It’s a classic point of dispute among car guys going back almost sixty years: Which is best, the classic Ford Mustang or the Chevy Camaro?
The Ford Mustang versus Chevrolet Camaro is one of automotive history’s most long standing and heated rivalries. Beginning in the mid-1960s, Ford, GM, and Chrysler started catering to an audience of young car buyers eager for an exciting new breed of 2-door car, and thus began the era of pony and muscle cars.
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Though the Plymouth Barracuda beat it to market, it’s Ford’s Mustang, released midway through 1964, that gave the pony car segment its name. With over 1 million Mustangs sold in just its first two years, GM knew they needed an answer. It came in the form of the 1966 model year Chevrolet Camaro.
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These were exciting years for the Mustang and Camaro, with big sales numbers, impressive racing wins, and growing legions of newly devoted fans. GM and Ford were charting new territory to contest in their perennial rivalry. We look back to the late 1960s to answer the age-old question: which was better the first-generation pony car, the Mustang or Camaro?
Designed with young Baby Boomers as its target demographic, the Ford Mustang started out as an exciting yet affordable two-door for the masses. Debuting midway through 1964, the 1964 ½ version of the Mustang was an immediate smash hit with car buyers, selling 22,000 units in its first day alone.
Built off the Ford Falcon chassis, the new Ford Mustang would steadily grow in its first few years, gaining inches and bigger engines along the way. The initial styling of a long nose and short rear deck would be preserved, but it received plenty of exciting embellishments along the way. The introduction of the fastback design in 1967 was a popular addition to the coupe’s styling. It was this version that entered into film immortality in the Steve McQueen thriller Bullitt.
GT350: Designed by none other than Carroll Shelby himself, the GT350 was commissioned by Ford in 1965 to compete in the SCCA B-production class. A real, street-legal race car was born. The GT350 featured a Windsor 289 V8 making 271hp.
Boss 429: A NASCAR homologation, the Boss 429’s V8 was so big that Ford had to call in the engineering specialists at Kar Kraft just to squeeze the engine into a Mustang. The Boss 429 also saw silver screen stardom as John Wick’s whip in the namesake film series.
Mach 1: In response to the special performance COPO versions of the Chevy Camaro (which we get to below), Ford gave the Mustang Mach 1 aggressive new styling cues and equally aggressive engine options ranging from a 351cu. in. Winsor all the way to a beefy 7.0L CJ/SCJ V8.
Other notable special editions of the first-generation Mustang include GT500 and Boss 302.
Though the first engine in the Mustang was a puny 2.8L straight-6 engine only producing 101hp, options quickly expanded. The first-generation Mustang featured a huge selection of straight 6 and V8 engines, the largest of which was that Boss 429 making 375hp and 450lb.-ft. of torque. Most of these cars had 3- or 4-speed manual transmissions.
The Mustang was well-accepted, to say the least. Between 1965 and 1967, Ford sold over 1.5 million Mustangs. While those sales were never matched again, annual sales consistently hit six digits through the early 1990s.
Following the spectacular success of Ford’s Mustang, GM knew they needed a strong player in the newly founded pony car segment. Their answer was the Chevrolet Camaro. Like the Mustang, the Camaro was a 2-door 2+2 with a long hood and short rear deck. And like the Mustang, it was based off existing architecture, in this case the Chevy Nova’s F-body platform.
In its first year of production, in 1966, the Camaro sold over 220,000 units. Impressive, but less than half the number of Mustangs sold during that same time. Still, the Camaro was gaining plenty of its own loyal fans.
Super Sport: The legendary SS performance package added exterior striping, air inlets on the hood, dual exhaust, a revised suspension, a performance chassis, and a 350 small-block V8.
RS: The Rally Sport appearance package included revised taillights, hidden headlights, updated interior, and a bright exterior trim.
Z/28: This performance package added wide racing stripes, a 302 cu. in. V8 making 290hp, and power disc brakes. The Z/28 dominated the Trans Am racing series in 1968 and 1969, taking top honors with Mark Donohue of Penske racing behind the wheel.
COPO 9560 and 9561: These COPO (Central Office Production Order) Camaros are today considered the most powerful and coveted of all first-generation Camaros. The 9561 or “Yenko Camaro” started as modified performance Camaros designed by Don Yenko for his Chevy dealership. In 1969, he convinced GM to build COPO versions featuring a L72 427 cu. in. V8. The ultra-rare COPO 9560 featured an all-aluminum ZL-1 big-block rated at 425hp. Only 69 of these were ever built and they are consequently highly desirable collectors’ cars.
Unlike the Mustang, the Camaro was purpose built to accommodate a number of engine sizes. Though the larger displacement engines have garnered the most attention from pony/muscle car fans throughout the years, both the Camaro and Mustang were initially offered with smaller, more fuel-efficient options as well. Engines ranged from the base 3.8L straight-6 engine producing 140 hp, all the way to the 6.5L L78 big block V8 making 375hp.
The Camaro was forced to play catch up, coming into the market after other muscle cars were already well-established. Despite this, the Camaro sold over 200,000 cars per year between 1967 and 1969.
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As cool as the first-generation Camaro was, there’s really no denying the impact and raw cool factor of the first-generation Ford Mustang.
I had a 1967 6 Cyl. “Rusting” back around 1971. It was FB ,that looked , meaner than ****, but was in reality a dog & a half, of pure dog crap. Ford put in an anemic 200 CI. Six , while all the other pony cars had bigger, more powerful base engines. It was ,a slow, troublesome , heap of manure. A rattle bag, that had only 30K. Miles . The engine was tempermental , , it was an old school I 6 , that had little modern day features on it. One of the worst cars I ever owned, along with a 1984 Fiero, that I bought new. If the “Stang didn’t have a V8 , as then as now , it should be passed up. It even had Ford’s usual cheapskate approach, in every regard , with their ” sick cylinder” equipped vehicles, it had smaller brakes, & 4 lug wheels. This Mustang made me a GM fan, it was so bad.