Chevrolet Camaro History.

Camaro Pace Car

Are you a fan of the Chevy Camaro or the 350 small-block? If you are, thank Ford.

When Ford introduced the Mustang in 1964 General Motors paid little attention, but within just a few months after the Mustang's introduction, GM realized the appeal of a four seat sports car. Especially after Mustang sales reached the 100,000 mark in in the first six months, and nearly half a million by the end of its first year. This is ironic, since Ford created the Mustang in response to the Corvair Monza which was unfairly killed my Ralph Nader. In any case, the race was on.

The design team that produced the Corvette, Corvair, and Nova were given the task of producing an answer to the Mustang. Mock-ups turned out by the design team included a two-seat roadster, a fastback and even a station wagon. But in the end they settled on a four-seat sport coupe (also available as a convertible) to keep costs down. By the "big" car standards of the day, the Camaro was considered a "compact".

A unique feature of the Camaro was the use of a front sub-frame isolated with rubber 'biscuits" in combination with the uni-body construction of the rest of the car. This technique had been used on several European designs, including several Mercedes-Benz models. This gave drivers a larger interior with more luggage space than a traditional frame, while providing a quieter, smoother ride than a full uni-body.

1968 Camaro SS Coupe ad

The Camaro was to be offered with a wide variety of powerplants, ranging from a 230 cubic-inch six-cylinder, to a 327ci V8. Chevy also created a new engine just for the Camaro, the 295 horsepower, 350 cubic-inch, V8. The 350 small-block was born!

As the car neared it's release date it still did not have a name. Among those considered were "GM", "Panther", "Chaparral", "Wildcat" and even "Nova". Buick ended up making use of the Wildcat name while Nova went on to become another muscle-car of note. The GM idea was ditched because the corporate powers did not want the letters associated with the car in case it was a market failure (you can bet they're kicking themselves for that decision). Finally they came up with a word that they thought had no meaning and sounded sporty… Camaro. When asked what it meant, Chevrolet product managers told the press that it was, "a small vicious animal that eats Mustangs."

Not to be outdone, the nice people at Ford found a different meaning in an old Spanish dictionary that defined the Camaro as "a small, shrimp-like creature". Taking the joke even further, some journalist found another alternate definition that meant "loose bowels." In response the folks at Chevrolet found an old French dictionary showing that the word meant "Friend" or "Companion".

All the laughing stopped when the first '67 Camaro's hit the streets. The rest, as they say, is history. Camaros and Mustangs alike soon became known as "Pony Cars".

First Generation, 1967-1969.

When the Camaro entered the showrooms there were nearly 80 factory and 40 dealer options to choose from. The Camaro's base powertrain was the 230ci I-6 engine rated at 140hp, connected to a manual Saginaw 3-speed transmission. You could get the car with just about any motor Chevy made all the way up to the 375hp 396ci in the SS packgage, but not the RS. Transmission options included a Muncie four-speed manual, a two-speed "Powerglide", and in late 1967 the new three-speed "Turbo Hydra-Matic 350".

1967 saw the introduction of one of the most famous packages Chevy ever offered. Few knew about it, because it was not advertised. Even some dealers didn't know about it. That package was the Z-28.

You could only get the Z-28 package by ordering a base Camaro with the option. It included front disc-brakes with power assist, competition suspension, the Muncie four-speed transmission, and a unique 302 small-block that was created by taking the 327 block and installing a short stroke 283 crank. The engine was designed to compete in the Club of America Trans Am racing series which placed a 305cid limit on entries. The 302 was advertised at 290 hp, but on the dyno actual reading ran between 350 and 400 hp. The 302 could launch the camaro to 60 mph in under 7 seconds and run a 101 mph quarter-mile in 14.85 seconds.

The Z-28 package was offered to the general public only so the car could qualify for racing. As such, you could not get many of the other factory and dealer options on the car. No AC, for example and the package was not available in the convertible, but could be combined with the RS option package. The Z-28 was a tough sell to the public at first because the high-reving motor was sluggish below 4000 rpm. But once it got moving it could blister the pavement at 140 mph. Only 602 were made in 1967, but once this unadvertised option started winning races, demand jumped in the following years. In 1968 production jumped to 7,199, and came off the line sporting the Z-28 or 302 badges. By 1969, Z-28 production had climbed to over 19,000.

One of the things that helped put the Camaro in the public eye was being chosen as the Official Pace Car for the 1967 Indianapolis 500. Chevrolet produced a white convertible RS with a 396cid motor (not normally available for that package), and distinctive blue bumble-bee stripe around the nose. 81 special reproductions of the pace car were produced as promotional sales vehicles for various dealerships. In 1969 Camaro again did the pace car honors at Indy with another white and blue striped convertible in the RS/396 combo.

In order to keep the new Camaro from taking sales away from the Corvette, a Corporate edict was handed down that forbade equipping them with engines larger than 400 cid. Dealerships like Yenko Sports Cars in Pennsylvania, Nickey in Chicago, Dana in California, Berger in Michigan and Baldwin-Motion in New york, recognized that there was a market for Camaros outfitted with Vette's L72 427 big-block (rated at 425 hp). So, they installed the motors themselves.

Yenko, for example, ordered Camaros with no ornamentation, badging or installed motor. Along with the car they ordered a 427 crate motor that they dropped in the Camaro at the dealership and boosted to 450 bhp. They also added 15-inch ralley wheels, and a host of other race options that could get the Yenko Camaro to run quarter miles in under 13 seconds.

In 1969 corporate gave in and offered the Camaro with the 427 straight from the factory. There were two ways of ordering optional equipment from the factory; R.P.O's (Regular Production Options), and C.O.P.O. (Central Office Production Order). These new factory-equipped 427 Camaros were ordered through the C.O.P.O. process and became known as COPO Camaros. Prior to this the C.O.P.O. order process at Chevrolet was used for things like fleet vehicles that needed special paint jobs, police vehicle modifications, or cab company conversions.

There were three different Camaro COPO codes that could be ordered, #9560, #9561 and #9737. These packages were not publicly advertised and most dealers did not even know about them. If you had walked into your local Chevy dealer in 1969 and asked for a 427 Camaro, you probably would have been told they were not available. Most of the COPO's went to the afore mentioned dealers that had previously installed these motors themselves.

The 9560 package included the ZL-1 aluminum block 427. Only 69 of these were built and most of them went to racers since very few working Joes could afford the $7,200.00 base price, which included $4,160.00 just for the motor.

The 9561 package featured the all iron 427 L-72 with an 780-cfm carburetor, hi-rise manifold, rectangular port heads and forged steel crank. The L-72 produced about 95% percent of the power of ZL-1, but only added $489.00 to the base cost of the car. If coming equipped with the 4-speed transmission the engine came with solid lifters and produced 425hp. When equipped with the automatic transmission hyraulic lifters were used.

The third option, 9737, was a "Sports Car Conversion Kit". It came with the L-72 (with heavy-duty radiator), and added things like rally wheels, a 140-mph speedometer, tachometer, heavy-duty springs, positraction rear, stabilizer bars, and cowl induction hood, among other things. This packages also became known as the "Co-COPO" or "Double COPO" since it was only available when combined with the other COPO codes.

Altogether, there were fewer than 1,500 of these cars built (numbers vary depending on sources), and only a handful of those remain in driveable, let along showroom, condition.

1967 Camaro GT ad.

The Camaro would eventually go through four generations spanning 35 years of production before the line was ended in 2002 due to declining sales. But that may not be the end. Love and demand for the Camaro may see a fifth generation pick up the baton in 2008. Camaro fanatics can only hope.


Click the pictures to check out some of the Camaros we've restored.

1970 Camaro Z-28 1968 Chevrolet Camaro 1969 Chevrolet Camaro 1968 Chevrolet Camaro 1969 Camaro 502 1969 COPO Camaro


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