Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'69 Camaro - 40 Years of Cool

Generations of enthusiasts have grown up with the Camaro - and there are literally hundreds of thousands running around the streets of the world at this exact moment. And even though Ford invented the pony car segment with their Mustang (yes, some Mopar folks will argue that point) it's hard not to say Chevrolet defined the market with the Camaro.

So, yes, Camaros are popular. And the most popular of all the Camaros has to be the 1969 model. Why? IN our view, the answer is a combination of muscular good looks, proliferation (sheer numbers built), and the tremendous variety of models offered.

Let's look at looks - the '67 and '68 Camaros are undeniably good looking cars. They are clean, with classic pony car long hood and short deck proportions, and just the right amount of Coke bottle effect through the middle. The '69, though, took all that was good about the basic Camaro shape and muscled it up. Chevy designers added toughness and aggression to the body - a look that promised almost angry performance. These things simply look like muscle cars should, and when front and rear spoilers, a cowl hood and some stripes are added, well, lets just say generations of enthusiasts have signaled their agreement through buying and building thousands along those same lines.

Ok, so the cars look really cool. What else makes the '69 Camaro so special? How about sheer numbers produced. Almost 250 thousand cars rolled off the assembly lines in what was a lengthened product run for the last of the first-gen Camaro. Think about that number for a second - roughly a quarter-million examples... Obviously not all the cars produced were big-block Super Sports or Z28s, but there were plenty of those cars built, too. More importantly, lots of cars means lots of exposure and lots of ways to customize and personalize. When something is wildly popular, like the Camaro, it usually means it has staying power. Like the '69 Camaro!

One of the reasons so many cars were built and sold during the '69 model year is the wide variety of models offered by Chevy. Customers could choose from a base coupe or convertible, with L6 or small-block V8 power, or step up to a Rally Sport (RS), again in coupe or convertible form. Or, they might choose the Z/28, which featured a screaming little 302 and loads of options, or possibly an RS/Z28. If the Z/28 didn't strike the buyer's fancy, there was the legendary Super Sport, again with small-block or big-block power. Or how about a '69 Indy Pace Car replica? Hard core racers in the know could order a COPO special with 427 power. Even more hard core enthusiasts with deep pockets could order the legendary ZL1 package with a race-bred aluminum block and head 427. Need more choices? No problem, as dealers such as Yenko and Nickey and Fred Gibb and Berger and Baldwin had packages developed and ready for delivery. From mild econo-cruisers to ground-pounding big-block terrors, the 1969 Camaro offered something for everyone.

Yet another reason the '69 has thrived for 40 years is the fact that the performance, and now restoration, aftermarket has embraced the car from the beginning. Sometimes classics emerge over time - think '32 Ford - and sometimes they are evident from day one - think '55 Chevy. In the case of the Camaro, it was evident from the start. Hot rod and custom bits were being churned out before the paint was dry on the first car. This allowed owners to personalize their rides - to separate them from all the others out there. As time passed and the cars aged, the restoration market stepped up by offering a tremendous amout of stuff to restore and/or maintain them. Perhaps the ultimate expression of the '69 Camaro's overwhelming popularity is the fact that complete reproduction body shells, and virtually an entire car, can be bought. Sure, other reproduction bodies and vehicles have been built, but the first of the mass-produced muscle cars to be reproduced was the '69 Camaro. Why? Because they're still wildly popular.

For 40 years enthusiasts have bought, tweaked, hot-rodded, fixed, wrecked and loved '69 Camaros. And with the availability of all the repro stuff these days, we fully expect enthusiasts will continue to do these things for another 40 years. Hey, gasoline may not be available in 2049, but what do you wanna bet there will be an electric/hydrogen/whatever-powered '69 Camaro running around? Count on it.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.