Curbside Classic: 1975 Chevrolet Camaro – Rising To The Challenge

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