Mustang and Camaro Race for Dominance in Packard Exhibit

WARREN, Ohio – Six muscle cars are lined up nose and nose in the National Packard Museum, as if they’re being revved up for a street race.

The cars – three Ford Mustangs and three Chevrolet Camaros – are longtime rivals, but they’re not going anywhere. They are the stars of a new exhibition, “Mustang vs. Camaro: Battle for Supremacy,” that runs through April 15. It’s a first for the museum.

“We have never before done an exhibit that compares two vehicles that are still in production,” says Mary Ann Porinchak, executive director of the Packard Museum.

The Mustang and the Camaro are not just any vehicles. They are icons of American culture and have been battling for the hearts of drivers for more than 50 years.

Because of the passion and loyalty of each vehicle’s aficionados, extra care was taken to select models that present the rivalry fairly and accurately.

“It’s a little risky to do a comparison,” Porinchak says. “If you don’t have balance then you risk alienating a part of the audience that you are trying to attract. It has to be done very  carefully. Both sides have to understand that we are giving them equal billing, equal time.”

Porinchak drove a Camaro 454 in the past and has always been aware of the two brands’ race for dominance. Still, she learned something about their differences while putting together this exhibit.

“My initial thought was, if we’re showing a 1974 Mustang, then we should have a 1974 Camaro,” she says. “But after some research and discovering that the generations [of each vehicle’s basic design] do not line up in terms of year to year, that idea went out the window. You have to compare apples to apples.”

As an example, the second generation of the Mustang ran from 1974 to 1978, but for the Camaro it was 1970 to 1981, and each car-maker altered performance and styling from year to year.

The exhibition includes information plaques that describe the history of the rivalry, and details about each vehicle on display.

Ford introduced the Mustang in 1964 and it caused an immediate sensation. Sporty and affordable, it was nothing less than a whole new genre of car. About 20,000 Mustangs were sold the day it hit showrooms. General Motors was caught off-guard and immediately set about to come up with an answer.

In 1966, GM summoned the press to announce the arrival of its new Camaro. When a reporter asked ‘”what is a Camaro?,” a GM executive replied, “ a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”

Mary Ann Porinchak, executive director of the Packard Museum stands next to a 1970 Chevy Camaro RS.

With that comment, the battle was on. It played out on the street level and in advertising jabs over the years, and it continues to this day.

The idea for the “Mustang vs. Camaro” exhibition had its roots in the “Corvettes of the Valley” show the museum presented last year.

“It was very popular,” Porinchak says. “After it closed, I was talking to one Corvette guy who said we ought to do another muscle car exhibition.” 

Porinchak liked the idea, so she turned to museum volunteer Mark Mines, a fierce Mustang fan who used to race the car at tracks all over Ohio, and still restores them as a hobby.

“I said to Mark, ‘why don’t you put out some feelers in the Mahoning Valley car community about how it feels about a Mustang vs. Camaro exhibit,” she says. “He came back to me about two weeks later and said ‘I got two cars already.’ At that point, we were committed.”

The exhibit had constraints: there was only room for six cars, and they had to be stock – something that could be purchased out of a showroom. Mines put the word out to his fellow muscle car enthusiasts and before he knew it, half of the exhibition was located.

The hardest to find were the cars from the middle era.

“There were a lot out there, but it was hard to find unaltered ones,” Mines says.

He inquired at the area’s car clubs but had no luck. Mines finally found the Camaro he was looking for at this year’s Wings and Wheels car and airplane show in Warren, and the Mustang at the Hot Rod Supernationals at the Canfield Fairgrounds.

The owners of the six cars on display are:

  • Russell Knotts of Mogadore, 1965 Mustang.
  • Ron Dearth, Warren, 1967 Camaro RS.
  • Rick Jones, Boardman, 1969 Shelby GT350 Mustang.
  • John Rowlands, Warren, 1970 Camaro RS.
  • Bob Long, Garrettsville, 1971 Mach I Mustang.
  • Joseph Whistler, North Jackson, 1989 Camaro IROC-Z.

Mines, of Champion, is a diehard Ford man who worked as a millwright for 33 years  at – ironically – the GM Lordstown Assembly Plant. The Mustang-Camaro rivalry remains strong, he says.

“Look at NASCAR,” he says. “What are the two cars on the track every Sunday besides Toyota? The Mustang and a Camaro-body car. The rivalry still continues. The nameplates are still there.

“I’m a diehard Ford person and you got the diehard Chevy people and that’s the way it is,” he continues. “The big car companies understood that, back in the ’60s and ’70s. As the old saying goes, you race on Sundays and sell new cars on Monday, and that still goes on today.”

About the Exhibit

  • What: “Mustang vs. Camaro: Battle for Supremacy”
  • Where: National Packard Museum, 1899 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren
  • When: Now through April 15
  • Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday (closed Monday)
  • Admission: $8 ($5 for senior citizens and children age 7-12; free for children under 7)
  • Information: Go to PackardMuseum.org or call  330 394 1899.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.