Make no doubt about it-Chevrolet's hot-rodding history is long and storied, covering more than a half-century of performance, and counting. That being said, many musclecar mavens sum it all up with three words: Camaro, Chevelle, Nova. As much as all other offerings, these three marques helped define the word musclecar. More than that, these potent Chevys have etched themselves into the gearhead psyche. We may enjoy other rides, but odds are we also yearn to own one of these seminal examples of Bow Tie muscle. With this in mind, we've decided to lay the three out, bumper to bumper, and see how they compare. What's hot? What's still available (and affordable)? What kinds of repairs and modifications are being made? How does the after-market see the musclecar hobby? Our goal for these pages will be to shed some light on these questions.
So starting off with not much of a surprise, Camaro checks in as the most popular of our trio. Of course, this sounds like utter nonsense if you dig Chevelles or Novas, but the evidence supports the verdict. A quick check of the Internet shows first- and second-gen Camaros being bought and sold at a fever pace. We backed this up by asking our after-market sources about their top sellers, and parts for GM's ponycar lead the league. And within the F-body family, '69 models rate as "scorching hot." Year One's Keith Maney puts this popularity in perspective: "Let's face it-you can get a complete aftermarket '69 Camaro now." Craig Hopkins, manager of Goodmark Industries' Installation Center, tells us "seven out of 10" of the calls he gets are about '69s. "I'm thinking, Jeez, did they make that many?" Hopkins laughs. Thanks to an extra-long production cycle, '69s were built in abundance-more than 243,000, which included 20,302 Z/28s.
Then again, even the most abundant examples of classic Chevy muscle are now in short supply. "The days of all the really good cars are gone," says Barbara Hillick of Goodmark Industries. "People get rough cars now, cars they wouldn't have touched 10-15 years ago," chimes in Year One's Maney. "People will go further to save a car," he continues. "The aftermarket is what makes this possible. "You can get so much more now than you could before." Soft trim-carpet, seat covers, weatherstripping-are the best sellers, but the option to rebody an entire car gives the enthusiast more options.
Early second-gen Camaros rate next on the popularity poll, but Maney surprised us when he said that Year One is seeing increased interest in late second-gen Camaros. "The styling was a bit stronger," he observes. It's easy to see the attraction, despite the smog motors. We've seen clean '79-81 Z28s going for a couple of grand, and project cars go for considerably less. Compare that to 10 grand and up for a first-gen Camaro, and those later cars start looking pretty good. When it comes to project cars, there's really not much to differentiate our three subjects. "They seem to come apart in the same areas," says Goodmark installation guru Hopkins. "The trunk floor and the floorpans are usually the first to go," he continues. The quarter-panel "drop" (the area behind the rear wheels) is next, then the filler between the trunk lid and the rear glass.