Happy Birthday to the Camaro

2012 Chevrolet Camaro 45th Anniversary Special Edition.

There are lots of people who like to study and analyze history. My cousin, for example, loves world history and military history. For me, the history of the automobile is much more interesting. (I’m even a member of the Society of Automotive Historians.)

For example, General Motors recently celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Chevrolet Camaro. It appeared in showrooms in September 1966 as a ’67 model. If you look at the timeline of automotive history during the era, you’ll see that the sporty coupe’s debut was almost exactly two and a half years after Ford’s Mustang bowed.

The Mustang was a huge success for Ford, and GM scrambled to come up with a competitor. They actually came up with two, as the Camaro got a fraternal twin at Pontiac, the Firebird. Both cars enjoyed a storied existence over the next several decades.

To honor the popular coupe on its birthday, Chevrolet has created a special 45th anniversary package for 2012 Camaros. Available on either the V6 2LT model or the V8-powered 2SS, the package is thankfully subtle while still being eye-catching. So many times over the years, anniversary models of various GM cars had been slathered with huge decals down the side to veritably shout their theme at anyone who saw them.

Not so with this celebratory Camaro. The exterior graphics package is distinctive and classy, with interesting red and grey stripes on the trunk lid and hood, the latter getting a “45” artfully blended into the red portion. There are also small badges paying tribute to the original Camaro emblem with red, white, and blue color accents.

Also part of the $1,375 45th anniversary package is a set of unique and very handsome 20” aluminum wheels, which really set off the Carbon Flash Metallic paint. (That color is about halfway between a charcoal grey and a true black.)

Inside, the little touches of color continue. The steering wheel stitching is done in red and blue, and the edges of the seats get red, white, and blue stitching to offset the black upholstery. There are also 45th anniversary logos on the door sills, dashboard, seats, and headrests. Like the exterior, the treatment is understated and not too in-your-face.

I’ve driven several different variations of the Camaro since it debuted in 2008, and one of my few pet peeves has been addressed for 2012. Chevrolet finally added a rear-view camera to the car’s equipment list, and I highly recommend it. Due to the car’s broad-shouldered stance and low roofline, visibility to the rear can be limited when backing or parallel parking.

Now part of the Rear Vision Package (optional or standard depending on which trim level you select), the camera supplements parking sensors in the bumper to help you avoid hitting something or grinding those handsome wheels on the curb. A wide view to the rear is displayed on a monitor integrated into the rear-view mirror. Ta-da…problem solved.

The example I drove was a 2SS model (V8), which thumps its way along with a 6.2 liter V8 making 426 horsepower. (It gets de-tuned to 400 horsepower if you choose the automatic transmission.) But the 3.6 liter V6 engine received a power bump this year to 323 horsepower, up from 304. Given the lower price and better fuel economy, I’d go for the V6 myself. The car I tested, which had the anniversary package as its only additional option, came in at $37,725 including destination charge.

Automotive history is fun to look at, and brings interesting things to light. (Like the fact that there were no Camaros built between 2003-2007, so there really haven’t been 45 years of production.) It’s also fun to celebrate a milestone anniversary, as you can do with the 2012 Camaro.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz

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