Ah, the Camaro. An icon of American muscle. With this year marking its 50th birthday, we’d be remiss in not offering a salute to the vehicle that made the pony car category.
You read that right. Sure, the Mustang came first, but what would it be without the Camaro to challenge it? Think about it—would anyone care about Batman if he didn’t have the Joker? (We’ll let you decide which car is which in that analogy.)
The Mustang/Camaro rivalry is just as fierce. It’s one of the greatest rivalries ever—both in motorsport and beyond. But maintaining one of the most enduring battles of all time isn’t easy. So to celebrate 50 years of the Camaro, we decided to take a look at a few of the highlights of the legendary vehicle.
Photo Credit: Carguychronicles.com
For roughly two years the public waited with great anticipation for the Chevrolet Panther, as it was called during development. So the news burned up the wires when Chevy announced the official name: the Camaro.
The name shift was a clever move. First, releasing the name weeks before cars hit showroom floors made news in and of itself. Second, the alliteration provided uniformity with other cars in Chevy’s lineup (Corvette, Corvair, etc.). And third, the made-up name created a buzz as folks tried to figure out what it meant. The story goes that when pressed for an explanation, the Chevrolet brass issued a statement that a Camaro was “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”
By the time it hit dealerships in September, the Camaro had motorists chomping at the bit to get into the driver’s seat—and performance lived up to the hype. Seven engine options were available for the first model year. The base ’67 Camaro sport coupe went for $2,466, but the real envy was the Camaro Z/28. Equipped with a 302 V-8 mated to a four-speed manual transmission and a heavy-duty suspension, the Z/28 was nearly race-ready. The package would prove as effective at burning tires at the red light as earning checkered flags on the racing circuit.
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No, seriously. The Camaro Z/28 was designed to compete in the SCCA Trans-Am series. And after spending a year learning about Chevy’s new creation, racers such as Mark Donahue were quick to hop behind the wheel en route to back-to-back series championships for the Camaro in 1968 and 1969.
Photo Credit: Motortrend.com
It took longer to catch the Mustang in the showroom. Even after the release of the Ferrari-inspired second generation Camaro in 1970, sales wouldn’t surpass the Mustang until 1977. The introduction of the third generation model in 1982 helped to elevate sales above the Mustang through much of the early ‘80s, but sales tapered after ’85.
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On the race track, however, the Camaro rarely faltered. The International Race of Champions selected the Camaro for 12 consecutive years from 1975 to 1989 (the series didn’t run from ’81 to ’83). It paced the Indianapolis 500 in 1982. But no matter how well the Camaro performed, victories in competition didn’t seem to mirror those at the dealership.
Photo Credit: Motortrend.com
Even the arrival of the fourth generation Camaro in 1993 didn’t shake things up. The Mustang opened the sales gap wider and wider, and by 2002, Camaro sales had fallen to less than a third of Mustang’s. Chevy couldn’t justify continuing production, and it discontinued the pony car. The Camaro was dead.
Photo Credit: Speeddoctor.net
But as fortune would have it, the seven-year hiatus might have been the best thing that ever happened to the Camaro. Because when Chevy resurrected the American classic for 2010, that year's sales (and the following year's) left Mustang in the dust.
Photo Credit: Automotive.com
The fifth generation Camaro was a show stopper from first glance. Its design tapped into the nostalgia of its heyday in the late 60s, yet it was a totally fresh look for a new era. Or, as the Camaro exterior design director put it, the car’s return was the “thunderbolt that reignited the passion of Camaro enthusiasts around the world.”
The new generation had performance to match, including a 426 horsepower V-8 mated to a six-speed manual transmission in the SS package. The blend of power, handling, and looks made it as popular at the dealership—where the Camaro outsold the Mustang in 2010, ’11, and ’13—as on the track. The Camaro paced the Indy 500 in ’09, ’10, ’11, ’14, and ’16. And those years it missed? The Corvette paced those.
Photo Credit: Caranddriver.com
With the introduction of the sixth generation Camaro in 2016, it looks like the bowtie brand’s iconic pony car will be duking it out with Mustang and cruising the streets for years to come. Which is good, because that’s right where it belongs.
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