Car Show Classic: 1974 Chevrolet Camaro – Glory of the ‘80s

The license plate on our featured Camaro may say 1974, but to me, this car is pure 1985. In that year, I would have been a junior at Rutherford B. Hayes High School in Delaware, Ohio, and cars just like this one would have been prowling the streets of Delaware (and the student parking lot of Hayes). Not coincidentally, 1985 was also the year that the Dead Milkmen released the college radio sleeper hit Bitchin’ Camaro, a song that has become so cliche that I promised myself I wouldn’t mention it in this piece. Oh well, maybe next time.

in 1985, these mid-second generation F-body Camaros and Firebirds were plentiful and cheap. They would have been at peak depreciation and therefore at peak affordability for my high school classmates. In comparison, the first-generation Camaros were already becoming collectible (and therefore expensive) in 1985, while used third-generation models would have still been too new and expensive.

These mid-70s Camaros were never particularly collectible due to their poor performance compared to the models that preceded and followed them. As a result, many ended up getting used up and tossed out. Whatever the reason, these peak-malaise F-bodies seem to be rarer than hen’s teeth now. Perhaps not coincidentally, the 1974 Camaro has never gotten full Curbside Classic treatment and appears in but a single post here: A partially obstructed Cohort Pic(k) of the day photo. There is still some whitespace at CC if you know where to look.

Imagine my surprise then when I saw this bright yellow 1974 Chevrolet Camaro at a car show recently, perfectly preserved in amber as it would have appeared in roughly 1985. This is far more interesting (to me, at least) than seeing one overrestored to showroom condition because this is how I remember seeing these cars.

1974 was a bit of a tweener year for the Camaro and is therefore easy to identify. It was the first year for the “slant nose” front end with 5 mph bumpers (which might be tucked in a bit on the feature car – one of many modifications, as we shall see). It was also the last year without the iconic “wrap-around” rear window, which wouldn’t appear until 1975.

There are no engine callouts on the fender, but the single exhaust tells us this example is likely packing either the 250 six or (more likely) the 2-bbl 350 V8. But really, no matter which emission-strangled engine you chose, you were in for a relatively leisurely ride. Long gone was the 396 big block, and by 1974 the Z-28 was little more than a trim package.


The modifications on this Camaro seem to be fairly typical of the 1980s. The chrome headlight bezels have been swapped out for blackout ones from a 1976 or 77 model. The chrome trim around the grille and the badge inside it both appear to have been removed. The uneven fit and finish of the front end could be the result of some high school shop class bodywork, although in fairness it could also have been factory issue.

The Camaro was available in no fewer than two shades of yellow in 1974. I’m not sure if this car is either of those colors or if it was originally yellow at all for that matter. No matter – A cheap Maaco respray was a quick and dirty way to cover up your quick and dirty bondo rust repair job.


What is clearly original is the interior, whose green plaid cloth and vinyl Strato-bucket seats identify this model as the entry-level Sport Coupe model. That the interior is still original is not surprising: An Earl Scheib paint job may be cheap, but a proper set of Recaro seats costs real money, more than most high schoolers can swing.


Speaking of the interior, check out that radio. The original (probably AM-only) radio is long gone, along with the knobs with the playful musical note icons that Chevrolet use for a few years in the mid-70s. In its place is a 1980s vintage Radio Shack Realistic cassette deck and graphic equalizer along with matching Realistic speakers.

I forget now the exact pecking order of 1980s bargain basement aftermarket car stereo gear, but I seem to recall that Sparkomatic was at the bottom, followed by Craig. (True confession: I hacksawed a Sparkomatic cassette deck and 100W amp into the dashboard of my Mom’s Plymouth Reliant while I was in college). Radio Shack’s Realistic brand was maybe a slight notch higher in the pecking order, but I’m sure our readers will set me straight.


At least the 6×9 rear speakers (three-way, no less) are properly installed in the rear parcel shelf, rather than just sitting naked in the rear window.


While the rear speaker placement may or may not be historically accurate, the wheels and tires certainly are. It doesn’t get much more ’80s than a set of Cragar S/S Super Sports mounted with raised white letter BF Goodrich T/A radial tires. Although no Camaro ever left the factory so equipped, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, as the look has become almost iconic.


Lastly, the owner completed the presentation by placing a period-correct Michael Stanley Band Heartland cassette tape (released in 1980) on the trunk of the car. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to pop that tape into the cassette deck and cruise back to the glory of the ’80s.