The hot new 1964 1/2 Mustang set the world on fire, selling over a million copies in eighteen months. Ford’s competitors couldn’t ignore the explosive new market segment. Chevrolet immediately began plotting its answer, a new car to be called the Panter, with a crash program that led to a September 1966 introduction with a name change to Camaro. Just as Ford based the Mustang on its Falcon compact, Chevrolet’s new competitor would be based on Chevrolet’s Nova.
And, like the Mustang, the Camaro offered a fat catalog of options including multiple engine choices, trim packages, and accessories that allowed buyers to tailor the coupes to their personal tastes. Chevy’s pony car was born in a performance hungry era so it quickly bulked to become a fire-breather, as did its fraternal twin, Pontiac’s Firebird. Styling tweaks and performance upgrades for 1969 made that the preferred vintage first generation car. Standard, Super Sport, and Rally Sport editions were joined by a Z/28 with racing stripes, styled rally road wheels, and a 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8 engine in 1967.
Longer, lower, and wider, with an egg crate grill straight off a Ferrari, Camaro’s second generation roared out of Detroit in February 1970. Sleek new ground-hugging bodywork was characteristic of GM design chief Bill Mitchell’s touch. The new Camaro electrified the automotive world with a design that was so right, it remained in production until 1982. Unfortunately, emissions regulations and a fuel crisis robbed its thunder; the highest powered V8 for 1976 managed just 165 H.P. This was a sad era for performance fans, when even Corvettes were wheezy, anemic ghosts of their former muscular selves.
Camaro’s third generation debuted for 1982 with the first all-new model since 1967. Featuring a fresh body, suspension, engine choices, and transmissions, it was also the first hatchback Camaro and the first to offer a five-speed manual transmission along with its four-speed automatic.
Camaro’s fourth generation was introduced for the 1992 model year. A new body design brought excitement, as did a new front suspension and sporty rack and pinion steering. But times were changing for pony cars. Soaring insurance rates, a general loss of interest in sport coupes, and the growing popularity of sport utility vehicles, led to a sales decline and the Camaro was put to sleep in 2002.
But like the biblical injunction that “one must die in order to really live,” Chevrolet came roaring back with an all new improved Camaro for 2010. The fifth generation gathered positive reviews as their best vintage ever. With its masterful updating of the 1969’s classic look, the new car offered 21st century engineering and more powerful engines than ever, while while boasting a highway rating of 29 m.p.g. Even the V-6 offered 304 H.P., more than many V-8s of Camaro’s past. And the muscular 426 H.P. optional V-8 still achieved an amazing 25 m.p.g. highway.
The Camaro shook things up in 2016 with a fresh iteration that reviewers called a dramatic improvement. Though General Motors had struggled through a death scare during the Great Recession, its new Camaro offers proof that the company can still make history, at least when inspired by its legendary past.