Chevrolet decided to introduce a muscle car in 1968. The iconic 1969 Camaro SS model was launched and instantly became an icon of the 1960’s American automobile industry because it was one of the first mass-produced V-8 powered automobiles. The development and marketing campaign for the car helped elevate its popularity among young Americans when other foreign car manufacturers were gaining market share and establishing themselves as competitors.

All American cars are basically Chevrolets

– Herb Caen –

Indeed, these days (and over 40 years later), “Camaro” is synonymous with “American Muscle Car.” Before 1968, Chevrolet hadn’t really had a sports car of its own since the Corvette debuted in 1953. However, the Camaro was the first mass-produced muscle car made for and marketed to young Americans looking to express themselves through car form and performance.

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Chevrolet Camaro’s Styling and Performance

The Camaro’s styling (and performance) was considered very lively and explosive, and it also became an icon of the 1960s because it had a V-8 under the hood allowing it to be compared with all other cars in its class. In fact, being able to compare with another vehicle is what my dad did when he decided on a Camaro versus a Ford Mustang. During the late 1960s, my dad worked for an auto dealership, which was receiving a lot of pressure from Ford to sell Mustangs. Yet, my dad promoted the Camaro because he knew that it was a better car.

The story of how Chevrolet developed the Camaro begins with GM’s Bunkie Knudson, who had become chief of Chevrolet in 1965. He knew that Chevy needed to develop a more competitive vehicle with improved styling and performance to keep up with Ford and Chrysler/Dodge, who were introducing new, more powerful engines for their Mustang and Charger models. For example, Ford’s new 390 V-8 engine for the 1967 Mustang received a lot of publicity.

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1968 Chevrolet Camaro Design

When Knudson began his new role at Chevrolet, he started to review all aspects of the design and manufacturing process. He was particularly critical of how staid Chevy’s full-size models had become, so he ordered that the designers freshen up their appearance. Additionally, he also decided that more powerful engines were needed to compete with the new Mustangs and Chargers. After looking over all potential options, Knudson decided on a radical idea: His plan was to develop an entirely new car based on the Chevelle chassis but with very different styling than anything Chevy had ever produced before.

Using the Chevelle line as a basis, Knudson’s colleague Gordon Buehrig developed the new design, watching the concept cars’ design grow from sketches to reality. The original concept car was nicknamed “Bunkie Knudson” because of its resemblance to Buehrig himself. The car was designed by Adrian Van Hooydonk and named “Camaro” after a character in the popular television show “Lassie.” It was introduced on April 1, 1966, at the New York World’s Fair.

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What Happened Design of the First Camaros

However, the design of the first Camaros was controversial. When Chevrolet’s Ed Cole first saw the car, he said, “Tell those fellows to stop work on it. We can’t sell that kind of a freakin’ thing!” Yet, Chevrolet management eventually warmed up to Buehrig’s original designs, and the cars were finally released to acclaim in early 1967 as 1968 model year vehicles. The first-generation Camaro models sold well and were favorably received by the automotive press and young American drivers because they represented a total break from what GM had produced previously.

The Camaro was powered by a 250-horsepower 327 cubic-inch V-8 engine and featured the first use of a hidden headlight option which allowed the vehicle to sport a sporty fastback design. It also had a four-speed manual gearbox as standard equipment as well as an efficient heater and defroster, which was something that its Mustang competition didn’t offer. Although the car was controversial inside Chevrolet, the car’s initial sales were enough to make it popular with customers; it sold almost 200,000 units in its first year on the market.

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Although GM management had been initially opposed to its development, they soon came around when they saw how popular it became. The car was so popular that it quickly moved from being a “halo” car for Chevrolet to a full-fledged product line of its own.

The Second Generation of 1969 Mustang Chevrolet

The popularity of the first-generation Camaro resulted in two more generations of the sports car, and on this day, on April 1, 1968, the second-generation Camaros were launched. The second generation was introduced as a 1969 model, and it had many improvements over the first generation. The most noteworthy was that it came with a new 455 cubic-inch V-8 engine under its hood, which upped power output to 325 horsepower (242 kilowatts). Some other performance upgrades were also introduced to improve handling, including revised shocks and springs, equal-length driveshaft, and reduced weight resulting from the use of aluminum panels.

The second-generation Camaro featured another styling change which included a cross-hatch grille pattern, round headlight bezels, and wider taillights. The first year of the second-generation Camaro sold very well, with approximately 425,000 units sold during the production run from 1969 to 1970. These cars became so popular with American consumers that they soon eclipsed Mustang sales for a period. By 1971, the Mustang had dropped to third place in sales behind Chevrolet’s own Corvette as well as the Camaro.

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During this time, the Mustang developed a very negative reputation among American buyers that it would eventually take decades for Ford to overcome. Ford’s management had made several design missteps, including the continuation of unpopular styling elements, which led buyers to demand significant upgrades for the next generation of Mustangs. Ford also faced serious quality control issues for at least two years with the “P-Code” Mustangs. It was so bad that Ford began offering bumper-to-bumper warranties on all its vehicles in North America beginning in 1969. The warranty extension included free labor and replacement parts for four years or 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers) on everything except items caused by negligence or accident.

Although the first- and second-generation Camaros were marketed as “sports cars,” they were not engineered to be as nimble as the Mustang and Corvette models. According to Automotive Press, Chevrolet engineers developed an independent suspension system that helped keep the car planted on the road during high-speed handling maneuvers. But despite this, both generations of Camaro were actually capable of reaching 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) in around 7 seconds – a figure that would place it in the same league as hot hatchbacks from the likes of Fiat and MINI that are sold today.

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