While designers and engineers feverishly worked tirelessly to the growth of a four-passenger sports car they code-named the F-car, the Chevy public relations, marketing and advertising group ready the world for the introduction of a car they called the Panther.
Throughout the summer of 1965 virtually every component of the car’s design and development, from preliminary design sketches to clay models, was photographed and carefully recorded. Chevy used the resources to make a 30 -minute film The Camaro, which was later shown on TV and in movie theaters. They also introduced women’s clothes known as the Camaro Collection and even a Camaro road race sport.
In November, Chevy sales executives and creative people previewed prototype versions in the GM Tech Center. Campbell-Ewald, Chevy’s venerable advertising agency, immediately began work on catalogs, direct mail and sales promotion materials, together with print, outdoor and TV/radio advertising. In April 1966, at the New York Auto Show Press Conference, Chevrolet sales executives announced that no name was picked for the new vehicle, but did declare that pricing of 1967 model will be from the Corvair-Chevy II range.
Throughout ancient 1966 Chevy agonized over a title for its Mustang-killer. GM’s upper management was worried about the competitive connotations of the Panther name. Over its brief lifetime, the F-car was called by many names such as Wildcat, Chaparral, Commander and Nova. In addition, it is rumored that Chevy considered using the letters”GM” in the title, and came up with G-Mini, which evolved to GeMini and eventually Gemini. However, GM’s upper management vetoed the idea, fearing the car may be a failure.
Automotive legend has it that somebody at Chevrolet finally suggested the name Camaro and upper direction quickly agreed. Even though the name has no actual significance, GM researchers allegedly found the word in a French dictionary as a slang term for”friend” or”companion.”
Since a number or pre-launch stuff had already been published utilizing the Panther title, Chevy’s most pressing challenge was to now rename their new Mustang killer, the Camaro.
On June 21, 1966, around 200 automotive journalists received a telegram from General Motors saying,”Please be accessible at noon of June 28 for significant press conference. Hope you can be available to assist scratch a cat. The following day, journalists obtained another mysterious telegram stating,”Society for the Eradication of Panthers in the Automotive World will hold first and last meeting on June 28.”
Elliot M.”Pete” Estes, who substituted”Bunkie” Knudsen as Chevrolet General Manager in July 1965, began the news conference by announcing all participants were now charter members of the Society for the Elimination of Panthers in the Automotive World (SEPAW.) Estes confidently declared that Camaro was selected as the title for Chevy’s new four-passenger sports car to honor the tradition of starting Chevy version names with the letter C like the Corvette, Corvair, Chevelle, and Chevy II. Most automotive insiders agreed it was a ridiculous statement, given the fact that the Chevy Impala was subsequently the best-selling vehicle on earth. Estes then went on to explain that the Camaro name was,”derived from a French word meaning comrade or pal and indicates the comradeship of great friends as a private car ought to be on its owner.” A Chevrolet product manager immediately answered by stating,”a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”
Soon after the press conference, editors from major performers were invited into the GM Proving Grounds for a hands on driving experience, hot laps with professional drivers and briefing on all aspects of the Camaro. Dealers saw the Camaro for the first time in August, in the Chevrolet Sales Convention in Detroit. On September 25, the first Camaro advertisements appeared in national papers. On September 28, 1966, Chevrolet launched an unprecedented ad blitz composed of papers, magazines, radio, television, outdoor and television advertising.
The very first Chevy Camaro television commercial can nevertheless be viewed on YouTube. It comes with a white Camaro RS/SS using the distinctive bumble-bee nose ring emerging from a volcano. The voice over proudly introduces”The fiery new Camaro from Chevrolet… something you have never seen before.”
Just before the official June 29th launch date, a media package with photographs, specifications, and line stories were published to newspapers and magazines throughout the country. More than 100 members of the media were invited to participate in a gymkhana driving contest at the GM Proving Grounds. The exact sort of event was held one week later in Los Angeles. A group of editors were selected to induce top-optioned Camaro RS/SS versions from Detroit for their home cities so that they could print,”I snapped it ,” feature articles in their regional newspapers.
Chevy dealerships throughout the nation were filled to overflowing with inquisitive and willing buyers. Dealerships were issued special window trimming, urged to black-out their windows and expand their showroom hours. Long lines formed to glimpse the new automobile. Those waiting in line were also eager to debate the merits of Mustang and the still unseen Camaro. It is rumored that local authorities were frequently called help control the crowds.
Chevy made every attempt to supply their biggest dealers with a base game coupe, Camaro RS and a Camaro SS convertible. The strategy was an extension of the creative approach used in Chevy’s national advertisements which revealed all three Camaro models below a tag line,”Just how much Camaro you want is dependent upon how much driver that you want to be.”
The sticker price of $2,466 to get a Camaro base coupe and $2,704 to get a foundation convertible was fully competitive with Ford’s pricing of the 1967 Mustang versions which was $2,461 for the standard coupe, $2,692 for a normal fastback and $2,898 for a typical convertible.
Taking a page from Mustang’s success in earning additional profit from accessories and options, the Camaro could be arranged with almost 80 mill options and 40 seller accessories. Buyers could also option up to a greater 250-inch variant of the conventional straight six engine, a choice of 327-cubic-inch small-block V8s fed by a two-barrel or a four-barrel carburetor and two variations of this 396-cubic-inch big-block V8. So as to maintain the new Camaro from taking sales away from the Corvette, a corporate edict forbade equipping it with motors bigger than 400 cid.
The initial 1967 Camaro built at the Norwood, Ohio, plant had a VIN finish in N100001; the first constructed at the Van Nuys, California, plant had a VIN ending in L100001. VIN tags on later versions were moved so that they would be visible through the windshield. 1968 saw the debut of a fresh-air inlet system named Astro Ventilation. The bumblebee nose stripe contained in the SS package also became available as another option in March 1968.
Since factory-fresh Camaros rolled off the assembly lines at Norwood and Van Nuys, the Chevy team worked equally as tough to maintain Camaro from the public eye. Camaro, Actually, was selected as the Official Pace Car for the 1967 Indianapolis 500. A white Camaro RS convertible with a 396 V8 engine, not normally available for that package, and a distinctive blue bumble-bee stripe round the nose paced the area. Over 100 special reproductions of the pace car were also produced as promotional vehicles for Chevy dealerships throughout the country.
A total of 41,100 new Camaro’s were registered in the 1966 calendar-year and an extra 204,862 in 1967. Ford, on the other hand, sold nearly a half million Mustangs in 1967. Nonetheless, the battle lines were drawn. Chevy knew they had a winner and invented a daring strategy. If they couldn’t conquer Mustang on the showroom floor, they’d at least beat it in the track. And while GM was not formally into racing, that did not stop Chevrolet engineers from developing the Z/28, among the most potent and effective performance packages of all time. But, that’s another story.