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IMG_1791_2Nobody asked me but . . .

If you want proof that the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro RS is not your dad’s Camaro, you need look no farther than a few brief specs:

Year

2010

1967

Model

Camaro 2SS w/RS pkg

Camaro SS

Price

$35,995

$2,572

Dimensions

Overall Length

190.4 in.

184.6 in.

Overall Width

75.5 in.

72.5 in.

Overall Height

54.2 in.

51.0 in.

Wheelbase

112.3 in.

108.1 in.

Front Tread Width

63.7 in.

59.0 in.

Rear Tread Width

64.1 in.

59.9 in.

Curb Weight

3849 lb

2900 lb

Turning circle

37.7 ft

37 ft

Engine

Displacement (liters/cu in.)

6.2L/378

5.7L/350

Transmission

6-sp Manual

4-sp Manual

Horsepower @ RPM

426 @ 5900

295 @ 4800

Torque @ RPM

420 @ 4600

380 @ 3200

Fuel Injection

Sequential Fuel Injection

4-bbl Carburetor

Axle Ratio

3.45

3.31

Chassis

Front Suspension

Multi-Link Strut

Unequal Length A-arms

Rear Suspension

4.5-Link Independent

Live

Drivetrain

Rear wheel drive

Rear wheel drive

4- wheel ABS

Standard

NA

4-wheel Disc Brakes

Standard

Disc/drum optional

StabiliTrak Electronic Stability Control

Standard

NA

Traction Control System

Standard

NA

Tires

245/45R20 f; 275/40R20 r

D70-14 Firestone Wide Ovals

Wheels

20×8 f / 20×9 r

14×6

Compared to the original 1967 model, the newbie is longer and wider, but not lower than the original.  And talk about middle-age spread:  the 2010 version is almost 1000 pounds heavier than its 1967 SS counterpart.  You can chalk up a chunk of that added avoirdupois to considerably more comfort, convenience and safety features.  But size also matters, and the 2010’s longer wheelbase and heftier fenders and flanks certainly do their part to visually and physically bulk up the Camaro.  And I’d bet there’s probably at least an extra 25 pounds at each corner contributed by the RS’s enormous 20-inch wheels and tires.

Viewed from outside, the Camaro’s designers score points for the imaginative ways in which they have visually connected it to the 1967 model and disguised the new car’s safety design.  The only obvious giveaway is the scarcity of greenhouse, which you could chalk up to the car’s lowness.  But it’s actually three inches taller than the original and from behind the wheel you quickly appreciate why I describe the seating position as “like sitting in a fishbowl.”  Today the word beltline has all but disappeared from the automotive designer’s lexicon.  Chin line is a much more appropriate expression to describe the manner in which the sheet metal in the Camaro’s flanks has crept skyward to provide side impact protection.

Can you remember the days when you could roll down the driver’s window and comfortably rest your left arm on the window ledge?  Forgetaboutit.  It’s gone.  In today’s safety designs you’re talking shoulder level. And the light airy greenhouses that characterized cars from the last century, even sporty coupes like the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger, are also distant memories, victims of thick, invasive pillars required to provide rollover protection.  I found the Camaro annoyingly difficult to maneuver in tight quarters because of the compromised outward vision in every direction and particularly when turning left because of the size and location of the outside mirrors.

In case you are curious, the data for the 1967 Camaro SS came out of my collection of Car Life magazines.  Engineering Editor of Car Life was my first auto journo job, but I wasn’t at the mag when the Camaro was launched.  I was a fresh-out-of-the-University-of-Michigan mechanical engineer who had been hired by Chrysler into the company’s Chrysler Institute program.  A decent salary for a recent engineering grad in those days was around $15,000.  That ’67 Camaro SS cost $2,572 plus another $100 for the bigger engine.  Do the math and you’ll find that the 2010 Camaro RS’s $35,995 MSRP equates to a starting salary for that engineering grad of $210,000 dollars.  That’s nearly four times more than a mechanical engineer with a bachelor’s degree starts at these days.

Realize, of course, that in 1967 features that we take for granted these days, such as anti-lock braking, traction control, stability control, satellite radio, CD player, MP3 playback, Bluetooth connectivity, tire pressure monitoring, GPS, electrochromic, automatic dimming rearview mirror, 20-inch wheels and tires, airbags, and rear parking assist weren’t even a gleam in the eye of the most visionary of automotive engineers.  And that safety, emissions and fuel economy regs were in their infancy.

Nobody was thinking about the microchip back then either, but without the computing power provided by this tiny electronic wonder, we’d all be driving cars with 4-cylinder engines today.  The microchip gave us back the V8, along with fuel economy, emissions control and horsepower that would boggle the mind of that 1967 Camaro SS owner.  I don’t have exact numbers, but a 0-60 mph time of 9.0 seconds and the quarter mile in 16.5 seconds at 85 mph would be pretty good estimates for that ’67 350 cubic inch Mouse Motor in the Camaro.  A 0-60 time of 4.9 seconds and the quarter mile in 13.4 seconds at 108 mph for the 2010 RS speaks loudly and strongly of horsepower, torque and hookup.

To approach the sort of unassuming performance authored by the current 6.2-liter small block Chevy you’d need to opt for one of the special 1967 425- bhp/427 cubic inch Camaros built by Chevrolet dealers Nickey and Dana.  Car Life tested a Dana 427 in its April 1967 issue.  This engine started life as a 1966 Corvette RPO L72 and had cam timing and carburetion that was “. . . on the wild side.”  For around-town motoring the driver needed to keep the revs above 2000 in every gear.  “In traffic, the 30-mph city variety, fourth gear seldom was used.”

It’s easy to forget, in those days of 35 cents a gallon premium fuel, that 8-10 mpg for an engine of this type was common and expected.  Even the more pedestrian 350 Camaro SS would have been hard pressed to return more than 12-13 mpg.  Today’s 6.2-liter, which cranks out numbers well over 400 for both horsepower and torque, idles as quietly as the purring of a pussy cat and has flexibility that allows you to lug the engine down to 1000 rpm without protest.  It’s also got EPA estimated fuel economy of 16-mpg city and 24 mpg highway.

Despite a serious lack of traction in every gear except 4th (460 lb-ft of torque at 4000rpm has a tendency to induce wheelspin in D70-14 tires) the Dana Camaro reached 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 14.2 seconds at 102 mph.  For some unknown reason the car was delivered to Car Life testers sans a Positraction differential and the author opined that with more suitable tires and a Posi the Dana Camaro “should easily knock a full 2 sec. off the car’s 14.2 sec. e.t. In the quarter-mile.”

The current Camaro has no such issues.  Along with standard traction and stability control (including a competitive/sport mode on SS models to enhance race track handling) 6-speed manual SS versions are equipped with Performance Launch Control, which optimizes hard-acceleration launches for quicker, more consistent performance.

Traction.  Yeah, traction . . . or hookup.  Firestone D7-14 Wide Ovals on the SS versus Pirelli P-Zero 275/40R20 (at the rear) on the RS?  Talk about an unfair advantage.  I call anyone who drove a 1960s era muscle car and lived to tell about it a survivor.  Brakes, steering, handling, grip, traction. Yup, those cars had ’em and we wrote about ’em . . .  But the best of the 1960s muscle cars would place a poor second versus the cheapest Chevy Aveo you could buy today in any of these areas.

And that’s one of the problems with numbers: They’re just numbers.  Having tested and raced cars for close to four decades I will tell you that perception, not numbers, is 9/10s of reality and the law.  The new Camaro is fast on paper and on the track.  And equipped with its standard assortment of electronic braking, traction and stability wizardry it is competent and refined to a degree that would be unimaginable to that ’67 Camaro owner.  But competent and refined don’t necessarily equal fun.  And that rude and crude ’67 SS would have caused its owner more heart-stopping “moments” (Some of us call them memories.) in one week than that 2010 owner will experience in a lifetime of driving.   Competency thy name is boring.  Of course, drop shipped into the right environment—say, Lime Rock or Mid Ohio—I’m convinced the 2010 Camaro RS would turn lap times that would humble a ‘60s-era Penske-Donohue Trans-Am Camaro, and be seriously fun to drive.  But how many owners will ever have a chance to drive the 2010 Camaro under those conditions?

Guaranteed, you won’t hear any complaints from me about ride. This newest Chevy pony car has IRS, not the one celebrated on April 15th, but rather independent rear suspension.  And it works.  This Camaro behaves itself on rough roads, the rear wheels staying planted.  And all the nasties associated with a live axle (and some IRS designs) under hard acceleration—axle tramp, wheel chatter, spring windup (leaf well enough alone!)—are tamed by the Camaro’s well-located and damped multi-link rear suspension.

There’s no denying that the 2010 Camaro is a refined and sophisticated performance package.  And it’s got traction in every direction, including with the customer.  In a short first year, it nearly outsold the Mustang.  But one of the attractions of the pony car class has always been its rawboned bang for the buck.  A kick-ass V8 and a kick-in-the ass live axle.  Distinctive and eye-catching long-hood short-deck styling.   America’s muscular 2+2 answer to a European Grand Tourer.  I’m not asking for a return to those thrilling days of yesteryear—those days are gone along with, thankfully, drum brakes, D70-14 bias tires and recirculating ball and nut steering.  But is it too much to ask for a Camaro that evokes fond memories of pony cars past in more than just the retro styling?

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Pluses:

  • Retro styling is an eye grabber
  • Inferno orange paint is a cop catcher
  • Impressive overall refinement
  • Solid structure
  • Flexible, smooth 6.2-liter V8; can be lugged down to 1000 rpm, but where’s the bottom-end torque; peak torque is at a relatively high 4600 rpm
  • 6500 rpm redline, but it’s clipped too sharply
  • Relaxed cruising: 40 mph/1000 rpm in 6th gear
  • Traction and stability control can be turned off
  • “Start assist’ with manual gearbox for smooth, controlled drag race starts
  • Competition handling mode
  • Stability control is not intrusive
  • Firm, responsive rear-wheel-drive handling
  • Steering a little slow around town but good road feel
  • Brakes are big and powerful
  • Strong, beefy shifter
  • Easy to heel-and-toe
  • Very good ride on rough roads
  • Body-color plastic door and dash inserts: nice styling elements
  • Very good fit and finish inside; GM is getting its act together in this area
  • Very good grain matching on the various plastic interior surfaces, but there’s too much hard plastic
  • Steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake
  • Rear seat back folds down for trunk access
  • Reverse parking sonar—you need it because the rear outward vision is poor with the high rear deck
  • Remote power trunk release
  • Hydraulic strut for hood—what have we got here, a girlyman car?
  • Impressive audio system
  • Seats provide firm support to butt and back; wings are good for lateral support
  • The side windows rise into the seals to reduce wind noise

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Nonplusses

  • Where’s the 426 bhp hiding?  The car’s got top end, but it doesn’t feel sharp, crisp and quick like a ’70s Z28; it’s gotta be issues of weight, wheel/tire inertia . . .
  • The engineer who approved the 1-4 shift mode better have someone protecting his back; I might be lurking with a blunt instrument
  • Brembo brakes don’t feel strong because of high non-linear pedal effort
  • Sitting in a fish bowl
  • Gauge cluster for oil pressure, volts, oil temperature and transmission temperature is totally out of the driver’s line of sight on the console
  • Hand brake leverage is all-wrong; it takes two men and a boy to release the lever
  • This Camaro always feels big
  • Small trunk opening
  • Rear seats are for cats or kids; minimal head and leg room
  • Blind rear quarter, rear and front sight lines
  • Very thick A pillars
  • Blind A pillar, especially on the driver’s side; combines with outside mirrors to interfere with vision when turning left
  • Hard to maneuver in tight quarters because of outward vision issues
  • Steering wheel rim is too thick
  • Dash is too high if I sit low
  • No spare tire; inflation kit only
  • Doors are really long and heavy
  • Tiny door pockets
  • The Camaro is much happier on open roads than around town; it’s totally tractable but the size and lack of outward vision are intimidators
  • Sun visors provide no protection from glare when positioned to the side windows because they are too short and the thick headline intrudes; also, where are the lights on the visors?
  • No belt line; now it’s a chin line
  • Fake hood air intake
  • Fake rear quarter panel gills
  • Some of the exterior lines and creases are trying too hard; rear fenders seem artificially wide, making for a broad rear end that accentuates the width of the car in an ungainly way
  • Where’s the greenhouse?
  • Expensive

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Leave a Reply

2 Comments

  • John,

    The flaw in your analysis is that you’re assuming all that counts is how the car comes new. For many of us who are capable and motivated, the car as built represents a starting point, a semi-finshed piece of raw material.

    All the basic mechanical flaws of the 67 can be cured if you’re willing to work on it and spend money, and the cost of a new one gives you quite a budget to work with. YOu can even starat with a new unibody thanks to Dynacorn, and can put an IRS under a 67 and an LS engine under the hood, which would make it even lighter, and you’d have all the engine management stuff, although I’m dubious about the 2900 lbs. on a 67. I’m 61, so I was 17 in 1967 and worked on them then, and ever since, sold my last First Gen Camaro, a 69 convertible, a few years ago when I had to either cut up the car to continue improving it or move on, and it was worth too much to someone with no sense to cut it up.

    What you can’t do with the new one is take that 1000 lbs out of it. It’s a complete violation of “Simplificate and add lightness” (thank you Colin Chapman). You can put the sticky tires (hopefully only 17s, not the stupid eyewash 20s for the strokes) on the early car, and with the chassis fixed, relatively easy and cheap to do, in my opinion the the new car will never catch the old one on the track. With equal HP and handling you just can’t repeal the laws of physics and make the weight disadvantage magically vanish. And by the way, getting a soggy brarke pedal out of fixed caliper Brembos is quite an accomplishment. Even without the LS, you can get a lot more power out of an old school 350 (or bigger), and if the Quadrajet (or Holley) is finely tuned for that particular car using an oxygen sensor and dyno time, modern results will ensue. It doen’t have to be auto self-correcting if it’s dialed in right. Admittedly it still won’t have automatic altitude compensation, I grant you, but the mileage is very possible. I also don’t value all the nanny controls that want to drive the car for me. They are no doubt good for many people, but I just want to turn them off, if possible, and drive the car myself.

    Also, the big advantage of a worm and sector recirculating ball stering system, seldom acknowleged, is lack of kickback. It’s like a mechnical diode. And it’s quite posible to have perfectly acceptable feel with a worm and sector, without this problem:
    “drivers of vehicles with rack and pinion steering can have their thumbs broken when a front wheel hits a bump, causing the steering wheel to kick to one side suddenly (leading to driving instructors telling students to keep their thumbs on the front of the steering wheel, rather than wrapping around the inside of the rim)” – Wikipedia

    I’m disappointed that you seem to be signed up for the conventional wisdom, and have lost the drive for critical analysis that I was taught constitutes good engineering. “Question everything.” Perhaps you worked in the industry too long, and may still get some of your income from it, which doesn’t lead to objectivity. I haven’t seen really critical reporting since tom McCahil.

    I’m very interested in your response.
    David Merritt

  • Geez, David, what took ya so long. I wrote that Camaro piece nearly a year ago . . .

    Turning an early Camaro into a serious road or race car would take lots of time, engineering and dinero.

    I’d take my 2011 Camaro to Katech engineering and tell them to do to the Camaro what they have done to the Corvette for ALMS GT racing. That’s a proper race machine.

    I can gripe about a lot of things I don’t like with the current car, but there’s no substitute for 40-plus years of technology when it comes to platform development.

    And I’d add one thing: 26 micro cameras located all around the car so I wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to see out of the car from any angle. Lol
    jd

    PS For waiting so long to send me a comment I am awarding you 5 D-Merritts.