Nearly two and a half years after the Ford Motor Company began carving out a rich new market with the Mustang, the Chevrolet Division of General Motors retaliated this week with a high-volume, low-priced sporty car of its own. It is called the Camaro, which means comrade in vernacular French, and it comes in with the promotional muscle of the world's largest manufacturing corporation behind it.
In basic dimensions the Camaro and the Mustang are nearly identical. The Camaro's wheelbase is 108 inches, same as the Mustang's, and the car has the long-hood, short-deck look popularized by its predecessor. The engine is conventionally located in front. At the roofline, the car is Mustang-high—51 inches. A significant difference is the Camaro's wide-hipped look, which first appeared on GM cars in 1963 and has been well received. The overall effect is of a cross between a Corvair and a Mustang, handsomely executed.
The Camaro comes in a coupe and a convertible. Bucket seats in the front are standard equipment, and both models have seats in the rear for two. However, the riders in back should be somewhat smaller than candidates for the National Basketball Association; elbow and leg room for an extended trip are sharply limited.
The top of the Camaro line is the SS 350, powered by a 350 cu.-in. V-8 engine that develops 295 horsepower. That should be enough for all but the most power-happy sports-car enthusiast, although hotrodders undoubtedly will drop even larger engines into the car. General Motors is not, of course, involved in racing competition, but will not be distressed if private owners find a way to campaign the Camaro within the guidelines of the various racing organizations. Three transmission setups are available on any model: a three-speed manual, a four-speed manual and Chevy's Powerglide automatic. Controls for the three-speed and the automatic may be either console-mounted or on the steering column, but the four is strictly on the floor.
The exterior of the SS 350 features narrow trim lines down each side, plus a wide competition stripe across the nose that is both distinctive and appealing. More important, the SS 350 is a real performer. It accelerates from 0-to-60 mph in 7.9 seconds, 0-to-100 in 21.3 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 16 seconds, while attaining a speed of 86 mph. Not surprisingly, the suspension is stiffer and the steering quicker on the 350 than on tamer models. The 350 corners well, thanks in part to the extrawide tires that are stock.
One can choose any of five Camaro engines, ranging downward from the 350 to a 230 cu.-in. in-line 6. Models with engines smaller than the 350 are not as racy, but the handy feel is not entirely sacrificed.
Safety features, many of which will be standard on all 1967 GM cars and, indeed, throughout the industry, include a collapsible steering column, a heavily padded dashboard, a recessed instrument panel and lock-in front seats. Ironically some of these may cause discomfort; for example, recessed knobs on the radio and inside door latches that will result in broken fingernails until riders get the hang of them. But safety takes second place to styling in the coupe's sheet metal above the belt line, which creates a blind spot obscuring overtaking cars. An outside rearview mirror is standard, and you need it.
"Let's face it," says a Chevy spokesman, "the other fellow showed everybody that the market exists for this type of car." It is a market composed of young, mobile Americans who want a car that fits the contemporary style of living. They admired Chevy's Corvette and Ford's Thunderbird but could not afford them. The Mustang's price ($2,500 to $3,500) was right. The Camaro, priced in the same range, should be a very strong competitor.