In 1966, Ford launched the Mustang, the world's first pony car, a sporty and compact automobile. It became such a hit that other Detroit manufacturers wanted to launch one of their own, leading to the creation of Pontiac's Firebird, Dodge's Challenger, Plymouth's Barracuda, and Chevrolet's Camaro, which became popular in the Philippines.
Taking cues from Hollywood movies and American television, teenagers began cruising and drag racing along the old Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard). EDSA Avenue, then a partially-built strip called Highway 54, was perfect for stretching the pony car's hind quarters. The country, after all, behaved like the fifty-first state of the United States, and US military bases provided a pretty good supply of pony cars, the cast-offs of departing American servicemen. If their pony cars were less than five years old, they were considered good as new, especially the Camaro.
The Chevrolet Camaro was not as spacious as the width implied. The low roof and the tank slit peep sights, the result of sleek-looking but steeply-raked windshields, were the bodily manifestations of its soul. Inside, paired square instrument receptacles had radially-arranged numerals. No international standard stalked this dished steering—one had to step on a button on the floor to brighten the main headlight beams.
Right wrist draped at the twelve o'clock position, left elbow catching the Manila Bay wind, and the shift lever in "D" or third gear, the boys who drove the Camaro were perfect copies of California dreaming. MacArthur Highway was the route to cool Baguio City, the perfect place for top-down motoring. There was considerable emptiness between the provincial towns on the way to the mountains, so opening up the throttle was a certainty. Angeles City—with its A & W Restaurant and American-style strip malls—was a natural watering hole along the way.
The pony car way of life persisted up to the late seventies with the advent of the North Diversion Road extension to Angeles. De rigueur were big, 24-karat gold Porsche Design mirrored sunglasses, More 120MM cigarettes, ST DuPont white gold lighters, flare bottoms, and Italian loafers worn without socks, all year round.
The first three generations of pony cars drove similarly and each had numerous options for mega doses of horsepower. Very light steering—lots of turns, lock to lock. High torque at low rpm allowed one to cruise and accelerate without downshifting. Burbling exhaust added a little excitement as the hood rose and the wind blew through your crew cut or her bandana-bundled hair. Pony cars were for wide, open, straight, and smooth roads—fuel consumption be damned. The width and the weight transfers over the soft and simple suspensions meant that tight curves were to be taken with caution. One had to slow down over cracks and humps lest one gets jolted.
A pony car wasn't a sports car, so steering wasn't heavy, ensuring the carefree aspect of pony car cruising. The ride, handling, and steering weren't jabbering at you all the time, relentlessly telling you to always be on your toes. Pony cars were like sixties jazz and lounge acts, like 01' Blue Eyes. Relaxed, but with power available on a whim.
Drive a Camaro today and it's hard to resist putting down the window, sticking your arm out in the blustery Tagaytay air, even if a lot has changed in motoring in the twenty-first century. But in a Camaro, it's never crass to drape your wrist on the steering wheel, just like Don Draper. Camaros, whether for twenty-first century sophisticate or not, have the power to relax and charm.
This story first appeared on Vault Magazine Issue 2 2011.