Chevrolet introduced the Camaro on June 28th, 1966, began making them in August, and by September, the first cars were delivered to the public. Ever since then, every Camaro ever built has had a singular goal: beat Mustang. It's the most intense and enduring automotive rivalry in America, and arguably the world.
For the car's golden 50th anniversary, GM is bringing together a veritable slew of Camaros to partake in the Woodward Dream Cruise -- an annual ode to the automobile, which features over 40,000 cars driving down Detroit's Woodward Ave.
To celebrate in our own way, here are 16 things every Camaro fan should know.
1. Before it became the Camaro, it was the Panther
Internally, the car-in-development was known as Panther -- and a bunch of other names -- before it became the Camaro. Over 2,000 names were considered while the car was in its incubation period, and by 1966, the automotive press was rife with stories of the Chevrolet Panther.
2. The official Camaro announcement was also the world's first mass teleconference
On June 28th, 1966, the Chevy PR team and selected media gathered at hotels in 14 American cities for a conference call announcement. The call was the first teleconference on such a large scale, and over 100 technicians from Bell were on-hand to make sure the call went through.
3. Once the word “Camaro” was out there, no one really knew what it meant
The official company line in 1966 was that it’s an old French slang term for camaraderie and friendship, though some GM brass told the press it’s "a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.” Later, legends grew to include a rare disease that kills horses (i.e., Mustangs). In reality, it's a unique name that met Chevrolet's main requirement of starting with the letter C (think Corvette, Chevelle, Corvair, etc.).
4. Even before its debut, there was almost a station wagon version
This image is from March 1966, just three months before GM introduced the Camaro to the press.
5. And the design team went even further with the wagon idea just a few years later
These are wagon-ized Camaro models, conceived in the run-up to the 1970 debut of the second-generation Camaro. A few years later, GM drew up a strikingly similar Firebird version (since it was the same car beneath the skin) and had Pininfarina (yes, that Pininfarina) build it out of fiberglass.
6. There were seven different engine options when the Camaro hit the market
Granted, cars in general had more engine options back then, but still -- seven. Compare that to today, with three to four depending on how you count them.
7. For one of those options you had to use an obscure ordering code known simply as Z/28
Just 602 people ordered the Z/28 Special Performance Package, which came with a 302 cid V8. It was intended to be an SCCA-race legal counterpart to the Mustang’s racing endeavors.
8. Chevy built a single Z/28 Convertible to convince the boss to let the package be built
Pete Estes was running the show for Chevy at the time, and the Camaro team needed his approval to send the Z/28 package to production. As the story goes, Estes hated anything that wasn’t a convertible, so one of the guys ordered up a topless Camaro with the all that the Z/28 option entailed -- along with every other goody that was in the pipeline for 1969. Estes loved his car, and the Z/28 was properly born. That stood as the only convertible Z/28 in existence until the droptop became an option nearly two decades later.
9. The Camaro dominated SCCA Trans-Am racing shortly after its birth
Legendary teams like Penske and Chaparall were noted for their ingenuity, and combined every technical trick in the book with legit Formula One talents like Mark Donohue behind the wheel. After spending 1967 learning about the car, they absolutely owned the 1968 and 1969 seasons.
10. The 1969 COPO Camaro was the ultimate off-menu item
Chevy’s 427 cid engine never appeared on any order sheets and wasn’t a part of any official package. You had to know who to call at GM in order to get one. The COPO, or Central Office Production Order, roughly doubled the cost of the car. Today, it's one of the most highly sought after (read: $$$) Camaros in the collector world.
12. The International Race of Champions used nothing but Camaros from 1975 until 1989
It was a series designed to determine the best driver from various other racing series using identical cars on differing types of race tracks. Yes, that’s where the IROC-Z comes from.
13. There was a Neiman Marcus Edition Camaro
The 2011 convertible came in a special Bordeaux red hue with “ghost” stripes, cost $75,000, and sold out after just three minutes.
14. Engineers were so obsessed about the fifth-generation Z/28’s weight that they shaved 0.3mm from the rear window
They saved 400 grams by going from 3.5 mm to 3.2 mm. Other weight saving measures included using less foam padding in the rear seat, and killing the A/C completely.
15. No car other than the Camaro and Corvette has paced the Indianapolis 500 since 2004
Camaro has now had the honor eight times overall, second most behind Corvette’s 11.
16. Of course the Dubai police have a Z/28
They’ve got everything else that’s fast too, and plenty of open roads to... um... “patrol.”
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