A few months ago, I was making up a presentation about infoGuide, in which I was trying to figure out how to explain the app. This has been our challenge with it from the beginning, and it’s why we made a video explaining what the app was. In that presentation, I decided to show a common use case for our app: trying to determine the model year of a car. Since this was before we had many of our own car pictures, I had to make do with the pictures I could obtain at a local car show.
Now, if you’ve not been to a local classic car show in the United States, understand that within a certain marque, there are always some models that are more collectible than others. If you go to a Cadillac show, for example, chances are you will find one or more ’59 Cadillacs.
Not because they sold very well back in the day — although for some models that is the case — but because the enthusiast community has decided that particular model, like the ’59 Cadillac, is iconic.
And, if you go to any gathering of classic-car enthusiasts, there are a few cars that are so popular you are going to see several of them, even at the smallest local show. The most popular collector car when my dad was a kid would probably have been the Ford Model A, while when I was a kid the ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air was the most common car show / cruise-in standby. Nowadays, I think the most popular collector car is the first-generation (’65-’73) Ford Mustang, followed by the first-generation (’67-’69) Chevrolet Camaro. Since I could find them easily, I decided to take some pictures of first-generation Camaros, and use that model to show how infoGuide could be used to tell them apart.
Problem was, I wasn’t the world’s foremost authority on Camaros (at least, I wasn’t then :)). I can put Cadillacs in the right chronological order for 20 or 25 years, but not Camaros. The Internet was less help than you would think. Since I now have a few more pictures in my collection, I thought I would contribute my tiny bit to the Internet’s wisdom, and show you the easiest way to tell the most iconic of classic Camaros apart.
There are only three years of 1st-gen Camaros: ’67, ’68, and ’69. Even by the end of the ’60s, American automotive styling did not move as fast as it did in the ’50s, when every model would change significantly from one year to the next. Unlike today, though, the first-generation Camaro had many detail changes from one year to the next that make it possible to distinguish one year from another, if you know what you’re looking for.
Some of them are pretty subtle, like the taillights here. If you want to really impress your friends, you can learn to spot the differences in the taillights alone. On Camaros especially they aren’t very reliable, though, since the taillights can look different based on the option package selected. Also, beware the Rally Sport option, which includes hidden headlamps on the first-generation Camaro.
But, there are more reliable methods. The first thing to look for is pretty easy to spot: vent windows.
I always thought vent windows were neat, but they were becoming old-fashioned by the late ’60s. Some fashion-forward cars like the Oldsmobile Toronado had never had them, and soon GM would eliminate them from all its cars. As it happens, the ’67 Camaro was the first, and last, Camaro to get vent windows. So, if you see vent windows on a Camaro, you can be sure it’s the oldest Camaro.
Another unique feature of the ’67 Camaro is the lack of side-marker lamps. Starting in 1968, the turn signals of US-market cars needed to be visible from the side, per Federal regulation. Before this time, an automaker was under no obligation to make sure that a car’s turn signals could be seen from the side. Some automakers did a good job integrating the side-marker lamp with the styling.
Sometimes, though, as was the case with the Camaro, the automaker just sort of pasted rectangular lights on the side of the car.
Only the ’67 Camaro lacks side-marker lamps; all other Camaros have them. Now that you can tell the ’67 from the ’68 Camaro, how can you tell whether you have a ’68 or a ’69 on your hands? When you know what to look for, you can see that the ’69 has more extreme styling than the ’68, especially in the grille and headlamps.
But, “extremely” is pretty subjective, and it’s not easy to remember. What IS easy to remember, though, is a particular styling filigree that was added to the ’69 Camaro: the quarter-panel gills.
Chevrolet added these gills for the ’69 model year, and then deleted them for the second-generation Camaro in 1970. They are so iconic that the fifth-generation Camaro (2009 and up) has a simulated version of them, intended to recall the final iteration of the first-generation Camaro. Hopefully, though, you can tell a 2009 Camaro from the 1969 version!
So, there you have it: how to tell 1st-generation Camaros apart. If you have vent windows, but no side-marker lamps, you are looking at a ’67 Camaro. If you have no vent windows, but you DO have side-marker lamps, but NO quarter-panel gills, it’s a ’68. The presence of the quarter-panel gills means a ’69. Of course, there are lots of other little differences that you can spot for yourself, but this should help you get started if you didn’t already know!