I read with sadness last week that Chevrolet was planning to end production of the Camaro, introduced in 1966 to combat Ford’s wildly successful Mustang. That car, as well as the Mustang and many other followers, fueled the desire of young men to look cool in a sporty but relatively inexpensive set of wheels.
I have to admit that I was one of those testosterone-driven young men who sacrificed a lot of his paycheck to buy a Camaro when it first came out. I remember distinctly that my car payment was $67.50 per month for three years. I had a full-time job while I was a full-time student at the University of New Mexico — burning the candle at both ends — for a $75 per week paycheck that I was glad to devote to the car purchase.
My 1966 version was spectacular. It was yellow, with a yellow interior, black vinyl top, red striped tires, the Rally Sport package (a black stripe across the nose and hidden headlights) and the SS package, which included the legendary 350 cubic inch small block Chevy engine and a four-speed transmission. It also had factory fake mag wheels, which I was certain would be stolen every night I parked it. (They never got stolen, but my four-track stereo did one night when it was parked across the street from the Albuquerque Police headquarters.)
My brother teased me that the name “Camaro” was French for “loose bowels.” A friend’s mother could never remember the name and dubbed it a “Canaedra.” A work associate called it the “Yellowjacket.”
The car was based on the platform of the Chevy II, a loser in the car wars against the Ford Falcon. The chassis was pretty uninspiring and the live rear axle hopped like mad and made the entire car shudder when you tried to do a burnout.
It wasn’t my first car. My first was a 1943-45 Ford-built surplus World War II Jeep, which had been brush-painted blue, with a yellow T-stripe of duct tape which I had applied to make it look cool. I wrote in an earlier blog about the many misadventures I had in that Jeep. I wish I still had it.
My next car was a real dog — a 1960 black Chevrolet Corvair made infamous by Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed” expose. I broke my leg in a skiing accident at Taos and could no longer drive a standard transmission car, so my parents loaned me their bland white 1963 Chevrolet station wagon with an automatic transmission for the next six months. When it came time for my cast to be removed and return to manual transmission driving, they offered the wagon to me as a trade in on the new Camaro. I’m not sure why they did that, but I’m eternally grateful.
Had I kept the Camaro and refreshed it over the years, I’m sure it would be worth more than $100,000 today.
It’s a passing of something especially memorable in my life. It was a time when anything was possible if you had a cool car, a rewarding job, an exciting future ahead and no worries except for whether you’d remember to wake up in time for the final exam in your Political Science 352 class.