The year was 1966. America was at war with Vietnam, the Soviets were landing spacecraft on Venus and the moon, and The Flintstones aired its final episode. And when it came to cars, it was the beginning of a new age. Ford Motor Company recently launched the original Mustang just two years prior, followed by the original Ford Bronco in 1965. Muscle cars such as the first-generation Dodge Charger and Pontiac GTO were both early in their lifecycles, as well. Noticing the popularity of the Ford Mustang and the birth of the ‘Pony Car’ segment, Chevrolet was working on an icon of its own. Codenamed “Panther,” the first Chevrolet Camaro was revealed to members of the press in Detroit on September 12, 1966. Just 17 days later, the 1967 Camaro was officially on dealership lots on September 29, 1966.
Regardless of what date you’d like to use, the Camaro nameplate is 53 years old as of this month.
The first-generation model had a very short lifespan in relation to the models that followed, lasting only between the 1967 to 1969 model years. Then again, it didn’t need much time to cement its place in automotive history as a legend. Some of the most coveted collector cars today include the 1967 Camaro Z/28 and the COPO 427 Camaro of 1969. Of the latter, just 69 of these ZL-1 Big Block-powered machines were produced, making them the rarest and most valuable of Camaro collector cars. In 2008, a 1969 COPO Camaro sold for nearly $850,000 at a Mecum auction, while other COPO Camaros of that era routinely sell well into six-figures.
Other notable Camaro models appeared over the years, such as the iconic “IROC” trim levels of the 1980’s. A name so popular that enthusiasts commonly referred to third-generation Camaros simply as “IROCs”, rather than the iconic pony car name itself. The fourth-generation model then introduced the LS1 V8 for the 1998 model year – the first aluminum V8 since the COPO Camaro from nearly 30 years ago, and was also shared with the C5 Corvette of the same time. This engine caught the attention of racers and the aftermarket alike, and continues to be a favorite among tuners for engine swaps on both GM and non-GM cars alike. But as fate would have it, the pony car program was furloughed after the 2002 model year.
It wasn’t until 2009 – when General Motors filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy – that the fifth-generation model marked the return of an icon for the 2010 model year. Utilizing the full-size Zeta architecture developed by GM’s Holden in Australia, the fifth-generation Camaro served the role of a large grand touring coupe in the Chevrolet lineup, offering loads of power and curb appeal for the money. In fact, one could have an LS3 V8-powered 2010 Camaro SS for $30,995, over $6,000 less than what Chevrolet charged for eight cylinders in the sixth-generation 2016 Camaro SS.
While it’s true that the sixth-generation Camaro is indeed sportier and more sophisticated than its predecessor, these merits haven’t translated into sales. Over time, the larger, older Dodge Challenger has overtaken the sixth-generation Camaro in total sales, largely thanks to a two-tier V8 engine strategy, the marketing of the Hellcat and Demon engines, and more favorable pricing. Adding to the troubles of the sixth-generation Camaro was a 2019 model year fascia update that has been by and large poorly received by the public, leading to a fix for the 2020 model year. Also for the 2020 Chevrolet Camaro was the introduction of the LT1 trim level, which undercuts the Ford Mustang GT in price by over $1,500, and the 5.7L V8-powered Challenger R/T by $100 while offering 83 more horses than the Dodge and a vastly superior power:weight ratio.
As we originally reported back in June, the future of the Chevrolet Camaro nameplate is in jeopardy once again after the 2023 model year, with the original plans for the seventh-generation model being furloughed. It could now be – at most – part of GM’s top-secret future electric vehicle portfolio. However, if the recent non-sale of the eCOPO Camaro is an early indicator of whether or not the market is ready for an electric Camaro, the automaker may want to rethink this strategy.