Source: Edmunds.com / By Ken Gross
Camaro vs. Mustang: A Test of Endurance
Ford's got a problem: It just can't supply all the new Mustangs people want. Forget incentives, eager buyers are cheerfully paying well over sticker. Dealers are even offering cars on eBay. High demand for the new convertible is exacerbating the situation.
The Mustang's a kick to drive and its price is so reasonable — try $25 grand for a 300-hp, V8-powered GT — that more buyers than anticipated are opting for the V8s vs. V6s. Ford is cranking up production; it initially expected to sell 100,000 units; now it'll produce at least 192,000 in Year One. And it'll sell 'em all.
Naturally, Ford's got even bigger plans. The company just announced plans to produce a torrid 450-hp, 5.4-liter Shelby GT500 in conjunction with performance legend, Carroll Shelby. It will bow in summer 2006, for an estimated $40K. Those cars won't gather dust, either. We understand SVT is looking at reviving other great names like Mach 1 and Bullitt. There's probably no end to what Ford can (and will) do with the Mustang….
Remember the Camaro?
I was driving up the New York State Thruway, North of Albany, a few weeks ago, when I was passed by a N.Y. State Police Chevrolet Camaro. They're still in service, even though Camaro production stopped several years ago. Pontiac's Firebird died simultaneously. To Bob Lutz's chagrin, his attempt to resurrect the GTO isn't going well; they aren't exactly setting sales records.
How could the General get this one so wrong?
GM was already late to the party when the first Camaro bowed in 1967. Almost three years earlier, Ford dazzled the market with its wide-appeal, sporty, multioptioned and affordable Mustang. It sold over 400,000 in the extended first model year. To GM's credit, when it finally arrived, the Camaro soon had all the flashy style and high-performance options Chevy's engineers could pack into it.
On the track, the SCCA TransAm racing series pitted soon-to-be legends like Parnelli Jones (Mustang) against Mark Donohue (Camaro and AMC Javelin) and Dan Gurney (Challenger). Racing on Sunday helped boost Monday sales, adding to the aura of these close-coupled, V8-powered, rear-drive "Pony Cars." Combined Camaro and Pontiac Firebird sales peaked at over 435,000 in 1978. Those were the days.
Like full-size pickups, V8-powered, performance-oriented pony cars were a distinctly North American phenomenon, but unlike trucks, their appeal wavered when fuel prices spiked. Youthful buyers were accident-prone, and these cars were hyperquick, so sales were always sensitive to high insurance rates. The segment narrowed as competitors like AMC foundered and the TransAm racing series came to an end.
Prices inevitably rose. The imports offered better performance, flashier styling and lower insurance costs. They intercepted younger buyers who'd never even tried the domestic offerings. Anxious to retain a strong image and hold market share, Ford did more to evolve the Mustang and widen its audience. In the 1990s, GM built a great car with the Z28 Camaro, then sat back and watched as sales eroded.
After its demise, an annoyed N.Y. Chevrolet dealer told me: "Chevy never should have cancelled the Camaro. Besides offering Corvette performance for $20,000 less, it was an icon for Chevrolet, although we didn't sell a lot of them at the end because of the high insurance cost." Why did he think the Camaro grew stale? "Chevy never woke the car up," he insisted. "You could hardly tell a Z28 from an RS. They should have made the models much more distinctive; that's what Ford did and that's why they're still selling Mustangs."
Looking back, the Mustang was an icon right from its inception. Chevy didn't anticipate the market and was slow to catch up; and as volumes shrunk, there wasn't much internal support for Camaro redesigns from GM's volume-conscious top management. The carmaker just didn't get it. So Chevrolet's performance image has waned, despite NASCAR-themed Monte Carlo SS variants (with V6s, yet). The Camaro is a model it should have kept, even if it had to shift production from St. Therese, Quebec, to say, Bowling Green, Kentucky, and share some Corvette underpinnings.
Ford was always looking for ways to inject life into its Mustangs, even on that outdated "Fox" platform. Remember the $27,000 Bullitt edition, that evoked the hot little Dark Highland Green fastback that chased (and ran down) a Dodge Charger through the hilly streets of San Francisco in Steve McQueen's classic film? The Bullitt bristled with styling cues from the 1968 original, including a raucous exhaust note, and trick five-spoke wheels that aped classic American Racing Torq-Thrust Ds. Ford made only 6,500 copies and sold every one.
This is America, so although Dodge doesn't agree for the new Charger, I think there will always be a place for hot rear-drive V8 coupes and convertibles. But just as it did with the Caprice (vs. Ford's Crown Vic), Chevrolet has quit the field. GM's accountants probably pointed to the old "business case" argument when they killed the Camaro, but curiously, Chevy launched the slow-selling, even-more-limited-appeal SSR. (The less said about the Aussie Holden-cum-Pontiac GTO, the better.)
Meanwhile, Ford did it right. It redesigned the Mustang on the Jag S-Type platform, with classic long-hood/short-deck proportions, round parking lights, fish gills around the grille, and "hockey stick" side scoops. I was standing next to Carroll Shelby at an early Mustang preview at Pebble Beach a few years ago, when Ford styling boss J Mays pulled the cover off the Mustang redesign.
"What do you think, Carroll?" I asked. "That there's my car," he said without hesitating. "Where's Jay's car?"
You know…they're both right.