995, California-bound base Camaros got the 3800 II V6 engine, while “49-staters” continued to make do with the 3.4-liter V6. Starting in 1996 all non-Z28 Camaros, regardless of destination, were equipped with the 3800.

And now we come to the 1997 model year, exemplified by this Bright Purple Metallic coupe I found last Sunday–actually, I first spotted it in late August among several other cars for sale on a corner car lot. The second visit yielded much better pictures, as you can see here. The color really piqued my interest–I’d never before seen it on a Camaro.

It is indeed a factory color, as this 1997 brochure will confirm. It is a polarizing color, to say the least, and I can’t imagine the take rate was very high. I don’t know if I’d drive a purple car, but in this case I think it looks rather good.

1997 was the 30th anniversary for the Camaro, and as you would expect, Chevrolet celebrated. Every 1997 Camaro was technically a “30th Anniversary Edition,” with a special logo embroidered into the headrests, as shown above. All ’97 models also received a revised interior and new tri-color taillights.

If the logo on the headrests wasn’t enough for you, there was the 30th Anniversary Package. As shown above, it recalled Camaros of the past with its special combination of Arctic White paint and wheels, orange stripes, and a white leather interior with houndstooth inserts. The package was restricted to the Z28 and top-of-the-line SS only (the SS having debuted in 1996, along with a revived RS), in your choice of a coupe or convertible. A 30th Anniversary coupe paced the 1997 Brickyard 400 NASCAR race. I know that because at the time, Dad got me a promo model of one from Eriksen Chevrolet. I still have it, along with a ’97 Camaro brochure from the same dealership. I really, really liked these 30th Anniversary Camaros. That white interior was just the icing on the cake.

But back to the V6 Camaro. As with many previous Camaros, the back seat was a little tight. (Ed: understatement of the week) In another nod to the past, the T-top was still available, with locks and sunshades. Believe it or not, A/C was optional on the base Camaro, although standard on the RS and Z/28. Also standard were dual airbags, PASS-Key anti-theft system, cloth bucket seats, full gauges and tachometer, tilt steering wheel, Solar-Ray tinted glass, and an AM/FM radio with cassette player.

On the entry-level V6 Camaro, goodies like a 6-way power driver’s seat, leather upholstery, four-wheel disc brakes (replacing the front disc/rear drum arrangement), CD player and 16″ x 8″ five-spoke alloy wheels (as shown on our featured CC) could be had as options. Frugal Camaro buyers who desired no such frills got bolt-on wheel covers instead of alloys.

The V6 Camaros got the same scooped hood, side moldings and spoiler as the speedier, V8-equipped Z28 models. For buyers on a budget, a V6 Camaro with the optional alloys was the spitting image of the Z28, save the requisite badging on the front fenders and rear deck. Of course, the pace was a bit more sedate…

I think these Camaros were beautiful. I was in my early teens when they debuted, and I thought they looked great. With the Corvette’s LT1 engine and six-speed, their performance came quite close to that of the contemporary ‘Vette. I also recall road testers being quite enamored of the Z28. Lots of bang for the buck could be had with these cars.

Still, they were not without their faults; beautiful as they were, some of their  switchgear and plastics were somewhat lacking. The interior, in particular, was rather slapdash and poorly fitted. That said, I still wouldn’t mind one of these ’90s pony cars. I even wouldn’t mind this purple version–and it’s for sale to boot. I’ll tell you one thing, it would probably get a LOT more attention than my white Volvo wagon!

Sadly, demand for sporty coupes started falling off a cliff in the mid-90s. Demand for Camaros (and the related Firebird/Trans Am) kept plunging. A facelift for ’98 did little to help; indeed, the ’93-’97 nose was far more attractive–at least in your author’s opinion. The last fourth-gen Camaro came off the line on August 27, 2002; the factory was shut down immediately after then. Chevy’s pony car was finished, or so it seemed.

Until April 10, 2009, that is. On that date. the fifth-gen Camaro debuted as an early ’10 model. The Camaro had been saved, albeit in a more retro and super-sized form than the sleek Gen Four. But that, as they say, is another story for another time.

Cheers to you, Camaro. You’re not quite the same, but I’m glad you’re still with us!

All Camaro brochure pictures are from Definitely worth a visit, with a brochure cache of U.S., European and Asian cars from the past to the present day. Check it out here.