The Camaro was Chevrolet's answer to Ford's Mustang, and joined the expanding "pony car" club with its reliable drive train and electric acceleration available for the biggest V8 engine. "Chevrolet USA-1" did not hold true this year. The top manufacturer in the country took a beating from several sides this season, and in the end, Ford with its successful Mustang and newly redesigned full-size and Fairlane lines ended up winning the sales race.
For Chevy, the biggest hurt was not having direct competition for the Mustang. Chevrolet marketers had what they thought could be competition, if only temporarily, in the Corvair, but it took a direct hit from outside sources that would destroy its value in the marketplace. Realistically, a rear-engined economy car could not compete with the Mustang in most arenas. Chevrolet's only front-engine, rear-wheel drive offering that could come close to the Mustang was the Chevy II with a V8 engine, but in reality, it was not a sporty car and wound up being the traditional Falcon competitor. The second factor in the loss of Corvair sales was the recently published book Unsafe at Any Speed by attorney Ralph Nader. This book was highly critical of the safety record of the auto industry, and in particular the Corvair, mainly due to some handling characteristics of early models.
As with the modern day SUV roll-over problems, a lot of the blame can be shared by consumers driving their vehicles as they would a normal large, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive car. Consideration must be given to the differing handling characteristics of a rear-engined vehicle, or in the modern case, a high-center-of-gravity, off-road vehicle. Obviously, the manufacturer has a responsibility to make the cars safe, and GM did correct the problems, albeit a little too late in some respects. The major result of all of this attention was that Congress passed a bill in 1966 requiring more stringent auto safety standards beginning with the 1968 model year. By the time the 1966 model year was completed, the damage was done and Corvair sales dropped over 50 percent.
There would be no recovery, and the car would be quietly discontinued in 1969. As a side note, the Corvair 95 Greenbrier van was discontinued, as it had been replaced by a modern, front-engine Chevy Van. On the brighter side, the popular mid-size Chevelle line received a totally new exterior and redesigned interior for 1966. Body lines were a little more curvaceous than previous models, and used the tunneled rear window design on 2-Door models that was shared with other GM intermediates. The front styling was highlighted by a full-width grille that swept back at the outer edges, giving a look of motion while standing still. Lack of side trim gave a clean, modern look. Model changes were limited to the dropping of the 2-Door Wagon, and the addition of a 4-Door Hardtop Sports Sedan in the Malibu line.
Also receiving a major restyle was the Chevy II line. Like the Chevelle, the popular compact car was still based upon the same chassis components as in prior years, but the outer skin and interior styling were all-new. There were no model changes made to the Chevy II line. Under the hoods, both lines continued the same offerings as in previous years, but added new powerhouses to the top end of the line. The Chevy II added a 350-horsepower version of the famous 327 CID V8 engine. The Chevelle added a 396 CID V8 engine in several power choices to the Super Sport model line. This SS 396 model would put Chevy on the map in the muscle car wars.
Chevrolet's remaining two model lines, Corvette and full-size; each added a new engine to their powertrain lineups also. It was the 427 CID V8 engine option. Replacing the 409 CID V8 of song and racing legend, the new 427 CID V8 was built to blow the doors off anything on the road. It was quite capable of doing so, especially in the Corvette. Corvettes equipped with this engine had a new "power bulge" hood. Other Corvette changes for the season included revised fender louvers and interior trim. Full-size models received new front and rear styling treatments. A new top-of-the-line Caprice model was added to the line this year. Introduced in 1965 as a mid-year luxury option for the Impala 4-Door Hardtop, the Caprice proved to be popular and a worthy competitor for the new Ford Galaxie 500 LTD and Plymouth VIP.