- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

MILFORD, Mich. — Good news for all those fans of muscle cars and in particular of the Chevrolet Camaro name plate: General Motors has announced that the Camaro will be revived.

In January, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Chevrolet revealed its stunning Camaro Concept. The crowd in Cobo Hall had just gathered at the GM stand in order not to miss anything of the upcoming muscle car’s presentation.

Those in the back could not see, but what they did not know is that they were going to hear the V-8 sound of the 1960s swelling. The parade preceding the Camaro Concept consisted of some pretty nice historical cars. When they had passed the empty podium where the Concept was to be displayed, all attention was drawn to the soon-to-be star of the show.

Although everyone realized the Camaro was only a concept car, it was going to give an idea of the version that no doubt was in the planning stage.

Since 2002, General Motors had been in the dark with respect to muscle. Ford has its successful Mustang, Chrysler presented the Challenger concept and announced production and GM had nothing. Up until this summer.

GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner proudly volunteered for photographers after he made the announcement that the new Camaro will go into production by the end of 2008, volunteering that it will be nearly identical to the Concept.

That a lot of fans still cared for the Camaro nameplate was quite obvious after the Concept hit the show circuit in January. The enthusiasm was huge, there were lots of requests to start producing this car and GM even got signed checks from customers who hoped to be able to lay their hands on one of the first production cars.

The Camaro not only influenced the life of many Americans, it also had an impact on mine. In 1977, I started racing with the Z28 and had a lot of top results in the Dutch national championships. In 1978, my team was the first to finish an American car in Europe’s most important endurance race, the 24 hours of Spa Francorchamps after starting from the pole position. And in 1984, I was the first female Dutch Champion. The more than 400-horsepower Camaro was a real challenge, but also an absolute blast to drive.

Of course, my friends and colleagues were not surprised when I pursued a drive with the modern Camaro, even though it still was a concept.

From the moment that the Camaro was axed in 2002, there were GM designers who drew new Camaros on napkins during lunch. But the management was not buying the idea of a new version. Especially since Bob Lutz had decided in 2001 that Pontiac was going to be the performance division and that it was going to have the GTO.

But the new Ford Mustang changed a lot and, inspired by its success, the development of the Camaro Concept took off in the beginning of 2005 by the Advanced Design Studio. Six months later, GM’s Design Chief Ed Welburn asked Tom Peters, the designer of the Corvette C6, to take over the project.

Mr. Peters is not only GM’s director of design for rear-wheel-drive performance cars, but also the owner of an original 1969 ZL1 and the ideal person the see to it that classical elements were going to be translated in contemporary styling.

During the presentation of the Concept in Detroit, Mr. Peters said that the Advanced Team had designated the proportions, while he and his design team succeeded in translating them into a concept with a styling that is more modern than retro.

No wonder that there are Corvette influences, but the Camaro Concept with its small block V-8, was really realistic.

The production Camaro will be sharing the Zeta-Lite architecture with the a new model of Holden, GM’s Australian-based division and will not get the huge 21- and 22-inch wheels. The base model will get a V-6, for easier insurance purposes.

The concept car has a C-style that is more raked than the 1969 model, but the sweeping belt line and the grille show similarities with its legendary predecessor.

Nevertheless, Mr. Peters is no advocate of retro design. He ordered his design team to draw the meanest street fighter they could think of.

And that has been done quite well, as the Camaro Concept certainly looks aggressive. The wide grille with the headlights on both sides is like the 1969 Camaro, but sharper.

The sharp lines on the hood add to the aggressive stance, while the double bubble roof shows some Corvette influence. And at the rear, the lights seam to cast a mean glance from under their “eyelashes.”

In the 186.2-inches-long Concept, Mr. Peters used the 400-horsepower 6.0-liter LS2 V-8 of the Corvette with 402 foot-pounds of torque and teamed it to the six-speed manual transmission of the Cadillac CTS-V. He also used the rear-wheel-drive architecture of the CTS with independent suspension. That is new for the Camaro that through the years always had to do with a live axle.

That engine came to life on a hot Monday morning at GM’s Proving Ground in Milford, Mich. Why do we love the sound of the V-8 so much? Also in this Concept, it is so specific. Al Oppenheiser, director of Concept & Vehicle Integration of GM’s Performance Division and my companion during the event, said that Tom Peters is really proud to have been able to create the perfect sound.

“Perfect is when Tom likes it.”

Usually, concept cars are developed by Engineering, but Mr. Oppenheiser’s team was taken in to see to it that a concept can go into production a lot quicker than before.

It works together with the Advanced Product Engineering Team. Of course, there are situations when design has a veto, as a concept is a show car.

“But several details are really functional, such as the air scoops in the front, on the hood and just before the rear fenders. While the spoiler has been designed for optimal down force,” Mr. Oppenheiser says.

When I drive the Camaro Concept on the test track close to Black Lake, I can dream about what the real thing is going to be. This Corvette engine functions normally, my seating position in the bucket seat is excellent and the six-speed manual shifts smoothly and accelerating up to 60 mph is no problem.

This being a superexpensive concept car, the Camaro cannot be driven as I would like to. Therefore I have to wait at least another year. But I am sure it will be worthwhile.

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