What Do You Want, a Brass Band?

January 10, 2006

Anyone within a mile of Detroit’s Cobo Hall had to be aware something was going on Monday morning. Something big, as General Motors rolled out the long-awaited revival of the Chevrolet Camaro. Chicago’s Charlie Philippou, a member of the Illinois Camaro Club, came to the auto show “just for this,” as he peered through a Chevy periscope to peer over the head of the standing-room-only crowd for a glimpse of the reborn muscle car. A brass band ushered in a procession of classic Camaros, including some of the fastest and rarest in the pony car’s history. Then, with a puff of smoke, the ear-splitting roar of a big V-8, and the flash of 500 strobelights, the star of the show screeched out onto the stage.

First hinted at in a series of shots leaked from General Motors, Chevy’s concept is unmistakably Camaro, its basic lines lifted from what was arguably the most popular year in Camaro history, the 1969. But don’t call it retro. While the “heritage” cues are unmistakable, “this is a very contemporary car,” asserted GM’s product czar, Bob Lutz. In fact, he conceded, the automaker’s design team originally came up with the idea for a concept as retro as Ford’s current Mustang. But the idea was shot down by CEO Rick Wagoner. “He didn’t want something that reproduced the past slavishly,” Lutz said. The redesign is definitely more modern, with an angular grille and a steeply raked windshield countering the old Camaro’s slab lines.

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In concept form, the Camaro boasts a 400-horsepower version of the 6.0-liter LS2 engine, mated to a six-speed manual transmission. In a nod to modern realities, the Corvette-derived motor features GM’s Active Fuel Management system, which shuts off half the cylinders when loads are light. Under the skin, GM turned to the next-generation Zeta “architecture.” The automaker cancelled the original Zeta project last year, but quietly started over, aiming to drive cost out of the rear-drive platform. The four-wheel independent suspension uses McPherson struts up front and a multilink system in the rear. The Camaro’s wheelbase measures 110.5 inches, total length 186.2 inches, with a width of 79.6 inches.

How does the concept Camaro play in Peoria, or at least Chicago? “It’s really cool,” declared a visibly impressed Philippou. The 250 other Camaro Club members on hand seemed to agree. But for the moment, they’re going to have to wait. “It’s just a concept,” Lutz repeated, over and over, as hordes of autowriters descended on the car. “We have to run the numbers,” he added. “We can’t just go by emotion. Though if we did, this is the next car I would build.” The odds are extremely high that the concept will evolve into a production car no later than the ’09 model-year. And if it does, Lutz hinted, the base price would likely start in the low-$20,000 range for a basic, 6-banger version. But “any V-8 General Motors produces today is potentially slated for this car.” Sounds like a done deal to us.

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