When Cheverolet put the Camaro on sale in September of 1966, the SR-71 Blackbird was flying at Mach 3 over mother Russia, The Beatles were apparently more famous than the son of god and wooden-toothed Walt Disney sadly popped his clogs.
The 60s were a time of psychedelic drugs, JFK, civil-rights and a cultural counter revolution; a time that I would be hard pressed not to spin the dial to, if old Doc Brown turned up the in DeLorean.
So, whilst America was on its way to a decade of societal change, so was the automotive industry.When Ford released the Mustang in 1964, there was no serious reaction from GM. Once the Mustang had sold 100,000 units in the first six months and almost half a million in the first year, the GM board sat bolt upright.
It wasn’t as if they were unprepared for America’s love story with the four seat sports car. GM had actually begun preliminary work on such a car as early as 1958, according to Pontiac designer Bob Porter. “I remember a four-passenger, sporty type car of the general size and weight class of the Mustang being worked on in an advanced studio. In the early 60s, similar cars were developed from time to time. Everyone wanted to do one, but at the time there was really no corporate interest.”
The responsibility for producing a giant killer was given to the GM design centre’s Chevrolet studio under the direction of Henry C. Haga. Interior design was directed by George Angersbach, who had been heavily involved in the design of the Corvette and Corvair.
The designers did mock-ups of many different models, including a two-seat roadster, a fastback, and a station wagon. GM was trying to keep the cost as low as possible, however, to compete with the Mustang, and decided to stick with just two models: a coupe and a convertible.
Finally, the car was introduced to the press as the Camaro (considered to be a good name because nobody knew what it meant). Chevrolet produced an old French dictionary showing that the word meant ‘friend’ or ‘companion’, but Ford found an alternate meaning in an old Spanish dictionary: ‘small, shrimp-like creature’. The countries automotive press laughed long and hard until they saw the 67 Camaro and realised that they were witnessing the birth of a classic.
Fast-forward some forty years, the SR-71 is in the Smithsonian, we have one Beatle left and Disney is cryogenically frozen. And what we do have is the fifth generation Camaro. The Camaro is a car that I played with in the 80s with my family. At that time is was the Hot Wheels and die-cast models, none of the plastic muck you find creeping its way into toy boxes these days.
So, you can say that the Camaro holds a mythical place in my heart. When it was delivered on an unusually hot day this year, I parked it across the courtyard from my apartment so I could get a general idea of what passersby thought. Let’s not muck about: it was the 2SS and had the bumblebee paint job. Bright yellow and racing stripes meant there would be no speed tests in this.
“Tango two six, tango two six, we have a yellow Camaro driving between Junctions 13 and 14 at speed, can you assist?”
“Well, I don’t know, let me see if I can spot it…”
I can’t say if I really expected a furious breakneck speed from the Camaro. I knew that the 2SS model had 556 lb.-ft. of torque and so I would be able to reverse the climate with my foot applied to both the break and the accelerator.
I have met many car writers in my time and the ones that write for titles that consider themselves refined and well-to-do would probably consider the colour and size of this Camaro some-what gauche. Well, I have news for you, you’re all fallaciously inaccurate. Your logic is flawed, your ideas spurious and your opinions groundless.
When I saw the Camaro parked proudly outside my building, haven driven a decidedly dark Aston Martin Vantage the week before, I too wondered about the merits of its nuclear-yellow paint job (the paint job is actually Rally Yellow for when you buy yours).
I am in publishing and so do not shy away from the bright, the eccentric, the elaborate – rather, I embrace it. Not only I, but it would appear everyone that came into contact with the Camaro too.
As I sat in the left-hand side of the car and turned the ignition, the car rumbled to life in such a way as to shake it from left to right like a pissed-off metronome. The torque on this 6.2LT V8 was astounding and would later lead to an angry letter from the UN asking why I had shifted the earth off of its axis. Despite a curb weight of 3860 lb., the Camaro SS hits 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. It feels like it gets there a lot quicker. To be honest, you’re not able to focus on much other than the sound that the V8 kicks out.
Dead ahead of me, a blue flash appeared and the Cheverolet logo materialised in the distance on the road. I had been told about the Camaro’s HUD. A beautiful addition to the modern driver’s arsenal and one that I think should come as standard in all vehicles. Add it to the cruise control and you need barely so much as move your neck. Sadly, we here in Blighty aren’t blessed with the same mighty highways as the Americans. So it won’t be long before you are tapping the cruise control back and forth in an effort to avoid the car that’s pulled into the fast lane to get a better glimpse of the Camaro’s majesty.
After the first mile and in pretty serious British heat, I had all the windows down and found myself almost intrinsically placing my left arm out of the window and down the side of the door. Almost as if the Camaro Gods demanded the hint of a possible automotive sacrifice that could be the loss of my arm. THEY COULD TAKE A LEG.
Despite my hillbilly appearance, the sun was shining, the air conditioning provided enough chill to keep the Arctic from melting, and I swear to god, Black Betty played from a rather well setup Boston Audio system.
Every time I glanced out the side mirrors I saw the beautiful muscle car wing staring right back at me. The Camaro concept that the fifth generation is based on was launched at the North American International Auto Show, where AutoWeek awarded it’s good looks with best in show.
The SS sits on Pirelli P Zero performance tires 245 upfront and 275 at the rear. We didn’t attempt any serious slaloms, but the ride is planted and the steering well pointed. Obviously the Camaro is epic to drive: it is precise and gives sterling feedback. It is also the first Camaro in history to have independent rear suspension, a multilink design working with a MacPherson-strut front setup. Obviously when it is pushed you will encounter a fair amount of body roll which is to be expected with a car of this weight. No matter, you can just torque it back into a straight line. It never displays any nasty handling habits though, and in low speeds, you can steer with the accelerator.
I decided to take ‘the bee’ out to the countryside to see what it was made of, hoping to find some empty sun drenched roads and tunnels. As with most big cars, junctions and turnings are a delight, because people tend to give way pretty sharpish. In the Camaro, however, I sensed they were giving way just so they could glance at it for a little bit longer.
I encountered my first set of many enamoured teenagers on the M32 into Bristol, leaning out of their windows to shout “Nice car, mate”. Yes, it is, I thought. Not wanting to appear arrogant I offered a simple thumbs up whilst secretly revving a little longer for them. The Camaro is a showman: it enjoys being stuck in traffic and crawling through rush hour in style, or blowing your passengers hair off down the open road.
The interior of the Camaro maintains the retro-modern theme: the dashboard is vast, the instruments recessed into cockpit formation and a steering wheel and centre console stack shared by no other GM marque. The seats are built for the US market and so my UK frame fits more-than-comfortably. Like I said before, the HUD is also a stroke of genius.
The Camaro, for me, is a well-executed, modern version of a classic. It stays true to the ethos of a muscle car and one that never should have been cancelled in the first place. With a starting price of £35,320 pounds, it’s a great price to own a marque that will no doubt be a modern classic in no time.