Thrilling performance, outstanding styling, and a fun-to-drive experience have always defined the Camaro. The automotive adventure that first began on Chevrolet showrooms September 21, 1966, continues today. Whether it's at a car show, drag race, or rally event, Camaro enthusiasts have continually transformed their cars from mere transportation to a unique lifestyle. And even though the Camaro has been on hiatus the last few years, the exclusive culture that only car people seem to understand has a lot to reflect on-and look forward to
It's hard to believe, but the original idea for a Camaro-type car dates back to 1958, when GM engineers built an early prototype four-seat personal car in an advanced studio. In subsequent years, the plan for a front engine, four-passenger sporty car didn't gain much traction, and by early '64 GM was satisfied that the rear-engine Corvair nicely filled the emerging personal car market. Besides, Chevrolet was already building the Corvette, Big Chevy, Chevy II, and the new '64 Chevelle.
So when Ford introduced the Mustang in April 1964, Chevrolet didn't worry much. After all, the Corvair featured more-advanced engineering than the Falcon-based Mustang. These innovations included an air-cooled engine, fully independent suspension, and a variety of powerplants. But the short-lived confidence level at Chevrolet lasted only until the little Mustang began trampling all sales predictions. Changing Mustang sales predictions were on target to hit over 600,00 units by August 1965, which were about five times the initial estimates. Predictions called for more than a million of the blue-oval pony cars in driveways by mid-1966. Ford's sales were so impressive that a local Detroit breakfast spot began advertising its hot cakes as "selling like Mustangs." Lee Iacocca's better idea was moving through Detroit like a stampede.
By August 1964 Chevrolet took notice and formed a team to build a car to compete, largely following the marketing strategy Ford used on the Mustang: Take a basic model, offer it at a low entry price to the public, and provide a very long list of available options. One of the engineering edges, though, that the new Camaro would have over the Mustang's harsh unibody setup was a far better suspension and ride. This was accomplished with a special front subframe (unusual at the time) with four large biscuit mounts providing superior isolation from the road.
Very early prototypes were tested with crude items bolted onto '64 Nova X-bodies. Contrary to popular belief, the first-gen '67 Camaro F-body did not grow out of the Chevy II, but was coengineered with the new '68 Chevy II as a means to share cost and tooling concerns. Because the Camaro was slated for the '67 model year, it received primary emphasis. What's important to note here is that the '67 Camaro was not an adaptation of an existing design, but rather a new-from-the-ground-up car that shared some features with the later-to-be-released '68 Chevy II. (The F- and X-body shared a tall cowl area, floorpans, a subframe, and a short dash-to-front axle distance.) This is much different from the Mustang which was adapted from a previously designed Falcon. That said, the Camaro was engineered as a specialty car and the '68 Chevy II as a volume seller, so although the Camaro received priority consideration, some compromises were made in favor of the '68 Chevy II.
During Camaro's first year...
During Camaro's first year it was selected to pace the Indy 500 race. Although most of the 100 replicas were 350 powered, a few, like this one, contained 396 engines. This is the car that paced the Indy 500 in 1967, which was broadcast live on television. This coverage helped boost Camaro sales early on.
Although Chevrolet produced...
Although Chevrolet produced over 20,000 Z/28 Camaros for '69 (left), on average they demand some of the highest prices. The '69 had a highly sculptured body with two side feature lines traveling rearward from the front of each wheel opening. The '70 featured a long deck and sloped rear window. In mid-'70 Chevrolet also produced a very rare SS 396 Camaro (right).