When GM made the announcement that the Camaro and Firebird would no longer be built after a 35-year reign, most enthusiasts were numb with disbelief. How could this happen, thought legions of fans. One of those Camaro fans was a Ridgecrest, Calif., teenager by the name of Kris Horton. While the rest of us old fogies grudgingly accepted the death of the Chevy icon, young Horton didn't know any better. Through sheer force of will and the exuberance of youth, Horton undertook the singular task of designing a fifth-generation Camaro with unabashed heritage styling cues.
Irrespective of GM's true intent towards a next generation Camaro, there is quite a debate both inside and outside GM, over which styling direction it should take.
One faction--a slim majority by all accounts--favors a futuristic aerodynamic theme, the other camp, a heritage direction. Horton favors the later. He makes no apologies for the retro design seen here. In fact, the new "retro" SSR truck was one of Horton's primary influences. "It started out with me being into all the retro designs that are out," says the 19-year-old Horton. "One of the cars I look to for inspiration is the SSR. But I didn't feel that the SSR really satisfied what all the enthusiasts wanted. I wanted to do a take on a first-generation Camaro because many people were sad to see it go."
Sticker price, while demonstrably less on the minds of wealthy executives these days, is a big issue for this intrepid student. "In my perfect world, this Camaro would be an affordable car," Horton says. "It would have to be a rear-drive V-8 with a solid axle and cost between $25,000 and $30,000. I've always believed that it doesn't have to take money to be a car enthusiast." To that sentiment we give a big thumbs up.
The images you see here were refined by Horton with input from the author over a three-month period in early 2003. Horton posted the earliest versions on several active Camaro bulletin boards including www.camaroz28.com and www.camaros.net. At that time, Horton's work came to the attention of PHR and several iterative designs ensued, culminating in the illustrations seen here. During that time, we gained an appreciation for young Horton's strong work ethic and his passion for cars. "My interest for cars comes from my dad who is mostly into Chevys," Horton explains. "It really picked up when I learned to drive, especially since my first car was a Chevy, an El Camino. I've always been most interested in the classic musclecars, especially Chevelles and Camaros. I liked the styling of them the most. The loss of the Camaro effected me, I was truly upset to see it go, especially when it was becoming an icon. When I saw that Ford was doing a car that was a nod to the first-generation Mustang, that's what got me going on designing the retro-styled fifth-gen Camaro."
Budding designers take note, Horton's creation was shaped not with grease pencils and stencil paper, but on computer with a student version of a program called Softimage XSI (by Avid). Ostensibly an animation program, Horton finds it conducive for modeling virtual automotive shapes in natural light. "As far as designing and modeling cars, most of what I know is self-taught," Horton explains. "I've been studying on my own how designers build 3-D models, then adding in my own style and taste for cars. I first got started in the program I'm using right now at the Cerro Coso Academy of Digital Animation in Ridgecrest, Calif. I originally wanted to do animation for a movie effects house, but I found myself leaning more toward the modeling aspect."
To see such talent at a young age is unusual. And while we could get no official comment from GM concerning Horton's design (GM does not accept any renderings from outside for legal reasons) we did contact retired GM engineer Jim Warren for his critique. Warren, a 42-year GM veteran, spent 20 years on the production staff at Chevrolet and Fisher Body before moving on for another 20 years at GM design staff. Currently, Warren is a head instructor at GM University, where he teaches new engineering recruits the art of body packaging.
PHR: Tell us Jim, do you think Kris' Camaro is practical for production?
Jim Warren: It doesn't look like there's anything that couldn't be productionized on this model. You'd have to have the proper-sized wheels you were going to have on there and the proper suspension. You have to design the wheel opening to the tire jounce and rebound--flop as we call it. As far as the engine, you'd need a scale-sized drawing of it to see if it fits under the hood and between the wheels--stuff like that. You would want to take some sections off the model to-scale to get dimensions off them.
PHR: What about from a styling standpoint?
Warren: On the exterior surface, all of this could be made to work. You might be moving some surfaces around a little bit, but it looks pretty close to being a car right now. He's done a real good job. I think if he's done this himself, he's a real good candidate to get into the Art Center. He's got enough height on the door to package the glass down in the door. You don't want any sticking up or anything. The only thing I would question on the body side is the wheel openings. He may not have enough area for suspension travel. It looks like--just trying to picture some person standing by the car--the hood height would accommodate an engine in there, pretty damn close anyway. The proportion looks good. It looks like the front of the hood is more realistic; most of the designers from the aesthetics studio do hoods that look like they dive into the ground sloping down hill, but we always have to raise that up to get the engines and radiators in. But he looks like he's already there. He must actually work on cars or something.
PHR: Do you see anything right off the bat that you might be concerned about? Anything that might be a problem for regulations or standards?
Warren: Just looking at the side view, it looks like he's going to need a little more distance between the end of the bumper and the taillamps--for impact standards. It looks like it needs another inch or two. The same would probably go for the front too. One other thing--you've got a quarter window in there. You might have a little trouble dropping that window between the end of the door and the rear wheel house. You might have to bring the rear wheel back or lower the greenhouse. If they did package the engine in and found they had extra room to lower the hood, you might even want to drop the beltline down to look a little better.
PHR: Do you see anything here that might be a lightning rod for the beancounters?
Warren: There's a push on now at GM to make doors thinner. What that does is inhibits design and shape, making the body more slab-sided. This is to reduce the die stations at the plants so they don't have to draw the door inner panels so deep. It reduces the cost. A car like this with some shape in it has some zippiness, but that may be at odds with the business case. It would get some people interested though.
Influence & Direction
One thing readers may note is the front end's striking similarity to the Chevelle. This is no accident, as Horton is a big fan of '70-'72 Chevelles. When asked what his favorite car is, Horton says, "My ideal car is a '70 Chevelle with an LS6 in it." Traditionalists may disagree with this styling cue, but we think it indelibly stamps this Camaro with the Chevy brand. Another nod to previous Chevys is the quad taillamp design, which is evocative of classic Corvettes, Chevelles and second-generation Camaros. Nose to tail, Horton's Camaro is all Chevy, right down to the SS stripes and Hugger Orange paint. Sharp eyes will note the 18-inch ROH R/T wheels, already original equipment on some special-edition Holdens. A close look at the headlamps reveals not old-style sealed glass lamps, but a composite lens with high-intensity discharge lamps and integral turn signals.
So what does the future hold for Horton? After all, an active imagination like his would benefit all PHR's readers in time, provided Horton is allowed to strut his stuff. "My main drive right now is to go to school for automotive design," Horton says. "The one I've wanted to go to for years now is the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Out of all the schools, I really like their direction and the products that their students have produced. If I can do that, I'd like to work for one of Detroit's Big Three. I'm really tired of all the boring cars out there and I want to make a difference."
We've got news for Kris--his work will make a big difference to many of us, even before he realizes his dual dreams of art school and gainful employment. If the early response to these renderings on the internet is any indication, this Camaro will cause quite a stir, perhaps even a renewed sense of urgency at GM. Whatever the case, we're confident Kris Horton has a long and prosperous career as a designer ahead of him.
Note the all-important stance...
Note the all-important stance in this rear view. The upswept rear fascia implies strength and agility. Note the small decklid spoiler and classic twin taillamps.
This early rendition shows...
This early rendition shows hide-away headlights, a lower hood line and custom billet wheels. This alternative fascia treatment was well received on the internet.
Horton's fifth-gen Camaro...
Horton's fifth-gen Camaro concept rides on ROH 18-inch R/T wheels. Profile view shows a pleasing blend of modern styling (ground effects and wheel spats) with traditional Camaro styling (wheel power bulges and fuselage styling).
Should Chevy make a fifth-gen...
Should Chevy make a fifth-gen Camaro like Kris Horton's? Let us know how you feel by logging onto www.popularhotrodding.com. We'll pass your comments directly to GM executives.
Designer, Kris Horton, hails...
Designer, Kris Horton, hails from Ridgecrest, Calif. The 19-year-old is currently enrolled at the Cerro Coso Academy of Digital Animation. Horton would like to attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where many of GM's top designers have emerged.
THE RETURN OF THE CAMARO
The mission of the Camaro has always been clear: offer V-8 performance in a rear-wheel drive coupe at a reasonable price. At present, it looks like enthusiasts may just have their way if plans stay on track. Persistent rumors indicate that the next version of Holden's RWD architecture is being jointly developed by the Australians and the Americans for use as a global platform. Unlike next year's production GTO, which needed many bandage fixes to bring it into compliance with US standards, the next Holden will most likely be designed from the outset to comply with US regs. Such an architecture would satisfy the cost criteria for Camaro.
And just how "affordable" is affordable? One needs to look no further than pricing on current Holden V-8 models. In US dollars, it's possible to order a reasonably well-equipped Holden Executive model with an LS1 V-8 and IRS for around $24,000. That's for a four door, but the example does provide good insight into the economies provided by a flexible architecture. As best we can tell, Holden's next-gen global architecture is most likely to be built at Detroit's Hamtramck plant which currently produces the Bonneville, LeSabre and DeVille. Current models of these cars are slated for production through the 2006 model year, making the Holden-based large-car product available for the 2007 model year. Will GM build a Camaro with it? So far, only fullsized RWD cars (and an El Camino) have been discussed, but Holden manufacturing criteria for current product calls for short wheelbase versions--such as the Commodore and Monaro--to be built from the same modular architecture. There's no way to tell if Camaro will re-emerge from Detroit, but we can only hope that the continued dedication by fans like Kris Horton will make it happen.
The Fifth Element Reloaded