The Chevrolet Camaro was GM's response to Ford's huge-selling Mustang. Hastily cobbled together from the upcoming 1968 Chevy Nova, the 1967 Camaro was mostly monocoque but had a separate steel subframe ahead of the A-pillar. The front suspension was independent but the Camaro had a solid rear axle, leaf spring rear suspension, four drum brakes and manual recirculating ball steering. Its 140hp, 3.8-litre straight-six was mated to a three-speed manual transmission. Advanced, it wasn't. It did look good, though, and there were some racy RS and SS trim packages. A 5.4 small-block V8 with 210hp (dual carb) or 275hp (four-barrel carb) quickly arrived, followed by a 5.7-litre small black V8 with 295hp (badged SS-350). The big-block, 6.5-litre V8 with 325 and 375hp were the most powerful Camaros ever while the 290hp, 4.9-litre Z/28 offered the sportier driving experience and all this, remember, within a year of its launch. The coupé-only MkII Camaro was supposedly Ferrari-inspired and was bigger and heavier despite being the same old nail mechanically. It outsold the hideous Mustang II, though – 1979 was the Camaro's best-ever year, when a staggering 282,571 were sold. Purists reckon the 360hp, Mk II Z/28 was the best Camaro of them all. The wedge-shaped Mk III Camaro arrived in 1982 and finally got a full monocoque, MacPherson struts, a coil-sprung rear end, fuel injection, four-speed autos, five-speed manuals and a hatchback "T-Top" body. "High-output" 5.0-litre V8s were rated at a pathetic 190hp, although later boosted to 5.7 litres and 240hp. The fourth and final Camaro arrived in 1993, sharing much of its chassis and many of its components with the Mk III, although now with rack-and-pinion steering and ABS. The LT1 5.7-litre V8 offered 275hp but was soon replaced by a 305hp LS-1 V8, boosted to 320hp with a ram-air pack. A 330hp LT4 5.7-litre V8 was offered in the extremely rare Mk IV Camaro Z28 SS, the most powerful Camaro in 30 years. In 2002, a sad 35th anniversary package was launched, just before Camaro production was shut down. In 2005 the hot-selling Ford Mustang was launched and once again Chevy dusted off the Camaro badge to give chase.
There's no way you could describe the 2010 Camaro as anything but retro. The sunken headlamps; the long, arched bonnet; the exaggerated bonnet bulge; the Coke-bottle shape with its kicked up haunches; the fake rear fender vents and that stubby rear deck with its kicked-up spoiler all hark unashamedly back to the style of the original 1967 model. But it's also very modern, oddly. The design is crisp and sharply creased, packed with aggression and finished off with beautiful detailing, like the turn signals hidden in the front grille, strategic use of chrome accents, understated alloy wheels and even the honed shape of the door mirrors. It looks wonderful from any angle, something you could never say about the fat-arsed Mustang.
While the Ford's interior was a parts bin special, the Camaro's is much more faithful to the original and a lot more bespoke, too. Everything from the deep bucket seats to the retro instrument cluster to the deep-dish steering wheel have all been specifically designed for the Camaro. Even the heater controls are unique, while the square centre console dials are another example of how much love and attention has gone into the Camaro's design. Everything you'd expect from a modern car is in there, including Bluetooth, sat nav, climate control etc., but it's all hidden away to make the Camaro's cabin as close to the original as possible. It seems as if rear space won't be vast but, again, it should be better than its rival's cramped offering.
Two all-alloy engines will be offered in the US., a 300hp 3.6-litre V6 (as much power as the Mustang's 5.0-litre V8) and a 422hp(manual) or 400hp(auto) 6.2-litre V8 pinched from the Corvette, both available with a six-speed manual or GM's new six-speed automatic transmission. European specification will be different due to the better quality of European fuel and the engine tuning might be different due to the different driving styles over here. There's a possibility of more powerful versions down the line, with anything up to 650hp entirely feasible, but at present Chevrolet denies this, saying the "SS will be the top dog." Diesel versions are definitely not planned although a turbo-charged four-cylinder engine, possibly even a hybrid, is being considered to help it meet European CO2 regulations and lower fuel consumption for American customers.
Performance figures are proving difficult to come by but GM engineers have released some official numbers for their new muscle car. Unfortunately, these are just quarter-mile (the distance between two sets of traffic lights on a traditional American 'block') and 0-60mph times. The 300hp 3.6-litre V6 Camaro will hit 96km/h in an impressive 6.1 seconds regardless of transmission choice, covering the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds at 97mph (156km/h), whatever that means. The brakes don't sound quite as impressive, though, with the base Camaro needing more than 40m to stop from 96km/h. The V8-powered Camaro SS is livelier, though. The 422hp manual model hits 96km/h in 4.9 seconds and runs a 13.4-second quarter-mile time at 108mph/174km/h but the 400hp SS automatic dispatches the same sprint in 4.6 seconds, passing the quarter-mile mark in 13.3 seconds, thanks to its super-quick shifts. Both SS versions stop dead from 96km/h in less than 36m.
The new Camaro is based on GM's rear-wheel-drive Zeta platform, which is shared with the Holden Commodore, Pontiac G8 and Vauxhall VXR8. This means a near-perfect 50:50 weight distribution and a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension for superior handling and stability. ESC will be standard, as will four-piston Brembo brakes and 20-inch alloy wheels on top SS models. Numerous sightings on Germany's famous Nürburgring indicates that Chevrolet is quite serious about making the Camaro drive as well as it looks. Already it's been reported the V8 Camaro SS can pull a maximum 0.90g on the skid pad but with a limited-slip differential as standard expect it to be equally happy going sideways.
We don't know much about the Camaro's environmental credentials, but they might not be too bad. This may be a car for CO2-oblivious Americans, but it's likely to be surprisingly fuel efficient thanks to its direct injection and tall cruising gears. To ensure the Camaro can continue to be sold in Europe in the long term, Chevrolet is rumoured to be working on a four-cylinder turbo version, possibly mated to a hybrid battery/motor unit, pushing power closer to 300hp while still ensuring lower fuel consumption and a rock-bottom CO2 output.
Switchable ESC and six airbags will be fitted to all models as standard, plus all the basic safety gear like ISOFIX child seat mounts, seatbelt pre-tensioners, belt reminders, parking sensors, a 'bonging' chime to remind you you're in a car and more labels than the clothing aisle at Dunnes.
The all-new Camaro goes into production on February 16th and goes on sale in the US immediately after that but Ireland won't get a right-hand-drive version until early 2010. A convertible will follow in 2011, while a low-CO2 derivative should arrive with the 2012 facelift. Officially, there will be no Z28 model, although it's hard to see how GM won't succumb to the temptation to outdo the Shelby Mustang. The company expects to sell 100,000 units in North America and about 5,000 a year in Europe, where the car will be considerably more expensive. The base model should cost around €14,000 in the States, with the basic SS model starting at €18,000. European models will be fully loaded and should cost around €45,000 for a base model and as much as €65,000 for the V8.