The Mustang vs Camaro rivalry is timeless. It’s to automotive performance what Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed are to cinematic history, a competitive match made in heaven. This fist fight has resulted in fierce division among loyalists the past five decades. Even though enthusiasts may be pitted against each other, it’s only temporary. Competition is always at its finest once the lights flash or the flag drops. The kind that’s true pedal to the metal, gloves-up action. Spectators recognize they’re in the midst of a classic face off. And that’s a uniting bond no matter what side of the winner’s circle a gear head lands.
The truth of the matter is our industry and its wild fan base have benefited immensely from such an exhilarating rivalry. We have classic pride to thank for decades of wheel-to-wheel excitement. After all, the legendary feud was fathered by a macho Camaro. This pony car entered the scene like a street kid who was pissed off at the world with a score to settle, holding a canister of gasoline in one hand and a lighter in the other. The next 50 years marked unbelievable advances in horsepower, Trans-Am racing showdowns and drag-night competition.
“I think its 50 years of longevity in this segment is what makes the Camaro so special. Some of us are fortunate to remember the early Camaros of our childhood. It’s been in our blood ever since. The retro styling of the current generation differentiates it. Ford and Dodge/Chrysler have done well with similar styling. But I think Chevrolet really knocked it out of the park,” added Scott Luff, a Keystone sales associate and lifetime performance enthusiast.
Mustang Ignites Pony Wars
The pony wars started back in the mid-60’s when the infamous Blue Oval crown launched its thoroughbred Mustang. It was an affordable, compact, highly-stylized car with a sporty, performance-oriented image.
Fifty plus years later and the Mustang is still as American as hell, commented Road and Track writer AJ Baime. “On April 17, 1964, Lee Iacocca and Henry Ford II unveiled the car at the New York World’s Fair. Across the nation, a sales frenzy erupted. About 22,000 orders came in the first day. In Garland, Texas, the car sold out so fast, the last one had to be auctioned off, and the winning buyer slept overnight in his Mustang until his check cleared the next day,” he said.
“Two weeks after the launch, Ford Motor Company posted an all-time monthly sales record. Sales could’ve been higher, Iacocca told the Wall Street Journal, if the company could only build the cars faster. By the end of the year, Ford could claim $1 billion in Mustang sales, $224 million contracted out in parts business for the car, and 18,000 jobs added. Even the new Mustang sunglasses were flying off the rack,” continued Baime.
Camaro Pours Gas on the Fire
It was April 1965 when rumors swirled among press members that Chevrolet was preparing a viable competitor to the Ford Mustang. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Chevrolet general manager Pete Estes held a live press conference in Detroit’s Statler-Hilton Hotel on June 28, 1966. Here he unveiled the development of the now classic Camaro. Estes’ tongue dripped with sarcasm when asked the origin of such a name. “It’s a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs,” he replied.
The introduction of the Camaro was the first growl of a back-alley dogfight that would span generations. Chevrolet always claimed various iterations of the Camaro dated back to 1963 under the code name XP-836. That technically predates the release of its arch rival. But most take the vehicle launch at face value and acknowledge its release as a sucker punch to the original pony. Edmunds went as far to state, “It was a blatant GM rip-off of the Ford Mustang.” The 1967 Camaro met the Mustang in terms of performance, looks and handling, yet Ford continued to dominate the sales charts for a decade.
Classic Camaro Inspires at the Track
Rip-off or not, the Camaro continues to reign on the streets and at the track. The NMCA is the premier muscle car drag racing series for street and sportsman racers, a sweet spot for the rival showdown. “The Camaro is the working man’s muscle car packed with upgrades. Chevy’s made significant advancements with each generation, from sleek looks to high performance. We’re not going to have a year go by that a Camaro isn’t in the hunt for a championship. It’s amazingly popular in the US and Canada. And we see the embers glowing red in a few hot beds like NY, NJ, FL, MI, TX, OH, GA and parts of IL like Chicago,” said Steve Wolcott, President and CEO of ProMedia Inc.
Well-respected racers like the daddy-daughter duo of DeWayne and Kallee Mills, along with the Hackelton-Rounsaball clan, live for the smell of burned fuel and hot rubber. They stand by the Camaro as their beast of choice to face an equally-impressive wolfpack of muscle cars, namely its arch nemesis Mustang.
“These racers are true competitors at heart and this is their form of entertainment. They opt for a muscle car instead of a bass boat. We’re a family of racers here and have a dedicated body of fans. The diversity at an NMCA race is incredible, from nostalgic super stockers to street outlaws. But there is no greater competition than the Camaro and Mustang platforms. And it’s really unique to NMCA because we have the diversity of old and new. This age-old rivalry is door-to-door, neck-and-neck. They have die-hard followers that have fueled generational racing like we’ve never seen,” he continued.
Ronnie Hackelton, his son-in-law Kevin Rounsaball and 22-year-old granddaughter Haley Rounsaball bleed GM and are a prime example of generational dominance. Hackelton, who began drag racing back in the 60’s, returned to the racing scene with modern muscle force after a decades-long hiatus. He started in the fifth generation/EFI class for the Chevy Performance Series (LSX)/NMCA and eventually moved over to the Crate Engine Class within LSX, scoring a championship with his prized Camaro.
Racing runs deep in their blood line. Granddaughter Haley Rounsaball, the newest member of the family-racing clan, is itching to make a big name for herself as well. Rounsaball entered the street racing circuit three years ago, starting at local tracks where most racers earn their stripes. It wasn’t long before she entered NMCA/LSX competition. Rounsaball ran Hackelton’s Corvette for one year. Then she switched to a Camaro, feeling comfortable enough behind the wheel to snag a Street King badge of honor with a follow-up second place finish this season.
Retro is Rockin’
DeWayne and Kallee Mills prefer to smoke the competition retro style. “Mention the name ‘Mills’ in the small-tire, radial-racing world and people immediately think of ‘Big Daddy’ DeWayne Mills, pilot of the infamous, record-setting ‘68 Chevy Camaro known as ‘The Golden Gorilla.’ This year, though, a second Mills has started her rise through the ranks and it’s none other than DeWayne’s very own daughter, Kallee – two Mills’, two near-matching Camaros and quite possibly two championship-winning racers is what we might see in 2017,” said Ainsley Jacobs, who penned Family Matters in a recent issue of Race Pages.
And don’t worry, the rivalry is alive and well on the vintage Trans Am circuit too. “Camaros vs Mustangs are a common sight during these events. (They strut their capabilities) racing at historic tracks such as Watkins Glen, Lime Rock, Laguna Seca and Sears Point,” said Camee Edelbrock, daughter of living legend Vic Edelbrock, longtime racer and Director of Marketing at ProMedia Inc.
Camaro Sits Center Stage
The Chevy Camaro is unapologetically brazen with a brash attitude and fine reputation to match. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying its platform has delivered throat-punching performance for decades. Not to mention, it continues to give spectators front-row seating to a first-class showdown against the adored Mustang.
“While the cars would jockey for the title over the intervening years, the real winners all along were the enthusiasts. Competition, as ever, improved the breed, with cars that now boast more power and performance than ever could have been imagined some five decades ago,” said Car and Driver.
Over the next few months, we plan to show you just how much the Camaro has improved the breed. Join us as we take a step back in time and reminisce the wonder years to commemorate the 50th badge of honor.