Driven by Design: 1967 Chevrolet Camaro
(This article is part of the Driven by Design series.)
Just as Ford was caught flat-footed when the Chevrolet Corvette debuted in 1953, so too was General Motors when Ford launched the 1964 Mustang. And just as Ford responded to the Vette with the Thunderbird, the Camaro was the General’s response to the Mustang. But unlike the halo Corvette, the Mustang was aspirational and accessible. In fact, the millionth Mustang was built three months before the Camaro was even announced to the automotive press. Even though GM and their six brands (at the time) were the American sales leaders, Ford’s little pony car threatened to destabilize the General. Chevy needed something that spoke to youth.
And so they flattered Ford by imitating. Chevy engineered the Camaro on an existing platform (the refreshed, soon-to-be-released ’68 Nova’s) just like Ford’s Mustang to decrease costs. Did it work? Well, that depends on how you measure success. The Mustang outsold the Camaro by about fifty percent in 1967. And while you might chalk that up to first-mover advantage, the Mustang has outsold the Camaro in about seventy-five percent of subsequent model years. But sales have little to do with design success.
So is the Camaro a successful design? From a proportional perspective, it doesn’t break new ground. It features a front-engine and rear-wheel drive, along with the long hood that speaks to the power contained within. It sticks with the formula and uses it well. Additionally, the Camaro’s stance is quite good (even on the six cylinder!).
Unfortunately, the surfacing isn’t quite as good, looking a bit cheap. The bodyside has a bit too much section in front view (it lacks tension) and the simple crease running from front to back is a bit too centered. One has to believe that Chevy’s designers forced it down on the body in order to maintain plausible deniability when discussing the Camaro’s obvious inspiration. Additionally, there is a sharp surface break along the back of the doors.
The surface break was placed there to decrease stamping costs, but it screams this, and it’s so sharp that its execution appears amateurish (as an aside, they repeated this on the current gen Camaro and it looks equally cheap).
The Camaro’s rear fenders look full in side view, which is rather pleasing and couple well with the long, fast hood. Could they have been a bit quicker too? Sure, but again, that was Mustang territory. This is why, parked side-by-side, the ’67 Mustang (which is really a four-year-old design) still looked more modern than the brand-new Camaro.
In terms of details, the first generation Camaro is simple and tasteful, the V8s actually more so than the six-cylinders. The pop-up headlamps were also a nice touch on some trim-levels, although when open they seem under-designed and awkward, better to stick with the less futuristic, exposed round headlamps.
When considering the Camaro’s design, in particular the first generation, one struggles to consider it absolutely because the Mustang looms so large. And as mentioned in pervious posts, design doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Ultimately, it is also subjective and there are plenty of people who think that the Camaro is a gorgeous car. Indeed, it can be.
But realize that the Camaro tried to copy the Mustang’s formula, in other words, accomplish the same thing, but look different doing it. This is no small task and while the Camaro stands on its own merit, design-wise it is less successful than its inspiration and arch-nemesis.
More on the first generation Camaro…