Great Rivalries: Chevrolet Camaro vs Ford Mustang

John Roe

PJ Jones,
son of famous Mustang driver Parnelli Jones:
"The Mustang is a car that you can hustle."

David Donohue,
son of famous Camaro driver Mark Donohue:
"There's no replacement for displacement."

"Uh-oh!" isn't a phrase you want to hear coming from a driver's mouth in the middle of a tricky corner during a hot lap on a racetrack, especially when you're in a brand-new Ford Mustang GT and you've got strict orders to bring it home sans dents or scratches, much less dangling from the hook of a wrecker.

At the moment, the tail of the Mustang is cocked at an outrageous angle as it slews past an apex at New Jersey Motorsports Park, and from my vantage point in the passenger seat, all I can see out the windshield is disaster. But driver PJ Jones has two decades of experience in everything from GTP prototypes to Indy cars. So he calmly--but expeditiously--slaps on some opposite lock to corral the wayward Mustang, and he keeps the car on the pavement with a good, oh, half millimeter to spare.

"That's why you shouldn't drive while you're looking in your mirror," Jones says, and I can imagine him grinning, even though I can't see his face inside his helmet.

When I check the sideview mirror, I see that it's filled, and I mean completely, with the sharklike snout of an equally new Chevrolet Camaro SS driven by David Donohue, who'd raced on this very track a few weeks earlier in his Daytona Prototype. We'd asked Donohue and Jones to give us a few brisk laps in close proximity so we could shoot some arresting photographs of the cars in action. Nothing too crazy, just a little bit of showboating for the camera. Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

But now, riding shotgun as I watch the Camaro bomb past with the rear end twitching under hard braking, I realize that this is what we should have expected when we put two race car drivers in two of the hottest American performance cars on a single racetrack at the same time. And as we hurtle past the start/finish line, fender to fender at better than 120 mph, it strikes me that what I'm seeing here is nothing less than history repeating itself.

Forty years ago, during the heyday of the Trans-Am series, Parnelli Jones and Mark Donohue--the fathers of the drivers we're lapping with today--raced previous editions of the Mustang and the Camaro against each other in one of the most contentious rivalries in motorsports history. Donohue was killed during practice for the Austrian Grand Prix in 1975, but Jones is still around, and he hasn't forgotten or forgiven the hostilities of 1969. When PJ told him that he'd be testing a Mustang against a Camaro driven by Donohue's son, Parnelli said, "Make sure you kick his ass."

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