2010 Chevrolet Camaro: First Drive
By Roger Boylan
Thanks to an invitation from GM communications, I found myself at 7:15 a.m. on the rainy morning of Saturday, April 18th, in the Austin Convention Center, admiring a trio of 2010 Chevrolet Camaros: a yellow LT, a red SS, and a silver LS.
It was a mini-press day organized by GM’s Camaro brigade for the unveiling of their new darling. On the podium was John Fitzpatrick, GM’s marketing manager for the much-touted new Chevy. The crowd he was addressing included members of the fourth estate, curiosity seekers, old Camaro nostalgics, car bloggers, and the usual nut cases dying to swap 0-60 times. Apart from them, the vast Convention Center was empty, except for a few ghostly detailers in the display areas of the competition, applying last-minute buff jobs to their Mustangs and Challengers and shooting nervous glances at the raucous throng in the Chevy zone.
The mere fact of such a crowd having roused itself on a wet weekend morning spoke volumes about the general level of enthusiasm for the car they came to see. Mr. Fitzpatrick acknowledged as much; there would be no new Camaro, he averred, without the enthusiasts. “Build this car,” they said to him; and lo, it was built, and the people came. Over 10,000 advance orders, according to GM, had been placed by the end of 2008. Actual sales began just last week, and the public response has so far been nothing less than phenomenal, especially in light of the parlous economic times. The crowd cheered. Mr.Fitzpatrick applauded them, all those true-blue Camaro devotees. The crowd applauded him back. Good feelings bubbled all around. Coffee and pastries were served. Flashbulbs went off. Then access was allowed to the three show cars, and grown men and women (but mostly men) elbowed one another in their eagerness to get inside one. It was polite elbowing, of course; these were connoisseurs, many of whom had been present at the creation and had owned (and one or two still owned) original ’67-’69 Camaros.
The original Camaro’s birth year of 1967 was the heyday of the American muscle car: the Firebirds (Camaro’s corporate cousin: no, there are no plans for its resuscitation), Cobras, GTOs, and of course the Mustang, Camaro’s perennial rival, which gave its name to the new sub-muscle genre, the pony car. Thanks to sterling design and nimble handling, the Camaro took off fast. Its name (from French slang for “comrade”: “mon camaro”) alliterated nicely amidst Chevy’s other “C” names: Corvette, Corvair, Chevelle, etc., and it soon became known well beyond the boundaries of diehard car fandom, notably in pop music (Springsteen, Madonna, the Ramones, etc.) and movies (Better Off Dead, Transformers), where it became associated with a certain type of suburban cool guy. It was definitely not a middle-aged man’s car.
That, and much else, has changed in the fifth-generation, as I inferred from the presence at the Auto Show of so many middle-aged men, among whom there was one, yours truly, lucky enough to get some drive time in the magic car itself. After the presentation, and question time during which much esoteric Camaro lore was discussed, I graduated to actually driving a burnt-orange (go Longhorns!) Camaro SS through the wet, near-empty streets of downtown Austin, in the company of Craig Eppling, regional communications manager for GM (i.e., the gent who lets me test drive all those lovely GM vehicles), who, although he lives in Dallas, knew his way around Austin’s downtown maze of one-ways better than I; I was, admittedly, a bit nervous at having such a rare beast under my hands. But I calmed down soon enough, and my overall initial impressions of the new Camaro were very favorable. (Indeed, I found myself briefly, but desperately, wanting one.)
The 400 horses of the 6.2-liter V8 under the hood rumbled quietly but authoritatively. The car rode and handled brilliantly, as one might expect from a work of automotive passion with such a heritage. The 6-speed automatic in my test car shifted with the usual smooth unobtrusiveness of GM transmissions. The driver’s seat, stitched-leather-shod in the SS, was firm, supportive, and accommodating of the broad-beamed such as I; my sense was that it would remain so over the many hours of road tripping. Interior room is greater than one might expect from a high-performance sports coupe, with room in the back for two large children or small adults, and an actual trunk capable of absorbing an actual suitcase or two. Few heads turned as we drove by, but that was because there was nobody on the streets. Take this baby down Sixth Street on a balmy Saturday afternoon and there would be a mob scene. This is a striking and elegant car, with just enough of the distant past to evoke memories of ’67: Inside the SS, for example, the gauges are housed in ‘60s-style rectangular cowlings, with soft aquamarine backlighting, very Corvair, very Summer of Love.
But this car is an entirely 21st-century inspiration, and it’s made for the open road, and it looks gorgeous; and I can’t wait to spend some quality time together with one. That, I promise my faithful readers, will happen as soon as possible, if not sooner.
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