Mary Barra may be the first woman to run General Motors (GM), but she’s also the first bona fide car enthusiast to serve as CEO in more than two decades — and only the second since the 1950s. With her degree in electrical engineering as well as her years working in GM plants, her car smarts run deep. Can you imagine Rick Wagoner or Dan Akerson changing their own oil or adjusting a fan belt? Outside the office, Barra drives an SUV when she’s family-hauling, but her heart clearly belongs to the Camaro, a staple of the Chevrolet lineup for nearly half a century. She’s not alone. LeBron James, Brad Pitt, and Jay Leno are also Camaro owners. GM sold 80,567 of the pony cars in 2013, pushing it ahead of rival Mustang. Barra and her husband own a 2010 SS coupe and have been trying to find a late-1960s car to double their collection. “First-generation convertible Camaro,” she told Fortune. “It would be great to find a red one.” If she can’t — a ’68 convertible in top condition would run about $75,000 — there are a half-dozen other Camaros that are considered classics. And an auto-lover like her could park any one of the following selections in her garage without embarrassment.
1967 Chevrolet Camaro
The Camaro made its debut in September 1966 as a four-seat coupe and convertible. Although it trailed Ford’s Mustang and even the Pontiac GTO to market by several years, it established its own performance profile with V-8 models like the 325-horsepower SS 396 and the sport-oriented Z/28. Less adventurous buyers found models with automatic transmissions and powered by an in-line six that carried a base sticker price of $2,466.
1969 Camaro Z11 Indy 500 Pace Car
Indy 500 pace car editions are usually forgotten seconds after the race is run on Memorial Day, but the orange-striped RS/SS convertible resonated with car lovers like no other. It is considered by some to be the most recognizable pace car of all time. Some 3,675 of the special cars were produced. Power came from a 350-cubic-inch small-block V-8 or 396-cubic-inch big-block V-8 producing up to 375 hp.
1970 Camaro Z/28
Chevy updated the Camaro for the 1970 model year with unusually sophisticated lines that seemed to draw inspiration from the design houses of Italy. Longer, lower, and wider than the original model, it also handled better and had more interior space. Its zero-to-60 time was measured at 5.8 seconds. Road & Track magazine called the Camaro coupe the best American car of the time. But with the popularity of convertibles ebbing, no ragtops were offered.
GM waited 12 model years before it redesigned the Camaro for 1982, and some were disappointed with the outcome. In response to stiffer emission regulations, the new car was shorter and lighter, but much less powerful. The biggest engine, a 305-cubic-inch V-8 producing just 165 horsepower, propelled the car in a zero-to-60-mph sprint that took 7.9 seconds, slower than a Volkswagen Beetle convertible.
1993 Camaro Z/28
GM put some muscle back into the fourth-generation Camaro, with more features to appeal to enthusiasts. The Z/28 came with a 275-hp 5.7 liter V-8. But the popularity of sport coupes was declining, and the Camaro was getting lapped by the competition. Starved of updates because of GM’s financial problems, the Camaro aged — and not gracefully. You can buy one today in average condition for about $25,000.
2002 Camaro SS 35th Anniversary Edition
With sales shrinking, GM decided to end Camaro production with this special 2002 edition. It came in any color you wanted — as long as it was red. Total production for the year was 42,098. The slower-selling Pontiac Firebird, which shared a platform with the Camaro during its entire run, was discontinued at the same time.
Despite being hobbled by bankruptcy, GM managed to revive Camaro (though not Firebird) after a seven-year hiatus. Although styling cues were adapted from the 1969 model, the horizontal proportions and lower stance gave the car a much different feel. True believers didn’t care, concentrating on offerings like the 426-hp SS edition — Mary Barra drives an SS coupe — and the new Camaro outsold Mustang in its first year.
Horsepower still reigns in Detroit, and the latest Camaro, unveiled at the 2013 New York auto show, features a Z/28 model with a 500-hp V-8 — the same engine used in the Corvette. Zero-to-60 takes 4.1 seconds — Ferrari and Porsche time — and a Z/28 beat a Porsche 911 around Germany’s famed Nürburgring. No wonder Barra ranks this new generation of Camaros as among her favorites!