The Camaro That Almost Was

January 19, 2006
If you want to get a good look at the Chevrolet Camaro concept car, you'd better get down to Detroit's Cobo Hall pretty early -- or stick with the images on TheCarConnection.com. The lines form early and last long. There's no question that the Chevy show car is the top draw at this year's North American International Auto Show. But it almost didn't get there, at least not in the form we've seen.

As TCC previously reported, an early attempt to revive the Camaro nameplate in time for the January 2005 Detroit show was scuttled by General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, who felt it was simply too retro. Wagoner sent design chief Ed Welburn and his team back to their digital drawing boards, and "within about three weeks, maybe four," recalls Welburn, they had something serious going. Soon, the sketches were transfered to a lifesize clay model and rolled out onto the well-guarded patio behind the GM Design Center, in Warren, MI. "When I walked out onto the patio and saw it, it was obvious it was a Camaro," Welburn, himself a Camaro collector, tells TheCarConnection. But he still wasn't satisfied. "I liked it, but I wanted them to push it farther."

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At that point, the decision was made to bring in a second studio, a top-secret facility located well away from the main design center, and known by the cryptic codename, Studio X. Where the first studio's work bore a strong resemblance to the relatively tame '68 Camaro, Studio X came up with an alternative that, according to Welburn, "had a lot of flare," more like the iconic '69. The photo here gives a look at the two versions. Or, if you prefer, three, as the Studio X clay model, on the right, features two optional faces. And in it, you'll get a clue to what happened next.

Digital design is a wonderful thing. The main design worked better, overall, than the Studio X prototype, which seemed a little two edgy, a bit too much like the Cadillac XLR. But it had some intriguing details lacking from the first design. Ultimately, the two competing teams were able to borrow some of each other's ideas. One of the Studio X grilles was melded onto the main design team's overall shape, and by mid-2005, Welburn and his bosses, CEO Wagoner and car czar Bob Lutz, were ready to sign off on the show car that debuted to so much acclaim early this month.

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Along with the running prototype on display in Detroit, by the way, a second version, with no running gear, was milled, painted, and ultimately shipped to the West Coast, for a belated presence at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Now, the big question: will they build it? "It's just a concept," Welburn repeats, open like a mantra. But after he takes a breath, he admits, "We all feel very connected with that car." Though he can't confirm production plans, he does tell TheCarConnection, "We do need to move very quickly" towards making a go/no-go decision. Considering the stir Camaro is creating, we're betting approval will come within the next several months, with production likely to begin within as little as 18 months. And obviously, we'll report the details along the way.

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