With the Mustang, launched in 1964, Ford had created a new and highly successful niche market. General Motors entered this 'Pony Car' segment late in 1966 with the Chevrolet Camaro and the closely related Pontiac Firebird. GM's new compact two-door machines were based on the equally new F-Body, rear-wheel drive platform.
Although pitched directly at the Mustang, the Camaro distinguished itself by the seemingly endless list of options available. These were known as 'Regular Production Options' or RPOs and consisted of nearly 80 factory and 40 dealer options. The three main options were the RS (Rally Sport) cosmetic package, the SS (Super Sport) performance option and the Z-28, which was the homologation special for the highly successful Trans-Am racing cars. Both the SS and Z-28 could also be ordered with the RS package.
Technically Camaro was a very straightforward machine. The steel unibody chassis featured independent suspension at the front and a live axle at the back. The base model came with a 3.8 liter straight six engine. Optional was a slighter larger 'six' and a variety of V8 engines. The SS model was available with both a 295 bhp 5.7 liter V8 ('350') and a 6.5 liter V8 ('396') that produced a hefty 375 bhp. The engine in the Z-28 was a very hot '302' or 5 liter V8 that was equipped with special cams and carburetors. Although officially rated at 290 bhp, it was believed to produce in excess of 360 bhp.
Like the Mustang, the Camaro was available in both coupe and and convertible form. The exterior styling was a lot more curvaceous than the boxy Mustang. The wide grille with round headlights and the flared arches gave the Camaro an aggressive appearance. With the RS package the headlights were hidden. In the first model year just over 220,000 examples were produced including 25,000 convertibles. Even though this was no match for the nearly half a million Mustangs sold that year, it was still a formidable figure for a brand new model.
General Motors officially decreed that no engine larger than the 6.5 liter big block engine was to be installed in the Camaro. Some dealers, most notably Don Yenko, managed to get their hands on the 7 liter ('427') big block through the Central Office Production Orders (COPO) process, which was originally intended for special fleet or truck orders. The most common specification of the big V8 was the L72 (COPO 9561), which produced 425 bhp. Much rarer was the all aluminium ZL-1 version (COPO 9560). Similar to the Can-Am competition engine, it was lighter and slightly more powerful than the L72. Only 69 ZL-1 Camaros were built compared to 1015 with the L72.
Production of the first generation Camaro ended in 1969 but slightly later than expected. The completely restyled 1970 model was delayed and it did not get to customers until early 1970. To bridge the gap, the original Camaro was produced until late in 1969. By that time just over 800,000 were built. A further three generations were built before GM's Pony Car was temporarily suspended in 2002. After a hiatus of 7 years the Camaro reentered production in 2009. The all new model was clearly inspired by the original and most iconic first generation Camaro.
The featured example is a 1969 model Camaro SS 350 equipped with the RS visual package. For 1969 the power of the '350' V8 was increased by 5 bhp to 300 bhp. It is seen here at the 2008 Concours on the Avenue in Carmel. A complete restoration had been completed just days before the show.