It looks like the automobile business has started to recover somewhat from the disastrous sales slide that began last year and has sent the industry into a tailspin. Helped greatly by the so-called “Cash for Clunkers” program, there is now a bit of optimism at both the manufacturer and dealer levels.
A cautious recovery would seem an odd time for a somewhat impractical car to be a relative sales success, but that’s what Chevrolet’s 2010 Camaro is so far. Dealers are selling every one they can get, and there is word that it’s tough to buy one without paying a hefty mark-up over sticker price.
Is this really the summer of 2009? Aren’t dealers supposed to be slashing prices and practically begging customers to take cars off their hands? Well, in some cases, yes. But the new Camaro has been anticipated for a couple of years, and it’s a relatively low-volume model. Buyers who want them just want them, even if they have to pay a relatively stiff price to get one of the first examples.
The new Camaro follows the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger in offering a retro muscle car look wrapped around modern mechanical innards. The shape of the Camaro resembles the iconic 1969 Model, just as the Mustang and Challenger capture that era as well. Apparently the zenith of aggressive styling took place alongside the Age of Aquarius (or thereabout), because everyone seems to want to recapture that time in automotive history.
And as with its competitive models, the Camaro is miles ahead of its forebear in just about every way. The suspension, brakes, creature comforts, and of course, safety, are all completely up to 2010 standards. Old cars are great fun (I have several myself), but for everyday getting around, having a car that starts every time on the first try, doesn’t pollute much by comparison, and offers air conditioning to keep you cool on the hottest days is much better.
There are essentially three Camaro models so far. The base car with V6 power is called LS, while the LT offers more features with the same engine. For the power hungry, there’s the SS, which comes with a snarling 426 horsepower V8 borrowed from the Chevy Corvette. The best thing is that the styling looks pretty much the same for all the models, and most people would have trouble telling one from another on the road.
Even the LS comes pretty well equipped for its $22,245 base price, although the standard wheels aren’t too fancy and the seats are cloth. For $26,580 you can step up to what’s known as the 2LT, which adds leather upholstery and 19” aluminum wheels. That’s the one that most closely resembles the $30,000+ SS model, save for the tiny red badges on the grill and trunk lid.
The Camaro’s basic shape is sort of an artistic interpretation of the ’69 car. The most obvious mimic is of the grill, which is a sculpted egg crate shape that comes to a shallow point in the center. The line of the roof is also right out of the late ‘60s playbook, as is the crease down the side of the body, the pseudo vents stamped into the rear quarters, and the simple taillights surrounded by just a touch of chrome.
The classic Camaro is honored inside the car too, with a terrific update of the large side-by-side nacelles for the speedometer and tachometer placed just ahead of the driver. The steering wheel contains an airbag, of course, but it has a touch of the bygone days as well. An optional cluster of four auxiliary gauges sits at the forward edge of the console, just as the option sheet would let you add in 1969.
There is a downside to all this retro flair, and this is where practicality suffers. That same dramatic roofline and stylish window shape also means it’s a little tough to see what’s behind the car, so backing up and parallel parking can be a challenge. Adding to the visibility issue is the fact that the side mirrors are on the small side by today’s standards. Styling apparently trumped usefulness when the mirrors were designed.
Other than that little ergonomic misstep, the Camaro SS I spent some time in was a delight to drive. The V8 may be overkill, as the standard engine’s 304 horsepower should be plenty for just about anyone. Either one is available with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic gearbox. The V6 is rated at a respectable 17 mpg city and 29 highway, but the V8 does okay too at 16 and 24 (provided you drive sedately).
The Camaro is not going to single-handedly save General Motors. But it is a nice addition to the company’s lineup of vehicles, just when they can use all the help they can get.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.