Launched at the Statler Hilton hotel in Detroit city centre on September 29, 1966 as a ’67 model, the Camaro hit the ground running in an attempt to make up for lost time on Ford’s Mustang which had burst onto the stage in 1964. While General Motors had not read the signs which pointed to the youth becoming increasingly affluent and mobile, resulting in the birth of the ‘pony car’ era, the Camaro had the benefit of learning from any mistakes that Ford had made in the launch of their Mustang two years earlier. While it is true that the Mustang hit the button pretty much spot on right from the off, the Camaro was a well-sorted car (perhaps better sorted than the Mustang) when it finally entered the market.
Forty six years old last month, the Camaro has had its ups and downs since its launch back in those heady days of the mid-1960s, and some may argue that it lost its way in design terms during the ’80-90s, but the Camaro has come back strongly in 2012. I make this critical statement about the Camaro’s design wanderings with some trepidation as there will be many who will take issue with this writer on that point, but one must ask the question why the new Camaro has been modelled on the basic design of the 1960s car. Ford has gone down the same path with its Mustang, and after many years of getting completely lost with the design of the Mustang during those same years, it too has reverted to a design that could have been penned back in the mid-60s.
Engine power has yo-yoed so much over the years as various action groups sought to strangle vehicle performance by reducing exhaust emissions, resulting in some Camaro models becoming decidedly asthmatic. But back in 1966, as the Big Three fought it out for the customer’s dollar, it was all about horsepower and that old racing adage, ‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’, translated into meteoric sales and a booming motor industry.
GM’s Bill Mitchell designed the Camaro, giving it smooth and curvaceous lines which, at launch, already dated the Mustang. Mitchell called the new styling the ‘Coke bottle’ design, as the flowing waistline of the Camaro was inspired by the distinctive profile of the Coca-Cola bottle. Not only did Mitchell’s work draw admiration from customers and opposition alike at the time of launch, but the original ‘Coke bottle’ Camaro styling has been brought back four and a half decades later.
These great looks didn’t come with a price tag to frighten off potential buyers either, instead it played right into their hands as the entry level 3.8-litre 6-cylinder model could be had for just $2,466, while the potent 5.4-litre V8 Convertible cost marginally more, namely $2,809. With such a tantalisingly attractive package within financial reach of so many, and especially the youthful end of the market, sales were spectacular to say the least.
The pony car phenomenon was in fact perfectly timed as it was in the mid-1960s that the first of the Baby Boomers reached car-buying age. Known for their ‘why not’ attitude, the Baby Boomers were the first generation to reach a level of affluence in their late-teens and early twenties en masse which made the acquisition of assets, in this case motor cars, fully achievable. This liberalised generation played its part in pushing the first generation Camaro sales along at the rate of almost a quarter million units per year for the period 1967-69.
The second generation Camaro (1970-81) was two inches longer and an inch lower, losing the Camaro some of its youthful innocence, but it became sleeker in the process. Sales dropped by around sixty percent which was more to do with the oil crisis than anything else, but the Camaro did have the distinction of outselling its rival, the Mustang, during this period, which just goes to show that the pony car era had run its course. The two millionth Camaro was produced in 1979 and as this model made way for its replacement, it was voted ‘Car of the Year’ by Motor Trend magazine.
The third generation model saw seven inches chopped from its wheelbase and the entry-level model came with a 4-cylinder engine of 2.8-litre capacity – and they called this a Camaro! Fortunately GM introduced the Z28 in 1984 which was voted one of the twelve best cars in the world by Road & Track magazine while its sister publication, Car and Driver, gave the Z28 the accolade of the best handling car built in the US.
When the G4 version of the Camaro entered the stage in 1993, it was once again introduced with a Convertible option in the range. Five years later the Camaro received the all-aluminium Corvette-derived 5.7 litre V8 engine, but this was seen as a last fling to extend the life of the model that finally ceased production in 2002, after 35 years on the forecourts of America. This marked the end of a glorious chapter in American automotive history and despite the tears and heartache, most of the motoring world knew that GM would return with a new model before too long, even if the company was silent on its plans.
Sure enough, GM CEO, Rick Wagoner announced in 2006 that the new Camaro had been given the go-ahead, and so the fifth generation Camaro went on sale in the spring of 2009 as a 2010 model year vehicle… and all of America breathed a collective sigh of relief. In fact probably most car enthusiasts around the world were pleasantly surprised when the new model broke cover as it resembled the original model more closely than any model had done since that fun-loving, characterful Camaro of 1966.
Long live the Chevy Camaro!