The origins of the Camaro can be traced to the first week of April 1964, when vehicle number 64163 was tested at the General Motors Proving Grounds. It was a 1964 1/2 Mustang hardtop with a six-cylinder engine and three-speed manual transmission. A copy of the 2,000-mile break-in test report, dated April 6, 1964, indicates GM had already procured and was testing a new Mustang 11 days prior to the public introduction of Ford's ponycar. According to Alex Mair, who joined the Camaro platform in 1966 as chief passenger car engineer, GM and Ford then had a reciprocal understanding to share new products for analysis prior to their introduction. "We always had Ford products 2 to 4 weeks ahead of the formal announcement," said Alex. It was a shake-hands agreement that the public didn't know about." And so GM was able to test the new Mustang before Ford ever released it to the public.
Although it would take four months before GM management gave the go-ahead to start on the F-car (F was the corporation's designation for the new body), Chevrolet Engineering was already at work targeting the Mustang's basic specifications and dimensions for their own ponycar. Stylists used the 1964 Super Nova show car as a starting point for the F-car, and called it Project XP-836.
When work began in August of 1964 on the F-car, the following set of specific baselines was established by Chevrolet for the final design:* Distinctively modern aerodynamic styling for a clean, functional appearance* Small, highly maneuverable size with packaging for four passengers* A very broad range of available performance capability* Quick, sharply-defined roadability with a firm, yet comfortable ride* "Cockpit-type" interiors for close driver identification* An evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, basic design approach to maintain maximum value for the customer* Wide selection of mechanical and aesthetic equipment to allow custom tailoring for needs and desires
Chevrolet engineering also broke down the design and construction of the Camaro into four major construction groups:* Bolted-on, front end sheetmetal* Unitized body construction with the rear framing elements incorporated into the underbody* Driveline: solid rear axle and single-leaf rear suspension combined into a simple and efficient Hotchkiss drive system* A front chassis unit consisting of the engine, transmission, front suspension, front brakes, steering gear, and linkage mounted on a separate, extended-rail partial front frame
Chassis Engineer, Paul King, recalled mounting pressure as the original perimeters of the F-car were laid out: "I was in the development group at the time. We were getting a lot of stuff pumped into the car from other directions than usual. Road noise and road impact were harder to isolate. If there was an assembly consideration, we had the manufacturing people on our side. They were concerned about line spacing on the assembly line, so the overall length of the vehicle was important. We were pressured to get a car like the Mustang out both in image and in price. That forced us to want to do the car in a big hurry."
Chassis Design And The Art Of CompromiseTo reduce engineering costs, part of the F-car's structural design was borrowed from the 1968 Chevy II. Since its introduction in 1962, the Chevy II has utilized unit body construction, to which all chassis components are attached to underbody framing elements. While this was an inexpensive way to build a low-price car, it left much to be desired, resulting in creaks, rattles, and a harsh ride. Using a full-frame beneath the F-car would have been too costly, though, so GM engineers combined aspects of several European designs, adapting an extended-rail front subframe to attach to a unit body via four rubber body bushings. With two rubber body bushings at the cowl dash legs, and two in the area under the front seats at end of the subframe, vibrations, road noise, and engine noise were successfully isolated from the passenger compartment. And with the transmission attached to a crossmember at the rear of the subframe, and two mounts at the front for sheet metal attachment, the subframe was similar to composite body/full-frame Chevrolet cars like the Chevelle.
Using the 1965 Corvair as a target, Chevrolet engineers modeled the F-car lower in height, with a pronounced long-hood, short-deck look, while still incorporating the Corvair's "coke-bottle" kick-up from the leading edge of the rear quarters. By assigning the F-car a wheelbase of 108 inches, the front overhang measured in at 36.6 inches, leaving a relatively short rear deck. This proportioning allowed the instrument panel, cowl, and front seats to be positioned closer to the rear, more comparable to the Corvette than the Chevy II. Stylists would still struggle with the high cowl inherited by this shared design, though, and several alternative approaches to cowl height and hood length would be attempted.
By combining a subframe attached to a unit body, Chevrolet engineering was able to create meaningful cost savings. The subframe was developed to accept the standard GM design SLA front suspension with unequal upper and lower A-arms, monotube shocks, and coil springs with front stabilizer bar. The 1968 Chevy II would also significantly benefit from the F-car's developments, including the subframe, front suspension design, braking systems, and powertrains. By spreading the cost of these components across model lines, Chevrolet could keep the price per unit down, thus making the products both competitive for the consumer and profitable for the company.
As a clean sheet project, Chevrolet Engineering applied the newest available technology to determine the characteristics of the suspension. Although primitive by today's standards, analog computer simulation techniques were used for the first time to analyze the perimeters Chevrolet engineers had designed for the F-car. The computer-simulated engineering, provided by the Engineering Mechanics Department of General Motors Research Laboratories, was essential in setting the spring deflection rates, anti-roll bar rates, shock valving, and other ride and handling characteristics.
At the time, using computers to evaluate and analyze suspension settings was a new science, and not everyone in Chevorlet Engineering was sold on the idea. "We were willing to gamble a little bit on some of our design decisions by what the computer told us," said Paul. "That was a new tool for us, and we weren't sure how much confidence to put in it. You were creating a design and then making some decisions based on the computer saying 'if you do this, it will be that.' We didn't know how much credence to give to these sorts of indications. So for a while the computer analysis followed the actual design until we grew more confident of its analysis."
The rear suspension consisted of a Hotchkiss-type arrangement mounted on mono-leaf, semi-elliptical springs with direct, double-acting hydraulic shock absorbers, and installed directly to reinforced points at the rear body shell. Because of the shorter length available at the rear, the chrome-carbon, steel leaf springs were 6.5 inches shorter than the Chevy II's 62.5-inch springs, as well as 2.5 pounds lighter. To deliver excellent handling characteristics and still provide adequate body isolation, a computer program was devised to analyze suspension reaction to changes in bushing durometer. The tests revealed that a single, low-durometer bushing was ideal for the front spring bushing, and at the rear, two-piece bushings from lower durometer rubber. This combination provided the much sought-after compromise between rear suspension control and body isolation from drivetrain and road noise.
Computer analyses also indicated the advantages to mounting the rear shock absorbers outboard of the springs, in an almost-vertical arrangement-a divergance from the standard diagonal configuration. Chevrolet engineers determined this would improve tire adhesion on washboard road surfaces as well as cornering. Paul remembers that only later did they discover that springs wind under severe braking or severe launch, and worsen with the big-block cars, which generate tremendous torque on the rear suspension assembly. Several methods to eliminate the problem were explored, including frame ties which would have connected the trailing edge of the front subframe to the leading edge of the rear spring. Cost considerations eliminated that possibility, and the basic design format was retained until the end of the 1967 model year; however, a traction bar was added to the right monospring, alleviating some of the wheelhop problems.
Preproduction mules (disguised in Chevy II sheet metal), as well as a group of competitor cars, were driven across the United States from New England to California, and to GM's Desert Proving Grounds near Phoenix, in September 1964. Several were also taken to GM's Milford, Michigan Proving Grounds, and shown the difference between the computer simulations, which were constrained by the design perimeters, and real-world test conditions. The first pretest vehicle provided directional control response baseline measurements, which were then compared to the computer data. The results indicated that the real-world characteristics of the suspension design were in line with the low lateral acceleration computer simulations; the opposite was true at high lateral acceleration, with the mule having more understeer. Roll rates and angles were 10 percent lower, indicating the suspension did not share the simulation's characteristics.
Styling ChallengesWhen the engineering specifications for the new F-car arrived on designer Henry Haga's desk, in Chevrolet's Studio II on August 26, it was obvious that there was a lot of Chevy II architecture in the numbers. These numbers required the height of the cowl and the distance from the center of the front axle to the dash to be the same for the Chevy II and the F-car. For the bread-and-butter Chevy II, these numbers would translate nicely into a two- or four-door design. For the F-car, however, it resulted in a cowl that was too high in the eye of the designers, and too short between the front wheel and the dash. Designers then worked to achieve a lower cowl by giving the windshield a more severe rake and thinning the A pillars
By December of 1964, the basic shell was complete. The look was fluid-a new approach at GM, which began with the 1965 Corvair and resurfaced on many restyled 1966 GM cars. Angles and beveled lines were softened into flowing curves, with quarter panels ramping upwards (the famous GM "Coke Bottle" look), and a seamless integration of the C-pillar from top to deck. From the front, the body had a fuselage appearance as it rolled down into the rocker panels. The curved side glass area and smooth rear deck strongly contradicted the Mustang's chiseled appearance, and although the dimensions of the two ponycars were virtually identical, the F-car's design was more gentle and streamlined. Chevrolet literature highlighted the curved contours of the F-car's design, and noted that "one interesting styling aspect of these rounded beauty surfaces is the feeling of motion achieved by light reflections while the car is stationary as well as moving." By August 1965, the front grille, headlamp design, and placement had been approved.
In fact, when taken to the wind tunnel-attended by a Chevrolet engineer, a stylist, and a clay modeler in February 1965-the first Camaro quarter-scale models exhibited excellent aerodynamic characteristics. In a series of 76 trials conducted at the Vought Aircraft wind tunnel in Dallas, a variety of different angles and positions were tested to accumulate data on six major forces affecting aerodynamics. Lift, drag, side forces, pitching, yawing, and rolling moments were all recorded and fed into a computer. Airflow visualization tests using the ink stain method were also performed and photographed after each run. The end result of this 11-day examination proved the basic design of the F-car remarkably smooth and in need of little tweaking. Styling cleaned up the leading edges of the front fenders and reduced front valance rake, and additional data was used to adjust the Z/28's chin and rear spoiler.
In retrospect, it was fortunate that the Camaro's body was inherently aerodynamic, as there would not have been adequate time to experiment with radically different designs and still deliver to market by fall of 1966. Paul recalls: "To me, wind tunnel testing was interesting at that time, but we were going to build the car the way it was regardless of what the wind tunnel said. We had a job to do and we were going to do it. If the wind tunnel results were positive, that was nice. If they were bad, that was too bad, because we were going to build the car anyway."
Pouring In The PowerChevrolet had a depth and breadth of powertrains to chose from for the F-car. Since the car was to be marketed on several levels, ranging from economy to high performance, a variety of engine packages were selected. Standard was the 230 cubic-inch inline six-cylinder Turbo-Thrift, rated at 140 horsepower with single-barrel Rochester carburetor and mated to a three-speed all-synchromesh manual gearbox, located on the steering column. The optional two-speed automatic Powerglide was coupled with a 2.73:1 rear, and the optional four-speed box came with 3.55:1 cogs; rear axle ratio was set at 3.08:1
The first optional engine was RPO L22, a 250-ci inline six-cylinder Turbo-Thrift, pegged at 155 hp with a single-barrel Rochester carburetor using the same transmission as the standard six.
The standard L30 Turbo-Fire V8 displaced 327 ci and was rated at 210 hp with a two-barrel Rochester carburetor, and the transmission was a three-speed manual with floor-mounted Inland shifter. A four-speed manual or two-speed Powerglide were offered as additional options, as well as a second 327 producing 275 hp via a Rochester Quadra-Jet, 10.0:1 compression ratio, and a higher-lift camshaft. It also used Chevelle-style exhaust manifolds modified to fit the F-car's chassis.
New for the Chevy powertrain lineup was the L48 Turbo-Fire 350 with 295 hp. This engine displacement was achieved by lengthening the crank stroke .023 inches, enlarging the crank counterweights, and lowering the piston compression height. Rochester's new Quadra-Jet four-barrel fed the 10.25:1-compression engine. Rear axle ratios ranged from a gas-sipping 3.07:1, to an asphalt-melting 4.88:1. The SS package with the L48 cost an additional $210.65.
Introduced in November of 1966, the top drivetrain option for the SS package was the L35 396-ci Turbo-Thrust V8, which added $263.30 to the sticker price. The L35 weighed 186 lbs more than the L48, boasted 325 hp, and competed directly against the 390 Mustang. Components from the Corvette's 425-horse L78 engine were borrowed for the L35; however, the L35 used hydraulic lifters and smaller-valve heads. The M13 heavy-duty three-speed manual box was located on the floor with the L35 package, and the M20 four-speed with 2.52:1 low gear and M35 two-speed Powerglide were reintroduced as options. Mid-year, Chevrolet released the much-needed M40 three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic to replace the two-speed Powerglide, making the Camaro competitive with Ford's C6 three-speed automatic.
In early 1967, Chevrolet released the L78 for use in the Camaro SS. At a cost of $500.30, the 375 hp 396 was a standard three-speed heavy-duty manual gearbox, with the M20 Muncie four-speed as its only optional transmission; the four-speed rear axle ratios were offered from 3.07:1 to 4.88:1. The L78 featured 11.0:1 compression, solid lifters, and big Holley four-barrels with 1.562-inch primaries and secondaries. With the optional L78, the Camaro now had one of the best horsepower-to-weight ratios in the market. Amazingly, the same rear spring rates were used for the L78 (115 lbs. per in.), as the 250-cube six and the base 327 V8.
|967 PERFORMANCE V8 ENGINE PRODUCTION |
|RPO || CID ||HP ||Production |
|L48 ||350 ||295 ||29,270 |
|L35 ||396 ||325 ||1,003 |
|L78 ||396 ||375 ||1,138 |
Radical New CockpitWhile the engineering of the F-car's suspension and exterior was underway, stylists began work on the interior. Using the high Chevy II cowl and steering wheel placement (relative to seating position), designers worked to pull the seating position down and rearward for a sportier feel for the driver and front passenger.
By attaching the seats directly to the floor pan, the driver's position is lowered, thus creating a more sports car-like environment. The instrument panel was also slanted in and downward, increasing the space and suggesting a lower, more intimate driving position. The panel then was covered by a foam crash pad, color keyed to the interior, and the gauge package comprised two elliptical instrumentation bezels. In the center of the panel was a matte-black finished panel, with bright molding containing the radio, ashtray, and horizontal sliding controls for the heater. And as is custom, a glove box was installed in the right side of the instrument panel.
Bucket seats were standard equipment on all models; however, the Strato-back bench seat with fold-down center armrest was offered as an option. Vinyl seat coverings came standard, as did door-to-door carpeting, and the vinyl door panels were embossed with a freestanding armrest.
The custom interior option upgraded the F-car's appearance, as color-keyed accent bands highlighted the Strato-bucket seats and backseat. The door panels were molded vinyl with integral, full-length arm rests, recessed door release handles, and lower door carpeting. The steering wheel boasted chrome center spokes and color-keyed rim, and the center horn button wore one of three caps: Camaro, RS, or SS (depending on option packages). A steering wheel with chrome spokes and wood-grained rim was also offered optionally.
Between the bucket seats, buyers could order a custom console, which, when combined with automatic transmission, placed the shifter in the console. An optional gauge cluster consisted of fuel, temperature, oil pressure, and ammeter gauges, along with a clock. Other options included a fold-down rear seat, headrests, and an AM/FM stereo radio, which could be combined with an 8-track stereo tape player. Air conditioning could be installed either by the factory as an integrated system, or by the dealer as a hang-on package. Cruise control was a new GM option for intermediate models, as were remote-controlled outside rear view mirror, shoulder harnesses, and space-saver spare tire.
A Camaro For Every TasteChevrolet product planners chose to offer the F-car in three packages based on the standard, with added refinements and accessories. The first package was the Style Trim Group, which included front- and rear-wheel opening bright moldings, body-side accent stripes, and bright drip gutter moldings on hardtops. The standard front end featured exposed circular headlamps, a black full-width "loop" style plastic grille, and inboard-mounted parking lamps.
The second optional package, RS, included paint stripes, bright moldings, and specific rear dual taillamp treatment. The most notable part of the RS package was the disappearing headlamps: when concealed, lattice covers at both ends hid them. A second black grille ran the full width of the radiator, opening with an "RS" emblem in the center; the covers (or "doors") were powered electrically. Parking lamps were integrated into the lower valance, and "RS" emblems appeared on front and rear fenders, along with black body stripes below the side moldings.
The third package was the SS-the performance model. An "SS" emblem embellished the center of the black grille, and the hood featured a raised central area with simulated louvers. A wide "bumblebee" paint band wrapped around the front panel and the nose, easily identifying this F-car as an "SS." At the rear, the gas filler cap wore another "SS" badge, as did the steering wheel horn button. Either the standard 350 or optional 396 engine badges were displayed on the lower front fender behind the wheel openings, and the taillamp panel was finished in flat black. Since the SS was the top performance option, the front and rear suspension components were beefed up with the F41 package, along with a heavy-duty radiator.
These options could also be stacked together, combining the RS and SS packages, and providing the consumer with both the blacked-out RS grille and the SS performance package.
Additionally, the F-car was offered with a bevy of performance options. Front disc brakes were new to GM products (except Corvette), in 1967, as well as the F-car. Fast-ratio steering with or without power assist was available, as was limited-slip Posi-traction differential. The 9.5-inch diameter drum brakes could be ordered with sintered-metallic brake linings, and a tachometer was a dealer-installed accessory.
What's In A Name?As the new Chevrolet F-car was taking form, one major marketing aspect was still undefined-its name. Product planners combed hundreds of possible choices, including Chevette, Nova, Chaparral, Wildcat, and even "GeMini" before settling on "Panther." In June 1966, the Panther was retired and replaced by the name Camaro. "I went in a closet," joked Chevrolet General Manager Pete Estes, "shut the door, and didn't come out until I had thought up a name." Chevrolet PR found an obscure French-English dictionary from 1935 that translated Camaro as "comrade, pal, or chum," though the press had other versions, including "shrimp."
When the enthusiast magazines hit newsstands in late-August 1966 with coverage of the new Camaro, the reviews were mixed. Car Life noted that "the speculators (CL included), who said the Camaro was to be a 'modified Chevy II' were wrong. It isn't. It's virtually a new car, just the way the Chevelle was a new car for 1964."
While enthusiast press and the driving public reacted positively to the Camaro, some Chevrolet engineers were not satisfied. "The car wasn't as smooth and vibration-free as we would have liked it," said Paul, "but a lot of that had to do with product evolution. Part of those problems could also be attributed to the short development time allotted to the F-car." Fortunately, many of the problems plaguing Paul and other engineers were worked out in the 1968 and 1969 models.
Looking back on the first Camaro, Dave Holls, then group chief designer, remembers: "The first car was such a compromise. And we were so concerned because the Mustang was such a statement. And for GM not to come out with something better was really difficult for us to take. When the Camaro came out, we felt so much better. People just loved it and the dealers were crazy about the car. We had these little yellow ones with the black bumblebee stripe going around the front-people bought them like crazy! It was an absolute winner."
Sales SuccessThe end result of all this hoopla was a pretty impressive new car. Total sales for 1967 topped out at 220,906 units (roughly 10 percent of total Chevrolet sales that year). The RS option sold 64,842 units, and the SS recorded sales of 34,411. Buyers preferred the V-8 three-to-one over the V-6, which was no surprise considering the Sixties was the heyday of the V-8 engine.
Did the new Camaro put a dent in the Mustang's sales success story? Ford pushed 472,121 Mustangs over the curb in 1967, down from the 1966 total of 607,568. Unfortunately, Chevrolet cannot take total credit for the one-third decline in Mustang sales. New corporate cousin Mercury Cougar snared 150,893 customers, and Plymouth's restyled Barracuda sold 62,533 units. Far behind was the AMC Marlin, with only 2,545 moved.
The ponycar market was getting crowded, and while Mustang still led the pack, Ford was beginning to feel the pressure of competition. Nearly 8.5 percent of car sales in 1967 were ponycars, and the market was just starting to heat up. A whole new generation of super ponycars were looming over the horizon-some with pavement-pounding big-blocks, and others with high-winding small-displacement engines. Though confident in their product, Chevrolet still faced strong marketing and promotional challenges to change the American perception that the Mustang was the best ponycar around. But the ponycar wars were about to get red hot.
|1967 CAMARO PRODUCTION |
|Rally Sport: ||64,842 |
|Super Sport: ||34,411 |
|Z/28: ||602 |
|Custom Interior: ||69,103 |
|Total: ||220,906 |