1967 Ford Mustang & 1967 Chevrolet Camaro…
The Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro have probably sold more magazines than any other pair of cars.
Pit the two against each other, and you have a contest with the same emotional appeal as Mac versus PC, Coke versus Pepsi, Army versus Navy.
Such contests have been widened to include ‘Cudas, Firebirds, Javelins, and others, but most customers pay to watch the Ford and Chevy duke it out.
The cars pictured here could’ve competed in round one of this epic battle: a third-year redesigned Mustang GT 390 and a freshly minted Camaro RS/SS 350.
Each was built early in the 1967 model year, with the highest- performing mainstream engine and suspension packages available.
In the early 1960s, the first baby boomers were coming of age and market research suggested they wouldn’t be buying the cars their parents drove.
They’d be looking to express themselves, but on a budget.
Everyone got the message, and GM was the first to respond.
Plymouth had the Valiant, and Ford had the Falcon, both of which were miniaturized big cars.
To keep costs down, the Big Three leveraged the compacts they’d reluctantly introduced in 1960 to stem the flood of small imported cars.
Chevrolet went with the more daring and sophisticated rear-engine, air-cooled, independently suspended Corvair.
This radical car never caught on with the masses (the Falcon outsold it by 74 percent), prompting development of the more conventional Chevy II/Nova for 1962.
But by bolting in bucket seats and sporty trim, the mid-1960 Corvair Monza became just what the boomers wanted, and it soon evolved into the young-person’s cool car.
By 1963, Monzas accounted for 80 percent of Corvair sales.
The 1964 Falcon-based Mustang and Valiant-based Barracuda were designed in response to the Monza’s success.
Mitchell liked the idea and set up a secret studio in a warehouse, where project XP-836 was born.
Meanwhile, Chevrolet design chief Irv Rybicki wondered aloud to GM design boss Bill Mitchell whether Chevy might win additional sales by offering a cut-rate personal coupe? a Riviera shrunk to fit a Chevy budget.
Riding atop the Chevy II platform, the clay model’s dimensions and long-hood short-deck proportions were eerily similar to the Mustang’s.
Chevy boss Bunkie Knudsen liked the clay model, but demurred, noting that with the Corvette and Corvair Monza covering the sporty spectrum, the Chevy II and Chevelle spanning the mid-market, and a broad full-size lineup, the last thing Chevy needed? or could afford? was another new car.
Can you blame him?
At first GM brass was unimpressed with what they saw as an angular, unimaginative design.
But the Mustang arrived and instantly became more popular than sex and chocolate, not to mention the Corvair Monza (sales of which plunged by a third in 1964).
They felt certain their svelte, Euro-styled 1965 Corvair replacement could hold its own.
But dealers signed 26,000 Mustang orders on the first day, and after four months and 100,000 sales, Chevy swallowed its pride and green-lighted development of a conventional front-engine, rear-drive competitor, code-named F-body.
The mandate : Make it longer, lower, wider, faster, and better in every way.
The warehouse project resumed where it’d left off.
A replacement for the Chevy II/Nova was slated for 1968, and the F-car would share its architecture, which consisted of a unit-body aft of the firewall, bolted via tuned rubber mounts to a front stub frame.
This combo boasted the packaging efficiency of a unit-body with the ride and powertrain isolation of a body-on-frame.
For the first time at Chevy, computers helped speed the tuning of the aerodynamics and the suspension’s ride/handling calibration.
Initially, there were two inline-sixes and three small-block V-8s in five states of tune depending on carbs and exhaust, followed by a pair of 396-cube big-block options introduced in November 1966.
Dimensionally, the F-car measured several inches longer and wider than the original Mustang, and each of its initial engine offerings trumped the power of its closest Mustang rival.
Chevy reckoned the key to winning over boomers was letting them custom-tailor their ponycar, so the order sheet included a staggering array of 80 factory options and 40 dealer accessories.
As the fall 1966 launch date loomed, all that was left was to choose a name for Chevy’s Mustang-killer.
Panther, Nova, and Chaparral were considered and rejected.
After mining the foreign-language dictionaries, Camaro won the day.
Chevy defined its meaning as French slang for « companion, » though Ford favored the Spanish translation: « a type of sea shrimp. »
Having cranked out a million Mustangs, the tooling was shot anyway. In order to keep ahead on the power front, a 390 big-block option was added to the order book.
Detroit’s a small town, so Ford had ample time to prepare for the Camaro.
Accommodating it required stretching the front end two inches and widening the car by 2.7 inches.
Widening the track 2.5 inches and raising the front suspension’s roll-center improved handling, and interior space increased marginally.
Stylists preserved but embellished all the original design elements, stretching the hood, widening the grille, deepening the side scallops, and extending the fastback’s roofline to the rear of the car.
The Mustang GT 390, with its enlarged front anti-roll bar and stiffened springs (30 percent front, 26 percent rear), drew praise for its quieter ride and improved handling, though it remained a heavy understeerer, and the big-block produced major axle-tramp on full-power launches.
So how did the upstart Camaro fare against the million-strong Mustang ?
The Camaro RS/SS 350’s standard traction bar reduced wheelhop (later Camaros cured the problem using staggered shocks), but excessive tirespin demanded a light touch at launch.
The front disc brakes required similarly light footwork to keep from locking (stops from 60 mph took 156 feet versus the GT 390’s 134).
In May 1967, we finally got all the ponies together, testing several variants of each.
This time the Mustangs understeered the most ; the Camaros the least, and the V-8 Chevys were prone to throttle oversteer.
We dinged the Mustang for unlighted ventilation controls that only the driver could reach, while the Camaro took heat for its lack of instrumentation and the low mounting location of the auxiliary gauges.
The Camaro felt the most agile in tight twisty maneuvers, but its two-speed automatic drew loud criticism.
No outright winner was declared, though reading between the lines, the Camaro seemed the favorite.
American’s magazines compared the Trans-Am-racing homologation versions of each and gave the nod to the Camaro Z/28, which outperformed the Tunnel-Port Mustang in acceleration (13.8 versus 14.0 in the quarter) and braking (1.02 g versus 0.86 g).
I chose a 289-powered Mustang over its 327-cube Camaro competitor, judging the soft-riding Camaro to be « frankly, a disappointment. »
Our photo cars were originally purchased by well-heeled boomers demanding the best-dressed pony on the block.
Each spent half again the base price on optional upgrades, and as a result both look and feel special, inside and out.
The Camaro’s $105 RS exterior decor package adds classy hidden headlamps and chrome flourishes that sparkle against the Royal Plum paint and white vinyl top.
Interior extravagances include air-conditioning, power windows, a console with gauge package, deluxe striped upholstery, and an odd fold-down rear seatback that doesn’t pass through to the trunk.
Our Clearwater Aqua Mustang is similarly equipped, with interior and exterior spiffs like turn-signal indicators on the hood, extra chrome and styled steel wheels outside, two-tone aqua vinyl upholstery, a console with rolltop stowage compartment, and a fold-down seat (accessing the trunk).
From the wheel, the two cars feel more different than what their spec-sheets suggest.
The fastback Mustang looks racier, and the view down its extra-long hood reinforces the impression.
The big-block 390 seems always to be straining at the leash with its three-speed C6 automatic ready to make the most of the available torque, though the 3.00:1 axle is better geared for economical cruising than jack-rabbit starts.
Overboosted power steering typical of the day transmits little road feel, but the heavy springs and shocks appear to control body motions quite well.
The GT traverses bumps and dips without losing its composure.
The venerable 350 small-block exhales a sonorous burble through the SS 350’s « dual deep-tone mufflers. »
This restored 57,000-mile Camaro is tight and carefully assembled despite the beating it takes from period-correct Firestone Wide-O-Oval bias-ply tires that provide little cushioning over the rough stuff.
It accelerates briskly at lower speeds, but the two-cog Powerglide slush-box is a liability.
Shifts are smooth while accelerating, but it clunks into low gear when slowing to a stop.
The 396 big-block and Turbo-Hydramatic three-speed was a better match for the 390 Mustang.
The steering and brakes feel even more overboosted than the Mustang’s, but that’s all part of the charm of a 1960s pony.
While rare-option Z/28 and Shelby GT350/500 variants of the classic ponycars are gaveling stratospheric prices (Go to up one million US$) at auction, more mainstream models like these are still affordable.
For $30,000 to $45,000, you can get a solid driver that’s easy to maintain and repair and loads of fun at cruise nights.
Which pony wins this comparison ?
The Mustang, because I owned two of them in high school, and irrational prejudices like that have fueled enthusiasm for the Mustang and Camaro for four decades.
Long may it be so.
Ask the couple Who Owns One
Neil and Kathy Holcomb own four Mustang fastbacks and help run the Mustang Owners Club of Southeastern Michigan (mocsem.com), Neil as president, Kathy as secretary.
Why they like it: « 1967 was the year the Mustangs became more muscular. The 1965s were sporty Falcons, but by 1967 the Mustang wasdeveloping its own identity. »It’s collectible because: Expressive styling and freedom from the emissions and safety requirements that began phasing in a year later make 1967s popular.Restoring/Maintaining: Mass production and continued popularity mean parts are so easy to find that you could build a new one from scratch.Beware Of: Rust attacks the subframe near the firewall; check for mismatched engine and chassis numbers; and crash damage leading to poor panel fit.Expect to pay: Concours ready: $41,150; solid driver $21,825; tired runner: $9500Our Take
Then: « Ponycar » means Mustang. It’s the original, and the one all other contenders to the throne are out to beat. It made the whole scene happen, and like it or not, you can’t drive home in a new Camaro, Javelin, or Barracuda without the neighborhood gang comparing it with a Mustang.–Motor Trend, January 1968Now: The Mustang is woven into American pop culture as tightly as the Big Mac and polyester. It may never be rare, but it’ll always be special.1967 Ford Mustang GTA 390Specifications: Engine 389.6 cu in/6384cc OHV V-8, 1×4-bbl Holley C70F-F carburetor Power and torque (SAE gross)335 hp @ 4800 rpm, 427 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm Drivetrain 3-speed automatic, RWD Suspension front: control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; rear: live axle, leaf springs DimensionsL: 183.6 in, W: 70.9 in, H: 51.6 in Weight3255 lb Performance 0-60 mph: 7.4 sec, quarter mile: 15.6 sec @ 94 mph, 60-0 mph: 134 ft (Motor Trend, December 1966, four-speed manual test car)
Ask the Man who Owns one
Doug May owns an auto-detailing business and enjoys maintaining and restoring a variety of old cars with his father, Ken.Why I like it: « This loaded RS/SS has all the best factory options, and its Royal Plum and white color scheme is a perennial crowd pleaser. »It’s collectible because: The freshly styled, strongly performing Camaro started a competition that’s improved the entire pony breed.Restoring/maintaining: First-generation Camaros have the widest availability of reproduction parts, so they’re the easiest to keep up.Beware of: Rust attacks the rear quarters and trunk-pan and floorboards, and electrical problems can crop up with age.Expect to pay: Concours ready: $47,675; solid driver $25,100; tired runner: $9500Our Take
Then: The Camaro is one of the most pleasurable cars of its size–or any other size–we’ve driven. It invades the luxury kingdom of the Cougar by offering more comfort options, and the sporty area of the Mustang by having at least the same amount–if not more–of enthusiast oriented accessories.–Steven Kelly, Motor Trend, December 1966Now: The vast array of available powertrain combinations and options help make every surviving Camaro an original, with its own unique and satisfying driving character.1967 Chevrolet Camaro 350SS/RSSpecifications: Engine 349.8 cu in/5733cc OHV V-8 1×4-bbl Rochester Quadrajet carburetor Power and torque (SAE gross) 295 hp @ 4800 rpm, 380 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm Drivetrain 2-speed automatic, RWD Brakes front: vented disc; rear: drum Suspension front: control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; rear: live axle, leaf springs Dimensions L: 184.7 in, W: 72.5 in, H: 51.4 in Weight 3259 lb Performance 0-60 mph: 8.0 sec, quarter mile: 15.4 sec @ 90 mph, 60-0 mph: 156 ft (Motor Trend, December 1966, four-speed manual)