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Super Chevy Interview - The Man Behind The Camaro

Al Oppenheiser Knows More About The '10 Camaro Story Than Any Man Alive, And He Tells Super Chevy Most, But Not All, Of The Det

They do the same in Australia, getting up at three in the morning to be at our key meetings here. It's actually a very good benefit, because, if we're trying to solve an engineering problem here today at Milford, we can get on the phone and ask them to continue working on the problem, so that when we come into work the next day, the problem has been solved.

SC: So, even under tremendous pressures to keep costs down and build the minimum number of prototypes, you actually had to build two sets of prototypes, one here and one in Australia?

AO: That's how we have to do global programs, just double the hardware everywhere. The only way it can work is if you have a global homeroom, as we call it, and that would be Australia for rear-wheel-drive cars. They have a great history with great rear-wheel-drive performance cars, and their HSV high-performance models, a small number of people with great output on performance rear-wheel-drive cars. This was the first program in the history of GM where a vehicle was engineered in a region completely different from the region where it would be built and sold.

SC: Even with all that complexity, there were really only a few significant delays despite what came out in the media. Can you comment on that?

AO: There were no delays. We had the powertrain guys here from Corvette and Cadillac CTS-V to do the V-8 engine calibrations here. The noise and vibration work was done here. We needed ride quality, we needed good squeak-and-rattle performance, and library quiet. A lot of our engineers in Australia didn't understand our need for quietness, and zero squeaks and rattles because their customers aren't as picky as ours. It was no coincidence that I tried to time our Holden engineers' visit around the time of the Woodward Dream Cruise. I wanted them to soak in all those intangibles about passion and car passion so they could understand what we're talking about.

SC: You also had hemispheric problems, in that, when it's winter up here, it's summer down there, and they don't really have winter in Australia. Was that a problem?

AO: No, because New Zealand is only a three-hour flight, so they would take the cars over there, and we ended up being able to do winter testing all year round that way. We were able to do development on our new chassis systems like StabiliTrak and traction control. We developed those in Sweden, and here in Kapuskasing (Ontario) in the winter, and New Zealand in the summer.

Same with hot testing. We were having the worst winter I can remember up here, but they were down there in 45-degree Centigrade (113 degrees F.) heat waves and drought. That was one of the things we took advantage of, having both climates all year round. I would kill to have the road system they have in Australia, and the guys who came up here couldn't believe how bad the roads are in Detroit and Michigan.

SC: Did you have an unusual problem jump up in the development program, something you didn't expect?

AO: One of our challenges was developing a snow tire. We worked with Pirelli to develop snow tires, and on both the V-8s and the V-6 RS, they are 275/35s on the rear. Not every customer will drive his Camaro in the snow, but for those who will, we had to develop a tire, and in freezing conditions on bad roads, there was some impact harshness with those tires that the Australians didn't understand, because they don't have minus-20 weather and their roads are so good. After 21/2 years of ride development at Milford here, and Lang Lang in Australia, at VIR, and on the Nurburgring, all of a sudden we had this impact harshness with snow tires to deal with.

SC: This new Camaro comes with a choice of a V-6, a hot V-8, and an even hotter V-8. Why?

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