If we had to name one car that has over the last 40 years most accurately portrayed the American spirit, it would have to be the Camaro. Thus when Camaro production ceased on August 27, 2002, less than a year after the atrocities of September 11, it was, for enthusiasts, like entering the dark ages. Chevrolet officials brushed the concerns of Bowtie faithful off their backs like so many raindrops-but it was a storm that wouldn't quit. Enthusiasts wanted their Camaro and refused to give up. Finally, on August 10, 2006, GM CEO Rick Wagoner announced to the world that we would once again have our American icon.
Camaro: What We Know For SureIn a press release, GM says the new coupe, which will roll out as a 2009 model, will be closely based on the award-winning Camaro concept seen on these pages. The mechanical specifics are mouth-watering: engine in the front, rear-wheel drive, fully independent suspension, and a choice of V-6 and V-8 engines. These details are, for the most part, the standard recipe for a traditional musclecar, and ought to guarantee the 100,000 sales per year General Motors is looking for. Our only concern in the Camaro's bill of materials is the inclusion of independent rear suspension (IRS), but before we get to that, more of the good details.
Most notably, the production car will be almost indistinguishable from the concept. To quote Ed Welburn, GM's global vice president of design, "The new Camaro will be almost identical to the concept, a thoroughly modern interpretation of the 1969 model, considered by many to be the best design of the car's first generation." The concept Camaro, which has been on tour almost non-stop since it was revealed at the 2006 NAIAS in Detroit, has garnered rave reviews. It was this overwhelmingly positive response that has given GM the mandate they need to put their baby into production.
More good news comes in the form of the Camaro's architectural packaging. GM is doing nothing to hide the fact that the Camaro will ride on the new Zeta platform being developed by its Australian Holden division. Down under, the new Zeta architecture will underpin nearly every Holden vehicle in the land, with the exception of front-wheel drivers. This is good for two reasons: it guarantees affordability and flexibility.
On the price front, we've been absolutely promised that the Camaro will be in line with the Ford Mustang. Without getting specific, Chevrolet officials are saying like-optioned vehicles will be very close in price to Ford's ponycar. And unless Chevy changes its mind, that means a base V-8-powered Camaro will have a transaction price under $27,000 in current dollars.
Most Likely ScenarioFrom here, we depart from known facts into the realm of educated guess. On a strictly tit-for-tat basis, GM's V-8 that most closely matches Ford's 300hp 4.6L is the all-aluminum 5.3-liter LS4. The LS4, which just so happens to weigh-in at 327 ci, already appears in the Chevy Impala SS, Monte Carlo SS and Pontiac Grand Prix GXP, and out-muscles the Mustang V-8 in horsepowknows it. (5.3 liters versus Ford's 4.6 liters), and torque (323 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm versus Ford's 320 @ 4,500 rpm). Having GM's Active Fuel Management technology (which shuts down half the cylinders at cruise), the LS4 is easily as thrifty as Ford's 4.6, if not more so. As a side note, the LS4 is seriously torque managed in order to work in front-wheel drive cars, and could easily be tweaked higher for the rear-drive Camaro.
But our money for a base V-8 is riding on the 400hp LS2, or its immediate replacement, the 6.2-liter L92. In base GMC Yukon form, the L92 makes 380 hp at 5,500 rpm and 417 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm. (The 6-liter LS2 in the Corvette makes 400 hp at 6,000 rpm and 400 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm.) Chevy planners are not known for their timid approach in the horsepower wars, and with Active Fuel Management (AFM), we expect a 6-liter or 6.2-liter could nearly match the fuel economy of Ford's 4.6-liter.
And with gas approaching $4 a gallon, the fuel economy issue is perhaps the biggest concern. Will buyers want a musclecar come 2009? The short answer, we think, is yes. Entry-level buyers looking for a sporty fuel-efficient commuter may very well choose the 3.9-liter LZ8, an AFM-equipped V-6 with excellent fuel economy and serviceable power for an entry-level Camaro (233 hp @ 5,600 rpm and 240 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm). Our experience is that high-performance models are most frequently purchased as weekend warriors, not commuters, and those owners would be minimally impacted by fuel prices.
The burden of the Camaro's success, however, will be squarely on the backs of quality and value. If fuel costs soar above $4 a gallon, and it almost certainly will, a V-8 Camaro must be of the highest quality. Potential buyers must view the experience of owning and driving a Camaro as an overriding factor to the price of fuel. With fuel prices so uncertain, you can bet GM's engineering and manufacturing team will be placing a priority on interior quality, fit and finish, overall performance, and value. That's the only path consistent with success, and GM knows it.
In the transmission department, good things abound. Look for the Tremec T56 six-speed manual to reappear in the V-8 Camaro. With a maximum torque capacity of 470 lb-ft and two overdrive ratios (including a super-deep 0.50:1), the T56 will be the weapon of choice. If self-shifters are your bag, the six-speed Hydra-Matic 6L80 automatic box is most likely to be used. It handles 439 lb-ft of torque and has an impressive ratio spread (4.03, 2.36, 1.53, 1.15, 0.85, and 0.67). Most importantly, it's guaranteed to keep the engine within its power band while keeping fuel economy at bay.
Perhaps the best hint of all came from Bob Lutz at the Camaro's initial unveiling in Detroit last January. If produced, Lutz told showgoers, the Camaro could receive any V-8 in the current Chevy arsenal, up to and including the big gun LS7. For 1-percenters like us, that's good news. With work purportedly progressing on an even more potent supercharged mill for the Corvette (nicknamed Blue Devil), that leaves the door open for a 500hp LS7 Camaro.
The IRS DebateLike we said before, our only concern about Camaro is the IRS, and was one of the key considerations in the Ford camp when designing the new Mustang. At first glance, the performance and handling benefits of IRS look good. Also on the plus side are shared components with other cars, which will bring cost down on an otherwise expensive proposition. The down side is weight, which will easily tack another 100 lbs to a vehicle which will undoubtedly tip 3,800 lbs. Don't expect lightweight alloy suspension forgings on the Camaro like we see on Corvette. It will be stamped steel all the way. Our second concern is strength. An IRS is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to adding power or adding sticky tires. Breakage at relatively mild power levels is virtually a guarantee, as we've seen with just minor amounts of axle hop from drag raced Mustang Cobras, GTOs and Cadillac CTS-Vs. A stick axle can be made for less money, would provide far more strength, and with careful engineering, could possess 95 percent of the refinement of IRS-as proven by the new Mustang. We think IRS is a mistake for a Camaro, which is traditionally a straight-axle car. We vote for less mass, less complexity, less cost, easier modification, and more strength, but that train appears to have left the station.
The SourceWhatever your attitude towards IRS, you can thank GM for unraveling the tangled mess it left when it shuttered the Ste. Therese, Quebec F-body plant back in 2002. The three-way squabble between GM, the Canadian Auto Workers union and the Canadian government was resolved when GM announced plans to build the new Camaro in one of its Oshawa, Ontario plants. This comes as no surprise, as the Canadian federal government has recently invested $435 million in GM's Oshawa operations. This, along with GM's contractual promise to the CAW (dating back at least to 1992) to be the sole source of all Camaros and Firebirds, made the Canadian decision easy. No, the Camaro won't be built in the US, but the up-sides over Quebec are improved supply and distribution networks, and a single-language workforce.
What About Firebird?We're purely speculating, but we think there are better-than-even odds that the Firebird will return. For starters, GM would like to differentiate the brands in its Buick-GMC-Pontiac dealer channel, and to do that it's been announced that Pontiac will morph into a specialized, all-rear-wheel-drive performance brand. Ever since the sales failure of the GTO, it's a lot more likely that GM will pick up the Firebird and Trans Am than return to the GTO for another go. Either way, the GTO or the Firebird-or both-will be built in Oshawa alongside the Camaro starting in 2009. The Zeta's flexibility and the improvements to the Oshawa assembly plant make that almost a sure thing. Of course, GM and Pontiac get a lot more out of it by milking a separate announcement unrelated to Camaro, so look for a concept car first (probably 2007 in Detroit at the NAIAS), followed by rumors and leaks, then finally a product announcement.