First Drive: The Camaro Concept Car

Suddenly it's 2009 and our piggy bank is getting nervous.

Bowtie Bites: When the Camaro first came out in the fall of1966, it was in response to the dominating sales of the Ford Mustangwhich debuted halfway through 1964. Today the Camaro is being rebornunder similiar circumstances, in response to the stellar sales of theredesigned Mustang. Funny how history repeats itself, isn't it? - Online Editor

The rumble of the 400-hp LS2 fills the cockpit. You're sitting behindthe wheel of the hand-built Camaro Concept car, a one-off show specialworth about $5 million; and it sounds righteous, righteous enough tomake your right hand and foot twitch.

Unlike the late and lamented Fourth-Gen Camaro, you see more than justthe wipers when you look through the windshield. The rise in the centerof the hood is plain to see, just like the cowl-induction hood from theFirst-Gen cars that inspired it. The windshield itself is more upright,and though the roofline is low, you don't feel claustrophobic. Theentire interior feels more spacious, again like a '67 to 69 model. Butthe fat wrap on the steering wheel reminds you that this is 2006.

We were about to be unleashed on GM's Milford Proving Grounds in Chevy'swildly popular one-off, which debuted last January at the Los Angelesand Detroit Auto Shows. OK, maybe unleashed isn't the correct term sincethe car was speed governed to 40 mph. Still, this car is close enough inits execution to the now official production version that we wanted aturn in it.

If you don't think Chevy's management is burning every time Ford sellsone of the 170,000 or so Mustangs it builds annually, you are mistaken.Dodge had gone on the record that it would enter the ponycar market withthe upscale Challenger. Chevy enthusiasts were twitching withanticipation. Finally on August 10th Chevy announced it would beginproduction of the Camaro in late 2008 and have them on sale in the firstquarter of 2009. GM stated that this concept is pretty close to thefifth generation Camaro.

In person, the Camaro has a much more dramatic and cohesive appearancethan it did in photos from its Los Angeles and Detroit debuts. It'salmost a cross between the '69 Camaro and the 2006 Corvette. Its stylingis especially strong from the doors on back, where the roof mimics theCorvette's dual humps. It has broad, muscular shoulders over the rearwheels. It's tough and athletic without being gimmicky.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the design is the grille opening,which can appear from some angles as too narrow. Again in person, it'sbold and fits in well in the overall form.

For production GM's global Vice President Ed Welburn said the new carwill be "almost identical to the concept," and will feature an IRS, achoice of manual and automatic trannies and V-6 and V-8 engines. We'dexpect a few alterations. The roofline may be raised to accommodatetaller drivers while aiding ingress/egress. Surprisingly, it doesn'thamper visibility or make you feel like you're sitting in a choppedstreet rod. Don't look for hideaway headlights, which we're told add tocost and complexity while having the potential to be "customerdissatisfiers" when the doors don't line up properly or when they failto actually operate.

The two aspects of the car that are most troubling are the taillights,which don't blend into the overall design, and the decklid opening. Oursources tell us that getting a five-star crash test rating from allangles is paramount, not only for protecting passengers but in helpingto keep insurance rates down. That means a hatchback is out and atraditional trunk is in. The Camaro concept has plenty of space backthere, but the opening itself is rather small, and this could reallylimit both functionality and market appeal. The opening could be madelarger by altering the roofline or shrinking the size of the backlight,but the roofline has been very well received and the latter choice wouldhave a detrimental effect on visibility.

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