Possibly one of a person’s more telling character traits is their willingness to be challenged. Some enjoy it; some need prodding; some need neither. An unwillingness to be challenged, in whatever form, often seems to reflect an equal unwillingness to leave one’s comfort zone.
But where’s the fun in refusing a challenge? A person needs to challenge themselves regularly as doing so opens a new world of possibilities. It doesn’t require a person to transform themselves, or even change their mindset, but it does mean the person will possess more comprehensive information.
Which leads us to our featured Camaro…
Perhaps one of the most remarkable feats of the second generation Camaro is how it stuck around for twelve model years, an eternity in the automotive world. This feat even more remarkable given the changes that happened in the industry between introductory 1970 and swan song 1981; or maybe not, given the challenges GM had during the 1970s. But that is getting ahead of the story. Let’s go back a few years and work our way up to our featured Camaro.
It’s no secret Ford’s Mustang challenged General Motors to develop a more direct competitor than the existing Corvair. With Ford selling 125,000 Mustangs in the truncated 1964 1/2 model year, with another 559,000 in the 1965 model year, GM knew Ford had found a goldmine. Naturally, GM sought to be in on the action.
Springing from the Chevrolet womb for the 1967 model year, the Camaro was GM’s answer to the remarkably conventional Mustang. At this point Ford had a one million unit head start; no doubt this only served to strengthen Chevrolet’s resolve to challenge Ford in this new segment.
The introduction of the Camaro on June 28, 1966, a car GM referred to as “Panther” until quite late in its gestation, was also a challenge. However, this particular challenge was for Bell Telephone. GM decided to hold a live press conference at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in Detroit with fourteen cities being tied into this press conference via telephone line. It is reported nearly 100 Bell Telephone technicians were involved to ensure success.
It was the largest teleconference in history up to that point.
One of the questions springing forth from the automotive press was “what is a Camaro?”. Various GM officials stated was it was a bird that ate horses, an overt reference to the Mustang. Other sources have stated “Camaro” as being French slang for friend or pal.
Ford also researched the history of “Camaro” and found a definition of it being a shrimp-like creature. A journalist found a source defining “Camaro” as being loose bowels.
The second generation Camaro was introduced on February 26, 1970, five months after introduction of the rest of the 1970 Chevrolet model line. Given the late introduction of the second generation Camaro, the 1970 models are sometimes referred to as 1970 1/2 models, although they were simply 1970 models.
Researching this has revealed two different explanations for this late introduction. The first, found in a Standard Catalog of American Cars volume, stated GM had considered cancellation of the Camaro due to slow sales of the 1969 models. This seems rather incredible as roughly 240,000 Camaros were built for model year 1969, a volume reasonably close to that of the Nova. Further, the design of a new model would have been in the works well prior to 1969.
The second explanation, which seems more plausible, is Chevrolet having had manufacturing difficulties with the Camaro body. It seems the creases and curves in the rear fenders were quite difficult to stamp without wrinkles being created in the sheet metal. Revising the stamping machine yielded even worse results. This explanation seems somewhat more believable although it’s hard to believe GM, hardly a novice in automobile manufacturing, would have had such undue challenges in stamping metal.
Sales were down for the 1970 models, something not unexpected with a shortened model year. The final sales tally was 117,600 for domestic sales with another 7,300 being exported.
This new Camaro won acclaim for being a driver oriented car, having vastly superior handling than most American cars. This road test from 1971 corroborates the acclaim, praising the Camaro for its handling. This test Camaro tackled the pylon course with infinitely more finesse than most of the cars Bud Lindemann tested in those years.
An item of note…the braking tests in this video are intriguing as the front wheels are locked and the rear wheels are on the verge of locking. One has to wonder how much shorter the stopping distances would have been had the front wheels not been locked.
The second generation Camaro no longer offered a convertible, leaving the two-door as the sole body style. Given convertible sales were on the decline across the industry, and the first generation Camaro had convertible sales of well under 10%, it was reasonable to eliminate that body style.
However, there was consideration of offering a wagon variant as seen here. When the Camaro Kammback was conceptualized (one had also been envisioned for the first generation), Pontiac, acting like the stereotypical annoying younger sibling, wanted a version for itself. The rub, which is what appears to have killed the entire endeavor, was Chevrolet and Pontiac designers could not agree about certain elements that would have made the project feasible.
Had there been no challenges in finding agreement about door sizes and quarter panel shape, there could have been a Camaro wagon a half-century ago. It would have definitely one-upped Ford as Ford is only now applying the Mustang name to something other than a sport coupe or convertible.
Camaro sales fell somewhat for 1971 but that was due, in part, to a 67 day strike by the United Auto Workers which affected many GM plants. It appears the strike was short enough for Chevrolet to mostly overcome any challenges of inventory shortages.
Then, in April 1972, a strike at the Norwood, Ohio, plant also caused distinct challenges for GM. Norwood is the plant which produced the F-body Camaro and Firebird. This strike lasted an astounding 172 days, the longest in GM history at that point.
The length of this particular strike also presented another unique challenge. There were 1,100 Camaros and Firebirds in various states of build at the time the strike commenced. When the strike was settled in October, it would have seemed these cars could have been completed and titled as 1973 models. However, due to various safety standards due to take affect for the 1973 model year, which was underway when the strike concluded, these cars could not be completed. All but forty of them had to be scrapped.
Both of these events, particularly the strike in 1972, are apparent when examining sales volumes of the Camaro during its second generation. Model year 1969 has been included as a reference point.
To expand further on this sales chart, inclusion of six-cylinder equipped models was included. While a six-cylinder engine was still available after 1976 (it was the 250 straight six until 1980), it has been an insurmountable challenge to find a breakout for six-cylinder versus eight-cylinder production volumes.
As can be seen here, model year 1979 was the peak year for Camaro sales. That’s quite an accomplishment for what was otherwise a ten year-old car. Chevrolet had kept the Camaro relevant, although the introduction of the new 1979 Mustang was likely a factor in the sales dive for the last two years of this generation.
The 1979 Mustang made the Camaro look rather aged.
It was also during this period from about 1971 to 1974 in which raw performance had to take a backseat to various other regulatory considerations. Model year 1974 was the last time the well-known Camaro Z-28 would be seen for several years. In its place, the 1975 brochure focused more on luxury than had been the case previously. Chevrolet was still carefully maintaining the Camaro’s image of being a driver’s car but the raw acceleration component had been stunted.
The decline in performance, and subsequent focus on luxurious accommodations, can be seen if one compares this 1974 video to the previous one. Both cars were equipped with a 350 (5.7 liter) engine, although the 1974 model had only a two-barrel carburetor. The difference in performance is appreciable but understandable given the challenges from that time period.
Here’s a better illustration of the horsepower that was (or was not) happening under the Camaro’s hood. Keep in mind horsepower ratings changed from gross to net in 1972. Regardless, it is obvious the Camaro was never able to rise to the challenge of maintaining 1970 levels of performance.
Acceleration rates were down across the industry, so the diminishment of capabilities was not unique to the Camaro. It is also likely why Chevrolet lost no opportunity to remind buyers about how well the Camaro handled as handling was an ever-present selling point.
It seems easy to forget the Camaro, like the Mustang, was sold in more than just go-fast configurations. Many relatively plain Camaros such as our featured car were built as some buyers simply desired a sporty looking car that would not break the fuel and acquisition budget. Chevrolet had them covered.
I found this Camaro parked at an urgent care clinic while my wife was partaking of their services. It had been some time since having seen a second generation Camaro, let alone a more base model. It was a refreshing sight which allowed better enjoyment of the car’s basic shape. It seems so many of the surviving Camaros of this vintage have spoilers and other accoutrements that distract one from their pure form.
However, I must admit Camaros have never succeeded in quickening my pulse. It was due to this I initially realized a distinct, and somewhat unusual, challenge in figuring out what to say.
But it’s a second generation Camaro and has a lot of things to offer. As we at CC approach our ten-year anniversary, the number of cars we have yet to cover is rapidly dwindling and a Camaro of this delightfully simple persuasion has escaped our attentions for a decade. This Camaro richly deserves its moment in the virtual sun.
In that regard, I like to think this dive into the second generation Camaro has been like the Camaro itself. Regardless of the situation, the Camaro has always risen to the challenge and it has persevered through some extraordinarily tough times, particularly during its flirt with cancellation in the early 1970s.
It’s hard to know what the future brings for the Camaro nameplate but the influence this generation of Camaro has had on innumerable cars since then is something that ought not be minimized or disregarded. For that, this Camaro has earned my respect.
Found June 2019 in Columbia, Missouri
What amazes me about these cars is what a great value for the money they were. Base price for the six-cylinder was $2,827, while the base V-8 started at $3,039 and the Camaro LT luxury coupe at $3,380. In 2021 dollars that is $13,000 to $18,000 dollars. A bargain!
The numbers above are for 1974 BTW.
Yes, $2827 was a great deal! By 1976, I think Novas started at $3500 or so and base 6-cyl Camaros were $3900.
HOWEVER, that $2827 Camaro had non-power steering (big minus) and nonpower brakes and a 3-speed manual. These cars really needed power steering ($100 in 1974?), power front discs ($50 in 1974), and either a 4-speed ($120 in 1974?) or a Turbohydramatic ($210 in 1974).
I forgot the AM radio.
Still, in terms of purchasing power, these 1971-74 F-Cars gave a lot of bang for the buck.
And while I was (and am) far from an automotive driving expert, I will say that driving a base 73 Firebird 350 auto with power steering and brakes at 19, I felt I could whip around corners and off-ramps as if I was in a Porsche or Corvette! That exterior and handling more than made up for the laughably tiny rear seat and microscopic trunk
Nobody, and I mean nobody, bought a base car in those days.
Except my dad. Well, theoretically, his 1970 Canadian Pontiac could be had with six and three on the tree but I have never seen one so equipped.
Dad was so cheap that the Pontiac didn’t even have power steering. It had a small steering wheel and these cars should never have been sold without power steering.
The four wheel 11″ drums also lacked power assistance, or much power to stop.
A great read, Jason! I also remember having read about the genesis of the “Camaro” name, and not finding a definitive answer. Coined or not, it’s a name that rolls off the tongue – but this is from the perspective of someone who grew up with it, like the name had always been around.
I’ve also always been fascinated by the ’79 model year being the high-water mark for Camaro sales. I do really like the new-for-’79 Mustang (man, the early Foxes really do it for me, lately, in their purest forms), but the I also like the same-year Camaro – but for different reasons.
This particular Camaro, the post-restyle ’75 with the newly-added wraparound rear window, is really attractive to my eyes. I might like it better if the paint was all one color. I hope the owner finds a center cap for the rear, passenger-side wheel.
This Camaro has been a figurative pea under the mattress since I found it. Attention had been earned but perhaps my overexposure dampened the inspiration.
It would be nice to know the original color of this car. I suspect it had a vinyl top, thus part of the reason for the atypical paint job.
The side view keeps putting me in mind of a ’63 to ’67 Vette. Likely intentional.
It is a great name, though unfortunately Australians always mispronounce it as “Cam-AHH-roe”, in a kind of Nevada/Nev-ah-da situation.
It is interesting to look at sales in the early years for these cars. Everyone loves them now (and has loved them for decades), but that was just not true in the early 70s. Yes, 1970 was a short year. Yes there was a strike in 71. Yes there was a bigger strike in 72. But 1973 was a record-breaking year for the US auto industry and what did the Camaro do? It could not match a half-year of 1970 or a strike-affected year of 1971. The 1973 Corvette, in comparison, sold at almost double the rate of the 1970 version.
I have concluded that for all the good things that can be said about it, the Camaro just didn’t really fit the US auto market in its first few years. The market had to come around to and learn to appreciate the Camaro (which was a really unique offering) and did so only after all of the competition went away.
I am scratching my head about that paint treatment. I have never seen a Camaro painted in a 2 tone pattern anything like this.
Let’s not forget that from ’71-’73 the Camaro was sharing the showroom with the Vega, which was the Hot New Thing, at least until reality set in. How many Camaro sales went to the Vega in those years? Hard to say, but easy to guess it was a big number.
That might also be easy to calculate by looking at Firebird numbers:
The first generation Firebird’s sales are 37-38% as much as the Camaro, it’s remarkably consistent for all three years:
1969 Firebird: 87,708 38%
1969 Camaro: 230,799
1968 Firebird: 90,152 38%
1968 Camaro: 235,151
1967 Firebird: 82,560 37%
1967 Camaro: 220,917
Then in 1970, the Firebird sales started to climb in relation to it’s stablemate:
1970 Firebird: 48,739 41%
1970 Camaro: 117,604
And then it only got worse in 1971:
1971 Firebird: 53,124 49% (+4,385)
1971 Camaro: 107,496 (-10,108)
1971 Vega: 269,900 (added for relevance)
Then settled back down to within normal range in 1972:
1972 Firebird: 29,951 43%
1972 Camaro: 68,656
1972 Vega: 390,487 (+69%)
I would say the Vega was responsible for that 8% bump in 1971 and the 2% the next year, but after 1971, sales went back to normal proportions despite the big increase in Vega sales in 1972.
I’d say the Vega cost Chevrolet about 14,493 Camaro sales.
You and MarcKyle64 make reasonable points, but this line of inquiry works only as long as you don’t leave Chevrolet showrooms.
The Pinto handily outsold the Vega in 1971-73 and even with substantially higher Pinto sales, the Mustang of 1970-73 still outsold the Camaro, and in most of those years, not by a little.
I don’t think there is anything wrong in acknowledging that it took the American market a few years to come to terms with the Camaro. After all, the car eventually vaulted to the top of its segment and has remained a favorite of almost everyone in the decades since. Setting new trends is not always quick and easy, even for a company as popular and as influential as Chevrolet in the early 70s.
FWIW, the Pinto and Vega’s buyers hardly overlapped perfectly. The Vega GT sold quite well, and clearly was a Camaro competitor. There was no “Pinto GT” and it had no aspersions in that segment. The Vega’s styling alone clearly suggested something different than a basic penalty box. And despite its shortcomings, it was quieter, heavier, better riding, than the early Pinto, which was a notorious tin can before its body was reinforced in 1974.
I would say that the Vega very much was a competitor to the pony cars at the time, which had all become increasingly large and chunky. The interest in smaller cars really started surging in about 1969-1970, as the first wave of baby boomers hit the market. The Vega can be rightfully seen as comperable to a gen1 Mustang six, as a basic, cheap, but very stylish new car. And there’s no question: the Vega was an extremely stylish car in its first couple of years.
In fact, this whole line of thinking is quite interesting, as I’m increasingly convinced of its relevance to the decline in pony car sales, especially the Mustang’s fall. The vast majority of Mustang sales had been to folks looking for a stylish but very affordable and reasonably economical car. The Vega fulfilled the concept to a T.
And yes, the Pinto did its share too, as had the Maverick, in the decline of the Mustang and the pony cars.
And why did the Camaro’s sales begin to climb in the mid- ’70s? Because many of those Vega buyers traded them in for a…Camaro. Or Firebird. They were ready for something a bit more substantial.
The 1972 strike greatly affected production of the 1973 models, which no doubt led to the mediocre sales figures for the year. In the fall of 1972 I set out to buy my first new car, and a Camaro or Firebird were at the top of the list. Only problem was, there weren’t any. The six month plus Norwood strike wasn’t settled until October ‘72. When everyone else was rolling out their new models, Camaro and Firebirds were nowhere to be found. Dealers had zero in inventory and didn’t know when they would. So, a sale to me was lost. I’m sure many others had the same experience.
Reaching driving age in 1983, I’ve driven or ridden in dozens of these, as they were over-represented in my high school student parking lot. In the mid 80’s these were still bargain used cars for young people looking for some style and gearheads looking for something to wrench on. I always loved the shape and styling of these Camaros and Firebirds, but even back then their reputation as mullet-mobiles was solidifying. It’s easy to overlook the goodness in these when your memory tends toward clouds of blue smoke, blaring Whitesnake tunes from tinny speakers and big hair, but they really are pretty cars, and when properly tuned and maintained they did drive nicely. I’m not at all crazy about the paint scheme on this one, but it’s nice to see one without all the add-on spoilers and aftermarket wheels, etc. It’s still a pretty car.
My mom had this generation for 15 years and it leaked, rusted and was amazingly impractical. However, whenever I contorted myself into it and drove it for the day, I would often have strangers approach me about how much they loved that car. I called it a bimbo car because it was all about looks.
It was easy to sell. She was glad to get rid of it. She bought her first Focus ZX5 to replace it and that car ran flawlessly for 10 years until she traded it in for another.
The more 1974-75 F-bodies I see on CC, the more I have come to believe that they are the most attractive of this generation. They wear their 5 mph bumpers well and look better with round headlights rather than the later rectangular units. I like the wrap-around rear window better on the Camaro than the Firebird. These cars were tasteful and were produced before the F-bodies became cartoonish caricatures easily stereotyped as mullet-mobiles.
I really like the paint scheme on this. It’s amazing how many GM cars came with some variation of this paint scheme. Everything from Chevettes to Pickups to this to Caprices and my brother had a LeMans in this two tone beige/gold or dark brown. GM’s version of these colours was better than the Ford/Chrysler versions which were a little too artificial limb.
GM produced some really beautiful cars in the ’70’s, which is probably why I became a GM fanboy at a young age. My neighbours had a 72? Cutlass convertible which was absolutely gorgeous. GM’s designs were sleek, well proportioned, perfectly decorated, and trim (for the 70’s.) Fords were bloated, lumpy, had a lot of unnecessary and ugly character lines, and were a little ugly with overdecoration or ugly decoration. Chrysler had the fuselage cars, which took a tiny greenhouse and put it on a huge slab of a body. Japanese cars were tiny, tinny, plasticky looking and Datsun in particular went for the atomic cockroach look which was . . . ugh.
Whatever may have been wrong with GM in the 70s, and whatever faults the Vega, Monza, Colonnades, Nova, etc. had, they were much better looking than anything else and still retained some performance.
My first new car purchase was a 1975 Camaro, so this post brought back some great memories. I thought then and continue to now consider these good looking vehicles when in factory form. Not much competition at the time, with Barracuda discontinued in 1974, and the Mustang II a different proposition.
The paint treatment of the subject car is odd, but brought back my recollection of dealer applied custom treatments that were evident when I was shopping. A fairly common customization on these was dealer installed circular opera windows if you can believe it.
In my case, the base V8 coupe, in silver with black vinyl interior. The same “rally” wheels, but with whitewall tires prevalent at the time. I also ordered Sport mirrors and an exterior decor group for chrome drip moldings and at the sill, as well as a gauge package to replace the idiot lights. Good appearance and reasonable performance made for a fun car.
My best friend’s first car was a 2 year old 1976 Camaro with the base 305 2-bbl, Turbo Hydramatic, PS & PB but no A/C. Silver with red interior and no spoiler. Oh, the escapades we had in that car. It may not sound like a lot, but 140 HP was enough to handily exceed all of the legal speeds. Given the hilly, curvy roads of our rural southeastern Ohio locale it’s a minor miracle that he and I (and several of our friends) are still walking the Earth. He still has the Camaro, in somewhat modified form, but still with 305 V8 power.
The fact that the Challenger and Baracudas went away, and the AMC Javelins gave the Camaro a bigger audience. A lot of Mustang owners were turned off by the Mustang II. People shopping for a pony car had very little to choose from in the late ‘70’s. Here’s a nice 1975 for sale.
On the list of stuff to do whenever I get access to a Time Machine is advise 1985-me that Dad’s offer to upgrade me to a Camaro as a reward for minimal complaining about moving from CA to TX was not as good as deal as it seemed. I ended up with a gorgeous-looking white 1978 with a maroon hell of vinyl interior, a 305 V8 with less oomph than the 4 in my current Miata, and though there appeared to be shocks and springs attached beneath the car I’m not sure they were related in any way to this “Handling” so repeatedly-mentioned in the sales literature.
We could’ve spent that $2500 shipping my battered-but repairable rust-free 1972 el Camino and having it fixed into a more-reliable veritable showpiece (though a separate Time Machine stop in Summer 1984 might render the ‘battered’ portion moot). And in retrospect to the available choices, that would also have been a great time to educate me into the ways of the manual transmission. A used Celica or 626 of similar vintage would’ve likely been no prettier, faster or better-handling, but would’ve been a ton more reliable.
I can’t see one of these without hearing a window rattling in a steel door.
Or using the cheap broken pot metal door handle… former ’77 Firebird owner here. Crappy sagging door hinges. Other than those, they were actualy pretty good cars. They took incredible abuse from guys my age back then. By the ’80’s they were used cars and there were so many of them. The majority of them came with the 350 which made plenty of power with few mods. In stock form, these cars drove way better than most of what was out there. GM had handling, brakes, and steering feel dialed in. It only got better if you had a Z28 or a Trans Am. If you were under 25 back then, this was a good durable car without the bulk of an Impala.
I had a ’77 Firebird with the Radial Tuned Suspension on an Olds 403… must have been a California car. Half vinyl top, no spoilers or other stuff. I quickly got rid of the phony wire wheel covers and bought a set of slot mags. I was glad it didn’t look like a Trans Am.
I find it interesting GM had a hard time with the quarter panel stampings. The shape doesn’t look all that complex, considering what they used to make back in ’59 and ’60.
“I find it interesting GM had a hard time with the quarter panel stampings. The shape doesn’t look all that complex, considering what they used to make back in ’59 and ’60.”
You only need to look at the ’59 el Camino with the horizontal fin to know that’s a bogus excuse.
I had friends with Mustangs, Firebirds, and Camaros, from 1st generations of both, until most of the way through 3rd gens. After that, it was all Camaros and Trans Ams until the end of the 4th gen production. I could understand, sort of, someone picking a 1st gen Mustang over a Camaro, but once the Mustang blew up in size and then morphed into the Mustang II, I thought anyone who bought one was kind of insane. When the ’79 Mustang appeared, I vividly remember riding in it, and thinking, “Why TF did he buy this thing?” Stock, it was quicker than a ’79 Camaro, but the 350 Chevy was easy to mod and would end up quicker for not a huge amount of money. I went the T/A way, not as cheap to mod the 403 Olds, but it ended up running mid to low 13 sec 1/4 miles and made a great street car. Almost all the above friends who are still alive at this point are driving Mustangs and Challengers(I’m on my second one), not a Camaro in the bunch. GM has only their stylists to blame for the lack of sales..
My first car was a 1975 Camaro as well, and as I started driving in ’79, this one was well, well used, underline the used. The brown paint scheme featured on my car was what we affectionately called “sh%t brown.” But I loved the design of the vehicle, even though just into four years, rust was well-apparent along the wheel wells. It was a “cool” car for a teenager at the time.