Motor City Chronicles: Chevrolet Camaro turns 44

Pete Estes, Camaro Launch, September 29 1966

Motor City Chronicles.. On this date in Automotive History:

GM debuted the Chevrolet Camaro on September 29, 1966 as a 1967 model. Code name “Panther”, the Camaro went from concept to production in just eighteen months in order to compete with the wildly successful Ford Mustang.

THE HISTORY OF THE CAMARO:

The base $2,466 ’67 Camaro sport coupe was lean and aggressive, as was the convertible. Drivers did have the option of picking or combining individual options or trim packages called RS and SS.

Buyers could opt for a larger 250-inch version of the six making 155 horsepower, a 210-horsepower 327-cubic-inch small-block V8 fed by a two-barrel carb, that same V8 with a four-barrel carb and a higher compression ratio was rated at 275 horsepower, or two versions of the 396-cubic-inch big-block V8 making either 325 or 375 horsepower. Those engines could be lashed to a series of wide- or short-ratio three- or four-speed manual transmissions, or one of two automatics: the slushy two-speed Powerglide or outstanding three-speed Turbobydramatic.

The Rally Sport (RS) appearance package brought deluxe interior trim and hidden headlights with it, and the high-performance Super Sport (SS) package had its own distinct decoration (including a domed hood with simulated vents, “bumble bee” stripes at the nose and SS badges), a heavy-duty suspension and larger D70-series tires on 14-inch wheels.

The SS-350 model also offered a new 350-cubic-inch small-block V8 rated at 295 horsepower (Chevy’s first 350). The Rally Sport and Super Sport packages could be ordered together to create the fully decked out RS/SS. The RS/SS convertible powered by a 396 paced the 1967 Indianapolis 500. The final Camaro package, introduced in December 1966, was the Z/28 which was powered by a special high-compression 302-cubic-inch and rated at 290 horsepower.

Code Name Panther:

Mid-Year 1963

Immediately upon introduction of the Mustang, rumors began developing (mostly within the industry) that Chevrolet was working on an answer. The rumor was true but the car was kept under wraps for another 2 years under Code Name XP-836. Nothing was done to stop the rumors.

July 14, 1964

The first design was the XP 196X –The Super Shark– for display on renderings/scale model purpose (mystery competition).

July 16, 1964

The XP-386 project began in Design Staff.

July-August 1965

Public Relations begins to shoot photos of everything from drawing board through clay models up to various features of the finished car, as it developed. One important project was an effort toward a LIFE Magazine story on the Birth of the Camaro. The car had not yet been named. Nor did the story ever materialize. It was replaced by the Frey-Mustang vs Estes-Camaro featurette that did appear in September 1966. Many of the photos have been used in different magazine stories. Fortune Magazine may still run the picture story originally planned for Life.

November 1965

The internal code name became “F” car. November saw the first showing of cars to Chevrolet sales executives and creative people and to Public Relations. By now the car had become “The Panther.” There was much speculation that this would be its name, and the public accepted it as such. Public Relations began planning for a July Press Conference. Proposals were made for various ways to publicize the car; specified cars were required for early showing and for photographic work. Creative work began at Campbell-Ewald immediately. This included catalogs, direct mail, sale promotion, and of course print-outdoor and TV/radio.

January/February 1966

Public Relations began photography of test prototypes and styling models; early testing.

March 1966

Public Relations decides to have 20 top-optioned Camaros for a press drive-away scheduled for early September. A selection of cities and editors to participate would be made. Creative explorations.

April 1966

At the New York Auto Show Press Conference, it is admitted that the new 1967 will be in the Corvair-Chevy II range. No name has been chosen as of yet. Creative work is refined.

May 1966

The first creative presentation takes place. The project is still known as the “F” car.

June 29, 1966

A 14-city closed circuit press conference is held to bury the name “Panther” and to announce the new name, CAMARO. General information is revealed on the new car. Estes’ gag story about how he came up with the name was that he locked himself in a closet and came out with CAMARO. Bootlegged, over the fence telephoto lens photos hit on UPI Wire Service.

July-September 1966

Public Relations has all major magazines in to the Proving Grounds for briefing, driving, and interviews on all aspects of the total line, with the emphasis on the Camaro. Photos and specifications were distributed. Wide photo coverage is done by the publications for September release. Radio/TV kits are distributed.

August 22-23, 1966

At the Chevrolet Sales Convention in Detroit, the Camaro is the big hit of the show.

September 5, 1966

LIFE Magazine teaser ad appears.

September 25, 1966

First Camaro ad appears in newspapers.

September 28-29, 1966

Camaro ad consist of newspapers, magazines, radio, television, outdoor, and a six-minute TV spectacular. Public Relations released a press package including photos, specifications, and line stories. The press package is mailed nationally. A General Press Conference is held using 25 Camaros, with 100 members of the press present. Another press conference is held featuring questions and answers, driving on the proving grounds, and a gymkhana where press guests competed in handling of the Camaro. The same type of conference was held a week later in Los Angeles for West Coast press. Top-optioned Camaros were driven from Detroit to home cities by 15 editors. They were used over the announcement weekend for a large public display at the U.S. Grand Prix by journalists and celebrities Cars circulated among the other prominent press in major city locations for additional “I drove it personally” features.

September 29, 1966

The Chevrolet Camaro is released to the public for the first time. The legend arises!

The First Camaro Commercial:

Source: GM History Center

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2 Comments

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