The perfect driving experience, the melding of man, machine, and music is what Cars and Guitars is all about. So buckle up, drop it into reverse, and floor it back a thousand years when the 1969 Camaro and Led Zeppelin ruled sales charts and airwaves
If there’s one thing that pop culture has taught us, it’s that hard rock and muscle cars go together like rum and Coke. The two are so intertwined, it’s hard to imagine one without the other. If there was ever a duo that oozed passion, raw performance, and every inch of throbbing, rhythmic love, it’s these two, and that’s what we’ve brought you in this 12th installment of Cars and Guitars.
Millions of courtships were ignited via the Camaro and Led Zeppelin. For many, the two bring back hazy memories of babes, bongwater, and blasting down the road on a Saturday night with no particular place to go. Over the last 54 years, both have seen peaks and valleys and as I write this, both Led Zeppelin and the Camaro are still with us, albeit in heavily evolved forms.
While three of the four Zeppelin members survive, and the sixth-gen Camaro is still for sale, our beloved Bow Tie pony is slated for the great scrap heap in the sky after 2024. It’s been rumored the Camaro will then go all-electric in a new iteration, or disappear altogether. Either way, the gas-powered Camaro is on death row. On a cheerier note, let’s set the stage for this look back to 1969 and have a listen to “Whole Lotta Love,” the biggest hit single from Britain’s hard rock messiahs.
“Whole Lotta Love” has not only accompanied the sonorous thunder of many Camaro V8 engines, but it was also the soundtrack for the events of 1969, which still echo in pop culture today. In July of that year, Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon. The Woodstock Music Festival took place in New York, and on August 9th, actress Sharon Tate along with four others were murdered by members of Charles Manson’s cult. The Rolling Stones had a free concert in Altamont, California where four people died in a scuffle with Hell’s Angels. In the political arena, Richard Nixon was President and Ronald Reagan was Governor of California. Over in Detroit, emission standards and bumper regulations were years away and for many, 1969 was the golden era of Motown muscle.
New Camaro, New Performance
The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro was introduced in September 1968. It was available in two-door coupe and convertible body styles. The car was built on the F-body platform and had a wheelbase of 108 inches. The length of the car was 186 inches, the height was 51.5 inches for the coupe and 50.9 inches for the convertible, and the width was 74 inches.
The car had a curb weight of around 3,200 pounds. It was slightly longer than the 1968 model, and its exterior design featured new scallop-style lines emanating from its wheel wells. This was the first year of an optional rubber front bumper as well.
V8 Engine Lineup For The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro:
The 1969 Camaro came with several engine options. Although there were two 250 cubic-inch six cylinders available, we’re way more interested in the V8s. Most were offered with a manual gearbox, or a three-speed automatic transmission, here’s the breakdown:
- Z28 302 ci V8: 302 cubic inches, 290 horsepower, order code DZ
- LF7 327ci V8: 327 cubic inches, 210 horsepower, 310 lb-ft torque
- L30 327ci V8: 327 cubic inches, 275 horsepower, 355 lb-ft torque
- L14 307ci V8: 307 cubic inches, 200 horsepower, 300 lb-ft torque
- LM1 350ci V8: 350 cubic inches, 255 horsepower, 355 lb-ft torque
- L65 350ci V8: 350 cubic inches, 250 horsepower, 345 lb-ft torque
- L48 SS350 350ci V8: 350 cubic inches, 295 horsepower, 380 lb-ft torque
- L35 SS396 396ci V8: 396 cubic inches, 325 horsepower, 410 lb-ft torque
- L34 SS396 396ci V8: 396 cubic inches, 350 horsepower, 415 lb-ft torque
- L78 SS396 396ci V8: 396 cubic inches, 375 horsepower, 415 lb-ft torque
The 1969 Camaro was offered with a 427 cubic-inch engine from the factory in the form of the now infamous COPO models. The ZL1 was Central Office Production Order 9560 (COPO) that could be specially ordered for an additional $4,160 over the base price of the Camaro With that option you got 427 cubic inches and 425hp. This internal ‘fleet’ order helped overcome GM’s restrictions on Chevrolet to only offer engines smaller than 400 cubic inches in the Camaro. Since COPO was really meant for special paint and options on commercial vehicles, the ZL1s were not exempt from warranties and they were 100% street-legal. Today, COPO Camaros are the holy grail of 1969 Camaros as only 69 were built.
Dealers stuffed 427s under the hoods as well. For example, Yenko Chevrolet in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania offered the Camaro with a 427 engine rated at 425 horsepower. Other dealerships such as Yenko, Baldwin-Motion and Dick Harrell also offered big block models to the public as well.
The production run of the 1969 Camaro lasted from August 1968 through November 1969, with a total of 243,085 units produced. The most common body style was the V8-powered sport coupe, with 190,971 units produced. The rarest models were six-cylinder-powered convertibles, with only 1,707 units built.
The 1969 Camaro was the official pace car for the Indianapolis 500 in 1969 and Chevrolet built 3,675 replicas for sale to the public. Chevy also provided 133 festival pace cars. These cars were used for the Indy Committee, VIPs, USAC officials, and the Speedway. The actual pace car had an L71 375-hp 396 with L89 aluminum heads, and a TH400 automatic transmission. It is believed that only 34 or fewer 396-equipped ’69 Pace Cars were built. These are now among the most collected Camaros in the world.
Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”
The song was released in October 1969 as the opening track on the band’s second album, Led Zeppelin II, and as a single in several countries in 1969. It became Led Zeppelin’s first hit in the United States and was certified gold. “Whole Lotta Love” is known for Jimmy Page’s iconic guitar riff, John Bonham’s raucous backbeat, John Paul Jones’ thunderous bass lines, and Robert Plant’s soulful vocals.
The song’s lyrics were adapted from Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love,” which was recorded by Muddy Waters in 1962. Although Zeppelin has been accused of plagiarism here, their interpretation of the song is wholly unique and original. The song’s sonic blueprint of fuzzy guitar riffs and psychedelic theremin solo created a groundbreaking rock blueprint that has been copied 1,000 times. Plant once said “When it comes to music, we’re all beggars and thieves…” Nonetheless, an agreement was reached in 1985 for Waters to receive royalties and future songwriting credits.
“Whole Lotta Love” has been ranked as one of the greatest songs of all time by several publications. Zeppelin went on to rule the charts throughout the 1970s, until the death of drummer John Bonham brought the whole thing to a screeching halt in 1980. The band reunited in 2007 for a blistering version of the song. Although we did know it at the time, this is probably the band’s last performance.
For many, the Camaro and Zeppelin are the epitome of mullets and butt rock. Maybe so, but compared to today’s music that consists of obscenities hurled over drum loops and lozenge-shaped hatchbacks, the Bow Tie Pony and Brtiain’s hard rock champs are more relevant than ever.
It’s amazing to think that this era of Zeppelin and Camaro is 54 years behind us. Sadly, the ensuing decades of automotive design and music have NOT gotten better. Mighty rock gods may seem immortal back in their youthful heyday, but no one gets out of here alive. The surviving three members of Zeppelin are approaching 80 years old, their time on the planet is finite. The gasoline-powered Camaro is in God’s waiting room as well. Who knows what will replace it but the Camaro’s glory days as we know it are nearing the end as well.
The good news is both Led Zeppelin and F-bodies perenially rock on in our hearts. Every summer night cruise and every time a father or aunt plays “Whole Lotta Love” to a young listener, it’s suddenly 1969 all over again. So crank it up, point the Camaro to the horizon, and let the duet of Robert Plant’s Black Country howl and the burble of that baritone small block live forever.