THE return of the Chevrolet Camaro to the Supercars Championship under the ‘Gen3’ regulations will open a third chapter in the iconic muscle car’s career in Australian touring car racing.
Much like its planned return, the Camaro made its debut in the 1960s off the back of the arrival and immediate success of the Ford Mustang on Australian shores.
Terry Allen gave the model its championship debut in the 1967 Australian Touring Car Championship at Lakeside; Norm Beechey raced one briefly in 1968 switching to a Holden Monaro, while future Sports Sedan hero Bryan Thomson also campaigned a Camaro across the turn of the decade as the Improved Production era of the ATCC hit a fever pitch.
It was Bob Jane who earnt the Camaro’s greatest ATCC successes, winning seven races across the 1971 and 1972 seasons on his way to a sweep of both championships.
The introduction of Group C touring car rules for 1973 effectively signalled the end of the first generation Camaro’s Australian racing career – save for a one-off start for Jane at Calder that year, where he was stripped of the victory when it was confirmed after the race that the Camaro wasn’t eligible under the new rules!
Despite its championship success, the Camaro didn’t make its debut in the Bathurst 1000 until the very end of the 1970s.
Two second-generation Camaros lined up on the grid for the 1979 race, and the model was represented on the Bathurst 1000 grid through to the end of the Group C era in 1984.
Kevin Bartlett’s Channel 9-sponsored Camaro was the most successful example of the era despite wrangling with the sport’s rulemakers over the car’s technical specifications – disc brakes on the rear instead of drums was a point of contention, while Bartlett also had to run earlier-model panels.
Nevertheless, the dark blue and yellow machine won three ATCC races across the 1980 and 1982 seasons and took pole position for the Bathurst 1000 in 1980 and 1981.
Several privateers also raced Camaros, including Ron Dickson’s pair of cars that were driven variously by Formula 1 world champion Alan Jones and American road racing stars Sam Posey and Dick Barbour, while Tony Longhurst also made his first touring car starts aboard a Camaro.
The end of the Group C era marked the end of the Camaro’s competition history in Australian touring car racing; although the third-generation Camaro was homologated for Group A and campaigned in Germany’s DTM, no examples were raced down under.