Sometime, during the month of April in 1965, long before any official announcement was made by General Motors, or specifically by its' Chevrolet Division, reports had begun circulating to the effect that Chevrolet was preparing to build a vehicle code-named "Panther" in the newly identified "Pony/Musclecar" arena. This mysterious new vehicle was intended to compete directly with the highly successful Ford Mustang which was introduced in late 1964, as a "new for" 1965 model, to rave reviews and huge sales numbers. Not to be outdone . . . GM had an ace up their sleeve to face this Ford rival, head-on!
The strangely worded "official" announcement, by Chevrolet on June 21, 1966, went out to some 200+ automotive journalists of the day in the form of a telegram (yes it was, after all, 1966! As the now infamous, Al Gore, had not yet invented the internet and/or email!). That telegram read something to the effect . . ."Please save noon of June 28, 1966 for important S.E.P.A.W. meeting. Hope you can be on hand to help "scratch a cat"! Details will follow . . ." signed, John L. Cutter, Chevrolet Public Relations and S.E.P.A.W. Secretary. Again, on the following day, the same group of journalists received an equally as strange, second telegram stating . . . "Society for the Eradication of Panthers from the Automotive World will hold first and last meeting on June 28. (Insert city here) chapter will meet at (insert hotel name here) and join national 14 city "live" telephone hookup with meeting in Detroit at which time, Chevrolet General Manager, E. M. "Pete" Estes will preside. Please telephone acceptance to Frank Faraone, Telephone # Delaware 7-460.", again signed by John L. Cutter. These strange telegrams had many in the automotive media scratching their heads, mainly because no one had ever heard of S.E.P.A.W. before these two messages arrived!
So, by June 28th, the industry was buzzing with anticipation and excitement about this big, "strange" meeting! Chevrolet's General Manager, Pete Estes, would have some fun with this secretive game and make the announcement himself. Now, back in 1966, they used quite a cutting-edge means of reaching more people collectively, in the Automotive Journalism society, than ever before possible! Rather than forcing all the 200+ journalists to make a trip to Detroit, GM utilized a new technological advancement by the Bell Telephone Company called "two-way conference communication". It was the first time in history that 14 cities were hooked up in "real time" for a press conference via telephone lines (something that seems so very simple today, but was so very complicated back then). After a brief speech about how well things were going for General Motors and how they intended to remain the number one automotive manufacturer in the USA, Mr. Estes then said "Oh yes! I almost forgot! The purpose of this meeting! . . . Gentlemen, as much as we appreciate the tremendous publicity given "Panther" we ask you to help scratch the cat once and forever. And as such, this will be both the FIRST and the LAST meeting of S.E.P.A.W.! Chevrolet has chosen a name which is lithe, graceful, and in keeping with our other car names beginning with the letter "C", it suggests the comradeship of good friends, as a personal car should be to its owner! Above all, it is the name of our new car line to be introduced on September 29, 1966! To us, at G.M., the name means just what we think the car will do . . . GO! ….and here it is!"
At that moment, five beautiful girls came onto the stage, each holding a letter, while Mr. Estes held the sixth letter. While a narrator described to the out-of-towners, that could not see what was going on, Mr. Estes placed each girl in order and then lined up with them for all to see the word "CAMARO"! There was excitement and amazement and yet many were still puzzled at what it meant and what exactly was a CAMARO???? The Product Managers, who fielded the many questions after the announcement about this peculiar, yet immediately likable name, only said (as smug as possible), it is "a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs!".
And so, later that year, on Sept. 12, 1966 in Detroit, MI, the new "Camaro" was unveiled to rave reviews and an eagerly awaiting public hungry for their own GM produced pony/musclecar! And, as stated back at the mysterious meeting back in June, the cars were available at Chevrolet Dealerships across the country on or about Sept. 29,1966!
Alrighty then... now for some details about the First Generation (1967 to 1969) Camaro or "F-Body" (a platform also shared with the new Pontiac Firebird) which was a built on a front-engined, rear-wheel drive platform and only available as a 2-door coupe or convertible. A wide variety of engines ranging from the 230 c.i. L6 to the ultra rare optioned ZL1 (only 69 of the ZL1 were ever made and only for the 1969 year model) drag-race ready, aluminum block 427 c.i., big-block V8, or COPO 9560 (Central Office Production Orders) package, which added over $4,000 to the sticker price, which was a lot of money back then! But oh, what fun it must have been to stuff your foot into that one! There were actually over a dozen (14) different engines available during the first three years of Camaro production and some were only available to a choice few specifically for racing purposes.
Some of the available options, such as the "RS", was an appearance package that included hidden headlights, revised taillights, RS badging, and exterior rocker trim. The "SS", which included a 350 c.i. V8 engine or the optional L35 and L78 396 c.i. big-block V8 was also available in "SS" package. The "SS" also 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 even possible to order both the "SS" and "RS" packages together to make a Camaro "RS/SS". In 1967, a Camaro "RS/SS" convertible with a 396 c.i. V8 engine, paced the Indianapolis 500. The Z28 option code which was introduced in December 1966 for the 1967 model year was the brainchild of Vince Piggins. He conceived offering a virtually "race-ready" Camaro which could be offered for sale from any Chevrolet dealer. This option package was not mentioned in any sales literature, so it was unknown to most buyers and dealers for that matter. The Z/28 option required power front disc brakes and a Muncie 4-speed manual transmission be installed on these models. It also featured a 302 c.i. small-block V8 engine, an aluminum intake manifold, and a 4-barrel, vacuum-secondary Holley carburetor. Only 602 Z/28s were sold in 1967, along with approximately 100 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Replicas. The origin of the Z/28 nameplate came from the RPO (Regular Production Option) codes - RPO Z27 was for the Super Sport package, and RPO Z28, at the time, was the code for a Special Performance Package intended to compete in the "Trans Am" racing series of the day. Many Camaro's are raced, and very successfully I might add, in various forms and venues all over the world to this day!
There have been five generations in the life of the Camaro, with a brief hiatus in production from 2003 to 2009, with the awesome, retro-looking fifth generation Camaro making it's debut in 2010! During the "First Generation" production run from 1967 to 1969 a total of 699,538 Camaros were made. You know what that means . . . there is a good chance that your favorite model, options and color are still out there and available for purchase . . . good luck and good hunting!
Oh, hey, did I ever answer the question of the meaning of the "Camaro" name??? When pressed for an answer, over a year later (sometime in 1967), as to how he came up with the name "Camaro" (which actually means friend, pal or comrade) from a list of over 2,000 words of which to choose, Mr. Estes laughed and casually admitted, "I locked myself in a closet and came back out with Camaro"!
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