Chevy’s Answer to the Mustang

1967 CamaroReaching dealer's showrooms in September of 1966, the 1967 Camaro was Chevrolet's response to the wildly successful Ford Mustang.

Based on GM's new  F-body platform, the first generation Camaro was built from 1967 through the 1969 model years at assembly plants in Norwood, Ohio and Van Nuys, California. Available as a 2-door hardtop or convertible, the car offered the choice of a six-cylinder or V8 power plant.

 

The base engines for the first generation Camaro were a 230 ci (cubic inch) straight-6 rated at 140 hp, or a 327 ci V8 rated at 275 hp. In 1969 the base V8 displacement dropped to 307 ci, but the advertised horsepower increased to 290. All in all, the first generation Camaro offered eight different engines for 1967, 10 for 1968, and 12 for 1969.

First Generation Camaro Engines
  • 230 cu in (3.8 L) L26 I6
  • 250 cu in (4.1 L) L22 I6
  • 283 cu in (4.6 L) small-block V8
  • 302 cu in (4.9 L) Z28 V8 (Z/28)
  • 307 cu in (5.0 L) L14 V8
  • 327 cu in (5.4 L) LF7/L30 V8
  • 350 cu in (5.7 L) LM1/L65 V8
  • 350 cu in (5.7 L) L48 V8 (SS350)
  • 396 cu in (6.5 L) L34/L78/L89 V8 (SS396)
  • 427 cu in (7.0 L) L72/ZL1 V8 (COPO)

Mated to all these engines was a base four-speed manual transmission.  A two-speed "Powerglide" automatic transmission was optional during all three model years.  A three speed "Turbo Hydra-Matic 350" automatic became an option in 1969 along with a three speed "Turbo 400" automatic for the 396 SS cars only.

Packages

Chevy offered three main packages for the first generation Camaro, the Rally Sport (RS), Super Sport (SS), and Z/28.  These three packages are still offered today.

Strictly for appearance, the Rally Sport package included hidden headlights, revised taillights, RS badging, and bright exterior trim. It was available on any model.

The high performance Super Sport package came with either a 350 or 396 ci V8 engine, upgraded chassis parts for improved handling, SS badging, non-functioning hood air inlets, and special striping.

Developed specifically for SCCA-Trans-Am racing, the Z/28 package came with a 302 ci V8, four-barrel carburetor, close-ratio manual 4-speed transmission, heavy-duty suspension and differential, power disc brakes, and two wide stripes on the hood and trunk lid.  Available only on the coupe, the package cost an additional $358 in 1967.  An extra $437 got the lucky buyer a "cowl induction" plenum intake. Exhaust headers were available for another $779.  Neither the intake or headers were factory installed.

The Z/28's Turbo-Fire 302, as it was called, used cylinder heads from the Corvette, heavy-duty valve springs, solid lifters, and a long duration cam.  The Turbo-Fire 302's unusual cam timing made it rather weak at rpms under than 3000.  However, the same cam timing and upgraded internals allowed the engine to safely wind out to 7000 rpm.  Grossly unrated from the factory at 290 hp at 5800 rpm, the Turbo-Fire's peak horsepower was actually closer to 380.

The Legendary '69 Camaro ZL1

A Loop hole in the factory ordering system allowed a clever Chevrolet dealer by the name of Fred Gibb (owner of Gibb Chevrolet in La Harpe, IL) to order some of the most serious Camaros ever built.

The Central Office Production Order, COPO for short, was a process originally intended to allow factory order of specialty commercial vehicles such as taxicabs and some trucks. Fred Gibb was intimately familiar with the COPO system and had been using it for years to produce rare muscle cars.  The reputation of Gibb Chevrolet as a "high performance" dealership was well known even before the ZL1.

In late 1968, Gibb got approval from the head of Chevrolet's performance engineering division to place orders through the COPO system for Camaros built with an all-aluminum 427 V8 engine.  The only stipulation was that a minimum of 50 cars had to be ordered by the dealership.

The 427 engine used in the ZL1 had been developed for Can-AM racing and other track uses.  It was never intended for use in a street-legal production car. The combination of aluminum heads from the L88 iron block 427 mated with an aluminum casted engine block gave the all-aluminum 427 about the same weight as Chevy's small block 327.  Horsepower ratings for the engine were once again way off the mark.  Factory rated at 435 hp, sources familiar with the ZL1 claim it made in excess of 500 hp.

Gibb Chevrolet received 50 of the first 52 ZL1 Camaros.  Stickered at more than $7200, the ZL1 was a tough sell.  Gibb managed to sell only 13 of them.  The rest were either exchanged with other dealers or returned to Chevrolet.  Because of the high sticker price, some dealers went as far as to replace the all-aluminum 427 with a less expensive engine in order to sell the car.  Gibb Chevrolet sold their last ZL1 in 1972.

A total of 69 Camaro ZL1s were produced.  Though barely street legal, the cars did come with a 5 year/50,000 mile warranty.  Chevrolet considered making the ZL1 a standard package to go along with the RS, SS, and Z/28 but decided against the idea.  It wouldn't be until 2012 and the 5th generation Camaro that the ZL1 would make it's return.  This time with Chevrolet's full blessing.

The Camaro has now reached generation six.  It's safe to say the roots from this first generation are embedded in ALL generations of this classic American car.

First Generation Production Numbers
YEAR BASE RS SS Z/28 PACE CAR CONV TOTAL
1967 160,648 64,842 34,411 602 104 25,411 285,748
1968 176,813 40,977 30,695 7,199 0 20,440 276,124
1969 165,226 37,773 36,309 20,302 3,675 15,573 280,858
TOTAL 502,687 143,592 101,415 28,103 3,779 61,154 842,731

Special Note: This is the first post in a new category labeled "Classic Showcase".  The plan is to showcase a classic American car from the '50's, '60s and '70s each month. So Stay tuned...

3 thoughts on “Chevy’s Answer to the Mustang

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