Two Gen-II Chevy Camaros: all-time favorite Americans in Iran
Photos by Shahab and Ashkan Anisi
When Ford stormed the market with its Mustang, hitting one million sales in only 18 months, it was a huge surprise to GM and Chrysler. Chrysler thought it had the answer in its 1964 Barracuda but sales were never strong, and Chrysler tried again with a brand new Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger in 1970. GM, though, soon took action against the perfect-selling king of the new 2+2 Pony Car class, the Mustang.
It took GM almost two years to release the new 1967 Camaro from the Chevy branch. By that time the Mustang had gotten more mature; the new Camaro was a project released in a big hurry, but sales figures showed a great potential.
The story got more interesting when the Camaro came to its second generation. What you are about to read is the short term test drive of two Gen–II Chevrolet Camaros, the 1975 base model (Blue) and 1976 LT-Type (Red).
Second Generation: The Evolution
The second-generation Camaro had a higher budget and more time on the design board because the first generation had unexpectedly good sales figures, so it turned into a serious competitor to the Mustang.
The second generation Camaro (1970-1981) had two major facelifts, one in 1974 and another in 1978, and thus is one of the most diverse Camaro generation (because of the severity of the 1974 changes, the 1974-81 series are usually considered one generation on their own). Both of our Camaros here are from the first facelift of the second generation; these are the most common and the cheapest Camaros to be found in Iran.
Exterior: Too Common Yet Exciting
Knowing that the 1974-1977 “F-body” Camaros are the most imported and the most common Camaros in Iran makes us look at them as less exciting. The exterior dimensions are as 4963 x 1889 x 1247 millimeters, 178 millimeters longer than the 1970-1973.
Unlike the first generation Camaro, the second generation had swoopy design characteristics, with a more spear-shape body rather than the first generation puffy Coke-bottle design. It is up to one’s taste to pick one design method as their favorite, but it’s worth noting how subtly and slowly the swoopy design took over the second generation, because the design method is not much felt in body work of the 1970-1973 Camaros but became clear with that extra 178 millimeter length.
The facelift did a lot more than adding a few centimeters. A total change in the rear end panel changed four rounded Corvette-like tail lights to two small simplistic triangles; from the huge front grill and a flat fascia to the small conservative grill and a more sloped front fascia.
The differences between our two Camaros here are minimal as they are both from the same era of production, but differences come from the different option and trim levels. The LT, a popular trim level in Iran, has minor differences over the base model, so small that even many cannot tell them apart.
The LT comes with a half-vinyl Landau roof with LT logos on the B-pillars, small chrome lower body liners, and two bumper guards front and rear as final touches. Looking closely, you will find a boot lid spoiler on the base model which the LT-Type is lacking. It has always been difficult to me to choose one kind as favorite. Both styles are beautiful on their own terms and that is why many Camaro owners either remove or install them. The same goes with the original rear windshield louvers on the red LT-Type which apparently cover the whole window but from the inside looking out is almost invisible.
Both Camaros have been upgraded with sport aluminum rims and tires. The base model uses the GT Wheel 8 punch hole sport rims on wide 295 tires and the LT-Type enjoys the company of the beautiful American Racing aluminum rims of 285 tires which brings on a lot of attention on the streets as they are rather rare and expensive rims in Iran.
Interior: Here Comes the Second Gen
The interior of the second generation Camaros are almost the same, a great relief since that is one lovely interior. Simple but driver-oriented, the whole cluster panel is angled like half of a sphere toward the driver including tachometer, speedometer, engine temp, oil pressure, clock and alternator voltage meter plus a four spoke steering wheel right in front of the driver. The rest of the dashboard is completed with an all original AM/FM Radio (in the base model) and a Camaro molded writings in cursive letter on the glove compartment door.
That is not just it. The Type LT still has some differences with the base model offered inside. The steering wheel is adjustable with the bluish Type LT logo right on the center cap instead of the three colored Camaro flag on the base model. The Type LT logo goes on the gap of the doors’ upholstery where the manual door window roll handles used to be located, because the Type LT has standard powered windows and the roll handles are not there.
The LT uses slightly different front seats seems a bit taller than the base model which are nicknamed in Iran as the Pilot Seats. The base model has also been modified with powered windows and a tachometer gauge by the prior owner.
Camaro is a 2+2 fast back style coupe bigger and more spacious than European rivals, yet the rear seat is limited in space and leg room. If one is under 1.8 meters of height there would not be much problems but anyone over that is better off taking the front seat or taking a walk.
The Mechanicals: Bulletproof Setup
The F-Body Camaro uses a monocoque (unibody) body structure assembled on a two-piece chassis. One piece, from the firewall toward the front, supports the engine, transmission, and front double A-arm independent suspension elements; the other part of the chassis is from under the rear seat toward the rear bumper, supporting the rear axle and its solid leaf spring suspension parts.
As a pony car, it stands a step lower than its GM muscle brothers with body-on-frame structures and full coil springs in front and back (Chrysler muscle relied on unibodies, with torsion bars up front and leaf-springs in back).
1974-77 Camaros in Iran usually use the 250, 305, or 350 cubic inch engines, the 250 being a tame straight-six. The engines of these two Camaros are both bone stock GM 350 OHV V8s, the most produced V8 engine ever. This 5.7 liter 16-valve, naturally aspirated, is from the world’s hall of fame small block family of GM engines. They produce 165 hp and 355 NM (261 lb-ft) of torque with the help of a four-barrel Rochester Quadrajet carburetor.
The engine is mated to a GM “Turbo Hydramatic” TH350 three-speed automatic transmission driving the real wheels. This setup is the most common American drivetrain setup one can find in Iran, as it is exactly the same drivetrain used by the third-generation Buick Skylark assembled in Iran, known as Buick Iran. The engine and transmission spare parts are cheap and easily available; tuning and upgrade parts can be found for a respectable price, and it can easily be force inducted if one really is willing to pay the price.
The front brakes are dual-plane air cooled disks with one-cylinder brake calipers; in the back, one-cylinder drum brakes are standard. Nothing special but enough to stop these 1.6 ton Camaros.
Driving Experience: American Excitement
From behind the steering wheel, the Camaro seems very long. It is probably because the front seats are too far from the nose of the vehicle. The feeling of being so far back and so low is the exact difference between the F-Body coupes and X-Body coupes both from the GM.
After firing up the engine, a big slow rumbling noise comes out of the exhausts tips. That’s because the exhaust system has been altered. It has now a dual pipe each one coming right from each bank then through two separate small middle mufflers and right out of the rear bumper because the rear main muffler has been removed for engine better breathing and as a small cheap modification. Now that is one soul soothing engine note and that’s why almost all American V8 owners in Iran actually go for this cheap exhaust modification.
The engine output numbers do not seem serious; it was back in the mid-70s and with all those restricting insurance laws and the oil crisis, and the performance was then considered respectable for such a drivetrain. Still, the Camaro has the potential of burning rubber on the first gear and that is because the torquey 350 V8 generates its rather small but respectable 355NM on lower RPMs because of its cross plane crankshaft. Smoking burnouts or drifting turns on gatherings are easy tasks to do that usually comes with an open mouth smile on the drivers face.
The transmission could have used one extra gear (preferably an overdrive) to actually match the engine RPM and create a better mileage. Many Camaro owners prefer to change the transmission with the more expensive 4 speed TH400 or the TH700 to get better driving experience. Changing the final drive is also a cheaper option but it either compromises the acceleration or top speed and that is the reason why Camaros with 4 speed manual transmissions (usually available on the 250 engine) are also sought after here.
The acceleration seem fulfilling and exciting, but the driving is a bit harsh, with the leaf springs on the back. The blame is also taken by the rear wide tires that are not supported with a sway bar. Unlike some more expensive F-Body sport coupes like the Pontiac Firebird, the Camaro did not used a sway bar in the back and that in the mix with wide tires in the corners causes a French kiss between the tire and wheel arch which is not a good thing especially when you have people in the back seats and taking a high speed turn or going over speed bumps too fast because that will cost you a serious body job work and a paint job as well. Most vehicles in the same class as the Camaro have such problem with big sport rims and extra wide tires.
The total driving experience is way faster and sharper than the equal X-Body coupes especially from stability viewpoint as the F-body Camaro feels lower in center of mass and harsher in suspension tuning.
Camaro in Iran
The first facelift of the second-generation Camaros (1974-1977) were the most imported to Iran, and are therefore the cheapest American sport coupe in the country (especially the F-Body series). The pre-facelift cars (1970-1973) have lower import figures and a more unique design along with some more powerful engine tune ups which makes their price 2 to 3 times more than a face lifted one. The second facelift Camaros (1978-1981) are also expensive but this time because they have aged less than previous models and therefore considered newer; they also use better design elements like the bigger, more beautiful rear tail lights with front and rear one-piece fiberglass bumpers. It is better to say that they are considered as better shaped with corrected designed flows that are more eye-catching.
Needless to say, the 1970-1973 and 1978-1981 Camaro models are harder to maintain as their interior and exterior parts and decals are harder to find and way more expensive to buy. That leaves the 1974-1977 Camaros also as a bargain American sport coupe on budget.
Camaros from 1974-1977 are the cheapest performance-based American sport coupe in Iran. One must have in mind although it is a 2+2 configuration coupe, the rear seating room is very limited, and the trunk only fits cargo for two; that is what it really is, a two-seater. Therefore a Camaro will definitely not suit for everyday usage but would be more proper as a second or even third vehicle for weekend parties and car gatherings.
I deeply appreciate the time and effort from Amiratabak AbbasiFard, the owner of the two Camaros, to make this test drive happen. I also thank my good friend Payman Ebrahimi who managed and planned the test drive along with my brother Ashkan Anisi, who helped me in photo shooting.
*Previously published in Persian on Bama.com
Longtime motorhead Shahab Anisi entered Iran’s small society of automotive journalists in 2009, while studying English translation at a university. He has written for six major automotive magazines and websites, and used to be the editor in chief of three seasonal magazines and the presenter of a video series.
In his active childhood, Shahab soon learned the functions of every part of an automobile and went to do-it-yourself projects on personal and nearby vehicles, from brake pad replacement and carburetor tune ups to engine upgrades, cylinder head swaps, and gearbox upgrades. He soon became popular as one of the most knowledgeable and technical Iranian auto journalists who understands mechanical and maintenance tasks, especially in American vehicles.
Shahab is probably the first and only Iranian journalist working from Iran with American automobile websites.
Shahab is an all-time classic car lover and retro-design maniac who mostly digs Detroit muscle; he was a Mopar lover long before GMs and Fords. His family owns a 1977 Jeep SJ 258-powered Cherokee Chief, a 1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera S, and a 1985 Buick Skylark B3 sedan made in Iran. He has spent more than 14 years with American vehicles, and yet nothing will ever replace a true American V8. He is looking for his lifetime dream car — a 1970 yellow 426 Hemi Cuda with a 4-speed and pistol-grip shifter.