20 minutes in this ‘69 Camaro Z/28 permanently changed my opinion on the Mustang

Why wasn’t the Camaro the king of the ‘60s?

1w ago
5.1K

According to people who are triple my age, 1969 was an incredible time to be around. It‘s the year in which The Beatles’ had their last ever public performance and it‘s also when the Boeing 747 made its debut. But something else was around in this iconic year, something which - even to this day - is unfortunately overshadowed by one particular Ford.

Born in 1964, the Mustang is one of the most popular cars in history - production actually surpassed 10 million in 2018. Throughout its lifetime, it has continued to deliver performance, style, and comfort - all in one relatively cheap, and cheerful package.

Two years after the world first saw the Mustang, Chevrolet unveiled its counterargument: the Camaro.

The Camaro came with a larger engine, bolder design and more trim options; all because it had the sole purpose of beating the Mustang. It ended up doing just that - but it wasn’t as successful. In the ‘60s, the Mustang won the sales competition by a landslide. Camaro sales for that decade didn’t even amount to half of total Mustang sales for that decade. However, after Sporting Bears gave me a ride in their 1969 Camaro Z/28, I don’t know why the Camaro lost the muscle car battle of the ‘60s.

Sporting Bears is a chartiable organisation which supports disadvantaged children by sharing their love for cars. They hold many events across the UK, at which they offer passenger rides in some incredibly unique cars - such as the Camaro I went out in at The British Motor Show. These passenger rides last roughly 20 minutes, which is more than enough time to properly experience the car you’re in. All the money Sporting Bears receives for these passenger rides is donated to charity.

What’s special about the Z/28 option, and the ‘69 model-year?

The Z/28 option was first introduced for the 1967 model year, and it gave consumers “virtually race-ready” cars. It came equipped with a 4.9-litre V8 engine producing 290 horsepower and 393 Nm of torque - according to Chevrolet.

But it turns out that these Camaros weren’t actually producing 290 horsepower. Chevrolet wanted to lower insurance and allow the Z/28 to participate in more racing classes. For this reason, the manufacturer claimed that its car produced 290 horsepower when in reality, the car was producing 360-400 horsepower, depending on how it was specced. In addition to the extra power, the Z/28 came with upgraded suspension, a four-speed manual transmission and better front brakes. Both visually and mechanically, the 1969 version is almost identical to its Z/28 predecessors. The only key difference is its all-new sheet metal body, which gives the car a much more athletic look.

Sound

After twisting its key, you are rewarded with one of the automotive industry’s most iconic soundtrack:

Play video
0:05

It’s that typical raw and dirty sound. No turbochargers or superchargers, just pure American muscle. With all old school muscle cars, their hearts are their engines - and the heart of this Camaro still beats today.

The base of this 302 cubic inch engine - despite it having been born in the ‘60s - is still used in some Chevrolets of today. Let that sink in for just a moment: this engine is so good, that it’s still being used 60 years on.

Interior

I was so overwhelmed by the sound of the car that I didn‘t actually get a chance to properly look at the interior until we were cruising down a quiet backroad - and it‘s almost a bit empty. It doesn’t have the funky colours or the intricate stitching you see in the Mustangs of its era. There isn’t even a way to tell you’re in a Camaro, unless you notice the badge located just above the glovebox. It’s by no means comfortable, it all just feels a bit drear and drab.

Originally this was, in my opinion, a bit of a flaw. The Camaro is supposed to be a car which makes you feel special, and this should be the case with the cabin - but then I realised how wrong I was. As we drove along, I realised that the Chevy’s interior designers weren’t trying to copy their competitors at Ford; they were trying to outsmart them.

Focus on the road ahead of you, rather than the pretty stitching on your doorsill - that’s the main reason the car’s interior is as bland as it is. This focus also gives you the confidence to put your foot down.

How it feels on the road

I’ll say this now to prevent others from making the same mistake as I did: do not let this Camaro’s age fool you. It might be older than a school librarian, but it still punches out 360-400 horsepower - that’s about as much as a new BMW M2. Granted, the Camaro doesn’t deliver this power as quickly as the BMW - but it somehow feels faster.

Play video
0:11

One of the reasons for this is the fact that it’s an opportunity to fully appreciate the car’s engine. Not just the sound of it, but the unique - and almost forgotten - way in which it delivers power. Modern sports cars give their power through ridiculous transmissions which force you to spend more time changing gear than doing anything else. By contrast, the Camaro Z/28 feeds its power to the rear wheels via a 4-speed gearbox - giving you more than enough time in each gear to fully enjoy the experience.

As you go through each gear, the rate of acceleration feels as if it only increases - it almost feels dangerous. Higher revs in this car don’t feel like a sign of when to change gear; it’s a warning from the car telling you that you’re going too quickly. The firm suspension also lets you feel every part of the road surface, making for an even more exhilarating experience. This firm suspension setup also allows the Camaro to beat the Mustang in the bends - but only just.

The Camaro’s steering wheel doesn’t really feel connected to anything, and moves about like a wooden fidget spinner. Moreover, as you climb to higher speeds, the cars starts to move about - it doesn’t feel at all settled on the road. Factor in its 8-9 mpg, and the Camaro now becomes a cafe which you can’t really take out on longer journeys.

However for me, none of this matters as the Camaro makes up for this in the looks department.

Looks

They say leave the best until last, and so here it is. I think that the Camaro is one of the best looking cars to have ever been styled on American soil. The design isn’t really complicated, but it just works. For me, this allows the exterior to evoke the car’s truly special on-the-road personality: raw, and simple.

The icing on the cake however isn’t the simplicity, but the perfect proportions. I’m not too sure why but there’s just something indescribably cool about having such a big engine in such a small package - its like having your own around in a V8 golf buggy.

One thing you’ll notice when in the Camaro is its astonishing ability to make everyone stop and stare. Every single person walking down the street, or driving next to us looked at the car. Sporting Bears were also offering passenger rides in supercars such as the Lamborghini Aventador, but even they couldn’t match the level of attention which the Camaro received.

I don’t think they were looking at the Camaro because of its beautiful design. Instead, I think they were amazed at the car purely because of how sparse American muscle cars are on British roads. Even if you don’t know much about cars, you know what an American muscle car is - and you also know that 99% of them live across the pond.

Although I adore the first generation Mustang, I much prefer the look of the Camaro. As mentioned, it has the perfect proportions and it isn’t overcomplicated in design - it’s just perfect.

Final Thoughts

I’ve repeatedly mentioned how I prefer the Camaro over the Mustang in this article, however I understand why the Ford has seen more success in its lifetime.

The Mustang is the same concept as the Camaro, except Ford decided to tone down the Mustang to make it more appealing to the general public. They gave it a pretty set of lights, some fancy leather, and comfortable suspension. By contrast, the Camaro received absolutely nothing; it’s a car without limits. To you or I, this may seem perfect - but to everyone else, it just seems pointless.

The Camaro is an absolute menace, reserved only for true petrolheads.

Sporting Bears

If you like the sound of this 1969 Camaro Z/28, you can experience it with Sporting Bears at one of their events. And if it’s not to your liking, you can go out for a passenger ride in another one of their 2000 cars across the UK.

At The British Motor Show last year, Sporting Bears established a strong presence by attracting an incredibly large crowd with their impressive fleet of cars. They also raised an incredible grand total of £41,029.80 for charity at this event.

The experiences themselves are called Dream Rides and will be offered at this year’s Classic Car & Restoration Show in March. In exchange for a small donation, you‘ll be able to experience a car of your choice by going out for a 10-mile passenger ride. 100% of the donations goes to the charities, it does not even contribute to the fuel costs for the cars.

You can book tickets for the NEC by clicking here, and you can read up a little more on Sporting Bears by clicking here - this link also contains information on other events at which the Bears will be present.

Join In

Comments (12)

  • Great write up as always Rahil. Thank you for the Sporting Bears promo too!

      11 days ago
  • I have changed sized several times between Camaro and Mustang for the 1960s. My favourites between the two is certain Mustang models, but my least favourites between the two is also different certain Mustang models

      11 days ago
  • One of the best things about classic muscle cars is all the engines in em even the inlines sounded good

      11 days ago
  • If you take your mind out of today’s point of view and see it from “it’s a new car” perspective, it comes down to price and marketing. The mustang was quite a bit cheaper.

    A point of contention with your article. Pretty sure Ford and Chrysler have never used a Chevy engine. 🤨 You are right tho, the bow tie Chevy came out in 1955 and ran til 2000. The current LS still uses the same formula for success in its design. Was and is a great engine!

      11 days ago
  • I have a 1969 Z28 for the last 20 years, we just finished restoring it. Where ever I drive it, people stare and give thumbs up, or wave. It is an amazing car, and I do get a little better gas mileage, I average about 13 mpg

      11 days ago
12