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Chevrolet Camaro turns 50

The first prototype Chevrolet Camaro was built fifty years ago this week so to mark this golden milestone, the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) has unearthed some little known facts about the iconic muscle car.

• The first pilot prototype Camaro (No. 100001) was assembled on May 21, 1966 at the General Motors Assembly Plant, located in Norwood, Ohio, a few miles from Cincinnati. Why Cincinnati?  GM produced a large share of the subsequent production Camaros at the Norwood plant and used the construction of 49 pilot prototypes to develop the assembly line and equipment needed for high volume, serial production.  The Norwood plant was not going to be the only assembly line for Camaros, however, so the company also built three pilot prototypes at their Van Nuys, Los Angeles plant.

• Ford spent years teasing the public with show cars and concepts that hinted at its anticipated Mustang. GM, by contrast, revealed nothing about the Camaro until the car's name announcement in June 1966 with its formal Detroit launch following in August 1966. Dealers had cars within a month. Boom.

• The Camaro almost wasn't called Camaro. GM brass considered dozens of names including "GeMini," Commander," and "Wildcat," until finally settling on "Panther." The company then invested over $100,000 in Panther badges only to dramatically change course just a few weeks before the debut.  "Camaro" emerged as the dark horse winner. (Photo courtesy of HVA/Phil Parrish May 2016)

• The Mustang proved that GM's small and sporty Corvair wasn't the right recipe. So GM rushed development of the Camaro, birthing the car in 36 months, virtually photocopying Ford's playbook. While the Camaro did not match the Mustang's incredible sales success — Ford sold over half a million in 1965 — GM shifted more than 400,000 Camaros in its first two years. But perhaps more importantly, the Camaro kicked off Detroit's greatest rivalry, pushing each to new heights.

• General Motors used a gold exterior and interior colour scheme for its first prototypes and kept that tradition for the Camaro. And amazingly, that gold prototype Camaro (No. 100001) still exists.

• The success of the Camaro not only represented a positive boost to General Motors' sales and profits, but also played a key role in the subsequent boom of the so-called "muscle car" market. And GM was a powerhouse muscle car maker. 

• The first Camaro is currently being exhaustively measured and documented by the HVA using the guidelines set by the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Heritage Documentation and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER). Once complete, the material will permanently reside in the Library of Congress, joining such iconic cars as the Shelby Cobra Daytona prototype, the first Meyers Manx dune buggy and one of the last surviving Futurliners. This is being done to preserve an important chapter in America's automotive heritage.

• With over one million collector car vehicles insured in the United States, Hagerty places the Camaro third in overall popularity behind the top-ranked Chevrolet Corvette and the Ford Mustang.

• To mark the 50th Anniversary of the launch in 1966, the first Camaro will go on public display in Detroit, inside the HVA's glass cube that recently featured President Reagan's Willys Jeep on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The exhibition will coincide with the annual Woodward Dream Cruise week (August 13-20). 

The HVA is dedicated to preserving and sharing America's automotive heritage, setting up the National Historic Vehicle Register in 2014. Working with the US Department of the Interior, Heritage Documentation Programs and Library of Congress, their aim is to document historically significant automobiles in America's past.