Article and 2011 Camaro photos by Jeff Burry
The Chevrolet Camaro was introduced by General Motors (GM) in 1967 in response to the Ford Mustang, which debuted three years earlier. Ironically, the Mustang came in response to the previously-introduced Chevrolet Corvair Monza. Such competition in the late 1960’s was common, as manufacturers jostled for automotive supremacy.
As early as 1958, GM had started to toy with the idea of producing a sporty, four-passenger automobile, but it was the impressive sales figures of the Mustang that really spurred GM executives to “fast track” such a model that would compete directly with the Ford.
Clad in secrecy and dubbed project XP-836, and later the “Panther,” the Chevrolet Camaro went through various stages in its design. The Camaro design team did mock-ups of numerous models, including a two-seat roadster, fastback and station wagon. However, in an effort to keep costs competitive with that of the Mustang, GM decided to focus on just two styles, a coupe and a convertible, both of which would possess a unibody structure.
The first generation (one of five) Camaro went on sale, badged as a 1967 model, on September 26, 1966. There were a total of ten engine choices available to the buying public, ranging from a 230 cubic inch inline-six powerplant to a 396 cubic inch V8. This first generation model was produced by GM for three model years ending in 1969.
1970 Chevrolet Camaro; photo courtesy General Motors. Click image to enlarge
Of interest, the rarer and more performance-oriented Z28 models started arriving at dealerships in early 1967. The Z28 was initially developed as a contender for the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Trans Am racing series. Only 602 were sold in 1967, making it today a highly sought after “pony” car.
By 1969, GM designers were well on their way to designing the next-generation Camaro, sold from 1970 through to 1981. However, the 1969 model would establish for GM a focal point or “benchmark” for future variations of the Camaro.
The 1969 Camaro was the highest volume selling model to date, selling over 243,000 units. This model received numerous exterior and interior upgrades, including sheet metal, doors and rear quarters. Sharper angles were the theme for the day providing the car with a much more muscular and aggressive appearance than its predecessors.
For the very first time, through a Central Office Production Order (COPO), a 1969 Camaro could be stuffed with a 427 cubic inch aluminum block ZL-1 engine. Only 69 of these cars were ever produced for the buying public.
For 1970, the car was heavily restyled, became larger and wider along with its corporate sibling the Pontiac Firebird. It took Ford an additional model year for the Mustang to follow suit.
This second generation Camaro also possessed the unibody structure and was based on the F-body platform. The RS, SS and Z28 versions disappeared in the mid- 70’s, but the Z28 once again appeared for the 1977 model year. The unibody structure remained in use through to 1981.