If you were a teenager in the ’80s like I was, you are undoubtedly aware that there were a host of great youth-oriented movies featuring some pretty iconic cars in them. Christine, The Hollywood Knights, The Cannonball Run, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are a few that immediately spring to mind.
I was always partial to Ferris and the exquisite Ferrari 250GT California Short Wheelbase Spyder that he got to play around in on that memorable day. But let there be no doubt this muscle car fanatic also lusted mightily over that sleek, black 1967 Chevy Camaro RS/SS from the 1985 romantic comedy Better Off Dead. So much so, I thought we’d focus on it in this month’s iteration of “Rob’s Movie Muscle!”
Better Off Dead was a charming little film starring John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Diane Franklin, Amanda Wyss, and Curtis Armstrong. It was helmed by freshman director Savage Steve Holland – based on a script of his own writing.
The film tells the story of Lane Meyer (Cusack), a high-school teen who is desperately besotted with his girlfriend. When she dumps him, he attempts to do everything he can to win her back.
A beautiful, French, foreign-exchange student attempts to get Lane back on his feet. She aids him in the restoration of a junker 1967 Chevy Camaro RS/SS that’s “become an automotive cocoon in the driveway,” according to Lane’s father.
By the time the two are finished with the project, the Camaro is once again a piece of classic automotive art, and sparks have flown between Lane and the girl.
The ’67 Camaro, like the one in the film, is a car that has a long and storied history.
After the tremendous unexpected success of the 1964 ½ Ford Mustang, the other two of the Big Three automakers scrambled to develop a viable competitor to cash in on the new Pony-Car craze.
Chrysler didn’t get its versions (the E-bodied Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger) to market until 1969 as 1970 models. However, General Motors, however, with their considerably vaster resources, was able to hit the ground running in a quicker fashion.
In April of 1965, word began to spread through the automotive press that GM was working on a Mustang of its own. Through its Chevrolet Division, the Camaro was developed under the working name of Panther.
One-year and two-months later, Chevrolet held a press conference in Detroit in which the launch date was revealed. The Chevrolet Camaro would begin owning the streets and highways of America in September of 1966.
Many immediately questioned just what a “Camaro” was. The answer differed depending on which GM executive you asked. Chevrolet General Manager, Pete Estes, claimed that the name referred to “the comradeship of good friends, as that is what a personal car should be to its owner. To us, the name means just what we think the car will do… go.” Others claimed it was French slang for “buddy.” Some in the automotive press was even told that it was “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”
Regardless of the car’s moniker, Chevrolet was true to its word on the timing. The Camaro was revealed to the world on September 12th, 1966 – and what a car it was.
Based on the rear-wheel-drive F-Body platform, the 1967 Camaro was available as a mid-size coupe and convertible 2+2. Body construction was semi-unitized, with a front subframe mounted to a rear unibody chassis. Sharp, aggressive lines, a full-width front grille with twin headlamps, and sensual rear haunches dominated the extremely well-integrated design.
Three main option packages were available for the car including the aesthetic Rally Sport (RS) package, the performance Super Sport (SS), and the Z/28 package aimed at road course racing. A seemingly endless range of stand-alone options was also available.
A wide array of engines could be ordered, including a 230ci and 250ci inline-6, as well as 302, 307, 327, 350, and 396ci V8s.
The standard transmission for the first-year car was a column-mounted three-speed manual, with a floor-mounted four-speed available as an option. The two-speed Powerglide automatic could be had with any model, on big-block equipped cars, the Turbo Hydra-Matic three-speed automatic was offered.
The ’67 in the movie was originally equipped with the 350ci V8, good for 295hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, and the three-speed slushbox. Other options included the deluxe interior package and air conditioning.
The car came from the factory with the Rally Sport appearance-package which included hideaway headlights, backup lights under the rear bumper, and special RS exterior trim. The Super Sport performance package gave the car upgraded suspension, a louvered SS hood, and SS badging and stripes.
For filming, the production replaced the original 350 lump with a 400 cubic inch V8 and added 15-inch wheels and a rear spoiler.
When first seen in the movie, the Camaro is in a state of disrepair with faded paint and an incomplete engine. During a montage, the car is impossibly restored to a high level in Lane’s garage. We are then treated to a fine drag racing scene replete with plenty of wheelspin against a bright orange 1965 Ford Falcon piloted by a pair of recurring characters.
After production on Better Off Dead wrapped, the car ended up in the possession of the son of the film’s transportation coordinator. Years later, an obsessive fan of Camaros and the movie launched an exhaustive search for the car. He located it in Los Angeles, purchased it, and restored it to its former glory. He routinely shows and drives the ’67.
Just like in the movie, it seems Lane’s car also has a happy ending! Until next month…