Story and photo by Bill Vance
1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS/RS. Click image to enlarge
The sporty Ford Mustang, introduced in April, 1964 caught its competitors flat-footed. By draping a nicely styled, long- nose, short-deck 2+2 body over some inexpensive compact Falcon running gear, Ford scooped the industry.
In the process, Ford set in motion a whole new automotive genre, the “pony car.” No one felt the sting of being left behind more keenly than Ford’s traditional arch rival, Chevrolet.
Chevrolet had nothing to put against the Mustang. The rear-engine, air-cooled Corvair, which Chevrolet had swung over into the sporty market segment when it failed to establish the hoped for beachhead as a family compact, catered to a much more specialized audience.
And besides, the Corvair was on the brink of disaster. Ralph Nader in his 1965 book, Unsafe At Any Speed, gave the Corvair the most savage attack ever administered to a single model. Corvair sales went into an immediate decline and it was discontinued in 1969.
Chevrolet’s Corvette sports car was by now too powerful, expensive, and intimidating to compete in the pony car market, so the engineers and stylists set to work to develop a Mustang competitor. It was called the Camaro, and in the best Detroit tradition they did the same as Ford: borrow some components from other models.
The base engine was the 3.8 litre inline-six from the compact Chevy II and intermediate Chevelle. The single-leaf “Mono-Plate” rear springs were borrowed from the Chevy II, and the coil spring front suspension came pretty well intact from the Chevelle. Unit construction was used aft of the windshield, with a subframe extending forward for suspension and engine mounting.
Even using existing components, it took Chevrolet almost 2-1/2 years to come up with its Mustang match. The Camaro was introduced in the Fall of 1966 as a 1967 model and it was apparent that the stylists had been more daring than the engineers.
While it had a conventional front-engine, rear drive layout (no more rear engines for Chevrolet), the body was a thing of beauty. It was a cleanly sculpted, crisply styled piece of automotive art, something that would eventually be lost through the addition of slots, spoilers and air dams.
The appearance was smoother and less angular than the Mustang, and looked more aerodynamic, although little thought was given to that in those pre-oil crisis, cheap gasoline days.
The Camaro’s dimensions were within fractions of the Mustang’s. Compared with the 1967 Mustang, the Camaro’s wheelbase at 2,746 mm was almost identical to the 2,743 mm of the Ford. In other measurements the Camaro was also very close; 25 mm longer; 41 mm wider; and 15 mm lower. The Camaro was approximately 91 kg heavier.
Both cars had inline six-cylinder engines as base power, with the Camaro’s slightly larger than the Mustang’s 3.3 litres. With 140 horsepower, the Chevrolet six was also 20 horsepower more powerful.
The Camaro took another chapter out of Ford’s book by offering an extensive, “build-it-yourself” array of options. Inside, Camaro buyers could add such items as consoles, stereos and power windows, while outside they could opt for the SS (Super Sport) and RS (Rally Sport) packages with things like a wide stripe around the nose of the car, and disappearing headlights. Wheel covers were a study unto themselves. Both the Camaro and Mustang came as hardtops or convertibles.
Under the skin the Camaro offered a dizzying array of powertrain options, including three-and four-speed manual transmissions, or an automatic. In engines the buyer could choose all the way up to the blockbuster 6.5 litre, 325 horsepower V-8.
Ford had not been sleeping in the power department either; the hottest option for the Mustang was a 6.4 litre, 335 horsepower V-8. The inevitable performance comparisons were made, and the two cars with big V-8s, proved to be identical in acceleration from zero to 96 km/h. Car Life magazine reported a time of 7.8 seconds for the Mustang 390, the same as it got for the Camaro SS 350. The Camaro proved to be a little faster at the top and, at 193 km/h compared with 182 for the Mustang.
Ford was on a sales roll with the Mustang, selling close to half a million in 1967. The Camaro couldn’t get up to speed fast enough to meet anything like that kind of sales figure, with the result that the Mustang outsold the first year Camaro by about four to one. Chevrolet did better with the Camaro in 1968 producing 235,151, although still not up to the Mustang’s 317,148.
The Camaro, and its corporate sibling Pontiac Firebird went through several generations, until flagging sales prompted General Motors to announce that Camaro/Firebird production was being phased out at its Quebec plant in 2002. Many GM pony car fans were sad to see them go, but they will no doubt become even more popular collectibles as time goes by.