XP-836 was the designation for the very first Camaro design. It was a four seat sporty coupe that would share an all-new platform with the 1968 Nova X-body.
Chevrolet General Manager E.M. "Pete" Estes setting off the Camaro explosion, September 21, 1966
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 proto type 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.
June 1962 clay model of the XP-836
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.