The sky is a menacing slate gray, but so far, the rain has held off. I’ve seldom been so interested in the weather, but this morning, even the slightest sprinkle will abort the opportunity that led me to buck morning rush hour to get to the General Motors Proving Ground at this ungodly early hour.
Clearing security, we roll up to
Sitting out on the tarmac, it’s easy to understand why there was so much demand for the first spy shots that TheCarConnection’s Web servers nearly shut down. The Camaro concept is absolutely stunning.
“I wanted the guys to design the meanest street-fighting dog you can get,” recalls Tom Peters, who oversaw the design project. The Camaro’s sharp creases and flared wheel wells hint of raw power, yet the brute elements of the concept pony car are softened by its sensuous curves.
The prototype that was unveiled to so much ballyhoo last January almost didn’t happen. The original idea, as outlined by GM’s Bob Lutz, was to do an absolutely retro remake of the classic ’69 Camaro, easily the most popular year in its long and celebrated history. The project was handed to designer Bob Boniface, who went to work out of Studio North, at the GM Technical Center in
2003 Chevrolet Camaro
1999 BMW 323i ConvertibleEnlarge Photo
They didn’t have a lot of time. The other team’s effort was already well underway, and whoever won the eventual shoot-out would have to be in position to pull a running prototype together in time for the January debut in
What the Studio X crew came up with had many of the classic cues, starting with the cockpit-like cabin sitting atop an aircraft-influenced fuselage. It’s the basic pony car formula, says Peters, that made the original Ford Mustang such an icon.
The team borrowed some other design elements from the C6 Corvette, such as the strong fender peaks and dihedral deck lid. There are other “heritage” cues lifted from the ’69 Camaro, including the wasp waist and bulging rear wheel wells. But don’t call this show car retro, says Peters, who insists his goal was to “take the Camaro into the future.”
While Steve Kim, the project’s lead designer, knew something special was taking shape in the basement studio, he was nonetheless surprised “by all the fanfare.”
2003 Chevrolet Camaro
There was a time when concept cars were little more than fantasies in chrome. These days, however, most prototypes are little more than thinly-disguised production vehicles, four-wheel billboards declaring, “watch this space.” The mandate for the Studio X crew was to come up with the most beautiful, iconic design they could manage. Production wasn’t among their goals. Nonetheless, says Kim, “This is not pie-in-the-sky, that’s for sure.”
2000 Bentley Mulliner ContinentalEnlarge Photo
So far, the heavens have held their wrath. So as my GM co-pilot gives me the go, I tap the start button. With a menacing road, the Camaro comes to life, settling into a brooding burble. I sit for a few moments just listening, my mind wandering back to the very first Camaro I can remember, a cherry red ’69 revving at a stoplight waiting to chew up a Dodge sitting in the next lane.
Slipping behind the wheel, my eyes wander across the instrument panel. It’s high-tech meets retro. The look is familiar, in the way the Jetsons made tomorrow seem so easy to identify with. If, “God is in the details,” as architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe asserted, then this is a religious moment. There’s an incredible attention to the subtlest of design features, capped by the copper-acrylic door inserts, a striking touch we hope to see when Camaro goes into production.
2003 Chevrolet Camaro
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It takes a few moments to position myself in the cramped cockpit. The chopped roofline is a bit low for my six-foot frame, and the seat adjustments are limited on the show car, but scooching around I finally get my bearings. My right hand instinctively reaches for the brushed aluminum gearshift lever, shifting the six-speed manual smoothly into gear. Releasing the clutch, the Camaro leaps into motion.
I’ve been warned to take it easy. No burn-outs, no high-speed turns. This is, after all, just a running mock-up, even though the engine is real and the chassis is based on GM’s next-generation Zeta rear-wheel-drive architecture. My foot modulates the throttle gently, though my heart screams “hit it.” Common sense wins out. Or perhaps it’s fear. I don’t relish the idea of reporting on how I wrecked the only Camaro concept car in existence.
So keeping the speed down a bit below 40, I sweep around the
In the current issue of Automotive News, GM Vice Chairman Lutz stressed that for the moment, Camaro is “not an approved program.” But don’t expect the automaker to dither for long. Peters, the director of design for rear-drive performance vehicles, says the decision has to be made soon, “Probably this year. If we want to get it out when it’s still relevant, we have to do it fast.”
1999 Bentley Continental REnlarge Photo
There’s good reason to believe that’s possible. With the launch of its all-new – and unabashedly retro – Mustang, Ford saw sales surge to 160,975 last year, and probably could do more with additional production capacity. Skeptics will note that the Mustang had handily outsold Camaro for years, but that was a Camaro that had grown too aero-slick, almost anesthetically clean for its own good.
If the Camaro concept I drove at