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Chevy Camaro F-Body - Goodbye, Sweet Prince

Bid Farewell To A Friend Forever

Mike Petralia Apr 1, 2002
Sucp_0204_01_z 70s_chevy_camaro Front_view 2/1

As the owner of a '70 Camaro, the first year for the Second-Generation Camaros, (I consider '70-73 to be the finest), it's hard not to choke up as I begin this story. Truth be told, I have a penchant for all things Camaro. If I had unlimited resources and tons of storage space, I'd have at least three of each generation in my garage. One would be pure stock, maybe a rare model like a '67 pace car, and I would work hard to keep its original integrity intact. The second would be a full-on g-Machine with 18-inch rubber, a six-speed, EFI power, and brakes so big they could do double-duty stopping a 747. My third dream Camaro would be a hard-core real street drag racer. It'd run mid-8s all day and look better than most Best of Show winners on the circuit. I guess that'd all be fine, but what would I drive? Of my dozen Camaros, none would be fit for battle in everyday L.A. traffic. I think I'd have to get another one for daily abuse. Maybe a '00 Z28 with an LS1 and 4L60E to make driving easy. Yeah, that's it: I'd have a baker's dozen worth of Camaros sitting in my stable. These dreams, like many I have, will probably never come to pass. I guess the good thing is that now I won't have to worry about what the next generation Camaro will be like and whether or not I'll want three more of those models too! That's because there will be no more generations to extend the Camaro lifeline. In September 2002, the last F-Body will roll off GM's assembly line. With no replacement plans to speak of, that means the F-Body is officially dead. May it rest in pieces.

Even though GM has not alluded to plans for the eminent replacement, in the automotive world of today, a stay of execution is always possible. Look at all the models that have been killed off in the past, only to be resurrected some time later in a different format to dominate their domain again. Take the Impala SS: It was born and lived its first life as a big car, and later it returned as a big car again, only to be killed twice. Then the stubborn Imp was resurrected for a third life as a mid-sized car and has done well in its class. The Monte Carlo is another example, and its body size and chassis platform still make it attractive enough to buyers of all shapes and sizes and to racecar builders and drivers alike. It's only fitting that GM should soon retool and resurrect the Camaro in a slightly different platform to compete in an ever-changing marketplace. Because, what is a car if not a way for its builder to earn a living and for its owner to get from point A to point B? Granted, some cars might do one thing better than the other, and some do both extremely well: The Camaro sort of lost its way in both categories. For several years, lately, Camaro sales have been slipping away, and GM knew something had to be done to avoid losing money. While it may have been the fastest, most powerful, and best-handling sports car in America for under $40,000, the Camaro found less and less favor with the younger crowd, particularly young women, who used to be a strong demographic for F-Bodies. What left a bad taste in a woman's mouth for the Camaro was its low-slung design in which she can appear neither graceful nor sexy upon entry and exit of a Camaro, no matter how hard she tries. And if she wore a short skirt, the crowd waiting to get into that hip, new restaurant she's just arrived at would get more than just a good meal that evening.

There's something else that's definitely changed in young America over the last several years: a move towards all things getting smaller. Whether it be PDAs, laptops, cell phones, or cars, most young buyers aren't looking for things that are big. They leave that to their parents who can't buy the next Gigantosaurous SUVs fast enough. The young crowd, upon whom GM relied in the past for a reasonable share of its market, no longer cared how powerful their V-8 engine was, or even if they had eight cylinders at all. Instead, they were more concerned with how easy the car was to park in a compact space. With the price of gas skyrocketing and most first-time buyers' budgets being only enough to afford mac and cheese for dinner, there was no way that a 325hp V-8 seemed like a practical investment at age 20.

So What's GM To Do?
We don't know what GM plans to do with the Camaro name plate or if any car will ever wear it again. We do know, however, that in order to successfully sell a sports car in today's market it DOES NOT have to be front-wheel drive (Porsche and Ferrari are doing just fine spinning their rear wheels). It will, however, need to APPEAR more economical and easier to drive. We use the term APPEAR here because even the most powerful V-8 Chevy offered in the Camaro could still knock down 30 mpg. But that was in Sixth gear cruising conservatively down a clear highway. Around town, the muscle from that V-8 just screams to be pushed, and, consequently, it's very difficult to keep your foot off it long enough to save any fuel on your commute. How can GM make a car appear more economical? We don't know, but it has to happen. Maybe lighten the car up and make it smaller? After all, no one really used up all that rear hatch space, did they? If Chevrolet could build a Camaro that tipped the scales somewhere around 2,500 pounds fully-loaded with about a 250-280hp V-6 under its hood, it would be a killer on any road. If they left out some of the needless fancy extras like power windows and door locks, or DVD players and stereos, (let's face it, there's never been a factory system that could keep up with the aftermarket stuff, so let the kids install their own systems and knock a few bucks off the sticker price of the car instead), then sold the Camaro like most of the imports are sold in bare-bones, stripped-down-to-the-last-bolt-to-save-a-few-bucks fashion, more young buyers would take a second look. GM could even go so far as to put cheaper floor mats and non-power seats in it for goodness sakes, because the kids are going to thrash on them anyways! What we're saying here is simply that GM could turn this car into a money-maker again and lead the way with a car that doesn't just say "look at me too," but instead it would say "don't try it, you can't catch me" again.

Camaro Historical Timeline
On September 26, the Camaro was introduced as a '67 model. Over 220,000 were built in the first year.

Camaro RS/SS convertible chosen to pace the 51st Indianapolis 500. Few '67 replica pace cars were produced, making them very rare today.

The Camaro once again paced the Indy 500 with some distinct new body stylings for this year only.

2nd-Generation Camaro introduced; convertible discontinued.

Last year for big-blocks and 2nd-Generation SS model.

LT (Luxury Touring) model introduced.

Z28 is discontinued, will return again in mid-1977.

Highest sales of ANY year. 282,582 units sold.

Last year for 2nd-Gen.

New, 3rd-Generation Camaro Z28 is used for an Indianapolis 500 pace car.

IROC Z package introduced.

Camaro convertible, last seen in 1969, is re-introduced.

Z28 name dropped, IROC Z remains available, 1st year for 1LE option.

RS badge reappeared.

IROC killed, replaced with Z28, 1st year for B4C police option.

25th Anniversary, last year for 3rd-Gen body style.

New 4th-Generation Z28 coupe is chosen as Brickyard 400 pace car.

Convertible 4th-Gen offered.

SS badge graces 305hp, SLP-built cars.

White/orange-stripped 30th anniversary Z28 available with houndstooth upholstery in coupe and convertible.

Updated front fascia and new all-aluminum LS1 powerplant.

35th anniversary edition Camaro offered with SS package. Production is stopped in September 2002.

Although there is certainly enough Camaro history over the last 35 years to fill volumes of magazines, we've highlighted just a few significant events in the Camaro time here.

Camaros Then And Now
Comparing Vital Statistics 1967 To 2002

1967 2002
Base 230 ci, inline-six, 140 hp/220 lb-ft 230ci (3.8L) V-6 200 hp/225 lb-ft
Hi perf. 396 ci, V-8, 375 hp/415 lb-ft 5.7L (346ci) V-8 310 hp/340 lb-ft
Compression ratio
Base 8.5:1 9.4:1
Hi Perf. 11.0:1 10.1:1
Base Hydraulic Hydraulic roller
Hi perf. Solid flat-tappet Hydraulic roller
Base Iron Iron
Hi perf. Iron Aluminum
Fuel octane
Base 87 87
Hi perf. 102 91
Transmission Automatic 2- & 3-speed 4-speed w/overdrive
Manual 3- & 4-speed 5- & 6-speed
Brakes 4-wheel drums (front discs optional) 4-wheel ABS discs
Rear gear 3.08 (manual), 2.73 (powerglide) 2.73, 3.08,
3.23, 3.42 options
Steering type 28.3:1 recirculating ball power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Sway bars (inch) 11/16 front (standard) 1.81 front (Z28), 0.748 rear (Z28)
Wheels 14x6 steel 16x8, 17x8 aluminum
Tires 7.35-14, D70-14 235/55R-16, 245/50ZR-16, 275/40ZR-17
Wheelbase (inches) 108.0 101.1
Length (inches) 184.6 193.5
Width (inches) 72.5 74.1
Height (inches) 51.0 51.2
Weight (pounds) 2910 (6), 3070 (V-8) 3323 to 3577 (depending on equipment)
Base price $2,466 $18,000-23,000 (depending on equipment)

What Killed The Camaro?We were curious about what caused the demise of the Camaro. After test-driving several different models over the last few years, we knew that the cause definitely could not be lack of performance, because there's nothing out there for under $40,000 that could touch this thing. So we had to look in other areas. We found the answer involved money: insurance and cost killed the Camaro.

Our online survey of several different insurance companies showed that a comparably equipped Mustang GT would cost its owner several hundred dollars less a year to insure. Comparing the Camaro to some of the more popular imports revealed similar results, which is strange because we also looked into the top 25 stolen vehicles, and the only Chevys on that list were the C1500 pickups. Apparently, American cars in general are not high commodities on the black market, so where does the Camaro's high cost to insure come from? We couldn't get a straight answer on that one, but it probably has to do with the high power and the heavy right foot of the people usually behind the wheel of one.

We also made an online cost comparison between the Mustang and Camaro that revealed some interesting information. The Mustang comes with very few options, mainly because everything Ford offers, like leather seats and power doors and windows, come standard on the Mustang but are options on the Camaro. The Camaro's giant list of factory options may be enough to scare away a first-time buyer. The task of trying to build an identical Camaro and Mustang online even confused us, but we found that no matter how you sliced it, base models or fully-loaded, the Camaro always costs more. A Z28 coupe with all options costs around $29,000 while a comparably equipped Mustang GT costs only $24,000. That $5,000 difference sure might be enough to scare away many young buyers who may not care what badge their shiny new car wears, only whether or not they could afford the monthly payments. The base models for both cars priced out much closer, with the Camaro costing $18,650 and the Mustang $17,825. So even in its cheapest format, the F-Body still costs almost $1,000 more. Since most young buyers are more concerned with price than performance (or so we're told), there are other things that would steer first-time buyers away from the Camaro. Financing is the culprit here, and we've been told GM makes it very difficult for young buyers to step into a Camaro. We talked to several dealers and found that some Chevy dealers might try to convince a young buyer with limited funds that the Camaro is too much car for them and talk them into another Chevrolet model, like the Malibu or, yek, the old Geo line-up that's now sold under the Chevy name-while Ford dealers would go out of their way to put a new buyer behind the wheel of their first Mustang. We know of at least one first-time, female buyer that was turned away from a Chevy dealer only to march right down the street and drive off with a brand-new Mustang 4 hours later. And since we know that kids toady are not going to do anything to improve their financial status any more than we did, GM needs to wake up and make it easier to give them what they want and stop pushing some of its other car lines that they "think" are better suited to young drivers.

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