Although the "last" Camaro was built in 2002, the cars are still loved by millions of Camaro owners. History will show the 1967 Camaro was designed from scratch and not by simply pirating parts from other GM cars at the time. The Camaro's chassis was semi-unitized, having a sub-frame in the front and none in the rear. This was nothing new; Mercedes-Benz had done it, but it was new for Chevrolet. This layout proved to be the best of both worlds because the front sub-frame had strategically placed rubber bushings to isolate front chassis components from the body in a way that gave Camaros a ride quality like larger cars. And, of course, there was a cost factor; the rear layout could be built and priced competitively. Unit construction also was more space efficient, but you'd have a hard time convincing anyone who was stuck in the back seat of a Camaro on a long trip. The name Camaro was selected by Chevrolet General Manager Elliott (Pete) Estes, who was promoted to that position in 1965. The car was to be called Panther, but Estes liked how "Camaro" sounded. Chevrolet pulled out all the stops when it introduced the Camaro on September 21, 1966. There was a 30-minute movie The Camaro,which detailed its development. It was shown on TV and in theaters. GM also provided a complete cutaway car, introduced women's clothing called the Camaro Collection and even a Camaro road race game. Like the Mustang, the Camaro had instant success, and 220,906 were sold the first year. It came in a two-door coupe and convertible and featured front vent windows for the only time in the car's history. The roofline was more variable than the Mustang's; therefore no fastback was offered. Within 90 days of the car's introduction, there were six engine displacements available. A buyer could choose from a 230-cu.in. straight-six with 140hp, all the way up to a 396-cu.in. V-8 with 375hp. In between were 327s, a new 350 that did not appear in any other 1967 Chevrolet, and of course, the 302-cu.in. V-8 in the Z/28. Chevrolet also offered numerous options, which could make a new Camaro either a comfortable cruiser or all-out race car. Buyers could choose from 15 colors of Magic Mirror acrylic lacquer paint and eight interior colors. The option list included more than 80 options ranging from $6.35 Custom Deluxe front and rear seat belts to the $858.40 Special Performance Package on the Z/28, which included headers that came in the trunk and the cold air plenum setup, a very valuable commodity today. Camaro was a winner and, in its first year, was chosen to pace the field at the Indianapolis 500. Replicas were made and are quite valuable today.
Tom Kazanji of White Plains, New York, runs Redz Auto Collision, a collision/ restoration shop, and turns out some of the finest muscle car restorations in the country. He can talk muscle cars all day and speaks very highly of his 1968 Camaro Z/28, which he bought from the second owner, who had bought it used in 1969. Tom's car is special in that it not only received extraordinary care its entire life and is now, as he calls it, "a trailer potato," but was purchased new at Berger Chevrolet in Michigan, known for selling high-performance cars in the 1960s. Despite its pristine originality, Tom did a complete restoration on the car, and even applied original-style lacquer paint with no clearcoat. All the exterior chrome is original and has been left alone. The Camaro is Le Mans Blue, with a matching interior and white stripes. All sheetmetal is original as is the interior. The car even has its original lower radiator hose after 46,000 miles and 37 years. Tom says he loves this car and that it drives and rides like his Porsche. "Sure, it doesn't handle like my Porsche, but it has E70-14 tires on it. But get in, turn the key, and that 302 is ready for bear. This car is an animal, even with just 3.73 gears. If I put in 4.11s or 4.56s, it would be a monster," he says. "This car likes high rpm; that's what the 302 was designed for. It's fine in first gear, but when you upshift that Muncie, you have to keep the revs up or it starts to stumble. It's an altogether different experience from my Porsche. If you dump the clutch at 5,000 rpm, it will burn rubber all the way down the block. There is nothing like that sensation." And, remarkably for a 1960s car, Tom believes the brakes, front disc and rear drum are more than adequate. "This car handles great. If you were to enter it in a slalom course, it would probably roll over, but for what I need it for, it handles fine."
There are probably more reproduction and NOS parts available for first-generation Camaros than any other car on the planet. It is easier to buy a seat cover for a 1967 Camaro than for a 2002 fourth-generation car. There are numerous suppliers offering a multitude of everything one needs to just spiff up an early Camaro or do a complete restoration. All sheetmetal needed to replace those rusty and bondo-filled panels is available in reproduction form. Many outlets still have NOS sheetmetal, but expect to pay much more. For those of you with a really rusty 1969 Camaro, you can now buy a complete 1969 convertible body from Dynacorn Classic Bodies, Inc., based in Oxnard, California.
As with most cars from the 1960s, rust is the major caveat when buying a first-generation Camaro, says Joey Wigley, who specializes in restoring these cars at his business, Jen Jacs Restorations in Savannah, Georgia (912-966-0601). "The number one spot these cars begin to rust is around the back window. GM had a problem with how the window sloped, and water gets under the molding and sits in the window trough and rots. Once that rust starts, it leaks into the trunk, and the trunk pans go," he said. Other problem areas to search for rust are the lower bottoms of the front fenders, the floor pans and of, course, the quarter panels. Wigley says, "Also make sure and check the chrome moldings around the windshield. More times than not there is rust underneath, and you won't know it unless you remove the moldings. Water gets in behind them and rots out the top of the dash; it is quite costly to repair." He says the rear frame rails can rust too, but he hasn't seen too many problems with them in his shop on his new four-acre facility. "I wouldn't say the frame rails are a real issue, but they can rust, particularly on northern cars where road salt is dumped." Mechanically, most parts have been replaced on these cars approaching 40 years of age. Wigley suggests checking suspension components; while they are nowhere as costly as body work, it all adds up. "No one single suspension piece really stands out. I would say look at the ball joints, Pitman arm, center link and the control arm bushings," he said. "If you are buying a fully restored car and know what you are looking at, there really isn't any real concern because the car is all done, but I strongly suggest, for those not buying a high-dollar car, to avoid a freshly painted car. If it was painted, say, four years ago, over bondo, it will start to bubble and you'll see the problems, but if it was painted a month ago, those problems are not going to show up; so be very leery of new paint on a car that was not fully restored." Wigley also urges would-be buyers who don't know what they are looking at to hire a professional who does. "There are people out there building clones that are 100 percent perfect dead-on correct looking, but fortunately, most who build clones do not do it 100 percent correct, and there are flaws. Cowl tags are being reproduced, and so they are making fakes. You'd better be a very educated enthusiast and insist on original paperwork, because there are fake documents being made too." Wigley says there are no numbers in the VIN to tell you the car is a 396 RS SS model, for example. He also says many engines have been re-stamped and it is hard to tell-for the untrained eye. Wigley knows what to look for, but to keep the hobby honest, we are not revealing them here except to say the factory stamped engine blocks years ago with machinery that is not available today.
In the early to mid-1970s, these cars were like most other muscle cars-used cars. Most had fallen into the hands of teens, who abused them, blew up the original engines, and they were gone forever. Some, however, did survive, and by the late 1970s, the 1969 Z/28 was really the first muscle car to take off in price. Suddenly it was chic to collect muscle cars. We remember a Forest Green 1969 Z/28 offered for sale in the corral at Spring Carlisle 1979. The asking price was an astounding $7,500, but the car was a totally original, rust-free Virginia car owned by an Air Force colonel, who had purchased the car new and never modified it. Whoever bought it and hung onto it was one smart cookie. Needless to say, first-generation Camaros are gaining value with the passage of time, and as long as GM doesn't build another Camaro, prices may continue to rise. Consider the new GTO. When Pontiac introduced the car last year, prices of original GTOs from the Sixties and Seventies went to the moon; they are among the fastest appreciating muscle cars today. The difference with older Camaros is that nearly everything taken for granted today was optional, and those are the cars that will surely continue to appreciate. With interest rates what they are and money market accounts a total joke, investing in one of these cars is not a bad idea.