Mustang - v - Camaro

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American cars used to be something of a joke so far as Europeans were concerned, when bulbous and (to us) ugly styling concealed dreadful inadequacies in suspension and braking. But then, they were believed to satisfy the conditions in the States and who were we to argue ? Gradually the influence of imported cars began to be felt, producing first the “compact” Detroit-built lines and now a new and very exciting range of semi-sporting models. If Volkswagen and Porsche inspired the Chevrolet Corvair, the first U.S. “compact” (it has its power unit in the tail), then the Ford Mustang must have been inspired by the popularity of Jaguars, and the success of this handsome challenger is seen in a production of well over a million vehicles within two years of introduction. Then at the Paris Show last October Chevrolet replied with the Camaro, even importing stylists to mould plasticine models before the approving gaze of visitors.

Both the Mustang and the Camaro bridge the gap, which has steadily narrowed, between American and European ideas of a good-looking car. Both are strikingly extrovert in appearance, attract admiring glances wherever they are seen, and are hard to fault on aesthetic grounds. Equally, they offer a very poor overall length/ passenger-carrying ratio and are clearly defined as packages of styling and performance (i.e. crumpet-catchers) rather than family transport. Neither car corners adequately on wet roads and in both cases the rearward and three-quarter rear vision is extremely poor, rather encouraging a careless or tired driver to back-up until he hears a crunch.

We are .getting a phobia in Britain about ” badge engineering ” and not without reason as more and more famous makes merge their identity in a common bodyshell, but if the exercise is carried out properly practically every car made could have a slightly different identity, for the combination of options in these American catalogues is virtually endless.

Because we most often see Mustangs on the race circuit we generally regard them as brutally powerful cars, yet the basic model is a mere 3.3 litres contained in a 6-cylinder unit, developing 120 gross horsepower. Then you could order a 4-litre “six” (150 b.h.p.), a 4.7-litre V8 developing 200, 225 or 271 b.h.p. to choice, or the 6.5-litre Thunderbird V8. developing 320 b.h.p. Having chosen one of three bodystyles—convertible, fastback 2+2, or hard-top—there are 114 different options to consider including disc brakes, 4-speed manual or Select-Shift Cruise-O-Matic automatic, “rally suspension”, limited slip differential, power steering, different axle ratios, special instruments, different seats and so on.

In like manner, General Motors offer the sports saloon or convertible Camaro with a choice of engines ranging from a 3.8-litre in-line six developing 140 or 155 b.h.p., a 5.5-litre V8 developing 210 or 275 b.h.p., to the 5.7-litre Turbo-Fire SS350 unit giving 290 b.h.p.; 3 or 4-speed manual transmissions or 2-speed Powerglide automatic, limited slip differential, heavier road springs, wide-rim wheels, power steering and many other items are optional, but the front ventilated disc brakes are standard equipment on the most powerful SS350 version—ten years later, the message has got through !

The Mustang and the Camaro have integral construction, but depart in opposite directions from previous practice; the Mustang’s shell is carried on a platform chassis which supports the engine, transmission and running gear whereas Chevrolet, who have in recent years favoured the perimeter frame, eschew the principle in favour of fully-integral construction with sub-frames carrying the suspension and power unit. Although it is six inches wider overall (77 in.) and an inch longer at 15 ft. 4.7 in., the Camaro is a full 3 cwt. heavier in kerb weight (29.4 cwt.) so obviously the new construction has not brought about any theoretical saving in pounds.

Of the two cars, the Mustang feels as though it has the edge on torsional stiffness, indicating as we already felt that there is not much Fords have to learn about combining lightness with stiffness, but on the other hand the suspension on the Camaro is so superior that the Chevrolet ends up with a definite advantage. Both have quite conventional hypoid axles, that of the Mustang located and suspended by fore-and-aft 4-leaf springs and inclined damper units, while the Camaro adopts what is, to us, a revolutionary feature of a Mono-Plate single-leaf longitudinal spring on each side securely anchored to a sub-frame. In both cases, front suspension is the normal double wishbone with vertical coil-spring/damper units.

Extremely heavy insulation and sound-damping is common to both cars, with entire success, yet the two road-test models had an uncommon number of squeaks, groans and rattles in the bodywork which suggest that stiffness is not, perhaps cannot be, up to the normal standards expected of European cars, so if we want sales points for our cars in the U.S. market, there is one to start with.

From the viewpoint of practicality, especially in town conditions, the Mustang scores more points overall. Going from the Camaro to the Mustang provided a sort of relief that the Ford was six inches narrower and felt it in traffic; moreover the Chevrolet had provided the stylist but no-one else with pleasure in pronounced bulges in the wheel-arches which raise the heartbeat slightly when threading through a 6 ft. 6 in. gap ! Since both cars are nothing more than 2+2 there seems little point in providing so much more room than even two heavyweight wrestlers could need to accommodate their shoulder physique. Again, the Mustang is distinctly a better bet for teenage children sitting in the back—for all occupants, the Mustang had softer, more comfortable seats which offered better location in fast travel, although to look at the two interiors it would be hard to decide which one was going to be better.

The interiors were less gaudy than one sometimes sees, unless one likes acrylic plastic and red-plastic steering wheels. Predominant colours were black for upholstery, carpeting, facias and instrument faces, equally striking in the white Mustang and the gold-and-black Camaro. Comparison between the two cars is invidious since they were carrying options in no way comparable—the Mustang had a 4-speed floor shift and a basic selection of instruments in front of the driver, while the Camaro had Powerglide transmission (again with a sturdy floor lever) and extra instruments mounted on a sub-panel on the centre console where they were hard to read at a glance. Very deeply recessed, the speedometer and rev-counter on the Camaro had rather pointless conical-shaped plastic protection which did no good or harm for their legibility. The Chevrolet had much better positioning for minor controls, especially the heating and ventilation system which worked amazingly well; that on the Ford was less easy to sort out and we could not rid ourselves of a cold draught on the ankles. With its steeply raked rear window, the Mustang had great need of the optional demister, which was a welcome piece of standard equipment on the Camaro. The fastback Ford has, however, sliding ventilators in the rear quarters which ought to demist in time but failed to at London traffic speed. The Camaro also had rapid but noisy power-operated windows, an effective handbrake, power-assisted steering, and a Positraction (Salisbury) limited slip differential, none of which did the Mustang. Both models did have splendid under-bonnet accessibility, alternators to provide the electrical charge, and surprisingly little luggage accommodation in the boot, although the rear seats of the Mustang fold flat when not in use to give extra space.

From this point we had better diversify, since the cars differed in many ways. The tax-paid price of the Chevrolet in Britain is £2,558 including automatic or 4-speed transmission, power-assisted disc brakes, limited slip differential, power-assisted steering, tilt steering wheel, heater, de luxe interior trim, “rally sport equipment,” and a 5.4-litre V8 engine, to which we add £118 for the more powerful 5.7-litre engine, £44 for the special instruments, £54 for the electrically-operated windows, and then some for the radio and vinyl-covered roof, bringing the total to £2,858.

With the SS350 engine comes heavier suspension, 11 in. disc brakes, concealed headlights with electrically-operated sliding covers and a few more bits and pieces to make the car look different, including a black-painted nosepiece. Our particular car had the lowest axle ratio available, 3.73, which limited the maximum speed to 96 m.p.h. indicated before running the rev.-counter deep into the red above 5,000 r.p.m. Harnessing that much power to that drive-train produces phenomenal results which had passengers complaining of strain to their neck muscles, and the car was really the ultimate in road-going dragsters. The Camaro would easily keep up with an E-type to 100 m.p.h., after which you would have to let the Jaguar go or face a serious repair charge for the engine. With a high axle ratio, however, there is little doubt that the Camaro would exceed 120 m.p.h. comfortably and sacrifice no practical advantage in acceleration.

The point about this sort of performance is that it is all so easy with automatic transmission. Far from being converts so far as small cars are concerned, there seems little point in inducing three lurches and breaks in the power flow in order to change gear when, simply by pressing the little pedal on the right, the Camaro can start from rest with its tyres smoking and maintain the most exhilarating acceleration up to 100 m.p.h., with an almost unnoticed upward change from Low to High at 60 m.p.h. when, with the lever in Drive position, the engine is permitted to run right up to 5,000 r.p.m. before the change. At 60 m.p.h. the lever can be notched back to Low to let the engine assist braking, though it was hard to get a smooth change with power off, and to avoid screeches from the back tyres we accelerated slightly while moving the lever.

While all this is happening there is but a remote and subdued power noise rather like a vacuum cleaner in the next room or, more realistically, being in a jet airliner on the runway. One can get very attached to this sort of performance and we can understand why anyone not a dedicated driver might prefer it to the clamour and vivacity of a real sports-car (especially when it adds up to half of the price in the States). The fuel consumption can be dragged as low as 12 m.p.g., but on a more leisurely run the consumption is around 17 m.p.g. When treated quietly, the Camaro makes completely imperceptible changes up at 15 m.p.h. (you have to watch the rev-counter carefully) and is as near to silent as you may get on smooth roads, though there is a little road roar on coarse surfaces. This performance is nothing but frightening if the car does not stop or steer properly, and we are getting to the reason why American cars are so much better these days. With disc brakes both the Camaro and Mustang matched up with our accepted standards in stopping, though as the Editor remarks the Camaro’s brakes can become a bit lumpy when hot.

General Motors like really fierce brakes—drive a Vauxhall or an Opel if you don’t believe us—and in town the Camaro’s brakes were too fierce if anything, especially when cold. The first time we tried them at speed, fresh from another car, we momentarily locked all four wheels at 90 m.p.h., so while recommending the system we would advocate care and experience when driving in the rain. Despite the limited slip differential and six-inch wheel rims the Camaro was anxious to accelerate sideways the moment dew settled at night so in this department anyway the Americans have some more homework to do.

On dry roads, the cornering power is surprisingly good. A bit of a handful on tighter turns, developing a rolling tail-out attitude under power, the Camaro takes fast bends in comfort with a very limited amount of roll. It understeers right up to maximum speed and needs careful setting-up if the driver is enterprising, or else the understeer can develop rather alarmingly, but considerately driven there are no untoward tendencies. The ride factor is good—the Chevrolet does not float on undulating surfaces, is somewhat harsh on bad surfaces as one would expect, and practically boulevard on main roads. Mentioning the steering last, it has almost gone from one extreme to the other as it is ultra-light and very high geared too, having a 20:1 ratio giving 3-1/2 turns from lock to lock. Only recently we drove a Pontiac GTO from the same stable, having ultra-light and low-geared steering which seemed quite unnecessary. With the Camaro, it is still possible to go from lock to lock at rest with one finger pushing the spoke of the steering wheel, and on the move a new driver has to overcome a tendency to turn the wheel too much.

Soon after stepping from the Camaro into the Mustang we had to analyse some mixed feelings The Ford we tested was equipped with the 4.7-litre V8 engine developing 225 b.h.p. It had power-assisted disc brakes at the front, six-inch rim wheels shod with a new pattern of Firestone Super Sport tyres, 4-speed manual shift, heavy-duty export suspension (standard equipment for this country) and a good many extras to do with appearance, safety and comfort.

We were immediately impressed by the greater comfort of the seats both front and rear, and thought that the interior was marginally better finished as it looked more expensive, though it lacked the range of instrumentation. It was, however, noisier in respect of engine and gear train sound, though still reaching a very high standard by our home-bred levels.

Unfortunately the Mustang we tested was not only giving away 65 quoted horsepower but it was pulling a very high axle ratio which meant that although it would attain 120 m.p.h. comfortably on the open road it was not particularly happy in town, requiring a lot of revs to make sure of a clean start—not always recommended on wet roads. Also, just to get our grumbles done with, it had not got power steering so at town speed we had to accustom ourselves to much slower, heavier response to the wheel; at speed, we preferred the Mustang’s steering and would have liked it a bit higher-geared, with some servo at low speed—that should not be impossible.

Both these American cars started well with automatic chokes and power units ran with creamy smoothness up to maximum revs. Accelerating the Mustang may not have been so exhilarating but it was certainly adequate, and by rough reckoning it would reach 100 m.p.h. in about 30 seconds. As we tested the car it cost £2,569 so it should match the Camaro’s cost as the options are added on, and no doubt had we driven a Mustang with a 271 b.h.p. engine, power steering and automatic transmission the reckoning would have been much closer.

Despite its power ” deficiency ” the Ford is a lighter car, so a more suitable axle ratio would have pleased us better and given closer comparison for performance. The gearbox is quite excellent, providing an unbeatable change at any speed with precision, and the sturdy lever endorses an impression that the box is built to last for ever.

Accelerating hard, the 1967 Mustang impressed us more than earlier examples (admittedly with 271 b.h.p.) in that it did not steer to the left as torque reaction wound up the rear springs and moved the axle (producing a sharp opposite reaction when the clutch was dipped for gear-changing), so presumably the axle is better located now. The Mustang’s suspension is stiffer than that of the Camaro but it feels less well damped, and directional stability on any but the best surfaces is not quite so good. In fact the Mustang was quite badly deflected, right down to walking pace, by ridges in the road, and at speed the stability becomes questionable when the body floats on the springs over a hump.

We formed a preference for the Mustang’s braking system, a bit heavier and more positive and quite fade-free so far as we could tell. Both cars had adequate but not excellent lighting, and the Mustang was distinctly more economical, returning from 14 to 20 m.p.g. according to one’s style of driving, but again this is probably due to lower power and higher gearing.

When the two cars were matched for the first time at Daytona our correspondent remarked that the Camaros were visibly better through the turns, and this was our opinion in everyday use. The Mustang has more practical body styling and better static comfort, but the Camaro is more “roadable”, especially at speed, and quieter. Neither car is trustworthy on slippery roads but this seems to be the only outstanding problem of any magnitude. Both the Ford and the Chevrolet now appear to be complementary to our range of cars in Britain, by virtue of their pricing and despite the fact that they are only made with left-hand drive. They must undoubtedly make it more and more difficult to sell European sports cars in America unless there are new ranges of 5 and 6 (even 7) -litre engines on their way from Coventry, Abingdon and Newport Pagnell.—M. L. C.

***

Postscript:

Before handing over the Chevrolet Camaro to a colleague for its comparison with the Ford Mustang, which seemed the best way of reporting on a car lent to us for appraisal but not for full road-test, I put in a full day’s motoring in it, which gave rise to the following impressions. General Motors introduced the Camaro to the S.A.E. in January, as a car “developed to provide a 4-passenger package with sports flair styling, adaptability to a range of available power trains, and sports feeling roadability,” remembering that the 2-passenger limit and high cost of the Corvette restricts the market for this “true sports car” and that the Corvair Monza in the lower price bracket has a limited power potential.

Chevrolet started the final design of the Camaro late in 1964. Early in 1965 the shape of the car became well defined and a 1/4-scale clay model was subjected to detailed wind-tunnel tests at Dallas, occupying 78 hours. Flow visualisation studies, using the inkstain method, were also conducted. The construction retains the Chevrolet separate frame and integrated body-frame, and the heater, chassis wiring and printed instrument cluster circuit follow established Chevrolet lines. Experience with the Chevy II dictated control characteristics, response using both 6.50 x 13 and 6.95 x 14 tyres being measured on a pre-test vehicle, at the Milford Proving Grounds. Because the Camaro utilises regular G.M. parts it can be built over conventional lines, mixed with other Chevrolet models. In fact, it is being built at the Norwood, Ohio and Los Angeles plants. Combining engine-transmission, steering gear, and front-wheel running gear in a unitised sub-assembly sets the Camaro apart front other cars in its class and is claimed to greatly improve quiet running. Front suspension is closely related to that of the Chevelle and rear suspension is based on that of the Chevy II, but with a shorter Mono-Plate leaf spring saving 2-1/2 lb. in weight. A Salisbury back axle is used, similar to those of the Chevelle and Chevy II.

The car we tried was the property of Mr. Guy Newton and was the sports-coupe with 350 cu. in. Turbo-Fire engine, which G.M. call a “general performance street engine”. It gains 23 cu. in. over the 327 unit by a stroke increase of 0.23 in. and has reduced-height pistons and larger crankshaft counterweights.

I have expressed the view that because American cars of this type have vast reserves of smooth power and their handling is improving all the time, when they are made to stop effectively they will become dangerous competitors of European sports and GT cars. The Camaro we drove had the optional disc front brakes and although they were a bit lumpy at times and rather sudden, they were adequately powerful and I never made them fade. The other notable aspect of this Camaro 350SS was the extreme smoothness of its Powerglide automatic transmission. Not only were changes of ratio almost imperceptible but it was never apparent that kick-down was being used to give increased acceleration. You just pressed the accelerator and there was instant smooth response, of an order which embarrassed one Jaguar E-type I happened to encounter. As to top speed, in this “wet” country it is desirable to check this on a private road where you are not overlooked by those who object to cars like Camaros being extended beyond a gentle cruising gait, but I saw 112 m.p.h. on the speedometer, momentarily, while still accelerating.

I would not have a personal Camaro because of its size for London parking, and an interior décor startling to an old-fashioned Englishman. I mean, G.M. may say the deeply-buried speedometer and tachometer with their sharply convex glasses blend with the exterior styling, but to me they have a distinctly sexual connotation, while the smaller dials down on the console before the T-handle gear selector are not all that easy to read. The power steering is rather vague but geared 3-1/2 turns lock-to-lock; factory-made r.h. control is not available. The seats were a nasty surprise, having badly shaped non-adjustable squabs, which you do not expect in a £3,000 car when Renault, for instance, make you so comfortable at less than a third of the price. The Camaro’s seats were not good enough, in my opinion, for 300 miles’ continuous driving.

The suspension felt quite hard and accentuated body rattles. The Firestone Super Sports wide-oval nylon tyres lacked grip in the wet, the tail coming round too easily, in spite of the limited-slip differential. Electric window-lifts are essential on such a wide, fast car and even the 1/4 lights were electrically operated. But they all became inoperative with the ignition off; imagine the domestic situation if they were left down, wife in the car, the driver away somewhere with the key in his pocket, and it began to rain !

The body presents quite a bad blind-spot at the rear when driving out of angled junctions. Acceleration, with nearly 300 American horses on tap, is, naturally, tremendous, even from 70 m.p.h. onwards. The bonnet has dummy ribbed valve covers apparently protruding through it and the sliding grille concealing the headlamps is clever but delays lamps-flashing, nor is there any separate flasher-control. One little lever adjusts steering-wheel tilt; another flashes all the winkers in a road-blocking emergency. I didn’t like the crash-pad above the facia, which was so high I imagined it impaired visibility. The rigid mirror with a turn-knob for rendering it anti-dazzle was appreciated, likewise the lockable well between the front seats, the proper back seats (which had their own safety-belts) and tyre pressures listed on the cubbyhole lid. All told, the Camaro is the best sports-type car from across the Atlantic I have yet experienced.

— W. B.

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