Great Rivalries: Chevrolet Camaro vs Ford Mustang

John Roe
Great Rivalries: Chevrolet Camaro vs Ford Mustang

Mustang versus Camaro has been the most volcanic battle in the Ford-versus-Chevy war that's defined the American automotive landscape for much of the past century. The Mustang arrived first, staking out the pony car high ground in 1964 and earning boatloads of easy money during the two and a half years it took General Motors to respond. When the Camaro finally debuted, it inevitably was cast as Avis to Mustang's Hertz, and it's tried harder ever since with hotter engines, snazzier styling, and a host of other touches.

Mustangs and Camaros have faced off in showrooms, at stoplights, and, most dramatically, on racetracks. The Trans-Am road-racing series, created by the SCCA in 1966 for production-based machinery, turned out to be the perfect showcase for the pony cars emerging not only from Ford and Chevy but also Mercury (Cougar), Pontiac (Firebird), Dodge (Challenger), Plymouth (Barracuda), and American Motors (Javelin). Mustangs won the first two manufacturer's championships. Camaros took the third. The showdown came in 1969.

Ford threw its factory support behind stock-car legend Bud Moore and Parnelli Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner turned famously uncompromising road racer. Chevrolet opted for a different approach, entrusting its Camaro to a pair of graduates from the SCCA club-racing ranks - team owner Roger Penske and his driver/engineer/team manager Mark Donohue, who'd breezed to the Trans-Am championship the previous year.

Donohue and Jones were polar opposites as well as on-track rivals, and the friction between them and their equally antagonistic team owners touched off fireworks that enlivened a 1969 season full of protests, skullduggery, and rough driving. Jones won twice, but Donohue swept six of the last seven races to give Chevrolet a repeat title. The next year, Jones got his revenge, beating Donohue--driving a Javelin--by a single point after winning the last race of the season.

By 1972, both of them had quit Trans-Am, Jones heading off to dustier pastures in off-road racing (and winning the Baja 1000) and Donohue focusing on more sophisticated prototypes and open-wheel cars (winning the Indy 500 and then the Can-Am title the next year). The fuel crisis of 1973 gutted the pony car brigade, and while the Mustang and the Camaro soldiered on, their glory days were behind them. F-body sales eventually became so anemic that Chevrolet quit making the Camaro altogether in 2002.

But the old warhorse wasn't quite ready for the glue factory. In 2006, a Camaro concept car reignited the faithful, and earlier this year, Chevy brought out an all-new, fifth-generation Camaro that's bigger, bolder, and--at least judging by the numbers--better than any of its predecessors. To compete with it, Ford updated its fifth-generation Mustang for the 2010 model year with tauter exterior styling and an improved chassis.

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