Detroit Tries Muscle: The Return of the Camaro

  • Share
  • Read Later

The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro LT

Few General Motors Corp. cars have ever had the mystique of the Chevrolet Camaro. A macho machine if ever there was one, the Camaro was launched in the 1967 model year in response to Ford's fabulous Mustang. The Camaro made waves quickly, because buyers had the option of muscling it up with GM's big-block V8 engines, turning a sporty 4-seat roadster into a street monster and track regular. Mustang had the name; but Camaro had the horses. Like many of Detroit's muscle cars, though, Camaro was doomed by paunchier styling and performance over the years, and the car's blue-collar fans drifted away to pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. Slow sales doomed the car in 2002.

Now the beast is back, and Karen Rafferty, the car's marketing manager says the Camaro will appeal to both older muscle-car enthusiasts and to new generation of motorists looking for a distinctive vehicle that blends cool styling and the latest technology.

GM has already has 14,000 orders for the new Camaro since unveiling the first concept car in 2006. Never export oriented, GM is preparing to sell the car in 20 countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Brazil. (See the 50 worst cars of all time.)

What makes GM think this version will be another stud? "The design is very contemporary," says Ed Welburn, GM's chief designer. Welburn says he specifically instructed GM's stylists to retain the spirit of the old Camaro from the 1960s but not to try to replicate it. Work on the Camaro started in earnest in 2006 after GM had launched a major restructuring of its operations around the world. Consequently, Gene Stefanyshyn, the GM executive in charge of the project, moved to Australia to oversee the re-engineering of a rear-wheel-drive chassis that its Holden auto subsidiary had sold in small quantities over the years in both its home market and the Middle East. The Camaro is built on the Holden platform. The car will actually be assembled at GM plant in Oshawa, Ontario, outside of Toronto.

From its one-piece rear quarter panel to its independent rear-suspension, deep-dish steering wheel and comfortable interior, the new Camaro goes well beyond the old-fashioned "Detroit iron" of the 1960s and '70s. The new Camaro is powered by either by an old school, 426-hp V8 or an up-to-date direct-injection V6 engine that produces 29 m.p.g. and 304 HP in one package. During TIME's test drive, the Camaro showed that it blends the responsive feel and precise handling found in European road cars with raw American power, easily mastering the twisting, rural two-lane roads across southern Michigan. "It's a good example of what GM can do and what maybe they should have been doing for a long time now. And while the timing is not great for that type of vehicle, if they are able to make it through the next few months then they could present it as all that is right about Detroit and its cars," says Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with the Automotive Group HIS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass. (See TIME's top 10 fictional cars.)

Making it through the next couple of months will require more financial engineering than mechanical, and that process moved along this week, too. The U.S. Treasury Department's decision to release $5 billion in federal loans to automotive suppliers suggests that the Obama Administration is likely to approve billions in loans for GM and Chrysler. The Administration's automotive task force appears to have ruled out forcing GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy. That's one reason GM has pushed back the date of the company's annual meeting unit to August from June. Once it gets final approval of $21.6 billion in new federal loans, the company can have a future to talk about. GM isn't planning anything fancy for the meeting — it will be held in Detroit to save travel costs. "The board felt they would be in a better position to give some perspective on the progress we're making on our restructuring," says GM spokeswoman Julie Gibson of the delayed meeting. "We've got a lot going on right now."

Read about the CEOs behind Detroit's Big Three

See a brief history of the Model T