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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.

AO: Our mission from Day One was no gas-guzzlers. The Challenger customer has to pay a $1,700 gas-guzzler penalty, and we didn't want our customers to have to deal with that. So we paired the L99 engine with active-fuel-management and automatic transmission and went for fuel economy. It's based on the same Gen 4 small-block, it just has the AFM on it to stay above gas-guzzler. We worked on mass as well. The heaviest LS3 V-8 comes in at just over 3,900 pounds, using HSLA steel and an aluminum hood, compared to the Challenger that's over 4,200 pounds.

SC: Your team faced significantly higher levels and standards for safety, including crash, rollover, and pedestrian protection, standards that no other Camaro team has ever had to deal with. How tough was that?

AO: The goal was, of course, five-star for everything, and we're projecting five-star for rollover, five-star for LINCAP, four-star and five-star for NCAP. In fact, we're right there for the new Stars For Cars standards that will come in in 2012. We did a study on the '69 Camaro, and if you subtract all the weight that had to be added for mandatory safety equipment since 1969, the mass ends up about the same.

SC: Now that the Camaro is in the showrooms and on the street, what about extending the model lineup with a convertible, and possibly a Z/28 version? What would a Z/28 be like?

AO: The convertible has been announced, but it has been delayed until 2011. As far as a Z/28, or a performance version, we've had this debate internally many, many times. What would you call the performance version? A Z/28? A COPO? A Yenko? Would you bring back a nostalgic name, or not? Create a new one? The SS was always the big dog Camaro, not the Z/28. The first Z/28 was built just to get us into the racing circuit against the Mustang and all the other cars that were in that class. If you were going to take a Z/28 approach, you'd try to stay true to the RPO, build a car that you could drive daily on the street, take to the drag strip and do well, or take to the track and do well, which the original Z/28 did. Take some things out of it, get the mass down, use an existing small-block, maybe an LS7, an LS9. Make it a great-performing car for the purist.

SC: We're pretty sure you can get 7.0 liters out of the existing block, so how about a COPO, a 427 Camaro?

AO: Never say never (laughs)! On the other end, we also get asked a lot about turbocharged four-cylinders, especially when they link the discussion to the Bonneville program we did with the turbo four. My answer to that is, none of us Camaro folks would do it, but if we were told to do it, we would do it. We did a study, and it leaked out, but it was only a corporate study to be compliant with future CAFE demands.

SC: You are already making over 300 hp with the base V-6 engine, so who's to say you couldn't lean harder on that engine, take some weight out of the car, and offer a performance V-6 package, although you couldn't call it a Z/28, because all Z/28s were V-8s. How about a 360hp performance V-6?

AO: Don't forget, there are a lot of aftermarket companies like Hennessey and SLP. That's great for the car. We don't have to spend a dime to get that kind of horsepower out of the car.

SC: When did you release all the relevant measuring data for the car to the aftermarket through the SEMA program?

AO: We didn't release it to SEMA for measuring until January 2009, just a couple of months before its public introduction. Our own SPO guys, who work with our engineers, were called in first, in order to get their parts engineered as quickly as possible.

SC: There seems to be a knot in the pipeline. There are close to 20,000 orders for the Camaro, but customers are waiting and waiting for their cars. Is there a problem at the plant in Canada? What's going on with the slow deliveries?

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