As I see it, owning muscle cars in the 1960’s and 70′s meant the driver fell into one of several categories. If you had a Corvette, you were a lucky kid who had a dad that loved cars. If you had a Mustang, you were quarterback of your football team. If you had a Mopar, you were more likely to rob a 7-Eleven. And if you had a Camaro, you were the kid in town with the best fake ID and everyone relied on you to get the beer for the house party. You also had a mustache before your friends. You were pretty awesome. Camaros of those decades were angry beasts. They didn’t corner well, but that wasn’t the point. The quarter mile was.
You could also pull your ‘Maro into the garage and, with a manual and socket set, you could make it faster and better. These days, that’s not so easy. Sensors, ECUs and molded plastic take the fun out of working on cars like the Camaro. Which is why I was so curious to slip behind the wheel of the new SS and see if it was as fun as it’s predecessor from decades past. I’m sad to say it wasn’t.
After driving it, I don’t think it was made in the same fashion as, say, the new Mustang 302. Ford’s race crew had a hand in that; it was heavily designed on the track. But the Camaro seems to have resulted from a bunch guys in a boardroom saying that for Chevy to survive, “It needs to remember its heritage: Muscle cars and America.” It was designed to address a market segment gap. They thought they needed something exciting to wear a Chevy badge and, rather than be creative and novel, they took the most obvious route. They resurrected the old-style Camaro and bastardized it with nostalgia, instead of engineering. It was perhaps born out of a spreadsheet, not out of love.
Everything from the steering to the acceleration to even the brakes felt like a sponge. They gave me an automatic, which had a laughably sloshy gearbox. It had no remarkable throttle response, and thus never really put any power down. The whole thing just rolled and lolled around when cornering and the suspension translated each bump in the road into the feeling that you may have just shattered your spine.
The included hood vents aren’t real. Then why have them at all? Behind the faux-ducts is a 420 HP V8, which was also disappointing. European manufacturers can pull 600 HP out of a 4-liter motor and Chevy still can’t get decent ponies with the Camaro’s 6.2-liter block? It didn’t sound good, either. Fake it and put a little baffle in there, guys. When the Acura MBX goes by, it manages to surprise you because it’s got a decent kazoo in there. That said, I’m not a fan of tuned exhausts- just get it right the first time.
At the Classic Car Club, we had a ’68 SS and I loved that thing. It didn’t understeer or oversteer. It would just spin up and launch. Driving it was very visceral. When you were idling, the whole car shook back in forth because it had such a loping 305 motor- probably because that ’68 Camaro is 1,500 lbs. lighter than the modern incarnation. Weight on a car is like weight on a guy; it just ruins your whole game. You can live with any other problem if you get three things right: Power-to-weight ratio, suspension and the gearbox. But this doesn’t do any of them well. It’s one thing to have a 420 HP car but it’s another thing to be able to utilize it.
I thought it was going to be powerful in a muscle car kind of way, like I did with the Cadillac CTS-V. As a country, we can do better than this Camaro. I will say I liked the headlights and the front grill because they’re fierce, muscular and angry-looking. The problem is they don’t live up to their proposition.