The Chevrolet Camaro is an automobile manufactured by the Chevrolet division of General Motors, commonly classified as a pony car. It went on sale on September 29, 1966 for the 1967 model year and was designed as a competing model to the Ford Mustang. The car shared its platform and major components with the Pontiac Firebird, also introduced for 1967. Four distinct generations of the car were developed before production ended in 2002. The nameplate was revived again on a concept vehicle that evolved into the fifth-generation Camaro, production started on March 16, 2009.
Before any official announcement, reports began running in April 1965 within the automotive press that Chevrolet was preparing a competitor to the Ford Mustang, code-named Panther. On June 21, 1966, around 200 automotive journalists received a telegram from General Motors stating, “…Please save noon of June 28 for important SEPAW meeting. Hope you can be on hand to help scratch a cat. Details will follow…(signed) John L. Cutter – Chevrolet Public Relations – SEPAW Secretary.” The following day, the same journalists received another General Motors telegram stating, “Society for the Eradication of Panthers from the Automotive World will hold first and last meeting on June 28…(signed) John L. Cutter – Chevrolet Public Relations SEPAW Secretary.” These telegrams puzzled the industry.
On June 28, 1966, General Motors held a live press conference in Detroit’s Statler-Hilton Hotel. It would be the first time in history that 14 cities were hooked up in real time for a press conference via telephone lines. Chevrolet General Manager Pete Estes started the news conference stating that all attendees of the conference were charter members of the Society for the Elimination of Panthers from the Automotive World and that this would be the first and last meeting of SEPAW. Estes then announced a new car line, project designation XP-836, with a name that Chevrolet chose in keeping with other car names beginning with the letter C such as the Corvair, Chevelle, Chevy II, and Corvette. He claimed the name, “suggests the comradeship of good friends as a personal car should be to its owner” and that “to us, the name means just what we think the car will do… Go!” The new Camaro name was then unveiled. Automotive press asked Chevrolet product managers, “What is a Camaro?” and were told it was “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”
The Camaro was first shown at a press preview in Detroit, Michigan on September 12, 1966 and then later in Los Angeles, California on September 19, 1966. The Camaro officially went on sale in dealerships on September 29, 1966 for the 1967 model year.
The first-generation Chevrolet Camaro appeared on September 26, 1966, for the 1967 model year on an all brand new rear-wheel drive GM F-body platform and would be available as a 2-doors, 2+2 seating, coupe or convertible with a choice of six-cylinder and V8 powerplants. The first-gen Camaro would last up through the 1969 model year.
The debut Camaro shared some mechanicals with the 1968 Chevy II Nova. Almost 80 factory and 40 dealer options, including three main packages, were available.
The RS was an appearance package that included hidden headlights, revised taillights, RS badging, and exterior rocker trim. It was available on all models.
The SS included a 350 cu in (5.7 L) V8 engine and the L35 and L78 396 cu in (6.5 L) big-block V8’s were also available. The SS featured non-functional air inlets on the hood, special striping and SS badging on the grille, front fenders, gas cap, and horn button. It was possible to order both the SS and RS to receive a Camaro RS/SS. In 1967, a Camaro RS/SS convertible with a 396 engine paced the Indianapolis 500 race.
The Z/28 option code was introduced in December 1966 for the 1967 model year. This option package wasn’t mentioned in any sales literature, so it was unknown to most buyers. The Z/28 option required power front disc brakes and a Muncie 4-speed manual transmission. The Z/28 featured a 302 cu in (4.9 L) small-block V-8 engine, 3″ crankshaft with 4″ bore, an aluminum intake manifold, and a 4-barrel vacuum secondary Holley carburetor of 780CFM. The engine was designed specifically to race in the Trans Am series (which required engines smaller than 305 cu in (5 L) and public availability of the car. Advertised power of this engine was listed at 290 hp (216 kW). This is an under-rated figure. Chevrolet wanted to keep the horsepower rating at less than 1hp per cubic inch, for various reasons (e.g. insurance and racing classes).
The factory rating of 290 hp occurred at 5300 rpm, while actual peak for the high-revving 302 was closer to 360 hp (268 kW) (with the single four barrel carb) and 400 hp (298 kW) (with optional dual-four barrel carbs) at 6800-7000 rpm. The Z/28 also came with upgraded suspension, racing stripes on the hood and trunk lid, ‘302’ front fender emblems on the early cars, and ‘Z/28’ emblems in late 68 & 69. It was also possible to combine the Z/28 package with the RS package.
Only 602 Z/28s were sold in 1967. The 1967 and 1968 Z/28s did not have raised cowl induction hoods as was optional on the 1969 Z/28s. The 1967 Z28 received air from an open element air cleaner or from an optional cowl plenum duct attached to the side of the air cleaner that ran to the firewall and got air from the cowl vents. 15-inch rally wheels, were included with Z/28s had while all other 1967-9 Camaros had 14-inch wheels.
The origin of the Z/28 nameplate came from the RPO codes – RPO Z27 was for the Super Sport package, and RPO Z28, at the time, was the code for a Special Performance Package.
The Camaro’s standard drivetrain was a 230 cu in (3.8 L) straight-6 engine rated at 140 hp (104 kW) and backed by a Saginaw three-speed manual transmission. A four-speed manual was also available. The two-speed “Powerglide” automatic transmission was a popular option in 1967 and 1968 until the three-speed “Turbo Hydra-Matic 350” replaced it starting in 1969. The larger Turbo 400 three-speed was an option on L35 SS396 cars.
1968 saw the deletion of the side vent windows and the introduction of Astro Ventilation, a fresh-air-inlet system. Also added were side marker lights on the front fenders, a more pointed front grille, a front spoiler, and divided rear taillights.
The front running lights (on non-RS models) were also changed from circular to oval. The big block SS models received chrome hood inserts that imitated velocity stacks. The shock absorber mounting was staggered to resolve wheel hop issues and higher performance models received multi-leaf rear springs instead of single-leaf units.
A 396 cu in (6.5 L) 350 hp (261 kW) big block engine was added as an option for the SS, and the Z28 appeared in Camaro brochures. 7,199 Z28s were sold in 1968.
The general appearance of the 1969 Camaro did not change much compared to the first two years, having kept the basic body lines and basic “look”. This slight transformation was similar to the changes made to the 1968 model to make it look different than the 1967 model.
The 1969 Camaro carried over the previous year’s drivetrain and major mechanical components, but all-new sheetmetal, except the hood and trunk lid, gave the car a substantially sportier look. The grille was redesigned with a heavy “V” cant and deeply inset headlights. New door skins, rear quarter panels, and rear valance panel also gave the car a much lower, wider, more aggressive look. This styling would serve for the 1969 model year only. Collectors often debate the merits of smooth, rounded lines of 1967 and 1968 model versus the heavily creased and sportier looks of the 1969.
Several new performance options were available for the 1969 model year.
To increase competitiveness in the SCCA Trans Am racing series, a four wheel disc brake option, RPO JL8, was made available during the year. This system used the 4 piston brake components from the Corvette and made for a major improvement in the braking capability and was a key to winning the Trans Am championship.
A GM corporate edict forbade Chevrolet from installing engines larger than 400 cu in (6.6 L) in the Camaro. But requests from dealers (notably Yenko) who were dealer-installing 427 cu in (7 L) engines in the Camaro caused Chevrolet to use an ordering process usually used on fleet and special orders (taxis, trucks, etc) to offer 427 engines in the Camaro. Two Central Office Production Orders (COPO), numbers 9560 and 9561, were offered in the 1969 model year. The COPO 9561 option brought the solid lifter L72 big-block engine, making an underrated 425 hp (317 kW) gross. Dealer Don Yenko ordered 201 of these cars to create the now-legendary Yenko Camaro. Other dealers also became aware of the L72 engine package and ordered it. Around 1,015 Camaros were fitted with the L72 engine option.
Even rarer was the COPO 9560. This option installed an all-aluminum 427 cu in (7 L) big-block called the ZL-1 and was designed specifically for drag racing. Just 69 ZL-1 Camaros were produced, probably because the engine alone cost over US$4,000 — nearly twice that of a base coupe with a V8. Though rated at 430 hp (321 kW) gross, the ZL-1 made closer to 550 hp (410 kW), making it both the fastest and rarest of all Camaros.
The 1969 model year was exceptionally long, extending into November 1969, due to engineering problems that delayed the introduction of the second generation model planned for 1970. It is a popular myth that late-’69 Camaros were sold as 1970 models (due to GM publicity pictures of the 69 Camaro labeled as a 1970), but they were all assigned 1969 VIN codes.
1967-1969 L26 230 cu in (3.8 L) I6 140 hp (104 kW)
1967-1969 L22 250 cu in (4.1 L) I6 155 hp (116 kW) @ 4200 rpm, 235 lb·ft (319 N·m) @ 1600 rpm
1967-1969 Z28 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8 290 hp (216 kW) (rated) 350 hp (261 kW) actual
1967-1969 LF7 327 cu in (5.4 L) V8 210 hp (157 kW)
1967-1968: L30 327 cu in (5.4 L) V8 275 hp (205 kW)
1969: OMC 307 cu in (5 L) V8 225 hp (168kW)
1969: LM1 & L65 350 cu in (5.7 L) V8 255 hp (190 kW) and 250 hp (186 kW)
1967-1969 L48 SS350 350 cu in (5.7 L) V8 295 hp (220 kW) (1969 300 hp (224 kW)) @ 4800 rpm, 380 lb·ft (515 N·m) @ 3200 rpm
1967-1969 L35 SS396 396 cu in (6.5 L) V8 325 hp (242 kW) @ 4800 rpm, 410 lb·ft (556 N·m) @ 3200 rpm
1967-1969 L78 SS396 396 cu in (6.5 L) V8 375 hp (280 kW) @ 5600 rpm, 415 lb·ft (563 N·m) @ 3600 rpm
1968-1969 L34 SS396 396 cu in (6.5 L) V8 350 hp (261 kW) @ 5200 rpm, 415 lb·ft (563 N·m) @ 3200 rpm
1968-1969 – L89 aluminum cylinder head option for the SS396/375 engine – lightened the engine by ~100 lb (45 kg).
1969 COPO 9561/L72 427 cu in (7 L) V8 425 hp (317 kW) @ 5600 rpm, 460 lb·ft (624 N·m) @ 4000 rpm
1969 COPO 9560/ZL1 427 cu in (7 L) V8 430 hp (321 kW) @ 5200 rpm, 450 lb·ft (610 N·m) @ 4400 rpm