2006 Chevrolet Camaro Concept
February 14, 2006
by Trevor Hofmann / American Auto Press
Is This Chevys Future Sport Coupe Competitor?
If you happened to be running late, as I was, it was impossible to get near the GM stand at its Detroit introduction of a yet to be announced concept that everyone new would be the all-new Camaro. The layout of the stage, or more correctly, stages, allowed for a long alley and center courtyard, for a better word, the former which paved the way for a high school marching band as well as a half dozen classic Camaros in various stages of trim, from bone stock to fully race-prepared, the latter that became center stage for the new concept once it made its way down that same alley, in the opposite direction, and rotated on its turntable.
The General would have been smart to put the car on an elevated pedestal, as all I could do, amid throngs of GM staff members blocking members of the press like myself, was hold my camera in the air and blindly click away. There was a guy next to me that had to get video of the event, looking sheepish in the knowledge that his boss was going to be none too happy. Such was the excitement over what many hoped would be the forerunner of a production Camaro, a long-anticipated model that has been bantered about bowtie fan forums for the last four years since the old version was discontinued.
GM did a good job of shutting up the media too, not a very easy job since the advent of blogs and bloggers who run them. Unlike a rival muscle car introduced at the NAIAS days before, which was shown on just about every website in existence weeks before its "embargo" deadline, GM achieved a media blackout like nothing Ive seen in recent years. And was the hype surrounding the new Camaro concept warranted? Well, yes and no.
What do I mean? Well yes, the prospect of a new Camaro is something worth getting excited about, especially since the Mustang has become one of the continents biggest sellers and, some would argue, as responsible for keeping Ford Motor Company out of the sewer during the past year and a half as its venerable F-150. But thats not all. Chrysler Group hasnt exactly been mum about its Challenger concept, with most expecting that the car shown in Cobo Hall just before the Camaro concept is a thinly veiled production model. Could GM, which once ruled the pony car war with its Camaro Z28 and Pontiac Firebird/Trans Am, would lose face completely. It didnt, of course, and before the most important auto show of the North American calendar was over, a peek into the Generals future was unveiled.
But then theres the no side of the equation. The car they finally showed looked almost cartoonish compared to Dodges production-ready Challenger, or any previous Camaro for that matter - its tiny greenhouse with low, slit-like windows dwarfed by an elongated body and even longer hood, replete with a nose-like hood bulge sporting nostrils at its leading edge; more "Need for Speed" than reality.
"The overall proportions, long hood and powerful fender forms say, This is a front-engine, rear-wheel drive performance vehicle, " stated Tom Peters, design director, rear-wheel drive performance cars.
The concepts overall shape is similar to the 69 model, especially in the rear quarter window and "gills" just below on the rear fenders. Still, its rectangular tail lamps, closer to the 73 in layout at least, and oddly attractive grille treatment that appears heavily influenced by Cadillacs lovely XLR as it comes to a point at center, but not executed quite as elegantly, shows that at the very least GM wasnt willing to merely show a retrospective carbon copy of a past classic.
"The Camaro Concept isnt just a styled shape," added Peters. "The design incorporates what the vehicle needs to perform to its optimum level."
Still, it didnt appear like GMs designers had had time to finalize a clear and concise study, but more so that the new Camaro was rushed together at the last minute (contrary to reports that attest the project was kept under wraps for eight months before its debut), just to show that GM indeed did have an interest in reentering a market segment it helped to define back in its glory days. Fare enough. The Challenger wasnt exactly quick on the scene either, and may take quite some time before arriving in showroom trim.
If Chevy comes to market with a new Camaro, and chances are good that it will, it wont happen for a while; probably not until model year 2009. Why the hold up? The concept is based on a rear-drive chassis architecture pulled from GM of Australias Holden division; yes, the same subsidiary that gave us the Monaro-based Pontiac GTO. This is an expensive platform integrating a four-wheel independent suspension system, reason enough why the GTO costs so much and has suffered from middling sales because of it. The Camaro, which would need to be sold in V6 guise for a price similar to the Mustangs sub-$20K base MSRP, would have to ride on a much less sophisticated (i.e. cheaper) suspension setup.
By the way, the concept not only gets an all-independent setup powered through the rear wheels, but also sports progressive-rate springs and gas-pressurized dampers. Stopping power comes by four-wheel vented disc brakes with fourteen-inch rotors, easily seen behind ultra-large diameter 21-inch front and 22-inch rear five-spoke alloy rims on low-profile 275/30 R 21 front, 305/30 R 22 rear, Z-rated rubber. Of course, no such circumference should be expected with the production wheel and tire packages, with 17- to 19-inch mounts more likely.
The concept, incidentally, features other niceties that wont necessarily make it to market, at least in base trim. For instance, under its long hood resides the Corvettes all-aluminum LS2 6.0-liter V8, with no less than 400-horsepower and relatively thrifty fuel economy due to cylinder-deactivation enhanced by a six-speed manual transmission, resulting in somewhere around 30 mpg on the highway. Of course, something upwards of 400-hp, worthy of the SS moniker, will be needed to compete with the Mustang-based Shelby Cobra GT500 and Challenger SRT8, or whatever Dodge finally calls it when it finally debuts in road-ready trim. And at the opposite end of the feeding chain, while Chrysler Groups two-door coupe might not attempt to fight it out in the entry-level trenches, GM has a bevy of high-torque, low-redline, somewhat simplistic V6 engines that might be ideal for a bottom-rung Camaro, plus a number of V8s, the new 5.3-liter mill with cylinder-deactivation comes to mind, for an RS (Rally Sport) model.
The Corvette engine, whether potential production material or not, is a lot more likely to do time in a future Camaro than the concepts interior treatment. Dont get me wrong, its ruddy stunning, but being that GM will, once again, want to enter the lower end of the coupe market, something less outlandish will probably make the cut. For now, however, a quick study of what GMs designers labored so diligently over prior to letting the proverbial cat out of the bag (reportedly keeping the lid on this show "surprise" was much more challenging than actually developing the car) would be fitting.
Black and gold is the interior theme, a motif that is more Trans Am than Z28; if you can remember way back to 1977 and Burt Reynolds ride in Smokey and the Bandit - man I wanted that car. This one? Well not as much, but not because of its stellar cabin. GM says the interior contrast color isnt gold, but orange, and as such it pays homage to a design theme offered in its first-generation Camaros. So be it.
"The fact that the Camaro has been out of production for a number of years made it particularly important that the Camaro Concept honors the Camaro heritage in the right way," commented Bob Boniface, director of the Warren Advanced Design Studio.
The original didnt come with orange tinted gauges, mind you, nor the acres of brushed metal trim or sophisticated, fully bolstered race-like bucket seats. Yes, the concept shows off a stunning interior, quite obviously too good for this class. So enjoy it while you can, because whatever the General comes to market with wont be as stylish or as well put together, but, as displayed in its most recent production cars, itll be good enough not to turn off would-be buyers.
So, if GM were to bring back the Camaro looking just like this concept would it be capable of selling 699,000 examples, just like the original did during its first three years of production. Not likely, and thats not just because the concept, as it sits, will only appeal to a small margin of potential buyers. Yes, there are some that go gaga for glitz and glam, just like there were buyers for the black and gold "screaming chicken" Trans Am back in the mid- to late-70s - I would have been one too if only my weekend odd-job money was even sufficient for the down payment (although something tells me GMAC wouldnt have given credit to a kid of fourteen years).
"Millions of people of all ages fell in love with the Camaro for all of the right reasons," said Ed Welburn, GM vice president, global design. "Camaros were beautiful to look at and offered performance that could rival expensive European GTs. Yet they were practical enough to drive every day and priced within the reach of many new car buyers."
Just like with the original Camaro, many buyers will want something with a little less testosterone, something a little classier. A Berlinetta maybe? Yes, thats it. And with the respect to the concept, theres no way it could be toned down enough to appeal to such a buyer. The car that showed up at last months NAIAS stage is more of a niche product, juicing up the diehard Z28 fans, but hardly the type of car that could win over the masses like Fords new Mustang has. Thats why I think it may only resemble the real deal in principle, or more specifically, Chevy will continue to pay its respect to previous models, particularly the 69, when it comes forward with a production version of its upcoming Camaro. When will it arrive? Next year maybe, or possibly the year after; but no later than the 2008 show.
And you can bet it will happen. GM needs a boost in morale like few other automakers, and a vivid reminder of a time when printing money would have been more difficult than talking North Americans into buying its products. Its niche products like the Camaro that will sell mainstream sedans, like the Malibu and Impala, as long as these continue to become more competitive. Who knows, maybe there will be enough all-American muscle cars on the road within the next few years to revive something similar to the old Trans Am racing series, where the Big 3 from Michigan go head to head, racing sport coupes on Sunday to sell on Monday, as the oft-coined saying goes. Stranger things have happened, and I for one would love to see an American motorsport series using real cars that real people can actually go out and buy, rather than the hopped up, plastic-bodied, tubular framed billboards that currently run on race day. A guy can dream, cant he?
My guess is that theres as many 14-year old kids dreaming about the new Camaro as there was drooling over Smokeys Trans Am and the neighbors 73 split-bumper Z28 back in the day, my personal favorite by the way, all black with white stripes if anyone wants to surprise me on my birthday. And while kids dont have the $20- to $30K needed to splurge for a limited use sports coupe, theres a reasonable case for building brand image while minds are still moldable.
The Camaros real target market is made up of people my age and older, who, now flush with real estate profits and stock market riches, are ready to relive the good ole days in a car that makes them feel 14... er... 18 again. A motorized elixir for eternal youth? Bring it on, Chevy!