I can recall the first time I saw a first generation Camaro in the October 1966 Popular Science new car preview edition. The 1967 Camaro was the star attraction when it debuted in the fall of 1966 and it gave the General an instant classic in the pony car battle.
I liked the original Camaro because it was a stylish blend of well-sculpted bodylines with curves in all of the right places. The hidden headlights and race stripe around the front fenders of the car were options that took the car to an even higher level of cool for me as a very young admirer.
The 1967 Camaro appeared on the scene and the General instantly became a big player in the pony car wars. The Camaro had gotten ahead of the curve and was now a leader in the style department because the car already looked like a car from the early 70s even though that era was still 4 years in the future in October 1966.
The honeymoon period lasted for one year for me because the newer first-gen Camaros were essentially a 1967 Camaro with state mandated side marker lights. The variables between the three years were lost on me and I was challenged to find any enthusiasm for the 1969 Camaro as a kid in the 60s and now as an aging Baby Boomer. To me the 1969 Camaro is simply a warmed-over version of the 1967 Camaro and I am puzzled about its iconic status in the collector car market.
I view the 1969 Camaro as a cookie cutter kind of car because there were 243, 085 Camaros produced in 1969 and that number shows they were popular with consumers in a big way. The large production number has not quelled the fever for 1969 Camaros because these cars still command a big buck in the world of collector cars.
These days the 1969 Camaro cultists have devised a caste system that places a barebones six cylinder car at the very bottom of the pile and a COPO Camaro at the very top of the pile. In between are small and big block variations that will give each car a place on the Camaro totem pole in order of importance. Garden-variety Camaros are given a huge amount of mechanical and cosmetic surgery that applies the right amount of lipstick on the pig to enhance their value.
The surgically enhanced vehicles used to be called clones, but these days the politically correct term is “tribute car”, a moniker designed to soften the blow of cheap imitation as a sales tactic. The result is a huge number of COPO, SS and RS/SS Camaro clones on the street in search of the right 1969 Camaro cult member/potential owner.
The real deal in rare model 1969 Camaros will cost you at the very least your first-born, with options on your second and third born kids. Thus exists the saddest fact in the 1969 Camaro equation: They made a huge number of 1969 Camaros that look exactly the same-except for badge, trim and power-train options that camouflage the blandness and drastically enhance their value.
There is no real magic behind the 1969 Camaro beyond a lingering sense of irrationality that the car was somehow special enough to outrank two earlier model years that looked exactly like the ’69 to the untrained eye or disinterested non-Camaro car guy. A 1969 Camaro is indeed the Holy Grail for the first-gen models’ fans and those of us who do not share the same philosophy about the car view the adulation as somewhat cartoon-like because we simply do not see the magic.
Outsiders see the 1969 Camaro as a Justin Bieber kind of car, while its faithful fans see it more as a Bob Dylan kind of car for reasons that are not particularly obvious to the rest of us. I can live with the divide between the two as long as the Camaro cultists don’t knock on my door to try and convert me on Saturday mornings.