The 1965 Panther concept was to be General Motors answer to the Ford Mustang. In the 1960's Chevrolet, like the other automotive manufacturers, was in the midst of creating yet another automobile that would strengthen their hold on the then-burgeoning pony car/muscle car market. This car was planned for release in 1967, and was designed to set the performance world on fire. When completed, it was expected to take corners like nothing before, accelerate faster than the guys at Ford and Mopar could even dream of, and eat up anything that got in its way. Maybe that’s why the name Panther was originally chosen.
Chevrolet Concept Project XP-836
In August of 1964 development began on "Project XP-836" as it was known. XP-836's development was to directly compete with the Mustang. Chevrolet also wanted to create the new design basis for the 1968 restyle of the Chevy II/Nova. This project was also tasked with debuting two new small-block V8 engines. One of which, the Chevy Small Block V8 350 cubic-inch engine would become one of the most iconic engines used for performance builds in the following decades. The 350 cubic-inch was at the time designed solely for the new Panther. Initially, it was to be the biggest V8 available from Chevrolet, until the car was ultimately approved to receive the 396 cubic-inch big-block. Another engine which General Motors planned to debut in the Panther, was the DZ 302 cubic-inch small-block which is a rare find these days. Check out the photo gallery below with 1965 Chevrolet Panther concept pictures.
Chevrolet's Cutting Edge Engineering and Media Push
The front of the Panther was using a subframe assembly that was bolted to the front of the car, supporting the engine and front suspension. The car was a true departure from normal design, and some engineers were actually concerned with it's initial design and the name Panther. For this reason, it quickly became the focal point of a newly-formed organization called SEPAW. This was the Society for the Eradication of Panthers from the Automotive World, and was actually organized by the then Chevrolet General Manager Pete Estes. On June 21, 1966, a telegram was sent to roughly 200 members of the press that stated, the Society for the Eradication of Panthers from the Automotive World will hold first and last meeting on June 28, via a national coast-to-coast 14-city telephone hookup with national President E. M. Estes presiding. Although conference calls are commonplace today, this was the first time that anyone had ever connected 14 cities via a telephone call.
The 14-city nationwide phone conference started with Mr. Estes letting everyone know that SEPAW stood for the Society for the Elimination of Panthers from the Automotive World. He continued to let listeners know that by their presence, they immediately became charter members.
Mr. Estes went on to tell the members of the press that one of the reasons Chevrolet was going to stay number one, was also a reason for the meeting. He went on to say that Chevrolet was definitely going to have a new car model for the 1967 model year and that car would be introduced on September 29, 1966. While this was occurring, the news of the Panther project was not new at all. Newspapers had been claiming that Chevrolet was building a car called Panther for quite some time and Chevy enthusiasts were all very excited. These public announcements had unfortunately been marketing the Chevrolet Panther so extensively, that Chevrolet was actually getting letters from upset consumers trying to place orders for a car that was not yet available.
Even as the project was nearing the final design configuration in 1965, the name Panther was still being considered and according to the public, the Panther was going to be Chevrolet's new pony/muscle car in 1967.
When the press conference was nearing the end, Mr. Estes finally acknowledged the true reason for the meeting. A quote by Mr. Estes got to the point. “As much as we appreciate the tremendous publicity given Panther, we ask you to help scratch the cat once and forever. As such, this will be both the first and last meeting of SEPAW.” It was on this day, June 28, 1966, the name Panther was officially changed to Camaro.
This was the first time that he announced Chevrolet had chosen a name for the car that was in line with other Chevrolet car names beginning with the letter C, which was a common theme for car names in the 1960's. This is when five young ladies walked onto the stage, each holding a large card with a letter emblazoned in it. Mr. Estes positioned each girl in order, and then, while holding a card of his own with a letter on it, lined up with them on the stage so everyone could see the word Camaro. So now you know the story behind an obscure organization that conspired to, and eventually did, end production of the Chevrolet Panther, which as the Camaro, went on to be one of the most iconic American Muscle Cars of all time!
1965 Chevrolet Panther Concept Photos
Photos courtesy of Copyright 2016 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.