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1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS

1969 Chevrolet Camaro

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS

The Pony Wars Heat Up

My very first awareness of the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro was in September 1969. I got a new temporary roommate in my grade 12 dorm room. His family was in the process of moving to Rome, Italy from the US. He stayed in the dorm until his family’s accommodations were up and running. I got introduced to 2 things that September – the audio cassette tape and the first generation Camaro. I would actually only want one of those today… I remember him showing photos of the Camaro when we first met. Very cool! The Camaro was their family car. And he had set up his tape cassette system in the dorm room, next to the rather cumbersome reel to reel.

Chevrolet knew that with the runaway success of the Ford Mustang, the Corvair just wasn’t going to cut it as Mustang competition, especially with all the recent bad publicity. Enter the Camaro.

The first-generation Camaro, based on the Chevy Nova, appeared in September 1966 as the 1967 model year. This new Chevy, a rear-wheel drive 2-door coupé and convertible with 2+2 seating,  was designed to accept a variety of power plants in the engine bay, offering a similar something-for-everone approach that Mustang initiated. The ’69 could be ordered with one of 14 different engines, which allowed for a lot of customization. The base engine was a 250 cubic inch six cylinder engine producing 155 horsepower. At the other end of the spectrum was a 427 cubic inch V-8 with 430 horsepower. That range gave this car an almost universal appeal.

The first-generation Camaro would last until the 1969 model year and would eventually inspire the design of the new retro fifth-generation Camaro.

The 1969 Camaro featured entirely new, sportier, more aggressive looking sheet metal and a revised grille, with the vehicle exhibiting a wider looking stance for the earlier years.

As with the Mustang, Camaro was available with different packages. The RS package included a special grill with concealed headlights and washers, chrome wheel well moldings, drip rails, pinstripes, and RS badging. It was available on any model.

The SS performance package consisted of a 350 or 396 cu in V8 engine and chassis upgrades for better handling and to deal with the additional power. The SS featured non-functional air inlets on the hood, special striping, and SS badging.

The Z/28 performance package was designed with additional modifications to compete in the SCCA Trans-Am series. It included a solid-lifter 302 V8, 4-speed transmission, power disc brakes, and two wide stripes down the hood and deckled.

Variable-ratio steering was introduced in 1969. All 1969 Camaros with four-speed transmissions came with Hurst shift linkages. The 1969 Camaro was the only model year to have headlight washers. The system was operated by vacuum much like windshield washers.

The Camaro was almost called Panther — Chevrolet took its time coming up with a name for the Camaro. For quite a while, it was referred to internally as the Chevrolet Panther. Chevy’s preference for names beginning with a “C” finally won out, and the Panther name died. “Camaro” means nothing — The name was actually a contrived moniker.

Although the Camaro came 2½ years after the Mustang debut and was often outsold by the Mustang, it has a healthy lead in the Indianapolis 500. The ’69 Camaro paced the Indy 500, as did the ’67. The Camaro has been the official pace car at Indy six times, versus just three for the Mustang.

This 1969 Camaro represents the peak of the pony car era. 

Prints of this painting are available at www.thedrawingroomgallery.com.


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1965 Ford Mustang 2+2 Fastback

1965 Ford Mustang 2+2 Fastback

1965 Ford Mustang 2+2 Fastback

Two occasions made 1964 a very significant year for North American baby boomers. First was the arrival of the “British Invasion”. The Beatles made their Ed Sullivan appearance in New York. And just as important to many, the Ford Mustang made its first public appearance at the New York World’s Fair on April 17, 1964. Its long hood and short deck created an instant sensation and spawned a stream of imitators that continue today.  On its first day of sales Ford sold over 22,000 Mustangs. Not bad! It also became the pace car for the 1964 Indianapolis 500 race. Pretty good start to life!

These “early ‘65s” were offered as a notch back hardtop or convertible, with the 2+2 fastback arriving a little later. Standard equipment on the initial launch included adjustable bucket seats, front seat belts, floor mounted gearshift, AM radio, padded dash and a glove box light. Unlike the Model T, the Mustang came with a variety of colour options. Three different body styles, and a host of interior and drivetrain options allowed for a fully customizable vehicle, with the 1965 2 + 2 fastback initiating the storied Mustang Shelby series, starting with the Shelby GT350.

Ford Vice President & General Manager Lee Iacocca had a vision of a light, compact, bucket seated 4-seater under $2500. The original inspiration for the Mustang nameplate was derived from the P-51 Mustang fighter jet, though today all brand imagery is of the equine genre. Iacocca’s concept was on the money, so to speak. As a predictor of the future of the “Pony Car” revolution, the V8 offerings outsold the sixes being offered 3 to 1, a little scary considering the performance of the standard drum brakes on offer…

Though most people seem to equate Mustang’s movie stardom to the incredible performance of the 1968 GT 390 in the movie “Bullitt” starring Steve McQueen, its first starring roll was in the 1964 James Bond movie “Goldfinger”, with Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 being chased by a white Mustang convertible.

My first exposure to the Mustang was the 1965 hardtop. Friends of my parents caught the bug and bought one. Interestingly, they lived in Italy at the time and shipped it to Rome, an unusual sight on the Roman streets. For whatever reason, these cars remind me of a sunny optimistic time that was great to experience.

For some reason, I always see the Mustang Fastback as red. That shows up in my illustration, as well as the symbolic “Pony Car” horse symbolism.  Couldn’t resist…

Prints of this painting are available at www.thedrawingroomgallery.com.

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