Ever since the Detroit Auto Show this past January, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a magazine that has coverage of the new Camaro or Challenger. They're all shouting the return of the ponycar and Detroit's embrace of big-time performance. But we've got news for them: The Camaro and Challenger have never left, at least not to our readers. Everybody from Hot Rod to the Hispanic edition of Women's Wear Daily is chirping about how these ponycars are done-deals. Manna from heaven. But they aren't-yet.
If you guessed that the hype is the result of the marketing types trying to sell more magazines, you're right on the money. Of course, there's a reason why they're right on the money: it's because we all want to take out a second and buy one of these cars. In no uncertain terms, the public has spoken, and we want our wheels. Like, right now.
But Detroit manufacturers are really funny about this stuff. They'll weigh opinions from the auto shows and focus groups. They'll talk to engineers and suppliers. They'll look at competing products and count pennies. And then after a lot of nail biting and head scratching, they'll make a decision. Most likely, we'll get a green light on both the Challenger and Camaro, but we're not out of the woods yet.
For one thing, products have a way of changing between concept and production. The projected price, weight, and performance could be off by magnitudes, so we need to keep the veeps, geeks and PR skulls on track.
Here's what I'm talking about. The Challenger and Camaro concepts have powerful V-8s and independent rear suspensions. When you twist the arms of the media suits, they throw out numbers like $28,000 MSRP (in 2006 dollars). And just when was the last time a car remotely like that ever happened? Hmm, let's see, uh, never.
I'm no genius, but 400 hp (or even 350 hp) in a ponycar-svelt Camaro with IRS and a sticker price of $28,000 sounds to a reasonable person like an impossibility. It would be great if the spokesholes are right, but a realistic expectation would be just over 300 hp (to beat the Mustang) and a solid axle for a sneeze over $25,000.
The Challenger is even more ominous, since it's planned to be built on a heavy luxury platform. Think about it. At 4,100 lbs, an LY-platform Challenger would be closer to an E-class Mercedes than a ponycar, even if it is packing a 392-inch Hemi. Reality check: If we're not careful, this car will never see the south side of two tons or $30K. Focus, Detroit, focus. Think "ponycar."
I'll finish by saying this: We can get the car we deserve and can afford. (Ironically, it's probably already here in the form of the Solstice GXP, but that's another story.) It happened before, back in 1989 when Mustang fanatics everywhere wrote to Ford (pre-Internet, no less) and begged them not to turn the Mustang into the Ford Probe. As history now records, customer outrage forced Ford to scrap plans to neuter the Mustang for the 1990 model year. The Probe tanked (like we knew it would) and the Mustang continues in RWD V-8 form to this day. We have guys like you to thank for that. We urge you to go see the Camaro or Challenger concepts on the show circuit, and make sure to give the officials an earful. If you don't, the soccer moms or Porsche retirees will.