The cars we loved.
If you were looking for an American performance car in the early years of the 1970s, you would have known that your choices were slim pickings. Old muscle car stalwarts like the Charger, Challenger and Javelin would get plucked off, while the Firebird and Camaro were in danger of becoming history. Other cars like the GTO were being neutered. These were grim times indeed.
Through a bit of deception and regulation compliance trickery, the Trans-Am was able to keep its chest hair while most other performance cars were getting perms to swap power fort stripes and decals. The Camaro would struggle to maintain a Z28, although it was the more popular F body car.
As the Feds were telling Detroit how to build their cars more with each new mandated regulation, the Chevy folks considered just folding the Camaro altogether. After all, a big strike crippled Camaro sales in 1972 and when it was all over only a few made it to dealerships. It did not help that buyers were looking for smaller cars also. It was the perfect excuse to focus more of its marketing moxey on the smaller and more fuel-efficient Vega, the car that many at Chevy thought would be its future.
As big powerful and thirsty V8 powered cars became choked and clogged with catalytic converters, Chevy’s solution would be to continue mining the considerable profit margins that came with the sale of each loaded Z28 or SS Camaro, but move from muscle to luxury. Luxury would be the savior for the Camaro, never mind that the Monte Carlo was very similar in concept.
With the 1973 model year, a new Camaro line was introduced, the Type LT (luxury touring). The luxury oriented coupe was a model line all of its own and as such came loaded with luxury items like wood grained interiors, air conditioning and power windows. When combined with the Z28 option and or the Rally Sport package, buyers could have the ultimate Camaro.
The base 350 cu V8 with 145 hp had to work hard to move the luxury oriented Camaro. This was the closest the Camaro would come to the less sporty Monte Carlo. The thick sound deading material only emphasized the Type LTs quite softened ride. There were some concessions to the fact that the Type LT was still a Camaro. Some cars had a automatic transmission that allowed the driver to hold gears for more engine response. Like the Firebird Esprit, the Type LT’s uncluttered bodywork highlighted the beautiful European influenced second generation F body design.
More integrated bumpers and a rounded rear window would mark just some of the stylistic changes through the years. While up to 245 hp would be available with the 350 V8 in some years, most opted for the base engine. Chevy’s foresight into what its buyers wanted seemed to be right on the money as sales were at record levels for a few years in a row, easily trouncing the compact Mustang II.
It only got worse for performance lovers as the Z28 was put to rest in 1975, making the Type LT the performance Camaro while the Rally Sport was the flashy one. The planets were surly mis-aligned in those years, but the Type LT would remain the biggest seller of the Camaro types. When the Z28 returned in 1977, the Type-Lt no longer had the top V8. Its standard engine became a 250 inline 6 with about 110 hp. Most of these cars like the majority of LTs were saddled with a three speed auto and rarely a four speed manual.
In a confusing move, the Type LT would split into two different models. The luxury Camaro concept was maturing and establishing its own sub niche. Now a Type LT would be either a standard Sport Coupe or Rally Sport Coupe for 1977. The split personality would not put a dent in sales as the softer Camaro was as popular as ever. The vast array of options resulted in cars that ranged from Z28-like basic black to tweed luxury accented interiors.
1978 was the final and best year for the Type LT in America (it was the best-selling American car in Germany oddly enough). Chevrolet would simplify matters in 1979 with a new model oriented towards luxury, the Berlinetta. The ideal of a luxury Camaro would run up to 1987, when LT became a simple option for the base Sports Coupe.