Journal: Driven by Design: 1967 Chevrolet Camaro

Driven by Design: 1967 Chevrolet Camaro

By Yoav Gilad
November 11, 2014

(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

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Sid Widmer
Sid Widmer
8 years ago

I always thought the 1st gen firebirds were more interesting to look at.

Martin James
Martin James
8 years ago

Actually Yoav .. you’re a little too young to remember this but …. the Camaro was every bit the equal to the Mustang both in sales , popularity , quality as well as overall design . Though your design criticisms are valid the simple fact is the Mustang has an equal if not greater amount of flaws in its design and especially in the build quality [ having said that my preferences always leaned towards the Mustang ]

So no Yoav . The Camaro and the Mustang were neck and neck , dead for nuts equals from the minute the Camaro hit the showroom floors . It was the likes of AMC [ AMX , Javelin etc ] Pontiac [ Firebird ] and Plymouth/Dodge [ Barracuda, Challenger , Dart ] that were the ‘ Dark Horses ‘ right up until the end of the Pony/Muscle Car wars

Fact is in the nostalgia recreation Pony Car wars its the same . The new Mustangs and Camaros leading the [ much diminished ] pack . With the new Dodge Challenger bringing up the rear as the Lantern Rouge

Martin James
Martin James
8 years ago
Reply to  Yoav Gilad

The Mustang was ‘ cleaner ‘ ? Not hardly . More cohesive ? A matter of opinion perhaps but I’d beg to disagree . Flaws in the Mustang’s design ? Oh good lord ! Let me count the ways . From phony scoops on the side – the overly busy front end [ which Aston Martin was later severely criticized for copying ] The later and constant additions of even more fake and/or non-functional scoops and indentations . A rear end only a mother [ and a Mustang lover.. guilty as charged ] could love . I mean really Yoav . I could literally go on for pages criticizing all the design flaws and foibles the Mustang has had since day one . Fact is … the EU and UK reviews from back in the day do it better [ especially LJK Setright ] than I ever could . Not that any of them make me like the Mustang any less mind you . But the fact is a good portion of the Mustang’s so called character is a direct consequence of all those flaws . Whereas the Camaro ? Well …. other than the 69 I’ve never been a huge fan . But how can you not agree that the Camaro is and was so much cleaner from each and every angle

And as far as playing ‘ catch up ‘ ? Errr ….. not hardly . The Mustang was more a case of Ford trying to catch up with the Corvette than the Camaro ever was in trying to ‘ catch up ‘ with the Mustang .

But just to be clear Yoav . I personally prefer the Mustang by a country mile . But …. I for one do not allow personal opinion to get in the way of unbiased judgement

In closing …. I’d take issue with your sales numbers . You may be right …. but thats not how I remember it at all back in the day . What I remember clearly in fact was a constant back and forth see saw battle between Ford and Chevy to dominate the category . One’d up the ante … the other’d take it s step further … one adding in something new …. the other countering the move . Fact is Yoav . THAT … was what made both cars so damn great and kept them so far ahead of everyone else . The constant competition between them both 😉

[ for the record Yoav everyones ‘ sales ‘ numbers …. past , present and future have more to do with fiction than any actual reality . e.g. Everybody [ then and especially now ] Lies ! The bias of the lie depending on who’s agenda you’re listening to or reading ]

A nice friendly debate though Yoav and one I hope we engage in again sometime in the future .

Martin James
Martin James
8 years ago
Reply to  Yoav Gilad

BWTM – IF the Camaro can be criticized for anything …. it was its distinct lack of character design flaws … making it a bit of a plain vanilla design . Albeit one that appealed to anyone wanting pony car looks/performance while maintaining a certain sense of respectability