I caught this nice, original Camaro outside my doctor’s office a couple of months ago. The parking job limited my camera angles, but this shot captures the essence of the car.
When I titled this posting “Narrowing down your choices,” I had two issues in mind. First, the reduction in options for mid-seventies Pony car buyers. AMC and Chrysler had both abandoned the market, while Ford moved their Pony car nameplates to completely different platforms (more on that later). Meanwhile GM left their second generation Pony car platform in a sort of stasis, mostly spending money when needed to meet government regulations.
An eBay search for Camaro parts only confirms this stasis. The grille, turn signals, tail lights, and bumpers remained unchanged from 1974 to 1977. I know a number of readers have expressed their dislike for these aluminum bumper Camaros, but I’m actually a fan. Given the time period, these are sleeker bumpers than the competition, and using aluminum saved weight and prevented corrosion issues. These bright bumpers also helped differentiate the Camaro from the Firebird.
Earlier, Ford had also differentiated their Pony car nameplates, moving the Cougar to the intermediate platform, and dropping the Mustang down to a sub-compact. Based on these changes, many argue the GM F-body was the ONLY Pony car option in ’76, which helps explain why GM felt little need for year to year changes.
I’d encourage you to compare those Cougar bumpers to our Camaro. While a step back from the bumpers used from ’70-’73, the ’74-’77 Camaro bumpers are WAY better than the battering rams placed on most Fords.
While improvements to the F-body were rare through the seventies, we did see a few. This brings us to the second issue in my title- Can we narrow down this Camaro to a specific model year? The traditional touch points (bumpers, grilles, tail lights) won’t help, but there were changes to look for, starting with the backlight in 1975. Since the back window on this car is the newer style which cuts into and squares off the B-pillar, we know it’s a ’75 or newer.
Checking out the (very clean) interior, we see a Firethorne (red) base model trim with vinyl seats which doesn’t seem to tell us much. However, Chevy started using these new style door panels in 1976, further narrowing down our model year to either ’76 or ’77.
Seeing no other year by year changes inside, I feared I had narrowed things down as far as I could, but an internet search provided one more clue.
To see it, we need to go back to our initial picture. Looking at the windshield, you’ll notice the wipers park on the glass. Even though GM designed the car with space for hidden wipers, poverty spec cars parked the wipers up high, letting the neighbors know the owner left unchecked boxes on the order sheet.
Comparing online brochures, I discovered Chevy made hidden wipers standard on the Camaro in 1977. Since this car lacks the hidden wiper option, we know we’re looking at a 1976 Camaro. Now that I think on it, the broad options sheet associated with this era car reflects a third dimension to narrowing down your choices, so there you go.
Abandonment is the operative word for this class of vehicle during this era. Big engine muscle cars were abandoned by manufacturers after the second gas shortage. GM was pinched between leaving their beautiful Camaro/Firebird as is, or using the Vega/Monza as their sporty two door cars. The Nova was long in the tooth and was being dressed up as a Granada fighter. It could have been used, and for GTO, it was – but that ended up as a Ventura that didn’t sell.
By this year, there was already a Fox Mustang in the pipeline. The Mustang II was a Band-Aid for an important brand that Ford temporarily salvaged by using the Pinto. Sure that Mustang II wasn’t awesome, but it saved the brand. There was simply no way Mustang could have been saved using the earlier bloated generation.
The Camaro was out of date, but it was still visually authentic. Some of the worst years for Camaro was during this time, often due to the terrible engine choices and cheapening of the entire body. Wax poetically about those light aluminum bumpers, but no one wanted them and even the next generation of Camaro abandoned them for what was already on Mustang II, and even Monza years earlier. The Camaro was in limbo during this time because GM didn’t want to kill the brand, but they didn’t have a lot of problems selling Vega/Monza. Remember, few wanted the Oldsmobile, Pontiac or Buick versions of those cars. Adding Camaro to that list of Vega/Monza knock offs wouldn’t have worked. So Camaro couldn’t do what Mustang did. Instead it just barely hung on until Burt Reynolds made it a star.
Ford’s choices were good ones. Using the Pinto to create the Mustang II was a phenomenal sales success. It made a lot of money for Ford. Putting the Cougar on the Torino turned it into another sales success. Such was the profit from the Cougar, Mercury actually ended up naming all their Torino derivatives after it – even the wagon. Ford pulled in a lot of money on old cars with famous names.
In hindsight, GM got lucky. I believe everyone back then knew that the Monza was supposed to have been the Camaro replacement, as the Mustang II had been for Ford. Detroit planned to use these brands on smaller sporty cars and copy the Toyota Celica. Thanks to movie stardom, this generation received a reprieve and got a second chance instead of simply getting squeezed out between Monte Carlo and Monza.
What you see here with this Camaro is a dying brand right before it got a second life. I hope GM paid Burt Reynolds millions for selling their old pony cars and saving it.
Didn’t the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) drive a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am? Not a Camaro?
Yes, the Camaro benefitted from the Firebird’s “halo effect” that kept the platform alive.
Of course he did.
But what is a Trans Am anyway, but a Pontiac Camaro?
Smokey didn’t come out til the summer of 1977. The Trans Am and the slight muscle car spurt already was in place. The champ of the Tapestripe GTs, the Cobra II, already was hot. The Trans Am already was so hot that Pontiac had made a Trans Am type package for the Le Mans. Even AMC already had a Trans Am styling package for the 77 Hornet when Smokey was released; so did Plymouth/Dodge. The Camaro revived the Z28 name in spring 77 and already was tooled to release a full Trans Am type Z28 in fall 77 with fender vents, ground effects, and a decorative hood scoop.
Smokey popularized the John Player Special colorway. The Tapestripe GTs mostly had high impact colors before that.
I’m sure Mustang II outsold the Camaro and it was a smart move for the years it was made but everybody knew it was a dog. Right now in 2021 if you could have a 1974 Camaro or a 1974 Mustang II, which would you want? The Camaro would outrun and handle much better than the Mustang II and for those years the Camaro was a much better proportioned and thus better looking car.
The Mustang II was a smash hit in 1974.
Despite that, total sales for Camaro/Firebird were more than Mustang II over the life of the II. Total Camaro sales were more than Mustang for 1975–1978, and total Camaro/Firebird sales were nearly double the Mustang for 1975/1978.
You’re not necessarily wrong, but the II brought a lot of cheese home to Ford, allowing the name to endure to the far superior Mustang Fox in ’79. In the 1974-77 time frame, Mustang outsold Camaro 914k to 696k.
That said, the ’76 Camaro was a looker IMO. And they were very popular when I was in college.
I do find the concealed/non-concealed wiper bit hilarious. It probably cost GM more to differentiate than brought in profit on the up-option. The exposed wipers look just fine.
“. It probably cost GM more to differentiate than brought in profit on the up-option”
Probably a factor leading to the up option becoming standard in ’77. How many times have you seen a manufacturer promoting “Same price as last year, with even more options!”
Wow you know everything man.
Say what you want, but the “aging” Camaro still had a more sophisticated chassis than the Ford Falcon/Pinto based Mustang II. Also the Mustang II’s bumpers were simply painted appendages, no different than the Camaro…The 1982 did have the more modern bumper covers, but Ford didn’t incorporate those in the Mustang until the 1979 Fox platform.
Camaro/ Firebird was revived by Burt Reynolds and compared to the contemporary Mustang II, a Trans AM with the 400T/A would out handle, out accelerate and outperform it all day long, and despite the screaming chicken and gold trim it looked a lot better
Smokey and the Bandit debuted in the summer of 1977. Both Camaro and Firebird sales had been increasing before that point. The movie accelerated the sales momentum for the Firebird – particularly for the Trans Am version.
But Camaro and Firebird sales had been increasing since the 1973 model year – with a slight dip for Camaro in 1975, which was still an achievement, considering how depressed the new-car market was for that year.
The Camaro was facelifted for 1978 with flush-mounted, body-colored bumpers, front and rear.
Say what you want, but the “aging” Camaro still had a more sophisticated chassis than the Ford Falcon/Pinto based Mustang II.
Falcon and Pinto had separate platforms. The MII used the Pinto platform.
I agree that for the era and compared to the Mustang of that same era, these are quite handsome cars. I think they evolved nicely through the entire 1970-1981 run.
Nice bit of detective work there identifying the model year.
To each their own but the possibility of getting a Gidget in the passenger seat did a lot more to make me want an F-body than some dude with a mustache in the driver’s seat…
This is quite the find here in Colorado, and especially with the hubcaps still in place too. The red interior cars always hold up the best, and this is the car I’d be geeking out over at the local car show. Well, until a Bobcat Villager showed up anyway. 🙂
I’ve turned into a big booster of mid-’70s F-Bodies since I bought my Firebird five years ago. They’re significantly less expensive than ’70-’73 models, but they’re basically the same car with a little less power and a little clunkier bumpers. They drive really, really well, they’re not as shoddy as you’d think (if you get one that hasn’t been totally worn out), they still look great, and (once again) they’re quite inexpensive.
And let’s face it, the average person in the street just sees a cool Camaro/Firebird and doesn’t care that it’s not an earlier one, if you’re into cutting a stylish figure. I’m extremely happy with my ’74.
I’m also a big fan of Fire birds. I personally like the mid 70’s cars such as yours better than the earlier models. From a design standpoint they seem more finished to me. And it could have something to do with Jim Rockford being the coolest dude on television at the time. Nice car by the way.
Between Jim Rockford, the Bandit, and those Endura bumpers (which did the best job of hiding the 5mph mandate), Pontiac really cleaned-up in the seventies.
Even Clint Eastwood got into the act with a young Jeff Bridges driving a 1973 Trans Am in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. The Trans Am was Eastwood’s personal car at the time so, between two of the biggest box office stars of the seventies, Clint was driving a Trans Am before Burt Reynolds.
The Firebird might have cost more than the Camaro, but it was worth it.
mine w3as a T/A 455SD in red/black int, but would have preferred how clkean your car is, greast cars.
those are some nice looking hubcaps. even if partially because I dont recall ever seeing them, or anything like them in the ensuing decades. nothing of the sort in aftermarket now.
I believe those wheel covers made their debut on the ’73 Chevelle, Nova and Camaro.
And turned up on Holdens in 1974’s HJ range.
Corvettes had similar style wheels with a big flat disc in the middle and tiny fins outside of it…
I see the handicap hangtag/parking spot. Could this still be the original owner? Who else would keep a base model Camaro this unmolested after all these years?
1953 Studebaker Starliner inspired roofline and rear window. The Starliner was meant to have a single side window like this but they couldn’t figure out how to make a door that long hang right given the state of the art.
I don’t like the newer rear window style, though it certainly helped (a bit) with the rear 3/4 blind spot. But count the engineer in me as a fan of the aluminum bumpers. Obviously not as pretty as the original design, but practical and lighter and much cleaner looking than most of the competition. Perhaps even a nod to the Europeans, who used these so successfully on various VW’s and the Mk1 Fiesta I owned.
My ’77 Pontiac Astre Formula Safari Station Wagon also has the simple aluminum bumpers… I didn’t realize that until 20 or 30 years after buying it and noticing they hadn’t rusted like the rest of the car did…
I also prefer my ’87 GTA to the 1970’s F-bodies since they had lost some weight again by then… although the 1980’s struts front suspension were marginal… a friend with an ’89 Formula and only 4K miles on it showed me how at 45 MPH he could induce a never ending harsh violent scary shuddery shaking to the strut front suspension/wheels… of course it did it on its own the first time…
I have been watching seasons 1 & 2 of “CHiPs”, which had both a silver Mustang II hatchback and a white Camaro of this style as part of the rotating “cast” of supposedly random vehicles in traffic.
There is no comparison in looks or type between the two cars. I do actually like the Mustang II, but for different reasons than the obviously great-looking Camaro. I like both apples and oranges.
I agree with others who like this generation of Camaro,citing their deftly styled chrome bumpers. These are totally underrated and nicely understated cars, in a way that some of the 1978 – ’81 could seem overwrought – even some base models.
I liked the flush-mounted, body-colored bumpers featured on the 1978-81 Camaros. I didn’t care for the front-end facelift Pontiac applied to the 1979 Firebird. That ruined the car, in my opinion.
It is nice to see a Camaro as a lot of people actually ordered them, not the top-of-the-line hi-po Z28 package (such that it was back then). Many people liked the look but didn’t want to spend too much money at the time of purchase or for insurance.
Those are period correct or somewhat later wheel covers and nice white-wall tires, too. I remember when pretty much every car had white walls, black walls for fleets, police, and those weird “Euro” cars – even Japanese cars imported here had white walls. Black walls stood out to be sure and eventually replaced whitewalls completely.
I can still recall car wash days and bringing out the Comet and a scrub brush to get the whitewalls nice and clean!
I remember using Comet on the whitewalls of my parents’ 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale. The car never seemed truly clean unless the whitewalls were white, and the wheel covers and chrome bumpers sparkled.
I remember these Camaros as being popular with young, single women at the time. They generally bought one optioned like this car.
I would have ordered a Camaro LT optioned like the one here, with maybe a 4bbl 350, dual exhausts if allowed and some options like cruise and whichever rear-end ratio I liked for easy highway cruising and a 4 speed standard. The Z28s of the time got too much cop heat and if you optioned it right, an LT was 90% Z-28 handling and power without the insurance penalty and unwelcome attention.
Except for a limited run of Z28s built late in the 1977 model run, you couldn’t get a Z28 in 75–77.
Dang, I thought the Z was there for all of the 2nd gen. I would have been 12 when this model came out in 1976. What was the top tier Camaro for 1976?
Y’d order mechanical options piecemeal. Single exhaust 350 V8, wide ratio 4sp, limited slip, F41 suspension available. “Type LT” and “Rally Sport” decor packages available.
The Z-28 came back late during the 1977 model year when Chevrolet saw how popular the Trans Am was.
Reminds me of 1987 when the larger TPI 350″ engine was made available Jan. 1987…
Wow, what a find! Original Camaros that didn’t eke their way through the ownership of a teenage boy somewhere are special.
This is another example (like the Suburban) where GM stood pat on a good car and eventually the market found it.
My late brother bought a new Camaro around the time of this one, and like it, my brother’s was the base model, with the six. He wanted a sporty car but was trying to be responsible about it. I remember thinking the six at idle sounded a bit odd, as I was so used to prior ground-shaking Camaros. I do remember though that it handled nicely.
When I googled “1973 Camaro” to see the difference in the rear window, it brought home how much this generation, while (again) farily sporty for the times, seemed toned down from the 1970-1973 version, with its jutting prow between the bumperettes and its muscular rear haunches, which the smaller real window emphasized. If I was going to go for a 70’s F body, it would have to be a 1970-1973.
-assuming; of course that it was a Camaro. As per a prior comment, I thought Pontiac did a better job with its mid-decade Firebird.
“Given the time period, these are sleeker bumpers than the competition, and using aluminum saved weight and prevented corrosion issues.”
For sure. Chevy did a nice job with these bumpers. The required 5 mph front bumpers (which I believe started with ’74, right?) on other manufacturers were jutting and ungainly. The Camaro’s elegantly follow the overall shape of the front end.
Front bumpers were required in ’73, rears in ’74. Catalytic converters in ’75.
I just can’t get sold on the bumpers, they look exactly as clunky as the Cougar ones only are a little less shiny with their natural aluminum instead of chrome finish. Firebird did a way better job right out the gate, sticking with endura but continuing its usage to the back end(which in my view actually improved the looks over the 70-73). Not all is lost on me with the 74-77 Camaro though, I think the front facia(above the bumper) was attractive and a nice blending of the previous non-RS and RS front ends into one, and I actually like the taillights a little better than the original rounds (did every Chevy need them?) and prefer their smaller size and cleaner design to the busier wider 78-81 configuration with the amber sections and black center.
The Monza/Camaro pairing of this time reminds me a lot of the Mustang/Probe in the 90s, it *seems* like the Monza could very well have been called the Camaro.
“they look exactly as clunky as the Cougar ones.”
No doubt they’re still clunky, but there were two styling elements Chevy used that helped improve the looks:
1) They used a sculptured bumper, avoiding the appearance of a big flat battering ram.
2) The front fascia carried forward to better hide the extended bumper.
I certainly prefer the early bumpers, but did any model using the same platform improve in appearance between ’72 and ’74?
I’d say “No,” but I’d also say (both) F-bodies made the best of a bad situation.
The Cougar bumper is sculptured, it’s most certainly not flat. I think what visually makes it seem that way are the overrides pieces in the center, but it follows all the lines.
The sloped front facia definitely helped though, Ford’s park bench filler pieces were really bad
I remember something called Bleche-White tire cleaner that I had to use on the parent’s whitewalls.
When I first got my Cougar the first thing I did to it was buy the cheapest set of raised white letter tires available and two bottles of bleche wite at the recommendation of the suburban tire technician. I still have a half a bottle to date, it works great on white sole shoes!
Thanks for that. I remembered using Comet and later a specialty product but couldn’t recall the name. My Dad’s 65 Thunderbird had narrow whitewalls with the thin red band on the outside. I spent a lot of time keeping them perfect.
One of my work colleagues had this same Camaro in red with a white vinyl top. I always liked the wheel covers. Unfortunately they also were popular with thieves in LA at the time. She lost a set along with her license plate during one unhappy night.
Yep, first you used the Bleche-White and then car soap for the rims and finally Armour-All
Yeah, you used the Bleche-White quickly with a little scrub brush and then washed it off before it turned the black part of the tire light grey…
Not to mention that it could barely get out of it’s own way.
At least a couple hundred dollars in cam, pistons could bump that 4 bbl. 350″ 165 HP V8 up to 350-375 HP if you were handy mechanically… also 12 MPG up to 17 – 19 MPG…