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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 Details.

All of a sudden, Welburn said, "Guys, we need to steal the show this year, and if we can only do one car, I'm going to do a Camaro." It wasn't even on the proposal list. I got goosebumps because I'm a Camaro freak. He showed the early sketches that Sun Yap did, and everybody just lit up. We were highly motivated to do the Camaro, with the limited amount of time we had to do the concept, so it was born here, of American muscle and American passion for the Camaro, with real engineering and real structure, not just a bunch of tubing and fiberglass.

SC: Based on the reception the concept received at Detroit, GM decided to go ahead with the program. How long did it take, from start to finish?

AO: We did the Camaro in 31 months, making it the second-shortest program in GM history after the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky programs. Once the public found out that that we were bringing the Camaro back, the passion from the Camaro fan base just grew and grew, and the program couldn't happen fast enough. So it sure seemed to them like a long time between January of 2006 and now, but we never had any significant program delays.

There was so much attention on the camouflaged prototypes running around in Australia, with all the spy photos and everything, that Bob Lutz ordered us to take off the camouflage and let everyone see what the real car looked like, to take attention off the program. Once Chevrolet released the official photo of the white Camaro, the spy photos stopped.

SC: Apparently, Ed Welburn has wanted to do a new version of the '69 Camaro for a very long time, and he wasn't alone, was he?

AO: There were lots of people involved in the project who are Camaro freaks. Tom Peters, who did the exterior, has a COPO clone, a beautiful car. I've got a '68 convertible. There are so many people on this project who have them or had them, that they didn't mind putting in an extra few minutes here or an extra hour there or whatever it takes.

Ed's first concept was very retro, looked a lot like the '69. We had a full-size clay review out on the design center patio with the retro-look car, Ed's own '69, a new Mustang, and a Charger all sitting there. Ed walked over and asked one of the skilled-trades guys who is a Camaro fanatic, and he said "That's perfect. You just took 1969 and brought it to 2006." Ed said "OK. We're not doing this one. We know there's a Challenger coming, and a new Mustang, and if they decide to go contemporary, we're dead. Enthusiasts will buy one, but after the first year or two? This has to sustain, and be the 21st century sports car."

So Tom Peters was brought in, with his Corvette experience and Camaro passion, and designed the car you see today. It was quite exciting to be part of that.

SC: So you were engineering the car in the concept car phase, knowing that it would be built on the Zeta platform, in Australia, along with other programs that had already started. What kind of problems do you run into when they're working in a different day than you are, halfway around the world?

AO: Well, the first thing is, I haven't seen the whites of my eyes in two years because my day ends here at about 4 p.m., 6 a.m. in Australia, and then their day starts, so I'm up till 1 o'clock in the morning every night and then I'm up in the morning at 6:30. No sleep.

In order to make this car happen, you just had to sign up and say "I'm going to give it everything I've got." Everybody on my team, everybody on the design team, the marketing team, has willingly signed up for the extra hours it takes. There's an incredible amount of sacrifice to our families, our hobbies, our sleep, but it has to be done.

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