It's definitely not a small animal that eats Mustangs.
Now everyone has an idea of what the name "Mustang" means. It’s either a graceful horse running across the Great Plains or an all-American fighter plane weaving its way through hostile skies during World War II. Either way, it’s a badass image. But what about the Camaro, the Mustang's arch rival? The car has been around for almost 50 years, but how many people really know what its name means or where it came from? Chevy fanboys, this one's for you.
After the Mustang was released in 1964 the automotive press almost immediately began speculating about a competitor from Chevrolet. This car was referred to internally as "Panther," or at least that’s what the press assumed. The story took off and the Panther name stuck, although it was never a serious contender for the name of the upcoming muscle car as it would have wrecked the automaker’s "C" naming scheme. Panther would have stood out like a sore thumb next to Corvair, Chevelle, Chevy II and Corvette. Chevy was mum on the Panther project until June 21st, 1966. That day, 200 journalists from around the US were notified about an upcoming Chevy press conference.
The journalists were sent a telegram reading: "……….Please save noon of June 28 for important SEPAW meeting. Hope you can be on hand to help scratch a cat. Details will follow……………….(signed) John L. Cutter – Chevrolet Public Relations – SEPAW Secretary." That’s the type of message a serial killer sends to a newspaper. It’s cryptic and creepy. Damn, the 1960s were a strange time. The next day a follow-up telegram was sent. This one explained the meaning of SEPAW, aka the Society for the Eradication of Panthers from the Automotive World. Yes, Chevy finally addressed the Panther name publicly. It also said that Chevrolet president Pete Estes would be hosting the press conference from Detroit's Statler-Hilton Hotel.
But journalists didn’t need to physically be in Detroit to attend the presser. Chevrolet had set up a conference call, so to speak, linking hotel meeting rooms in 14 different cities to the Statler-Hilton. For 1966 this was an incredible feat to pull off. Microphones were installed in each hotel’s meeting room, allowing the attending journalists to ask questions in real-time. During the press conference Estes talked sales numbers, competition and then mentioned the media’s obsession with the Panther, claiming that the company had been sent angry letters by customers demanding to know more info about the car. He then announced that a new car was indeed on the way, but didn’t give away its name.
Estes did reveal the meaning of the new car’s name, saying it was “lithe” and “graceful” and that “it suggests the comradeship of good friends.” After that, things went off the rails. He had five good looking girls each holding a letter file onto stage. Estes himself had the sixth letter, and when put in order they spelled "Camaro." Now, we’re not so sure about the last part of this story, but the Camaro name was definitely revealed that day. But what does it actually mean? Camaro was reportedly one of 2,000 options and was said to mean "Friend, pal or comrade" in an archaic French-English dictionary. OK, that could be it as the name kind of does sound French...we think.
When journalists asked what the name meant they were reportedly told that the Camaro was "a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs." Obviously there’s no such thing as a horse-eating animal called the Camaro. So is the name actually French or did it originate elsewhere? As it turns out Camaro isn’t a French word. Chevy just made it up because it sounded cool. Seriously. While that may be deflating to some fanboys, they can take comfort knowing that the official announcement of the Camaro was incredible in more ways than one.