I looked over my events calendar today and found out that today is the 47th anniversary of the introduction of the Camaro to the automobile buying public. This fact grabbed my attention for a couple of reasons. First, I enjoy driving automobiles. Second, a 1967 Camaro was my very first car. I suddenly felt the urge to indulge in nostalgia.
I’m not one of those car geeks who worships one particular make and model of automobile. I’ve owned and enjoyed several different cars made by different corporations from three different countries. Personally, I think its foolish to idolize corporations and their products. As a media worker, I know that brand loyalty is a marketing tool and little else.
That said, at one time, I was a red blooded American teenager alive and kicking in the middle of the car worshiping era of the nation’s transportation history. Early on, most boys aligned themselves with one of the big three American car makers, Chrysler, Ford, or General Motors. The really serious car freaks chose one of two brands from Ford and GM. You were either a fan of Fords or a lover of Chevrolets. The dynamic was more powerful than that found among sports fanatics, today.
Both sides of my family have been General Motors buyers for as long as I can remember. Both of my grandfathers were loyal to Chevrolet. My dad normally bought Buicks. My brother was bonkers over 1957 Chevrolet BelAirs. I started out nominally interested in Chevrolets, but admired whatever shiny object any car maker came up with. Halfway through 1964, that bright, shiny object was the Ford Mustang. My eleven year old mind became obsessed with them.
In 1968, dad brought home a used 1967 Chevrolet Camaro. He needed it as a commuter vehicle to make a weekly 300 mile round trip to and from his job. He left his boring Buick four-door behind for the family’s use. I saw his purchase of the Camaro as quite a departure in character from his conservative, Buick LeSabre personality. The Camaro was sporty, hip, and bright red, inside and out. The only things wrong with it was that it was equipped with a clunky automatic transmission, and I thought of the car as a counterfeit Mustang.
Chevrolet introduced its all new Camaro on September 29, 1966. The 1967 model along with Pontiac’s Camaro copy, the Firebird, were intended to eat into the market shares enjoyed by the Ford Mustang and the Mercury Cougar, respectively. I always saw the Camaro as a reaction rather than a new concept. On the other hand, I did have to admit that the styling was much more sleek than that of the Mustang.
In 1970, dad no longer was making his long commutes. I had also just begun college. One day, seemingly out of the blue, dad offered to sell me his Camaro. I told him I’d think about his offer. I had had my eye on a Mustang convertable on one of the used car lots. I believed I could afford the Mustang’s car payments, too. A couple of days later, dad said he wanted to absolutely get rid of the Camaro. His offer was $500, take it or leave it forever. I paid him the next day. My love/hate relationship with the Chevrolet brand had become official.
Even though I had passed up the Mustang, I was mostly happy with my “new” Camaro. But, it wasn’t long before I wanted to change its more conventional, boring aspects. Because I was still a 17 year old, I could only afford incremental improvements as my college budget would allow. In that a boy’s first car is almost as important as his first romantic interest, attention is lavished on that car. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, today.
I jazzed up the cosmetic appearance of the car, first, by hand painting pinstripes on the body. I added white lettered tires and Keystone custom wheels and personally installed dual exhausts. I was quite pleased with the car’s appearance.
One day, someone broke into our garage and stole my wheels and tires. Thankfully, insurance covered the loss and I was able to drive the car again a couple of weeks later. The theft soured my enthusiasm for my project. This was compounded by my dislike of the automatic transmission and the poor quality of plastics and vinyl used in the interior. The car was aging faster than I could afford to improve it.
The idea of owning a performance car was also colliding with my ideals for a clean environment and the desire for a fuel efficient, economical form of transportation. I irrationally believed the Madison Avenue hype about Chevrolet’s answer to the Ford Pinto. I placed an order for a brand new Vega Kammback.
If you know much about the history of American automobiles, you know I suffered more than the pain of buying a lemon. You understand that I had fallen from the frying pan into the fire. I went from being singed to getting burned very badly.
To this day, I’m not a big fan of General Motors, nor of performance car culture in general. Now, it all seems so very disingenuous.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Bill Gates. “If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that get 1,000 MPG.”