Mustang vs Camaro: Battle of the Pony CarsLast Updated June 13, 2023 | Alison Smith
As two of the oldest and most iconic car brands, Ford and Chevy have been pitted against each other for decades. Perhaps the biggest rivalry between these automotive adversaries, though, is over the pony cars they released in the 1960s: the Mustang and the Camaro.
Keep reading to learn how the battle for the best pony car began and how the Mustang and Camaro have changed over the years. For a head-to-head comparison of the most recent Mustang and Camaro, check out our Camaro SS vs Mustang GT article.
Mustang and Camaro Generations
One of the best ways to compare these iconic cars is by their generations. However, the generations don’t line up exactly. The Mustang came out several years before the Camaro. Chevy also took a break from the Camaro after the fourth generation, so there’s a gap in production years between 2002 and 2010.
First Generation: The Rivalry Begins
When Ford unveiled the Mustang in 1964, it had a sporty look with the performance to match. Best of all, it was affordable. On the same day it launched, nearly 22,000 Mustangs were sold.
The Mustang’s overnight success led Chevy to try and counter it with a turbocharged Corvair. When that failed, they started working on their own pony car to compete with the Mustang. They called it the Camaro. Similar to how the Mustang was based on the Falcon, the Camaro was based on the Chevy II Nova.
The Camaro came out a few years after the Mustang, with the 1967 Camaro debuting in fall 1966. The Camaro was a rear-wheel-drive pony car, offered in a coupe and convertible option, just like the Mustang.
The initial cost of the Mustang was $2,368, while the Camaro cost $2,466. Despite the similar pricing, the number of sales between the two wasn’t even close. The Mustang sold 480,000 models the first year of production. The Camaro fell short of that at 220,000 models sold in its first year.
Power & Performance
The Mustang GT came out in April 1965, with two 4.7L V8 engine options that could produce 225 hp or 271 hp. In 1967, the Mustang got its first big-block engine: a 390 CID V8 with 320 horsepower.
The same year, Ford came out with the Shelby GT500 Mustang. It had a 428 CID V8 engine taken from a Police Interceptor boasting 355 horsepower. The engine was made available from the factory within a year and aptly named the Cobra Jet.
The base Camaro engine was a 230 CID straight-six with 140 gross horsepower. Chevy offered a long list of engine options, including some small-block V8s and two big-block engines. The highest output came from the L78: a 396 CID big-block engine with 375 horsepower.
The Camaro had the Rally Sport (RS) package and the high-performance Super Sport (SS) package. While the RS was mainly an appearance package, the SS models came with a 350 or 396 CID engine and an upgraded suspension. The Z28 had a 302 CID V8, designed for SCCA Trans-Am racing.
To compete against the Cobra Jet, Chevy came out with two 7.0L engines for the Camaro in 1969. There was an iron-block engine called the L72 and an aluminum block known as the ZL1.
The ZL1 had 430 horsepower and was lighter than the Cobra Jet. It was 1.5 seconds faster in the quarter-mile compared to the GT500.
GM mandated that the Camaro engine could not be bigger than 400 cubic inches in a passenger vehicle. But dealers (namely Don Yenko) were able to get around this using the Central Office Purchase Order (COPO).
The purchase order allowed dealers to use specific order codes to receive Camaros with a higher displacement engine. The COPO 9561s had the L72, most of which went to Yenko’s Chevy dealership in PA, where they became known as the Yenko Camaros.
There were only 69 COPO 9560 Camaros built in 1969 that had the ZL1 engine. The 1969 Camaro ZL1s are some of the rarest and most collectible Camaros out there.
Ford also released several special-edition Mustangs in 1969: the Boss 302, 429, and Mach 1.
Second Generation: Underpowered Pony Cars
Chevy beat Ford to the punch when it came to the second generation. The second-gen Camaro was released in 1970 and lasted until 1981. The second generation Camaro was bigger and is the only generation where a convertible was not available. The RS, SS, and Z28 were still offered. The 1971 Camaro SS with a 350 CID engine was considered one of the top 10 cars in the world by Road & Track.
The second-gen Camaro came four years earlier than the Mustang’s second generation. Although the styling of the Mustang changed significantly in 1969, the the Mustang II didn’t launch until 1974. Its design was based on the Ford Pinto.
Ford had already been working on a more economic Mustang to compete with the Nissan 250Z and Toyota Celica. There was no convertible option for the Mustang during this time either, only a notchback or hatchback.
The Oil Crisis Hits
The 1973 Oil Crisis had a huge impact on the Mustang and Camaro. Oil prices more than quadrupled after OPEC imposed an oil embargo against the U.S. Both the Camaro and the Mustang saw power reductions.
For the Mustang, there was no V8 option. The Mach I that first came out in 1969 was maintained through the second generation as the sole performance option, coming from the factory with a V6. A 302 CID V8 engine was offered for the Mach 1 in 1975, but it only produced 122 horsepower. All other Mustangs in the second-generation had a four-cylinder engine that made 89 horsepower.
As for Chevy, they dropped the big block engines from the Camaro’s lineup after 1972. By 1975, the six-cylinder base engine for the Camaro had 105 horsepower. The Camaro’s most powerful V8 engine was only pumping out 155 horsepower. But that’s still more than any engine in the Mustang’s second-gen lineup. The Camaro Z28 was discontinued but returned two years later.
Camaro Outsells the Mustang
Although the awkward design of the Mustang II was less appealing than that of the Camaro, it still outsold the Camaro 2 to 1 in 1974. 385,993 Mustang IIs sold in 1974 compared to 151,008 Camaros.
When the Z28 came back in 1977, the Camaro outsold the Mustang (218,853 versus the Mustang’s 153,173). The Camaro sold nearly 100,000 more units in 1978, the same year that the T-Top became available.
The Camaro’s second generation was its longest, lasting for 11 years before ending in 1981. The Mustang II generation was shorter, coming to a close in 1978.
Third Generation: Competition Heats Up
By the end of the 1970s, the effects of the fuel crisis had pretty much worn off. But Americans still wanted something efficient and powerful. To meet this demand, Ford introduced the new Fox Body Mustang in 1979, a few years before the third-gen Camaro came out in 1982.
Ford Switches to the Fox Platform
Ford ditched the Mustang II’s Pinto base, using the larger Fox platform for the third-gen Mustangs. The Fox Body helped the Mustang reclaim its reputation as a performance car and remains one of the most popular models. It was available as a notchback or hatchback in two trim levels.
With the new Fox Body design, the the 1979 Mustang was chosen as the official Indy 500 pace car, the first time since 1964.
The 1982 Mustang GT had the most powerful small-block V8 engine. An optional high-output 5.0L V8 was available for any Mustang, although it came at a high cost.
The Mustang SSP was released in 1982, a special-edition Mustang developed for law enforcement agencies that was lighter and faster than most police vehicles at the time. Production lasted until the end of the Fox Body generation.
The Camaro Gets Lean
After the fuel crisis, many thought that performance was dead. So much so that GM almost switched to a front-drive setup for the third-gen Camaro. But thankfully, that didn’t happen.
The 1982 Camaro sported a hatchback design for the first time. It also got a new suspension and lost 470 pounds. The Mustang was also lighter, but only by about 100 pounds.
To match Ford’s 5.0L, the third-gen Camaro also offered a 5.0L engine as well as a 5.7L V8 known as the L98. The main focus of the third generation initially was the Z28 performance model. The Sport Coupe and luxury Berlinetta trims were still offered as well.
Even though it’s 5.0L V8 engine only had 145 hp, the response and handling led to Motor Trend naming the 1982 Camaro Z28 as Car of the Year.
In 1983, Chevy added an extra cog to each transmission. The Z28 got a new High-Output 5.0L V8 engine that brought the horsepower up to 190.
The third-generation Camaro outsold the Mustang from 1982 to 1985, with the Mustang once again taking over in 1986.
The Camaro IROC-Z
Chevy introduced the special edition IROC-Z in 1985, named after the International Race of Champions. The Camaro IROC-Z had stiffer suspension and used a Tuned Port Injection system, which was the most adjustable fuel delivery system of the time. This was a big hit with gearheads, who could better control the fuel and spark levels for optimal performance.
Both the IROC-Z and Mustang SSP only came with automatic transmissions.
The SVT Cobra & Cobra R
In 1993, Ford’s Special Vehicle Team launched the SVT Cobra and Cobra R. They added over 30 horsepower to the Fox Body. The Fox Body era lasted until 1993, around the same time as the third-gen Camaro that ended in 1992.
Fourth Generation: The Turn of a Millennium
The fourth-generation Camaro and Mustang both ushered the pony car into the 21st century. The boxy designs of the 70s and 80s were replaced by sleeker, more modern lines.
The fourth-gen Camaro was released in 1993, one year before the fourth-gen Mustang. It was available as a hardtop, T-Top, or convertible. The sleek design included a fast-rake windshield and a low front end. The base models had a 3.4L V6 with 160 horsepower. The Z28 featured the LT1 V8 engine with 275 horsepower.
Chevy gave the Camaro a more aggressive front end in 1998. It sported smoother body sides and integrated wheel flares. Along with the exterior changes, the C5 Corvette’s aluminum LS1 engine became available for the Camaro.
The SN95 Mustang
The fourth-generation SN95 Mustang came out in 1994. It was longer and had a sportier appearance than the Fox Bodies. The 1994 Mustang had a base 3.8L OHV V6 engine with 145 horsepower.
Ford launched a new modular 4.6L V8 for the 1996 Mustang GT. It had a single overhead camshaft design, putting out 215 horsepower.
Packing a bigger punch was the 1996 SVT Cobra with a 305-hp 4.6L DOHC V8 engine. The 1996-1997 Camaro Z28 SS models also had a small-block V8 putting out an equivalent 305 horsepower.
New Edge Mustangs
Ford celebrated the Mustang’s 35th anniversary in 1999, unveiling a new design for the SN95 models. The 1999-2004 New Edge Mustangs had a sharper, more angular look with larger wheel arches. The 1999 SVT Cobra had independent rear suspension, something that wouldn’t be available on all models until 2015.
By 2002, the Mustang was outselling the Camaro, so Chevy put a pause on production until 2010. The SN95 generation continued until 2004.
Fifth Generation: The Camaro Returns
Unlike the Camaro, the Mustang never stopped production. The S197 generation was unveiled in 2005 and lasted until 2014. However, the Camaro would return in 2010 with a vengeance.
The S197 had a retro-inspired design with style cues taken from the original Mustang. Ford’s SVP of Design at the time, J Mays, called the look “retro-futurism.” Ford went with a new rear-wheel-drive platform for the S197, called the D2C (D-class 2-door coupe).
By 2010, the Mustang was still using the modular 4.6L V8 in the GT and was only making 315 horsepower. That’s only 15 more hp than when it launched in 2005.
The 2011 Mustang GT finally got a power upgrade with the first Coyote engine. It was a 5.0L V8 that put out 412 horsepower (420 horsepower in 2013-2014).
The Camaro’s Comeback
The Camaro may have been off the market for several years, but Chevy was planning something big for its return. The Camaro made a comeback for its fifth generation in 2010, with an aggressive award-winning design.
The Camaro’s DOHC V6 engine made 300 horsepower, increasing to 323 in 2012. The manual transmission Camaro SS had an LS3 engine with 426 horsepower. Even more powerful was the 2012 Camaro ZL1. The impressive 6.2L supercharged V8 threw down 580 horsepower and 556 lb.-ft of torque.
Another major upgrade was the switch from a solid axle rear suspension to an independent rear suspension system (IRS). It was standard on all models starting in 2010. The Mustang wouldn’t adopt IRS until 2015.
Sales declined to under 90,000 for the Mustang in 2013, with the new Camaro gaining popularity. The Camaro sold almost 95,000 models in 2013, beating the Mustang by a fraction. The last five years of the S197 generation were the worst five years of sales in Mustang history, mostly due to the effects of the Great Recession.
The Performance Ponies
By 2014, the special-edition GT500 sported a 5.8L supercharged V8. With 662 horsepower and 631 lb.-ft. of torque, the GT500 had a top speed of 202 mph.
The Z28 also returned for the 2014 model year as the most track-capable Camaro yet. It had the first factory-installed 427 CID engine since the COPO editions back in 1969. The 505-hp L7 engine led to the Z28 being named Motor Trend’s Best Driver’s Car in 2014.
The S197 generation ended in 2014, with the Camaro closing out its fifth generation in 2015.
Sixth Generation: Present-Day Pony Cars
Now in the most current generation, the Mustang and Camaro have come a long way since their debut in the 1960s. With technology and design advancements, these cars have only gotten better with age. Both the sixth-gen Mustang and Camaro are some of the fastest and meanest pony cars of all time.
The sixth-generation S550 Mustang came out in 2015. Ford left the blocky body style of the S197 behind and incorporated more curved lines. The fresh design took the best parts of the classic Mustang and made it modern.
Independent rear suspension also became standard on the Mustang in 2015, greatly improving the cornering and handling. The S550 used a slightly modified D2C platform that was adapted for the new IRS system.
The S550 saw a mid-generational refresh in 2018 that gave the Mustang an even sleeker body style with significant changes to the front fascia and headlights.
The EcoBoost & Second-Gen Coyote Engines
The 2015 Mustang saw the debut of the EcoBoost engine, a turbocharged 2.3L I4 that put out 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. It was so powerful and efficient that Ford phased out the V6 engine in 2017.
Ford also released the second-gen Coyote engine with the 2015 Mustang. It produced 425 horsepower and 400 lb-ft. of torque.
The GT350 came back in 2016, with a track-edition big brother called the GT350R. Both the GT350 and GT350R feature the 5.2L Voodoo Coyote V8 with 526 horsepower and 429 lb.-ft. of torque.
The third-generation Coyote engine also came out in 2018, featuring 460 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque. A ten-speed automatic transmission became available as well.
The sixth-generation Camaro came out in 2016, a year behind the Mustang. Built on GM’s Alpha platform, the new Camaro was lighter than previous models.
The design was almost based on the second-gen Camaro, but Chevy had a change of heart. Instead, they drew inspiration from the masculine design of the first generation.
Camaro Gets More Corvette Engines
The 2016 Camaro SS used an LT1 engine from the C7 Corvette, a 6.2L V8 with 455 horsepower. And for the first time since 1985, Chevy offered a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 275 horsepower.
The 2017 Camaro ZL1 also used an engine taken from the Corvette: the LT4 V8 with 650 horsepower. It was the first Camaro to be paired with the new 10-speed automatic transmission that Chevy and Ford co-developed.
The Next Generation of Pony Cars
The S550 Mustang is slated to end production in 2023, paving way for the new S650 generation. It looks like the sixth generation of Camaro will stick around a bit longer, although it’s future is still undecided.
Which One Is Better, the Camaro or the Mustang?
We may be partial to the Mustang, but there’s no right answer as to whether the Camaro or Mustang is better. Both the Camaro and Mustang are two powerful pony cars with a rich history dating back over 50 years.
The Camaro and Mustang each have their own unique style and personalities. While some models might beat out others, there’s something to love about each of them. And without both cars around, car enthusiasts would miss out on one of the best rivalries in automotive history.
Sources:Camaro vs Mustang: A Complete History of Our Comparison Tests, Car and Driver | Mustang vs Camaro: A Timeline of the Muscle Car Rivalry, MotorTrend | 2021 Chevy Camaro vs 2020 Ford Mustang: Head to Head, U.S. News | Camaro vs Mustang: Who has the edge?, Automotive News | Mustang vs Camaro-Who Won Each Decade?, Donut Media | Image Credit: Creative Commons