Late in 1966, just as Ford’s Mustang was announcing its first face-lifted version, Chevrolet finally made it to market with a rival model.
Despite giving the Mustang almost three years’ start in their sales race, Chevrolet’s ‘pony’ car didn’t offer any huge design advantages or performance benefits over the Ford so the buying decision in many instances came down to price.
On the North American market a base-model Mustang coupe with two-barrel ‘289’ engine, automatic transmission and power disc front brakes listed at $2766.80. A similarlyequipped Camaro cost $2854.10 but that included the larger 5.3-litre ‘327’ V8.
Putting all of that into perspective, a 1967 Holden HR Special with six cylinders, three-speed manual transmission and drum brakes would cost an Aussie new car buyer $2517.
Needless to say the first Camaros to appear as feature cars in the windows of large metropolitan Holden dealerships attracted big crowds and sold quickly. More shipments followed and first-generation Camaros can still be found in the local market. Those available seem quite evenly divided between RHD conversions and those that have remained LHD with minimal difference in value.
Camaros imported as brand new cars were usually the top-spec RS or SS models. These came with V8 engines and were always loaded with extras intended to attract upmarket buyers who would then be less concerned when RHD conversion added 40 per cent to the price of the basic car.
The 327 engine was commonly seen here in big Chevrolet Impalas and the Canadian-sourced Pontiac Parisienne. It would also power the HK GTS Monaro that brought Holden a maiden Bathurst 500 victory in 1968 so it didn’t struggle at all to ensure the Camaro would keep its nose ahead of most contenders for traffic-light supremacy.
Whereas the Australian arms of US carmaking’s ‘Big Three’ were very early adopters of disc brakes, the parent companies refused to fit anything but drums as standard even to cars that were quite fast. Front discs were accordingly optional on every Camaro except the very scarce Z28.
The majority of 1967 cars in the our latest sample were modified to some extent and at the lower end of the market this isn’t going to influence value. Significantly altering a Z28 or big-block RS/SS will have an effect so these should be authentic wherever possible.
A minor restyle for 1969 brought sculpted style lines to the Camaro’s flanks, giving the cars a longer and lower appearance. A new grille and tail-lights enhanced the change but there was no mistaking the transition that was in progress and which would see the Camaro of the 1970s become a more substantial and conservative car.
Among the small-block models, an SS will generate 25 per cent more money than a base model but less than the scarce RS/SS. These with 396 cubic inch engines and in outstanding condition can exceed $100,000. Base-spec convertibles with 327 engines and in good condition can be found for $60,000.
Camaros suffer disproportionately from rust and if you choose a neglected car the costs of replacing damaged panels will be significant. However the market is wellsupplied with restored vehicles or those that have spent most of their life in Australia, providing examples that should have minimal issues with corrosion. Corroded sub-frame mounts and rear spring attachment points are critical – those and any extensive rust in the floors, rear quarters and front mudguard mounting points denote a car to avoid. Headlight covers as used on RS models are prone to jamming or failing to move at all. Faulty limit switches, bad earths or the door mechanism itself have been blamed.
Very few Camaros arrived here with sixcylinder engines so we will concentrate on the V8s. The vast majority of early cars will be found with 327 or 350 cubic inch engines, with upgrades to the later 400 cubic inch possible. A few in our market were built with the 6.5 litre ‘396’ but even these present no untoward maintenance issues. Clogged water passages and radiators plus a tired water pump will lead to overheating so budget for a cooling system overhaul. Oil leaks are common but rarely severe. Twospeed Powerglide automatics are the typical transmission; strong, simple and available as rebuilt units ‘off the shelf’ for $2000-3000. Fourspeed manual cars are scarce in Australia but these gearboxes are easy to repair or replace as well.
NUMBER BUILT: 220,906 (1967)
BODY: integrated body/chassis two-door coupe & convertible
ENGINE: 5354, 5733 or 6489cc V8 with overhead valves & single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 220kW @ 4800rpm, 515Nm @ 3200rpm (350 4bbl)
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h: 7.6 seconds, 0-400 metres 15.5 seconds (350 auto)
TRANSMISSION: 3 or 4-speed manual, 2 or 3-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, wishbones, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (f); live axle with semi-elliptic springs & telescopic shock absorbers (r)
BRAKES: Drum or disc (f) drum (r) with power assistance
TYRES: D70-14 crossply
The first Camaros came with a radical but unsuccessful ‘monoleaf’ singleleaf rear suspension. Problems included axle hop and springs snapping which prompted a switch by 1969 to multileaf suspension. Early cars can be retro-fitted with the heavier springs and staggered shockabsorber mountings, Front suspension issues are confined to sagging springs and disintegrating rubber bushings. Hardly any V8s in our market will still be running front drum brakes and those that are should be candidates for a conversion. Kits of parts alone cost around $2500 so consult a brake specialist to determine the labour component before signing for an all-drum car.
Camaro seats even when new were flat and not especially comfortable. One that hasn’t been recovered or repadded in 50 years will feel like a park bench and might have issues with the metal frame as well. New foam and covers are available exUSA but check local prices as well due to freight charges on imported parts. Seat backs can twist and locking mechanisms fail. Check window winders as the mechanism can bind through lack of use. Electrical issues are rare because these cars generally lack the power windows, seats and even airconditioners that were common in larger US products. Be wary of convertible tops that creak or shudder when being opened or closed.
(SS327 Coupe) FAIR $20,000
(Note: concours cars will demand more)