By on April 20, 2010

It’s a well known fact that GM didn’t approve production for what eventually became the Camaro until six months after the Mustang was released, by which time it had already sold over 100k units. That doesn’t mean that Chevy hadn’t given the idea some thought over the years.

Internal GM advanced projects on a compact sporty four seater go back to 1958, which not coincidentally is the year that Ford introduced the groundbreaking four-passenger Thunderbird. In an article at holisticpage.com, Pontiac Designer Bob Porter is quoted. “I remember a four-passenger, sporty type car of the general size and weight class of the Mustang being worked on in an advanced studio. In the early ’60s, similar cars were developed from time to time. Everyone wanted to do one, but at the time there was really no corporate interest.” But various design drawings and clays continued to be generated, under the code name XP-836. The Camaro’s final shape was already well under way in this airbrush (below) from 1963 (more likely 1964 or 1965).

Given that Chevrolet had practically invented the compact sporty genre with its Corvair, and had its hands full developing and marketing the Chevy II and upcoming Chevelle, its rationale seems valid enough. It certainly never expected the Mustang to be the overwhelming hit that it turned out to be.

The Super Nova concept from 1964 (top) represents a similar if slightly different approach on Camaro design influences. Still based on the old and tall Chevy II architecture, it’s more of a glimpse at the new roof line and styling of the ’66 Chevy II, but Camaro influences are obvious too, especially that crease line down the side that came back for the ’69 Camaro. I have vivid memories of it in GM’s Futurama exhibit from the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

This more advanced clay is is now closer to production, and looks almost exactly like the air brush rendering above. It’s probably from the time when the corporate green light came on, 1964. Although the roof line is still not finalized, what’s fascinating about this clay is that it sports the ’69 Camaro’s front end styling almost perfectly. I’m guessing here, but I suspect it fell away to the production ’67-’68 front end as a cost cutting measure, and one that Chevy rectified for 1969. That would explain why the ’67 Camaro’s front end looks improvised, cheap and crude.

Various body styles were explored, including this “shooting brake” wagon. And a shortened two-passenger convertible prototype was also built (below): Shades of what AMC later did in turning the Javelin into the AMX.

The final and thorny problem to be solved was the name. Panther was used for internal and planning purposes, but GM shied away from overly aggressive names, like the Pontiac’s Banshee.

A pre-release car here actually carries the “Chaparral” name, after the remarkably successful Chevy-powered race cars that were tearing up the tracks at the time. In the end, GM somehow came up with the Camaro name, and even dug up an antique French dictionary that showed it meaning “friend” or “companion”.

Here’s Chevy honcho Pete Estes getting ready to put some bang into the new Camaro name. Meanwhile, Ford found an old Spanish dictionary that defined Camaro as a “small shrimp-like creature”. And a journalist came up with another that defined it as “loose bowels”.

The Camaro was developed and built on the platform intended also for the 1968 Chevy II/Nova. It was significant in that it took the unibody structure and married it to a front subframe using several rubber biscuits. The intention was to reduce noise and vibration from the engine and front suspension, and it became a standard technique going forward. It did add some extra weight, but the direction was to more powerful and heavier cars anyway.

The ’67 Camaro was given the privilege of debuting two new variations of Chevy’s infinitely adaptable small block V8. The soon to be ubiquitous 350 V8 was specifically designed to give the Camaro a unique engine, which it kept to itself for the debut year. Initially, it was the biggest V8 available, but once again following rather than leading, after the Mustang’s introduction of its 390 V8 for ’67, the Camaro was quickly approved for the Chevy 396, although in modest 325 hp trim.

The other unique engine was the legendary Z28 engine, developed specifically to homologate the Camaro for the new SCCA Trans AM racing series. Using a trick similar to what hot rodders had been doing since the fifties, Chevy combined the four inch bore of the 327 with a three inch crank from the 283. Using the best components in its high performance arsenal, the mighty mouse 302 was very conservatively rated at 290 (gross) horsepower. Many in the know suggest that its true (gross) output was closer to 380-390 horsepower.

In the hands of racers like Mark Donohue, the Z28 was unbeatable on the tracks. Someone trying to sell you a ’67 Z28? beware, only 602 were made, and the few that survive are worth serious bucks. But they weren’t the easiest car to drive on the street, given that its wild cam made little power below 3,000 rpm. But it would rev to 7,000, and outrun a 396 Camaro once it picked up its skirts.

Despite its late start, the Camaro went to have a decent run in its first year, although nothing near what the Mustang was doing. Despite the new competition, Ford still moved almost a half million ‘Stangs in 1967, while Chevy had to be content with some 221k Camaros sold. The pony car wars were now in full heat, and the epic battles to come would be the stuff…of future Illustrated History chapter.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

30 Comments on “An Illustrated History Of The First Camaro...”


  • avatar
    segar925

    Thanks for the great historical photos Paul. It’s a shame the current Camaro isn’t a better reflection of the 60s legend, GM really blew it in my humble opinion.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    Interesting, the rear side windows and fender line in pics 3 & 4 look like a 1970 Chevelle giving a sort of mashup look. Or GM reused the discarded Camaro rear styling for a Chevelle facelift.

  • avatar

    That ’64 Super Nova concept (pic #1) is truly gorgeous. A shame the Camaro couldn’t have looked like that.

  • avatar

    It’s a Riviera! No, wait, it’s a Corvair! No, wait….

  • avatar
    geeber

    Interesting story. The Super Nova is very sharp, and a good preview of the 1966 Chevy II/Nova, which was a very handsome car in hardtop coupe form.

    When it first heard of the Mustang, GM thought it wouldn’t be a huge success. GM believed that most people would merely view it as another edition of the Falcon. Oops!

    • 0 avatar

      This was not an irrational assumption — the V8-powered Falcon Sprint was a flop, and it was pretty obvious that the Mustang was going to share a lot with the Falcon, so GM figured it would be more of the same. Even if the Mustang had outsold the Sprint by five to one, that would still have meant only 75,000 sales, which was not a particular threat to the Corvair. Chevy had the snazzy ’65 Corvair in the works, with fully independent suspension and a turbocharged engine, and they figured they’d leave the Mustang in the dust, sales-wise.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Bitchin!

  • avatar

    “In the end, GM somehow came up with the Camaro name, and even dug up an antique French dictionary that showed it meaning ‘friend’ or ‘companion’.”

    I always thought Camaro was the French name for a Mullet haircut.

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      oooohhh, cheapshot!

    • 0 avatar

      There should be something akin to Godwin’s Law for the Camaro because the longer any discussion of the Camaro goes on, the more likely it becomes that someone will mention the mullet.

      I must confess that I have had a mullet and a Camaro, though not at the same time. I had the mullet back in the 1980′s when the look was in style, and I owned a 2000 Camaro from 2000-03.

  • avatar

    @Geeber, I think that ’64 Nova concept is far better looking than the ’66 Chevy II. No contest.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      I agree, but the Super Nova was a show car, and thus not constrained by production car concerns. It has rectangular headlights (not legal in this country during the 1960s) and no front or rear bumpers. GM simply could not have taken the Super Nova straight to the production lines “as is.”

      The 1966 Chevy II/Nova hardtop coupe is a very handsome car, especially considering that the Chevy II was supposed to be the “economy” model in the 1966-67 Chevrolet lineup.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    “How much Camaro you want depends on how much driver you want to be.”

    Shouldn’t that read, “How much Camaro you want depends on how fat your wallet is, how big your _______ is, and how much ________ you want to enjoy at Makeout Point.”

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    I’ve forgotten how really good looking those first Camaros were. Love that red convert in the last add.

    GM may have only had one real engineer – but gads, their stylists were the best….then.

  • avatar
    obbop

    My innards are immersed with warm fuzzy feelings from an era with little concern regarding the environment or over-population within the USA but the ever-present and growing involvement within Indo-China did spread something of a damper upon the mood but there was still a sense of optimism within the blue-collar working-poor that a job at a livable wage and at least some basic benefits awaited those who kept their “nose clean” and made a good old-fashioned “college try” to make a life for one’s self and not too many females had been warped by “feminist indoctrination” yet and that there was at least some hope for the future and there were still some “ties that bind” among the general populace before the “cult of diversity” slowly yet steadily led to the fragmentation of the USA citizenry into competing groups that allowed the few to continuously pillage the pocketbooks of the many.

    That is what appears in my mind as I ponder the Camaro rolling down the road in what was, in so many ways, a more “innocent” time within the USA.

    And I am saddened by so much (but not all) of the “progress” that has occurred from that ancient era.

    Sniff.

    • 0 avatar
      SV

      Um, wow. “Feminist indoctrination”? “Cult of diversity”? Are you a KKK member too?

    • 0 avatar
      menno

      Nothing is particularly wrong with women staying at home and raising children, if that is what they wish to do and the husband is agreeable.

      In fact, the Mennonites (who do generally have cars) haven’t “progressed” to having both husband and wife working for “da man” as slaves to paychecks (with pay-outs to hired people to raise the children) and this has resulted in their children generally being the most well-adjusted, mature, self-reliant and able small people I’ve seen for 35 years or more.

      Sometimes the old ways weren’t as bad as some people make them out to be, and I miss them too.

      Obbop, you need to go back in time and find a Mennonite church to visit on some Sunday morning.

      You’ll find the adults are the most well adjusted people you’ll have probably seen for 35 years, as well.

      “If it aint’ broke, don’t ‘fix’ it.”

    • 0 avatar
      SV

      I took more offense to the “cult of diversity” comment. America is a diverse place, even if it is still half white, and it was a good thing when we as a nation started to really recognize that diversity instead of pushing other ethnicities out of the picture and into different schools, bathrooms etc.

      As for “feminist indoctrination”, overly feminist women annoy the hell out of me but, I believe women should enjoy all the same rights as men. If they want a career, they should have all the same opportunities men do.

      The old times were certainly simpler and I think that’s where the “good old days” notion comes from. Human society trends towards the complex and it’s only going to get more overwhelming in the coming century. Like it or not, unfortunately that’s the way it is.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    GM missed the boat with the front end of the revived Camaro. It looks awful, not at all stylish like the ’69 it’s emulating.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    “Um, wow. “Feminist indoctrination”? “Cult of diversity”? Are you a KKK member too?”

    Er… um… just another fellow’s opinion, oh member in good-standing of the Cult of Personality.

  • avatar
    SV

    It’s his right to state his opinion, as it is my right to state an offended response. Or perhaps it’s just a bemused one, as I have trouble determining the sanity of someone who apparently finds civil rights and women’s suffrage a step back.

    Now, back to the Camaro. Nice car, and unlike the Mustang it never really suffered from the Malaise era, at least not in looks…pick any Mustang and Camaro from the 70s and the Chevy is guaranteed to be the more attractive car.

    • 0 avatar
      James2

      “pick any Mustang and Camaro from the 70s and the Chevy is guaranteed to be the more attractive car”

      Probably true, as the Mustang really bloated up for a while there (see the red Mach 1 Sean Connery drove in Diamonds Are Forever) then went anorexic-ugly (see Mustang II) while the Camaro didn’t quite bloat up as much or go in the Vega direction.

  • avatar
    Steve65

    Mark DonOhue…

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    This show car (by AMC), part of the Project IV group, was quite the stunner.

    http://www.desoto58.com/dreamcar/dreamamcprojectivcaramxii66.html

    Had they built it, it appears as if it would have been more in competition with the upcoming Mercury Cougar, than direct competition against the Mustang and Camaro, as the 1968 Javelin ended up being. This might have been a good one-two punch / move.

    The show car was called the AMX II, and it was designed with an AMC team headed by hired gun Vince Gardner, who was a GM-reject (apparently he had drug addiction and temper issues). It was one of the Project IV cars shown widely by AMC through 1966, in a bid to prove to the public (and bankers) that AMC wasn’t moribund (Studebaker had just expired in the late winter of 1966).

    And yeah, you can definitely see the GM-ness of the car, perhaps even a little bit of the 1963 Buick Riviera (which is no insult).

    It’s really a pity that AMC would not have been able to introduce this AND the Javelin.

    The wheelbase appears to be about 110-114″ or so, and therefore, it seems as if the car was developed using the larger of two sizes of AMC “pan” (one was for the American, the other was the Classic, later Rebel, Ambassador and also Marlin). The 1967 Cougar was 113″ wheelbase, so this car could easily have been built on the same wheelbase as the 1967 Rebel (114″) and this would have shaved costs (by using the same chassis pan pressings).

    This AMX II would have been a fitting replacement for the failed Marlin, and would have more than likely sold far better!

    Had it been built, I suspect it’d have been given the moniker “Rogue” since the AMX II is almost an evolution of early renderings and clays of what became the Javelin, which originally started out being called just that. Or possibly “SST” (as in “AMC SST”). Would that have been the only time any car was known simply by lettered acronyms for make and model?

    Being pretty well based upon a larger “pan”, and given that AMC re-did their larger car lines for 1967 (including a brand new rear coil non-torque tube rear suspension which handled well), I suspect it’s possible that had AMC had the dough, this car could have come out for 1967 (to replace the failed Marlin) and the Javelin still would have followed for 1968 (based on the smaller “pan”).

    Instead, they spent money on an all-new 1967 Marlin which continued to flop on the dock (in the market) and died by spring 1967. Marlin came out in Spring 1965, and was sold for two years, in three “model years”, in two iterations. Translation: a huge waste of money and resources; a “flop”. AMC’s “Edsel” when it couldn’t afford one.

    AMC also had a couple of really nice, brand new, light weight, high performance V8′s for 1967; a 290 (with up to 235hp) and a 343 (with up to 280hp). Looking at the weights of the AMCs in this era, I’m going to guess that this car, in production form, would have weighed in at about 3100 pounds with a V8. This would have been within about 100 pounds of the (new in 1967) Mercury Cougar and similar in size and performance (though the Cougar could be had with a 390 V8 of 320hp, the big FE block added several hundred pounds to the car up front and upset the handling).

    For 1968, AMC introduced their own 390 V8 of 315 hp (but it was a small-block, related to AMC’s 290 and 343).

    A 1968 Rogue with 315hp weighing in at 3150 pounds (10 pounds per HP) with Warner T-10 four speed (as AMC used from mid-1966 as an option) would have been a formidable personal luxury larger pony car – as I say, Mercury Cougar and Pontiac Firebird would have had a worthy competitor.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    I just checked the books and the 1968 Javelin with 343 V8 (280hp) weighing about 3000 pounds could do 0-60 in about 8 seconds. That was pretty darned fast for the day. That’s just over 10.7 pounds per HP.

    I suspect a 1968 “Rogue” with 390, weighing in only about 150 pounds more, could have belted out 0-60 in about 7.5 seconds. 10 pounds per HP, as I mentioned before. Especially with AMC’s nice Twin Grip (Chevyphiles call it “posi” or positraction). I’d estimate a 1967 “Rogue” with 343, 280hp, could have done 0-60 in about 8.5 seconds (which ironically is about what my wife’s 2009 Sonata FOUR CYLINDER AUTOMATIC family sedan can do, and which many people consider “too sluggish” these days). “You kids!” You’re spoiled! (Family cars don’t really need 0-60 in 7 seconds and 140 mph plus top speeds in real life, especially given the traffic and speed limits we have these days).

    The AMC 390 belted out some 425 foot pounds of torque. It was a torque monster (i.e. “good acceleration”). By contrast, the highly revered Ford FE big-block 390 belted out 427 foot pounds of torque and couldn’t rev as high/breathe as well as the lighter AMC V8.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India