How the Ford Mustang Helped Create the Camaro and Celica

A few pony cars may have preceded the launch of the Ford Mustang, but as the Mustang’s popularity rose to new heights and set new sales records for Ford, it was only a matter of time before rival automakers quickly prepared their own competitors. It was surprising, however, that one came from the opposite corner of the world.

1967 Chevrolet Camaro

General Motors began thinking about a sporty coupe in 1958, but it took until mid-1964, well after the arrival of the Ford Mustang, before the Henry Haga’s Chevrolet design studio was allowed to get serious with project XP-836 — the car that would become the Chevrolet Camaro.

“We had done a special little coupe – the Super Nova — that was pretty cute, and we showed it down at the New York show,” recalled Bunkie Knudsen, then Chevrolet’s general manager, in Michael Lamm’s The Camaro Book. “Pretty little car. When Ford saw it there on the stand, some of their people came over and were very interested. They asked me if we were planning to build it. I told them we would if we could, but I couldn’t get approval. The corporate people wouldn’t give us approval. As soon as the Mustang came out, I knew we needed something to compete with it, but we still just couldn’t get approval.”

Once approval was given, a name proved elusive. Proposed monikers included the aforementioned Super Nova moniker, along with Vega and Commander. Panther was another name that circulated widely in the press, but during a fourteen-city, closed-circuit, televised press conference on June 29, 1966, Chevrolet general manager Pete Estes announced the “Camaro,” a name that Chevy executives struggled to define. Estes joked he had made up after locking himself in a closet. Chevrolet’s press office insisted the word was French slang for a “comrade” or “buddy,” but some skeptics noted the word was rather close to the Spanish term for “shrimp” – not a desirable connotation for a vehicle aimed at an audience with an insatiable appetite for engine displacement and power.

Chevrolet leaked its own spy pictures of the car that summer. In late September 1966, the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro reached dealers. The long-hood/short- deck look echoed the GT-style proportions of the Mustang, while the sensuous lines expressed the European tastes of GM design director Bill Mitchell. The semi-unibody chassis was shared with the 1968 Chevy II, and engine choices included a 3.8-liter in-line six, a 4.1-liter I-6, a 5.0-liter V-8, a 5.4-liter V-8, a 5.7-liter V-8, and a 6.5-liter V-8. At the time, a Camaro RS with a 275-hp (SAE gross) 5.4-liter V-8, a four-speed manual transmission, and a 3.07:1 final-drive ratio could reach 60 mph in 9.1 seconds on the way to a quarter mile in 16.9 seconds at 87 mph. The Chevrolet Camaro sold fairly quickly: 220,906 were sold in 1967, and another 235,147 moved off dealers’ lots in 1968.

Ash Beheshti is just the third owner of the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro pictured here, with its 327-cubic-inch V-8 (the second owner restored the car and added the “SS” badges). It recalls for him the days when his father drove a series of ’67 Camaros, and Beheshti has even created an iPod playlist of 1960s music that he listens to while driving. “There are a million Bentley Continentals in Beverly Hills,” he says, “but when I’m cruising there on a Sunday, it’s this car that makes everyone wave and then whip out their smartphones to take a picture.”

1971 Toyota Celica

The impact of the Ford Mustang’s introduction in 1964 could be felt even in Japan, where the Toyota Celica became not only a success in its home market but also was one of the first cars to introduce a smaller, more fuel-efficient version of the Mustang formula to the United States.

Toyota ventured into the sports car market in 1967 with the Toyota 2000GT, originally a concept car engineered and built by Yamaha for Nissan as what would become the Datsun 240Z. Production ended in 1970 after just 337 examples were built because of the project’s high costs. Instead Toyota went forward with a new car styled like the EX-1, a 2000GT-based concept shown at the 1969 Tokyo motor show. This car arrived at the 1970 Tokyo show as the Toyota Celica, a name derived from the Latin word for “celestial.” It went on sale in America the following summer as the 1971 Toyota Celica ST. Some 17,572 examples were sold in the United States.

Just as the Chevy II and the Ford Falcon provided the basis of the Camaro and the Ford Mustang, respectively, the humble Toyota Carina sedan provided the Toyota Celica’s rear-wheel-drive chassis, and a 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine made 108 hp. The Celica became even more Mustang-like with the fastback-style 1976 Toyota Celica Liftback, a far better expression of the Mustang look than the Pintoderived Ford Mustang II.

The very early example of the 1971 Toyota Celica ST pictured below—the thirteenth built for the U.S. market—is owned by Joji Luz, who acquired it from his close friend Tony Vergara. Luz’s ToyGarage in Los Angeles is known for collectible Toyotas, and Luz himself has been a force behind the Japanese Classic Car Show, the best display of such cars in the United States.