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Chevrolet Camaro Vs. Pontiac Firebird

Double Take Published: 26th Aug 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Chevrolet Camaro Vs. Pontiac Firebird

What The Experts Say...

Rust Key areas are floors, and all suspension pick-up points.

Suspension Leaf springs may need replacing plus the six body to chassis mounting rubbers may be knackered.

Engine Oil pressure is 40-60psi when hot – many may have been tweaked; find out.

Running gear Worn LSDs common. Pulling means shot suspension bushes or the 11 ball joints used!

Interiors Check roof seals.

Interior easy to replace (some dials extinct now) but can become pretty costly.

Chevrolet Camaro Vs. Pontiac Firebird
Chevrolet Camaro Vs. Pontiac Firebird
Chevrolet Camaro Vs. Pontiac Firebird
Chevrolet Camaro Vs. Pontiac Firebird
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Chevrolet’s Camero and Pontiac’s Firebird are essentially the same car – so what one’s best for your image and your wallet?

There’s absolutely no doubt about it, the Second Generation Camaro and Firebird were the most successful American GT’s of their era, and to remain in production virtually unchanged for over a decade, says much for their brilliance of design. Both cars look very similar in their stylish fastback coupe design, but a convertible was never offered. The one thing they do have in common is their drivetrain layout, with front mounted engine, rear wheel drive, coil springs at the front and leaf to the rear.

In a nutshell, the Camaro could be deemed to be the working man’s sports car, though generally speaking it had stronger performance engineering, whereas respects, with a better finished interior for example. The difference between, say a Ford Consul and Granada would make a fine analogy.


The second generation Camaro based strike that lasted for 174 days at the Norwood, the Firebird was a more luxurious GT and to all intents and purposes had the edge in other upon the F-Body platform was launched in 1970, it was Chevrolet’s Pony Car and was destined for great things.

In all of its 12 years of production there were only two facelifts in 1974 and 1978 and ostensibly centered around changing the frontal aspect, but without detracting from the original 1970 bodylines.  A horrendous Ohio Plant, meant sales suffered for quite a while, only 68,656 cars were built in 1972, and 1100 incomplete cars were doomed as they couldn’t meet new 1973 bumper impact laws.

However, some five years later around 250,000 cars a year were being sold. Camaros were available in three basic options that included the RS (Rally Sport) SS(Super Sport) and Z/28. The RS was essentially an appearance package that offered upgrades of trim and indeed the famous front split bumper design. The SS package was more centered around more powerful engine options and suspension upgrades.

The Z/28 delivered performance upgrades in both the drive train and suspension. Probably the most sought after and collectable Camaro of the decade would be a 1970-1973 car with RS Z/28 package. These cars can be easily identified by their ‘egg crate’ front grille, round headlamps and four round tail lamps, very similar to those of the Corvette. There were a huge range of engine options that started off with a 3.8-litre straight-six and continued up through 5.0-litre V8, 5.7 V8, 6.5-litre, 6.6-litre to a 7.4-litre V8. Transmissions were either a three-speed TH400 automatic or four-speed manual.

Performance was reasonably brisk with V8 engine options, 0-60mph in around 7.5 seconds and there were disc brakes to the front and drums to the rear. The Z/28 of 1977-1981 was the performance leader, and following the success of Camaros as the car of the International Race of Champions IROC, and still battling it out with unbroken sales of its rival Pontiac Firebird, more tweaks were deemed necessary by engineer Jack Turner, These included uprated springs, anti-roll bars and larger wheels and tyres.


The second generation Firebird was also introduced in 1970 midway through the model year.

With similar body styling to the Camaro, penned under the direction of Division studio chief Bill Porter, it was available as a base model, Esprit, and the two ‘hottest’ ones, the Formula 400 and the Trans-Am. Also built at GM’s Norwood, Ohio Plant, along with the Camaro, the Firebird suffered similar production problems due to the strike of 1972. As with the Camaro, it’s the Firebirds produced from 1970-1073 that remain the most sought after and revered today.

The top of the range Trans-Am was available in 1971-1972 with a 455ci HO LS-5 engine. A year later the 455 SD (Super Duty) was available, though it was only installed on 252 cars. The 455ci engine was rated at 250-310bhp depending on the state of tune. Firebird Trans-Ams were in relatively short supply in the early 1970s with only 2116 built in 1971, 1286 in 1972 and 4802 in 1973.

As previously mentioned, the Firebird had a very well appointed interior, with high back bucket seats, engine turned dashboard and urethane trimmed three-spoke Formula steering wheel. Standard equipment included disc brakes at the front, drums to the rear, Safe-T-Track differential and power steering. As with its Camaro cousin, engine options ranged from straight-sixes to V8s ranging from 155bhp up to 335bhp. Transmissions were either three-speed Turbo Hydramatic automatic or four-speed manual.

The now familiar bonnet decal trademark known colloquially as the ‘screaming chicken’ was introduced in 1973 and was designed by John R. Schinella. It was effectively a latter day interpretation of the American Indian phoenix symbol.

For 1976 there was a Firebird Limited Edition Trans-Am that wasconceived by GM styling chief William L. Mitchell and overseen by designer John R. Schinella. The idea behind this modelwas to celebrate Pontiac’s 50th Anniversary. The Limited Edition was painted black with gold grille insert, stripes, honeycomb wheels and gold anodized instrument panel appliqué, gold steering wheel spokes and other special interior trim. Some 2400 were built and they sold very quickly, prompting Pontiac to cash in on a good idea by offering a Special Edition for 1977-1979 cars.

A 10th Anniversary Firebird Trans-Am was available in 1979, in order to celebrate the first decade of Pontiac’s very successful Ponycar. This was finished in silver charcoal paintwork, with a T-bar roof, silver leather interior, a plethora of power assisted everything, heavy duty WS-6 handling package, and John R. Schinella designed Turbo alloy wheels that were made by Appliance.

Power was courtesy of the Oldsmobile 185bhp 403ci V8, though some cars were fitted with a few left over Pontiac 400ci engines, which had the slight edge on the former with 220bhp. Some of these cars also sported a manual four-speed transmission,thus making them the most sought after of the breed..


An entry level Firebird base model will start around £2,500. mid 1970’s Trans-Ams in excellent condition will be £10,000-£12,000, more for concours, and expect to pay twice that price for mint matching numbers 1970-1973 cars. Early second generation Camaro Z/28scan command £8,000-£10,000, plus a premium for concours cars.

Best and Budget Buys?

Cheapest cars will be straight six-engined models, not to everyone’s taste and lower petrol consumption is marginal as they have to work harder for performance than V8s, but should not be discounted if your budget is very tight. Best cars for investment are 1970- 1973 but they don’t come cheap. With the 10th Anniversary Trans-Am you get an awful lot for your money, plush trim, Turbo alloy wheels, T-Tops, and excellent examples are from £8,000. Black and Gold Smokey and The Bandit 1977/78 Trans-Ams will always be in demand and fairly easy to sell on again. Camaro Z/28 1977-1981 have a more refi ned ride/handling blend for many.

And The Winner Is...

So what’s the best car, Camaro or Firebird? There’s not a huge amount to choose between them, though as far as further tuning is concerned, the Camaro lends itself far more easily.

Both enjoyed much success in competition on the race tracks. Interestingly both models reached their performance zenith between 1970 - 1973 and remain the most sought after cars by collectors. Though having said that, the ‘Hawk front’ Smokey and the Bandit Black and Gold Trans-Am is still hugely popular.

For Camaro buffs, nothing less than a Z/28 will suffice. In essence both cars enjoy a very enthusiastic and healthy following, at the end of the day it’s all down to personal choice, but whatever your preference, these cars command much respect from enthusiasts and are two of the great American GT’s of their era.

One word of caution, both cars can be prone to serious rot around the wheels arches, rear window and boot floor.

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