When the Camaro Concept (codename CZ6) was introduced on January 9 at the Detroit auto show, the joint went nuts. Master and Commander Bob Lutz did the honors, stressing that his Chevy had something that the re-born Mustang and the Dodge Challenger do not. Simply, it distances itself from the others with a lot more than a retro theme.

Lutz: "While the current Mustang and concept Challenger are very nice cars, I honestly think this goes beyond that. I like both of those cars, but they don't really break any new ground aesthetically. They are very close to the original car. Maybe that is a good thing, but we elected not to do that. We elected to do a thoroughly new car with totally new surfaces that doesn't just make the same statement of the old car again, but in fact, makes a new statement while capturing all of the spirit and essence of the original cars."

Now that the bluster of reports and prognostication from the daily cyberspace and weekly print journals is over and the swell words from the manufacturers' pitch men have been pitched, we are here to see what's what. Yeah, the big question: how close is it to being a real car? Please keep reading. Lutz: "We have no production plans to announce. But this concept car was designed over a production architecture, using production mechanical units, and if and when there should be a production car, it would be as close to this as the production Solstice was to the concept. It took us about six months on the Solstice to get all the numbers together, see whether we could afford it, to see if we could fit in the engineering workload. It would probably be the same here.

"If we were to put this car into production, it would be priced with the Mustang ... you would have a popular-priced six-cylinder version, then you step up to an eight, then step up to the next eight, all the way up to 500 hp ... but you always would like to keep the Corvette with a few horsepower more than the Camaro." Let's step away from the superheated air, look at the Camaro proposal from an enthusiast's perspective, and leave Chevrolet out of it for the moment. Quite literally, it is an answer to several million prayers, silent or otherwise. It could easily put Chevy fans back in the performance picture in the same arena as the Mustang and the new Challenger. It's aimed at the younger as well as the older buying segment, the latter who remember the original Camaro when it appeared in the fall of 1966.

Though the younger buyer probably has no idea of what the original F-bodies were like and could care less if the new version is retro, or even that it is true to the original lines, their interest lies in what's under the hood and how the power output is managed by the engine electronics, the suspension, and the drivetrain ... and how cool they'll look wheeling this icon in the immediate future. "And don't think twice about it," says Tom Peters, design director of rearwheel performance cars. "They want that V-8!"

So will they build it? We say emphatically "yes!" The telltale sign? If a concept car is posed with a production platform and ancillaries rather than parts from the unobtainium bin, it's a pretty sure thing that the Camaro will be a production item. [Ed note: A prime example of how not to do it would be the (2003) SS four-door concept--a red LS1-powered, six-speed, four-door sedan that couldn't be built in the real world because the underpinnings were lifted from a Corvette.] Two weeks after the concept Camaro's debut, the official PR charge was that the car was still undergoing the fiscal scrutiny to see if the proposal makes business sense (a euphemism for there will be a waiting period, but it'll happen). And the waiting period won't be long. An educated guesstimate would be early '09. And you must realize that by GM standards, this car came together at the speed of light (less than 12 months). It surely won't be like the SSR, an on-again, off-again teaser that took an insane three years after the prototypes were unleashed to introduce for retail consumption.

Global Design for GM, VP Ed Welburn, had a hankering to do a Camaro concept. That yellow and black '69 SS marvel master in his garage was more than an impetus. It whispered to him daily, poked him daily: the icon was still the icon and that it should not be left to wither. The clamor from the public sector (read a zillion e-mails) for Chevrolet to reinstate their favorite car was not lost on him (or Lutz), either. In early '05, two key things came together to forge his decision: there was a desire to build a knockout concept for the '06 Detroit auto show that would build on the momentum of the Corvette C6 (2004) and the ZO6 (2005). Second, the work on the global rear-wheel-drive Zeta rchitecture had progressed to where it could be used in a rear-drive coupe with the Camaro concept's proportions. The idea was to incorporate a fresh expression of the car's heritage; the caution was not to get trapped by history (e.g., a purely retro derivation), and to produce a quality that evoked the emotion of those years but without "copying" it line for line. But will this deviance from the original theme come back to bite ... like buyer resistance to the GTO, which was considered anything but retro?

At first, the assignment was that of the Warren Advanced Studio team headed by Bob Boniface (whose first car was a Second-Gen Camaro). He and his team worked on the themes that would capture the heritage of the Camaro. For inspiration they used the First- ('67-69) and Second-Generation cars ('70-81). Welburn dug the First-Gen car, but others pushed for the European lines and flavor of the Second-Gen cars. Regardless of silhouette, Boniface's team created clay models of both renditions with the requisite long hood, short deck, wide track and large wheels.

On April 15, 2005, Lutz, Welburn, and the others reviewed these themes. Lutz wasn't completely satisfied with either rendition, though he did have lust in his heart for the First-Gen design. But how do you express the elements of the '69 in a modern way? What did the car mean then and what would it mean today? Because of the kinship they saw with the Corvette, they wanted to include some of the elements germane to the C6, especially in the form of the fenders and shape of the hood. Boniface: "The right thing to do is multiple themes. Both cars get better. As good as one might be, you can always make it better."Welburn is a big believer in competition, so at this point the Rear-Wheel Production Studio heavies were invited to the party. This cabal was piloted by Tom Peters (Design Director Rear-Wheel Drive Performance Cars, who did the C6 and the ZO6 and who shoes a ZL1-powered, six-speed '69 Camaro): "... Ed invited me to put a team together and develop an alternative. He wanted to kick it up a notch. And I was anxious to do that because I felt the car needed to have a very strong expression, much in the way that it was for the C6. But for me, it is not a matter of translating a car, to redo it. You want to analyze those designs and pull out those intrinsic, those timeless design elements, those cues if you will, and reinterpret those in a fresh way."

To add drama to the intramural competition, Peters' team would ply its earthly miracle in a secret room in the cellar of the design center called Studio X (after GM designer Bill Mitchell's secret laboratory). To the teams, the Camaro concept program was a microcosm of how product development should work. Once the advanced studio and engineers have the package and the proportions right, the production studio people can go faster and with more confidence. The two groups trekked across the Warren campus at regular intervals to view each other's work. Boniface: "This is the way things should work in a car company."

And there's nothing better than a heap of tension to make this little world, this microcosm, spin all the faster. The plan was to introduce the wraith Camaro at the Detroit show, about six months hence, as a running, barking, and very close-to-production-ready concept. Within weeks of accepting the assignment, Peters' crew had a full-size clay ready for inspection. Then Lutz and Welburn feasted their eyes, and liked what they saw. Peters: "It wasn't just a show car. We didn't want to just tease people. It had to be producible."

Come summer, it was show-and-tell time on the "secure patio" at the Design Center. As a foil, Welburn had put his '69 SS between the two clay Jakes. Stuff looks a lot different in artificial light than it does in the resonance of natural light--especially cars. Viewing them in the daylight was the real-world acid test. Lutz couldn't decide. Welburn did. Peters' production studio rendition got the nod, but obviously both teams borrowed from each other and contributed to the whole. Boniface: "The passion won out. The car people won. The guys in design and engineering demanded that this car would happen..." Performance was the early Camaro's middle name, so how could this one disappoint? The engine in the CZ6 is a 400hp, 400 lb-ft 6.0L equipped with Active Fuel Management (shuts off four cylinders while the engine is in light-throttle cruise mode). As in the iteration of the 5.3L V-8 that we've driven in the '06 Impala SS, the transition to full-throttle and vice-versa is seamless. Working with the deep overdrive ratios in the T56, the concept, or a similar production car, is expected to return at least 30 mpg on the highway cycle. In the production world, we envision a variation of the current 3.9L V-6 in the base car, an all-aluminum 300hp 5.3L V-8 with AFM, the 400hp 6.0L, and yes, even the killer 505hp 427.

Throughout the exercise, thoughts clustered on functionality. In the '60s, most of the mechanical development was on the powertrain. Cars ran like hell but didn't stop or handle worth a damn ... and no one cared, but 35 years later, those qualities have become just as important as the output of the engine. The concept's four-wheel independent suspension system will remain in the production cars. We remember driving an early '90s F-body whose rear suspension had been converted to IRS. The difference in ride and handling between it and the straight-axle car was something we remember vividly 15 years after the fact. You'd better believe that the difference (ride, handling, and braking) between the proposed Camaro and '02 Camaro would be like night and day. Regardless, the size of the concept's wheel/tire package will shrink to something on the order of 18- or 20-inch wheels and include 13-inch disc brakes rather than CTS-V 14-inch Brembos posed on the concept.