1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 SS

An epic case of history repeating in the ultimate automotive remake

By Shahzad Sheikh

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

Recently 125,000 Chevrolet fans voted the 1969 Camaro “the best Chevy ever made” beating off stiff competition from the likes of the 1957 Bel Air, 1970 Chevelle SS, 1953 Corvette and even the sensational 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. The passion and enthusiasm engendered by the last of the line first generation Camaro is reflected in its iconic status as one of the defining proponents of the original muscle cars.

Chevrolet produced nearly 700,000 of the first generation Camaros (including 243,000 examples of the 1969 edition) and the intent of this car was made obvious from the very start. When rumours first started circulating in 1965, about a new sports car from Chevrolet, codename “Panther”, the media started speculating what it would be.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

How to scratch a cat

They didn’t have to ponder for long because on 21 June, 1966, around 200 automotive journalists received a telegram from General Motors asking them to “save noon of June 28 for an important SEPAW meeting. Hope you can be on hand to help scratch a cat…” The next day SEPAW was revealed to stand for Society for the Eradication of Panthers from the Automotive World – and the media was told that this would be the first and last meeting of this organisation.

A week later at that press conference the “Panther” was duly killed off and the “Camaro” was born. Chevrolet General Manager, Pete Estes, said the new name suggested “the comradeship of good friends as a personal car should be to its owner”. But when journos asked Chevrolet top brass what the Camaro was (presumably enquiring what sort of car it was intended to be) the response was “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs”. Meanwhile Ford retorted that in old Spanish “Camaro” meant “a small, shrimp-like creature”! Touché!

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

The arch nemesis

Ford’s original Pony car had been a runaway success selling 100,000 units in just its first six months, and quickly became America’s best selling sports car. The Camaro was the Bowtie-wearing response. A response that was so good straight out of the box, that it remains an inspiration to this day.

Which brings us nicely to present times, where automotive history is seen to be repeating itself. Well over 40 years after Chevrolet last (perhaps belatedly) responded to a challenge from Ford, it did so exactly again with the 2010 Camaro. And with a further sense of eerie déjà vu, the protagonist and antagonist ape the forms they took when they first commenced their near half-century of engagement on the muscle car battled field. This, dear reader, is the automotive equivalent of the ultimate Hollywood remake!

Just as the 2005-onwards Ford Mustang was heavily inspired by the shapes, lines and style of the original ’Stang, the 2010 Camaro has also been inspired by its first generation edition. Study these two gorgeous examples and you can see how the long bonnet, short rear deck, the shape of the side glass, the kink over the rear wheel-arch and the cowl face with the inset grille on the new car, are all reminiscent of the original.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

Batman versus Wolverine

And yet they are both as different as they are the same. The newer car is sleeker, squashier and bulging at the edges, it’s as if it’s been chopped and slammed and lowered, then shod with big tyres and stuffed with a massive engine under than hood – all of which you can safely say it has!

The 60s car somehow feels more lissom and elegant, with a more upright stance, perched relatively high on its wheels. It’s a car that puffs up and squares up to a high-riding Mustang of contemporary vintage, whereas the new car is hunkered down and meaner. Think of the 60s Camaro-Mustang brawl as Mohammed Ali versus George Foreman, whilst today’s battling duo are more like Batman versus Wolverine.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

Yours new for $2,466

The Camaro first went on sale 29 September 1966 and ran for four generations before production ended in 2002. Built on a new F-body platform, the original car was a unibody structure aft of the windshield and at the front had a separate steel rail subframe. The independent front suspension was made up of double A-arms and at the back was a solid rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs. It had drum brakes and unassisted steering with prices starting from just $2,466.

There were a couple of straight-six engines, even back then, but if you’re not interested in the girlie engines then let’s get straight to the muscle car meat: a 327 cubic inch (5.4-litre) small-block V8 producing 275bhp along with two versions of the 396 cubic inch (6.5-litre) big block V8 rated at 325bhp or 375bhp. They could be mated to three- or four-speed manual transmissions or two automatic boxes.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

Why no axle hop?

Available from launch in both coupe and convertible guises, two additional trim levels were also available – the Rally Sport or RS which had hidden headlights, revised tailights and ‘deluxe’ interior trim, along with the Super Sport (more popularly known as the SS) which came with a domed hood featuring simulated vents along with ‘bumble bee’ strips encircling the nose and the SS badges, it also received a 350 (5.7-litre) lump up front. Amazingly, you could even have both trim packs together to form the RS/SS!

In December 1966 a race-orientated Z28 version was introduced fitted with a 302 (4.9-litre) putting out 290bhp and decked out with a firmer suspension.

In 1968 a fresh-air-inlet system meant the side vent windows were deleted the nose got the accentuated point that is now such a signature feature of the modern day Camaro. Shock absorber mountings were staggered to resolve wheel hop – so annoying when you’re trying to do burnouts! – and sportier models got multi-leaf rear springs.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

69’s the sweet one

And so we come to the best of breed: the 1969 edition of the first generation Camaro. It might look very similar but actually had all new sharply-creased body-work with a more pronounced V-grille and overall a lower, wider and more menacing stance.

The RS now had special black painted grille with hidden headlights, and simulated rear fender louvers (see, they’re not just fake on the new car, they always were!). Meanwhile the Z28 still came with a 302 and a four-speed box now with a Hurst shifter.

Car Life magazine tested a 396 SS in 1969 fitted with a four-speed manual and got a 0-60mph (97kph) time of 6.8 seconds, whilst 0-100mph (161kph) time was 15.6 seconds. The quarter mile was dispatched in an impressive 14.77 seconds and the car’s top speed was 203kph.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

Upto 500bhp – back then?!

Seems like a lot of work for just one production year though, but the 1969 model year was extended to November and whilst some regard later cars as 1970 MY examples, they were all assigned 1969 VIN codes. This was also the best selling year of production with nearly 10,000 more cars produced than the previous year.

And then there were the 427s – which officially didn’t happen, sort of… GM did not sanction the fitting of engines larger than 400 cubic inches (6.6-litre) but with one of the dealers already installing them, Chevrolet had to follow a ‘special order’ route to make the 427 (7.0-litre) L72 big block, producing 425bhp, available. This also sired the ZL-1 featuring an all-aluminium 427 tuned for drag racing. Just 69 of these were made with the hand-assembled engine alone costing over $4,000 though it did produce upto 500bhp.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

Not bad for a ‘small shrimp-like creature’

Looking to the newer car in these pictures, whilst there is a clear and direct lineage between them, they are not only separated by four decades but by the entire Pacific Ocean. Whilst its lairy style and loud-mouth presence mark out the new Camaro as a distinctly American sports car, underneath there’s an infusion of Australian no-nonsense engineering as it was actually developed and signed-off by GM Holden.

The new car is based on GM’s Zeta rear-wheel drive platform which was engineered there and underpins the cars we know in the Middle East as the Caprice, Lumina and the CSV CR8. In fact the Camaro is the only car utilising this platform that is not built in Australia and is assembled at the Oshawa plant in Canada. They seem to be doing a good job of it too, as the Camaro snatched the mantle of “Americas best selling sports car” off its old nemesis, the Ford Mustang, in 2010. How’s that for a “small shrimp-like creature?!”

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

Get the manual for the extra horses

Again there’s a V6 engine available which actually is a remarkably efficient and surprisingly powerful unit putting out over 300bhp – more than most of the original first gen Camaros. It certainly feels frisky enough, but if you’re buying an American muscle car, then it’s got to be a V8.

So opt for the SS and you get a 6.2-litre LS3 engine producing 426bhp with a six-speed manual transmission, though if you go for the auto, as most here do, you’ll lose out on a few ponies with a 400bhp version of the LS3. All cars gets independent four-wheel suspension, disk brakes and Brembos on SS models, electronic stability and traction control systems, whilst the SS also has “launch control”.

It’ll hit 100km/h from rest in 5 seconds and will reach a limited top speed of 250km/h, so as you’d expect it’s significantly up on performance compared to its ancestor. And it delivers that performance with less drama too. The velocity arrives in a subdued sophisticated manner, with a relatively muted exhaust note and a genuinely supple ride.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

Running a BMW close

Despite this it handles better than just about any American muscle car ever made, being tight and planted through the corners. If it had a bit more steering feel and precision it wouldn’t be far off giving BMWs a run for their money.

Inside there are some evocative touches like the four gauges stacked down below the centre console near the gear lever (although the dished steering wheel from this model year, sadly). An issue with modern muscle cars is that the window sills are much too high now, so it’s not so easy to nonchalantly stick your elbow on the sill when in cruise mode.

Other than minor quibbles though, it’s easy to see why the Camaro has been a huge hit in the States – it is a genuinely brilliant modern sports car. And it’s fast.

For more pictures and for a full review of the current Camaro, click here.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

Nothing beats a 69

With the 69 edition you might get less of the pace, but you get more of the grace. There’s just so much more drama and feel to the older car, it smells right, it feels tactile, mechanical and real, there appears to be more room to lounge within, it’s easier to see out of and conversely, be seen in (equally important right?).

And of course it sounds so much better, even when it’s coughing and spluttering – which the new car would never do! But it has a deep grumble and metallic rasp that modern mufflers manager to mute. Most importantly though it just has great road presence, and simply looks cooler.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition

The cost of coolness?

So how much do you pay for this coolness? Well they can range in price for anything up to $90,000 depending on the quality of the restoration or updates and customisation. You’re certainly looking at spending over $50,000 for a really immaculate example.

On the other hand you can pick up decent examples which you could daily drive and do a bit of work on for as little as $25,000. Meanwhile you’d spend between $40-50k on a brand new Camaro.


MotoringME.com would like to Khalid Bin Hadher of Performance Garage for the use of his lovely 1969 Chevrolet Camaro for these photographs and to GM Middle East for the 45th Edition Camaro.


2 responses to “1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS meets 2012 SS”

  1. Fred says:

    Dear friends
    I’m from Brazil and would like to know the name/model of this wheels and specification of wheels and tire size.
    I have a Camaro 69 and loved this red car. congratulations.

  2. Abdul says:

    Hi are the 1969 camaro for sale

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