In Search of the Elusive Black Panther
While Ford was fighting off the early successes of the Chevrolet Corvair and Chevy II with their introduction of the Mustang in August of 1964, GM began work on a counter-punch experimental project named XP-836. The XP-836 project directly targeted the Ford Mustang mystique and the new youth market that emerged from almost nowhere in the eyes of GM marketers. The surprising popularly of Ford's Mustang framed the XP-836 project from the very start and incorporated the "Mustang formula" in the early years of production.
Slide Show >>
In the winter of 1965, the XP-836 project turned out a proto type car based on some cobbled up Chevy IIs. While crude, the new Chevrolet was shaping up to run well along side Ford's Pony car. Now named the "Panther", the project and the proto-types were written about in great length by the automotive press with all the excitement of a pending rivalry with the Mustang. Given a name that the public could latch onto, the "Panther" was quickly being promoted as GM's Mustang-fighter. Sometimes called "Chevy's Mustang" the "Panther" evolved conceptually using much of the Mustang marketing formula. Now branded with the "Panther" script and leaping-cat emblems similar to that used by Jaguar, the proto-types advanced with an outward confidence that Chevrolet's sleek new cat would be chasing down the Mustang. By early 1966, Ralph Nader was doing a hatchet job on the Corvair, and GM management sought to tone-down the image of their new car in hopes of not drawing the attention of safety crusaders with the aggressive "Panther" name.
Seeking a "clammier" image for the new car, the marketing department looked to their current line of Chevrolet monikers, the Corvair, Corvette, Chevelle, and Chevy II for inspiration. Desiring another "C" name brand, merchandising manager Bob Lund and GM Car & Truck Group vice-president Ed Rollert poured through French and Spanish dictionaries and came up with "Camaro". Meaning, "warm friend", the new name offered GM an excellent label to compliment the current Chevrolet line and introduce their new car with a much tamer image.
Though the "Camaro" name was replacing the various project names the car had been developed under, outside the company some controversy over the meaning of the new name was causing a potential image problem for the new car. In an unprecedented national conference call with some 200 journalists, GM released the "warm & friendly" Camaro name to the public ahead of the cars introduction to dealer showrooms. The effort was successful in quashing any "image killing" interpretations of the new Camaro moniker.
In 1967, amidst the phenomenal success of the Ford Mustang, General Motors pulled off a sensational introduction of the Chevrolet Camaro by delivering over 212,000 units to dealer showrooms that year. Keeping in fashion with the Mustang formula, the Camaro was offered with a laundry list of options at both the factory and dealer level. Camaro customers could custom build their own car with a host of options previously only available on Chevrolet's higher-line models.
Desiring the same custom performance treatments being offered by Shelby America for the Mustang, Camaro enthusiasts looked to the dealerships in hopes of finding these performance options. Happily, the folks at Toronto-based Gorries Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealership answered the call to incorporate their race knowledge into the new Camaro. The result was the "Black Panther" Camaro.
Already known in racing and rally circles with their work on the Corvette, Gorries's geared up to modify a limited number of Camaros into Black Panthers, giving the Camaro some real street muscle. Modifications such as heavy-duty front coils, rear leaf stiffeners, tubular shocks, 10" front disc brakes, power assist brakes and steering, 500 magnum wheels and low profile Uniroyal 8.55 X 14 tubeless tires were added to the dealer-modified cars. Brake balancing valves and other small tuning points remarkably improved the handling and the drivability of the standard production car.
All Gorries Black Panther Camaros were of course painted black, with a painted gold band around the nose. The Black Panther nameplate was fixed to the forefront of each fender and on the rear deck lid. A gold stripe was added along the bodyline above the rocker panel area and a Gold pin stripe was added just below the upper side bodyline.
The Panther's came with a deluxe Gold interior and any of the regular factory options a customer might desire. This first Panther out of the Gorries shop was equipped with the "007" James Bond panel as a bit of a joke. Simply enough, a console was added in place of the glove box lid between the seats. The console featured a row of six or eight toggle switches labeled, Seat Ejector, Machine Guns, Smoke Ejectors, etc. What began as a joke later turned out later to be a customer demanded option that even the most reserved customers opted for.
Gorries offered both the 327 and 427 V-8 engine options for their Panthers. The 327 offering was the 275HP L30 engine, at 10:1 compression and made 355FT pounds of torque at 3,200 RPM. The optional blueprinted 427 - 435HP, ZL1 engine with its neck snapping 460FT pounds of torque at 4,000 RPM put some real teeth in the Panthers. At 12:1 compression, the ZL1 engine with its large 925 CFM 4-barrel carburetor proved to be a formal opponent for the Shelby GT-500 Mustangs, which carried the 428 big-block Ford engine, but only developed 355HP in 1967.
Gorries franchised the sale of the Black Panther to Chevrolet dealerships as far way as New Orleans. It's estimated that less than 50 Black Panthers were produced. Only two cars are known to exist today, with the remainder unaccounted for. The Black Panther Camaro may be the rarest of the dealer inspired street racers and no doubt the best looking. While not as well know as the Yenko Camaros, the Gorries "Black Panther" stands out as great example of dealer derived street muscle at a time when "Race on Sunday and Sell on Monday" was the performance enthusiast creed.
It's unknown how many of the Black Panthers still exist, but the example shown here is owned by Bob & Lorraine Simonen of Sault Ste. Marie of Ontario, Canada. Bob bought the car in April of 1967 from Gorries Downtown Chevrolet in Toronto. Bob drove the car daily until the mid 1980's when he decided to garage his black beauty with thoughts of restoring it one day.
In October of 2001, everything fell together for Bob when he dusted of his project and began a full frame-off restoration of the Panther. Restoration work was completed in May of 2002. Shown here, the black and gold treatment really shows off the beauty of the Camaro's lines and styling. Under the skin breaths the original heart of the 1960's Chevrolet design team with some rather bold accents added by Gorries Chevrolet. Through Bob's research, he has learn that his car is truly "the rarest and most elusive Camaros' on the street today. Bob says his car is the only one known to exist to-day with the remainder unaccounted for...are there any more out there? If you have any information on the Gorries "Black Panthers", please contact Bob via email at email@example.com
Editors Note: If you're a Black Panther Owner or have any additional information, please contact the ClassicCar.com Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are interested in putting together a registry for these cars. CC