The Elusive Black Panther Camaro
Image: Charles Williams 2009
While Ford was fighting off the early successes of the Chevrolet Corvair and Chevy II with their introduction of the Mustang in August of 1964, GM began work on a counter-punch experimental project named XP-836. The XP-836 project directly targeted the Ford Mustang mystique and the new youth market that emerged from almost nowhere in the eyes of GM marketers. The surprising popularly of Ford's Mustang framed the XP-836 project from the very start and incorporated the "Mustang formula" in the early years of production.
In the winter of 1965, the XP-836 project turned out a prototype car based on some cobbled-up Chevy IIs. While crude, the new Chevrolet was shaping up to run well along side Ford's Pony car. Now named the "Panther", the project and the proto-types were written about in great length by the automotive press with all the excitement of a pending rivalry with the Mustang.
Given a name that the public could latch onto, the "Panther" was quickly being promoted as GM's Mustang-fighter. Sometimes called "Chevy's Mustang" the "Panther" evolved conceptually using much of the Mustang marketing formula.
Now branded with the "Panther" script and leaping-cat emblems similar to that used by Jaguar, the proto-types advanced with an outward confidence that Chevrolet's sleek new cat would be chasing down the Mustang. By early 1966, Ralph Nader was doing a hatchet job on the Corvair, and GM management sought to tone-down the image of their new car in hopes of not drawing the attention of safety crusaders with the aggressive "Panther" name.
Seeking a "clammier" image for the new car, the marketing department looked to their current line of Chevrolet monikers, the Corvair, Corvette, Chevelle, and Chevy II for inspiration. Desiring another "C" name brand, merchandising manager Bob Lund and GM Car & Truck Group vice-president Ed Rollert poured through French and Spanish dictionaries and came up with "Camaro". Meaning, "warm friend", the new name offered GM an excellent label to compliment the current Chevrolet line and introduce their new car with a much tamer image. Though the "Camaro" name was replacing the various project names the car had been developed under, outside the company some controversy over the meaning of the new name was causing a potential image problem for the new car. In an unprecedented national conference call with some 200 journalists, GM released the " warm & friendly" Camaro name to the public ahead of the cars introduction to dealer showrooms. The effort was successful in quashing any "image killing" interpretations of the new Camaro moniker.
In 1967, amidst the phenomenal success of the Ford Mustang, General Motors pulled off a sensational introduction of the Chevrolet Camaro by delivering over 212,000 units to dealer showrooms that year. Keeping in fashion with the Mustang formula, the Camaro was offered with a laundry list of options at both the factory and dealer level. Camaro customers could custom build their own car with a host of options previously only available on Chevrolet's higher-line models.
Desiring the same custom performance treatments being offered by Shelby America for the Mustang, Camaro enthusiasts looked to the dealerships in hopes of finding these performance options. Happily, the folks at Toronto-based Gorries Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealership answered the call to incorporate their race knowledge into the new Camaro. The result was the "Black Panther" Camaro.