After two years of watching the Ford Mustang enjoy tremendous success, General Motors finally launched its entry into the pony car segment, the Chevrolet Camaro. Although available with a mediocre six cylinder for volume sales, the Camaro could be equipped with several V8s and a myriad of performance options. Then, of course, was the famous Regular Production Code, Z/28, that would change the industry’s view of pony cars.
During the preproduction stages of the Chevrolet Camaro, General Motors codenamed the vehicle ’Panther’. The name ’Camaro’ was decided upon before production began. The word ’Camaro’ in French is slang for ’friend’ but in pony-car slang, the name means ’Mustang killer’.
This pony car was built atop of the same F-Body platform as the Pontiac Firebird, and featured a unibody structure from the windshield and firewall back, with a separate steel rail subframe for everything up front (108-inch wheelbase chassis and was 186 inches in overall length).
The base engine was a 3.7 liter inline-six cylinder capable of producing 140 horsepower. Power was sent to the rear wheels courtesy of a Saginaw three-speed manual gearbox.
The Camaro was available from the start in hardtop coupe and covertible body styles, and could be order with nearly 80 factory options.
The SS (Super Sport) package included many performance and aesthetic upgrades and was popular with more than 34400 examples created. Under the hood was a 5.7 liter eight-cylinder engine with a 6.5 liter big-block offered as optional equipment in 1968. On the grille, horn button, and gas cap were SS badging. Non-functional air-inlets adorned the front hood.
The RS (Rally Sport) package was basically a cosmetic upgrade. The headlights were hidden, the taillights received minor alterations, and the exterior rocker trim was revised. RS badging could be seen throughout the vehicle. This was the most popular option ordered in 1967 with over 64840 examples produced.
The RS and SS packages could be ordered together, creating the RS/SS Camaro. The combination included both the aesthetics of the RS and the performance of the SS. A Camaro RS/SS convertible with a 6.5 liter engine paced the Indianapolis 500 race in 1967.
By the time the 1969 models were introduced, Camaro had moved quickly up the learning curve and had style and power.The grill became deeper set, the taillamps were longer and thinner and broken into three segments. A heavy "eye-brow" crease was added on the both sides of the car extending from the front wheel well to the rear wheel well. A matching crease went from the rear wheel well to the rear quarter panel.
The Camaro also received new fenders, door skins, rear quarter-panels, grille and taillights which gave it a wider, lower appearance. Inside, the Camaro received a redesigned dash and more comfortable seats. Endura rubber bumpers were available on the Camaro as well as two ram air induction systems for the SS. The first was a new special hood with a rear facing inlet and cold-air duct underneath the hood. The second was a dealer installed cowl plenum kit that came with a special air cleaner and adapter. No special hood was needed. 1969 saw an explosion in engine choices.
Among the new power options was a Z/28 package. Known officially as the RPO Z28 Camaro Special Performance Package, it included a special 302 cubic inch V8 with an estimated horsepower rating of 350 and an official rating of 290, dual exhausts, special front and rear suspension, heavy-duty radiator and temperature-controlled fan, quick ratio steering, and 15 x 7-inch Rally wheels.
A four-speed manual transmission and power disc brakes were additional mandatory options, while a Posi-Traction rear axle was recommended. Top speed was estimated at 120 mph.
The Z28 package was offered by GM specifically to comply with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans Am racing series that required an engine size of five-liters or less.
Still offered in coupe or convertible forms, Camaro sold a total of more than 230,000 cars during the 1969 model year, proving to General Motors that the public was starving for small, performance, pony-cars.