The public’s response to Chevrolet’s introduction of the Corvair likely led their management to believe that the market was not overly interested in four-passenger sports cars. That view changed mightily by late 1964 when Ford sold 100,000 Mustangs in the first six months and then half a million in the first year of production.
The Corvair had been selling 200,000 units a year, which was certainly not shabby, but an extra zero on the sales number always gets management attention. While a number of sporty car designs had been floating around the Chevrolet studios, work began in earnest on the project that was code-named “Panther.”
The new car would incorporate a number of innovations in addition to offering a wide range of powerplants and customization options. In full performance configuration, it was to be the next best thing to a Corvette. According to lore, the Camaro name emerged from a list of more than two thousand words starting with the letter “C.” It was standard practice, at the time, that all car line names begin with a “C” – as in Chevelle, Corvair, Chevy II and Corvette.
June 28, 1966 saw the Camaro introduced to the automotive press. The name, uncommon in the English language, was explained by Chevrolet president, Pete Estes, as “a name which is lithe and graceful…in keeping with our other car names beginning with ‘C.’ It suggests comradeship of good friends, as a personal car should be to its owner.”
Reporters who asked other GM executives about the name were told it was, “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”
That animal roared to life on September 29, 1966, as the Camaro arrived in dealerships across the country. For the next 36 years, it would carry its part faithfully in the pony car wars. Following a brief retirement in 2002, the Camaro is back and has been chewing on the hind quarters of the Mustang through most of 2010.