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When less was more – selling the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Vintage advertisements courtesy Lov2XLR8.no.

Introduced for the 1967 model year, Chevrolet’s Camaro was designed to go head-to-head with the phenomenally successful Ford Mustang. By the Camaro’s third-year on the market, it was doing an admirable job of closing the sales gap, thanks in part to consumer advertising that relied primarily upon images to deliver the sales pitch.

Above, we see the Camaro — specifically a Camaro SS with the RS package, per Chevrolet’s ad copy — staged artistically in front of a Corvette Stingray, with the title, “Camaro and company.” Even without reading the copy, the message is clear: Perhaps a Corvette is a stretch for your budget, but the Camaro is still a desirable performance car, at an attainable price. In fact, the longing gaze cast by the model on the Corvette’s nose seems to indicate she’d rather have the Camaro.

In 1969, the Corvette carried a base price of $4,781. As pictured, the well-equipped Camaro would have priced at $3,428.55 ($2727.00 for the base V-8 coupe, $311.75 for the Z27 SS package, $131.65 for the Z22 Rally Sport package, $42.15 for the VE3 body color front bumper, $110.60 for the Z87 Custom Interior, $84.30 for the Parchment vinyl roof, and $21.10 for the wheel trim rings) which translates to $23,924.37 today. That’s not even enough for the entry-level 2019 Camaro, which starts at $25,995 and comes powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.

For those wanting the maximum performance from the Camaro SS’s 300-horsepower, 350-cu.in. V-8 (and unable to step up to the optional 396-cu.in. V-8 or the COPO-only 427), the above ad pitched the Super Scoop as an option. The throttle-activated cowl-induction hood, option ZL2, added $79.00 to the sticker price, and though the ad claimed, “You step on the gas, it steps up top end power,” Chevrolet avoided any specific numbers on increased output.

Other buyers wanted a Camaro that was fast in more than just a straight line, and to meet homologation requirements for the SCCA’s Trans-Am Series, Chevrolet developed the Z/28 package, named for its option number. In April 1969, the $506.60 package included a 302-cu.in. V-8, rated at an extremely conservative 290 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque; a special front and rear suspension; heavy-duty radiator and temperature-controlled fan; quick-ratio steering; 15×7-inch wheels with E70x15 white-letter tires; front and rear spoilers; and Z/28 badging and paint stripes on the hood and rear deck. Selecting the package also required ordering a tachometer (for $52.70) or the Special Instrument package (for $94.80); a four-speed manual transmission ($195.40 for the M21 close-ratio box with Hurst shifter); and power brakes with front discs ($64.25) or four-wheel disc brakes ($500.30). A Positraction rear differential was recommended (and required with four-wheel disc brakes), adding another $42.15 to the bill.

All-in, one could order a Z/28 for as little as $3,545.95, but doing it right with the full instrumentation, four-wheel disc brakes and Positraction rear raised the price to $4,066.25. The blurred-image ad seen above was all the effort that Chevrolet needed to throw at selling the Z/28, since Penske Racing was delivering all the press the car needed. Mark Donohue won six of the Trans-Am season’s 12 races in his Camaro Z/28, while teammate Ronnie Bucknum earned two more wins for Chevrolet. Sales of the Z/28 package reached 20,302 units in 1969, a number unmatched until the 1978 model year.

Chevrolet sold a total of 243,085 Camaros in 1969, compared to Ford’s 300,000 Mustangs. For Chevrolet, the number was a record, eclipsing the 235,147 Camaros sold in 1968 and setting the stage for the second-generation Camaro, which arrived in February 1970. It would take until 1977 for the Camaro to beat the Mustang in sales, 218,853 to 153,173.