Mustang vs. Camaro: The Long History
by David Zenlea
The Mustang/Camaro rivalry is about as subtle as the cars themselves: what's not to like about America's big-volume, blue-collar brands slugging it out with affordable V-8 muscle? It all started in 1964, when the Mustang, a brainchild of Ford general manager Lee Iacocca, scored a record-breaking 418,812 first-year sales and caught Chevrolet decidedly off guard. Chevy had primarily counted on its Corvair and Nova to hold the line against the newcomer, but they were no match for the Mustang's sex appeal and V-8 performance.
Chevrolet's answer, the Camaro, arrived for 1967, aimed squarely at the Mustang but with a personality all its own. Whereas the Ford came off as pretty, even elegant, the menacing Chevy looked to be spoiling for a fight, and it was--behind those optional blacked-out headlights lurked as many as 396 cubic inches of V-8 brawn.
Their respective warriors cast, Ford and Chevrolet launched a fierce pony car war. The most heated battles took place on tracks across America, where Parnelli Jones's Boss 302 Mustang traded paint with Mark Donohue's Camaro Z28. Street racers, meanwhile, craved--and got--ever more power. In 1969, an enthusiast could order either a 427-cubic-inch V-8 in a Camaro or 429 cubic inches in the aptly named Boss 429 Mustang. It was, no doubt, a golden age.
What distinguishes this rivalry from other great muscle car stories, though, is that it didn't end with the oil shortages of the 1970s. Although their performance declined, both cars survived, and when horsepower recovered in the 1980s and '90s, these pony cars battled again. The Camaro bristled with fuel-injected Corvette engines, and Ford fired back with ever more brutal SVT Cobras. By the dawn of the new millennium, versions of each car left the factory with more than 300 hp.
And then, just like that, the game ended. In 2002, the Camaro and its venerable twin, the Pontiac Firebird, left the field. Declining sales had convinced GM executives that Americans no longer wanted coupes. But just as in 1964, the Mustang threw egg in their faces. The redesigned 2005 model racked up 160,412 sales, spurring Chevrolet back into action.
So here we are once more, trying to decide which pony car accelerates slightly faster, handles slightly better, and has a slightly more tasteful interior. One could argue that both companies have more important concerns these days than winning a performance-car grudge match. Their combined market share is two-thirds of what it was in the 1960s, and then there's the matter of rising fuel-economy standards. But in this uncertain new world, we're glad that we can at least cling to a simple rivalry, one all about the sound of V-8s in full fury and the smell of burning rubber.