With rumors circulating that Chevrolet will pull the plug on yet another chapter in Camaro history, it seems like a good time to bring it full circle and revisit the first-gen design where it all began.
Clean Bill-Mitchell-era styling that still delights; generous room for big V8s; practically unlimited aftermarket support.
Same cut-rate equipment that plagues most 1960s musclecars — chintzy plastic interiors; crude live-axle rear suspension; weak brakes.
BEST REGULAR-PRODUCTION VERSIONS
Super Sport with optional 396-ci V8
Indy 500 Pace Car editions offered for ’67 and ’69
Special-order ZL1 “COPO” version with aluminum-block 427-ci V8
Kicked by the pony … twice
History has an uncanny knack of repeating itself. Just as today’s Camaro is a hurried response to a wildly successful Ford Mustang, so it was during the development of the first-generation Camaro.
Okay, granted Chevy was already thinking of coming up with a sporty, youth-oriented coupe in the early 1960s when Ford was working on the Mustang. But it took 120,000 or so ‘Stangs to be sold in just four months of 1964 to actually push the Bow-Tie guys into action.
Although Chevrolet’s hesitance may now seem foolish, at the time, the division already had a popular, inexpensive sporty car — the Corvair. Given the cost of developing an entirely new car, GM decided to wait and see if the unique rear-engine machine could hold its own in this new market. But it soon became apparent that Mustang’s straightforward mechanicals gave it a tremendous advantage. With its ability to accept everything from economical sixes to strong small-block V8s, Mustang could appeal to a huge number of young buyers. It was also cheaper to make than the Corvair.
Chevy in August 1964 initiated a crash program to build a similar sporty 2+2 coupe. It would be more conventional than the Corvair, so it could accept the wide array of different engines needed to compete. And to save money, General Motors’ accountants decreed that Chevy’s new ponycar had to share most of its major components with the redesigned Chevy II compact that would debut for ’68.
Plow-horse genes, thoroughbred offspring
The resulting Camaro was a trim, sporty design, built on a platform that was sort of a unibody hybrid — unit construction from the firewall back, with a hefty bolt-on subframe carrying the engine and front suspension.
Coupe and convertible body styles were offered, in the base model or the high-performance Super Sport. Available on any Camaro was the attractive Rally Sport trim package, immediately identifiable by its hidden headlamps.
Drivetrain offerings were shared with Camaro’s midsize sibling, Chevelle — anything from a pokey 140-hp 230-ci inline six, to a stout 375-hp 396-ci big-block V8.
Strong introduction, changes along the way
Camaro made its debut in late September, 1966 as a ’67 model. In January, 1967, Chevy introduced the legendary Z-28, aimed at competing in the Sports Car Club of America’s popular new Trans-Am road-racing series.
Among the Z-28’s goodies were upgraded suspension and twin racing stripes. But the real heart of the Z-28 was its high-revving 302-ci small-block V8. Chevy rated it at 290 hp, but experts felt that was considerably underrated — true output is said to be at least 20-percent higher than that.
For 1968, Camaro got only minor changes, followed by an extensive facelift for ’69. Although Camaro sales never surpassed Mustang in the late ‘60s, Chevy’s ponycar nonetheless sold well and posed a serious threat to the Blue Oval effort throughout.
After three model years, the original Camaro design was replaced by an all-new one in Spring, 1970. This would prove to be a much longer generation for Chevy’s ponycar — the second-generation Camaro would soldier on for over a decade, until finally being replaced for 1982.
Introduced in September, 1966. Powered by 230-ci and optional 250-ci inline sixes, or a wide range of available V8s: 327-, 350-, and 396-ci versions, each offered in several horsepower ratings.
Minor exterior revisions, including the addition of side marker lights, a vertical bright-metal division in each taillight, and elimination of the side-window vent wings. Mechanical changes were also relatively small, including a new 350-hp version of the 396 V8, and multi-leaf instead of monoleaf rear springs.
Extensively facelifted, giving the car a deeply vee’d grille, flatter-shaped wheel openings, shallower rear fender arches, and simulated vents in front of the rear wheels. Z-28s got a rear-facing “Cowl-Induction” hoodscoop. Mechanically, the biggest change was the introduction of the 307-ci V8. It became the new base V8, slotting between the 250-ci six and the 327-ci V8. Introduction of the first-generation’s successor was delayed until Spring, 1970, making 1969 a long model year for Camaro.