Curbside Classic: 1969 Chevrolet Camaro – Learning To Love The Camaro

I believe most families have minor friendly ongoing spats. Someone may prefer to watch CSI over Law & Order. Others may prefer Tony Bennet over Sinatra, and so on. You know, the kind of dispute that -with luck- never builds up to real animosity, but allows us to engage in lively disagreement from time to time. In the case of my family, it was a sibling thing and obviously car related; my little brother was Team Ford, while I was Team GM.

You may wonder, what kind of family had such quarrels? Team Ford or Team GM? A good number of CC readers had these matters sorted out for them. The family owned a certain brand of car and that defined your allegiances. Easy.

In our case, we had moved to El Salvador in 1976 and our family car was a tiny Toyota 1000 (Publica). Good for Mom, yes, but not the kind of thing kids got excited about. Time to escape reality and think of the American cars we used to see in Puerto Rico!

And isn’t it a sign of how much the world has changed that we as kids dreamt of Fords and Chevrolets?

To be honest, I don’t know if my brother was really Team Ford, or just Team Mustang. I very much doubt he could tell a Torino from a Torino Elite. And somehow I doubt he was much aware of Pintos and Mavericks. But Mustangs, those he defended with all his heart.

I suppose most of his devotion came from the love he professed for his Mustang pedal car. On that he had an advantage, his toy car was clearly identified. Meanwhile, my tricycle was a Murray Mack, which I thought was really cool, but couldn’t point to it belonging to any GM brand. On that end, he had the upper hand on me; he was already pedaling the car of his dreams. Score one point in his favor. On the other, I was the fastest tricycle runner in our street block. Score two points in my favor since I had more fun in the end.

The nice thing about children’s quarrels is how sincere they’re in their biases. Facts and figures? Who cares! Likes, dislikes, and emotions rule all proceedings. I had ‘numbers’ in my favor, or so I thought; GM had more cool cars than Ford, and I could name each by memory. Just Chevrolet had Chevelles, El Caminos, and Impalas, all in lusty SS versions. And well, the Corvette! No matter, nothing would sway my brother in my direction.

Ultimately there was one problem with my ‘numbers’ approach, that pesky Mustang was one nice-looking ride and everyone loved it. The young, the professionals, the street racers, the old ladies; Mustang devotion was everywhere, and it was an unavoidable reality.

While my brother couldn’t tell a Falcon from a Fairlane, he certainly knew the Camaro was Chevrolet’s Mustang contender. How did he know? I probably told him. If so, talk about setting myself up for a fall! In the popularity contest, the Camaro was clearly on the losing side. To defend the Camaro was to support the underdog, a role I wasn’t quite prepared for. I was accustomed to being on the side of almighty GM, and suddenly, to support the runner-up was an odd feeling.

But let’s be honest, did I -as a kid- really like the Camaro? Or did I convince myself that I liked it? Somehow I suspect the latter. I think I saw more grace on a fastback Impala and a Chevelle than on a Camaro. With big tires and some stripes, the Camaro looked like a decent number, but deep down there was something about the design that I just found underwhelming. The flanks were clean and sort of sporty, but both the front and rear were rather simple and unexciting. Better not think too much about it!

Only with the sinister SS face, with the hidden headlights, did I approve of the design. I think… Hard to say when my pride was at stake.

In any case, it’s now rather known that the original Mustang was considered a bit gimmicky and old-fashioned by the automotive press and by GM’s stylists. With Chevy finally joining in the Pony Car fun, the Camaro was the chance for Bill Mitchell’s boys to knock one out of the park. To set all doubts aside; late to the market, but ready to make a statement.

If the mission was for a less fussy design than the Mustang, by all means, it was accomplished. Yet, the Camaro’s plain fascia and rear panel felt a bit unfinished. At best, the car reflected elegant masculinity in its flanks and could build from there. But a certain spark was missing.

Am I right about the Camaro’s masculinity? Or is it being conditioned by 40 years or so of surviving models being hot-rodded? That’s the downside of the surviving cars of the ’60s and ’70s; visiting a car show one thinks only luxury models or lusty V8s were the norm. The humdrum family car disappears, the wagon gets discarded, and the base ‘sporty’ car becomes extinct. Lost in time is that many average Joes and women took to these cars in large numbers, in lowly 6-cyl. versions.

And while there was no Camaro fever, many gals enjoyed their looks, and probably their reduced size. Full-sizers were only gaining in spread, and those who didn’t agree looked elsewhere, like sporty cars. By the late ’80s, I remember Mitsubishi touting its new Eclipse as being aimed toward women. Even the mainstream media of the period was onto the subject and the effect female buyers were having in the sports car market.

(Today’s completely false, yet feels like true reflection: if mainstream media acknowledges a trend, chances are it is already fading or morphing).

Back to my brother and I. The fact that we spent the ’70s and ’80s in El Salvador meant that I wasn’t much aware of the Gen II Camaro; a missed opportunity actually. It was the only time in the Camaro’s history I could easily have claimed superiority over the Mustang. There it was, that sweet Italian-looking Chevrolet thoroughbred, against the cutesy Kelly Garret Mustang! Perfect cards to play for a child’s argument!

By the time I moved to California in 1990, the Mustang was on an upswing again with the mythic 5.0. I had serious doubts about its plasticky looks, but the ’80s Camaro wasn’t much better in that regard, though it looked far sleeker. Not that it helped much. There was kind of a subversive ‘Mustang fever’ in California; the 5.0 ‘Stang was a ‘cool ride,’ even if it was a domestic. To admit one ‘liked’ the Camaro was uncouth, and I could almost feel my college classmates sneering whenever I dared to say such words.

Notice that up until then, I had NO real experience with any Camaros. It was still childhood playing in my mind. But luckily (?), one evening I was given a ride in a mid-80s model to grab a bite at Jack In the Box. All I can say is that I hope the car was more fun for those behind the wheel than for those in the passenger seat. As a passenger the whole car was absurd; uncomfortably low, with that weird catalytic protrusion on my foot area, really lousy ergonomics, and awfully cheap plastics. No wonder women were making the switch to SUVs and Yuppies had gone to the Germans.

And now, many years later, here I was in San Salvador facing an early Camaro. A ’69 nonetheless. A 6 cyl. or a V8? Looking partly butch, party worn out, and unkempt. Far from a show car beauty, and more like the type of car some deadbeat tries to hot-rod on a non-budget.

Through these many years, I’ve probably preferred the rear view of these early Camaros. The hunched rear quarters are clearer from this angle and show some vigor. Also, in the ’69 there’s a bit of dimension to those plain-jane rearlights.

Like most of my finds in San Salvador, the body seems in fairly good condition. Not quite straight, but with little rust. And lots of minor cosmetic issues; the ‘perfect’ CC find.

About those cosmetic issues, from this view, that trunk lock doesn’t seem original, and the rear window rubber seal is missing completely. I can see the handy work of black silicone sealant in its place. Not concours material, but hopefully keeps the rain away during our torrential rains.

Since it’s unavoidable, here’s that Plymouth Satellite that’s been photobombing our ’69 Camaro throughout this post. The car should be familiar to some of you, as it had its own post a while back.

I would like to say that this was the home of some American iron aficionado, but no. Whoever it was, had a rather eclectic taste and the house was for a while, my place to find ‘curbside classics.’ Old cars rotated rather frequently in this spot, and besides the Camaro and the Satellite, other discoveries were a Fiat 127, a VW Thing, an early VW Type II, and a ’65 Plymouth Belvedere wagon.

I’m sorry to say that this Camaro will be the last of my ‘finds’ from this particular spot. Whoever it was, moved some time ago during the pandemic.

So, where am I on my Camaro love nowadays? Oddly, some recent postings had me looking at early Camaros, and found my interest reawakening. Maybe it’s the overexposure to modern cars with extroverted surface treatments and too many fussy extrusions, but I suddenly found early Camaros clean looking, purposeful, and attractive. Particularly in base form with whitewall tires.

Is this finally true love forming? Could be. This ’69 is far from the presentation I would like, but fixed properly, would my love for it grow? I’m not entirely sure. But I can tell you this, whatever love I may develop for early Camaros, it will be finally devoid of childish wishful thinking and grandstanding. Or so I think. Just don’t go and tell my brother anything about it.


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: 1969 Chevrolet Camaro – The Last Unmolested ’69 Camaro Six Left In The World?

Automotive History: The Birth Of The Camaro