Ironically, I was first introduced to the Fourth-Gen Camaro while attending the press introduction for the new-at-the-time '94 Mustang. (Another staffer at the magazine I was working for pulled rank and got himself to the Camaro intro several months earlier.)
The press corps was assembled at a small test track in Dearborn to put the SN95 Mustang, which was really just an updated version of the previous Fox platform, through its paces. The new Mustang was bigger and heavier than the car it replaced and was saddled with a 215hp 5.0L engine that didn't breathe all that well. The Ford guys, who apparently hadn't spent a nanosecond's worth of time with the then-new 275hp Z28, brought out one of the General's new F-Bodies for comparison purposes.
That Was A MistakeThe new Z literally ran circles around the Mustang. Where the Ford floundered around corners, let alone kicking out the tail in tight areas, the Z28 gracefully drifted through the sweepers in tire-hazing disrespect to the folks who invited it to the party. The Blue Oval guys stared at their feet mostly, while the journalists clamored for another turn in the Camaro.
I distinctly heard one of the dyed-in-the-wool Ford magazine editors say of the Z28, "I gotta' get me one of these." Performance-wise, the Mustang has been playing catch-up to the F-car ever since. But we give the Dearborn group their due...The Mustang is the best damn Fairmont Ford ever built! But while Mustang hasn't been able to match the Fourth-Generation Camaro's performance, it flat buries the F-cars in sales; by more than two-to-one, at last count.
Why? Well, the Mustang appeals to a broader group of buyers. Ford sells lots of six-cylinder Mustangs, particularly to women. Female buyers have been turned off to the F-car for its low-slung stance-it's not a graceful car to get into or out of, especially if you're wearing a skirt.
As the Fourth-Generation Camaro enters its 10th year of production-and the 35th for the nameplate altogether-we thought it would be prudent to take a look at the current state of the car; a last look at the F-car as we know it.
We can't believe that Chevrolet would permanently do away with a brand name with so much cachet. As long as it returns with a V-8 engine driving the rear wheels, we'll welcome it. Until then, check out these examples of Camaro's swan song, each sung with an LS1 wail and a whole lot of tire smoke.
Camaro SSWe've never encountered a Camaro SS that wasn't a complete joy to abuse. We've beaten them like cheap drums and never heard so much as a whimper. Well, we have heard some moaning from the tires, but to be honest, they were always under duress at the time.
An '02 version of the Camaro SS will serve as Chevy's de-facto 35th Anniversary model, although we recently drove non-anniversary models that were otherwise loaded to the gills. Outfitted with SLP's (www.slpeng.com) optional center-outlet exhaust, custom grille insert, rear valence extension, and chrome wheels, the '02 looks great and has a few more horses under the hood.
There's a revised air box under the hood, which allows the motor to ingest a little more air and make a bit more power. When combined with either the center-outlet exhaust, or SLP's "dual-dual" exhaust, the engine is rated at 345 hp. Basically, SLP removed the air-silencing baffles in the production Z28's air box, figuring (rightly so) that SS owners wouldn't mind a bit more aural feedback from the engine.
As in years past, a litany of suspension options is available. At our test session, we sampled a full-boat SS, loaded with the Bilstein Ultra Performance suspension, Auburn high-torque differential, and Super Glue-like BFGoodrich 17-inch g-Force tires. Heat them up and you'll knock your head into the A-pillar on a tight righthander before those gumballs break loose. They work pretty well as drag radials, too.
As the Camaro ends production, it does so with a model, the SS, that will turn mid-13-second e.t.s and deliver almost 30 miles per gallon of gas on the highway. Those two facts alone defy any rationale for the current SUV mania.
Berger Camaro SSAfter a successful sellout of last year's limited edition Camaros, Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Berger Chevrolet is back with a more powerful, yet still limited run, Camaro SS. Taking advantage of a camshaft revision all LS1engines received in '01, the latest Berger Camaro SS is rated at 380 hp. And that includes the great-sounding chambered exhaust system, which is comprised of '69 Camaro-style resonators.
There are subtle appearance differences, also, which distinguish the car from last year's model. New polished wheels and red-painted calipers, along with some interior and exterior badging complete the changes. The SS striping, blacked-out taillamp panel, and grille insert remain, and all look good. We especially like the white-faced gauges with the "Berger Prescribed Power" logo on them.
In addition to the "standard" 380hp versions, Berger has also built a couple of downright insane 435hp monsters. Cam, heads, intake...They've all been tweaked to add more power. We flogged their Hugger Orange prototype recently and were reduced to giggling. The horsepower-level six-speed's gear spacing and the 3.73 ring-and-pinion come together in a near-perfect balance of barely contained street performance. From Second gear to Third, for example, the engine doesn't drop out of the power band for an instant-it just keeps pulling harder, propelling the car down the road as if God was flicking his own Hot Wheels across a linoleum floor.
Dennis Barker, Berger's resident Camaro nut, tells us there won't be any other 435hp Bergers...Well, except for that second one they built for NASCAR racer Johnny Benson. Let's just say that if you called with a no-limit credit card number handy, Dennis probably wouldn't hang up the phone.
That is, if there are any Berger Camaros left by the time you read this.
Camaro B4C Special Service PackageFirst went the Caprice, now the Camaro will exit the market as Chevy's last rear-drive police car.
Although not as prolific as the Caprice or Ford's Crown Vic (or even the previous-generation Mustang, for that matter), the Z28-based B4C police package has quietly found a niche with police agencies around the country. And "quiet" is the operative word.
"They're mostly used for traffic enforcement," says Chevy's Scott Settlemire. "A lot of agencies don't even put decals on the cars, or if they do, it's often just on the passenger-side door."
Sneaky, indeed. We drove around with Settlemire recently in a B4C demonstrator, complete with a slim, LED-lit light bar on the roof. Besides less aerodynamically bothersome, the LED light bar provides brilliant lighting but draws fewer amps than a traditional strobe-lit bar. Actually, a nod to electrical output is just about the only difference a B4C Camaro has over a regular production Z28-the alternator has a higher-amp output.
A few hundred B4Cs are sold each year, mostly with automatic transmissions, to local departments, sheriff departments, and state patrols. Unless Chevy plans to press the Corvette into police service, the '02 Camaro B4C will be the last rear-drive Chevy to carry a badge.