FUNNY thing, dreams.
To define by parallel simile, reality is like the movie that’s adapted from an excellent book: it seldom mirrors your own singular expectations. You feel you’re on intimate terms with what someone else has managed vainly to interpret.
Yet, when reality and your dreams merge closer – or – if the planets are really aligned and like star crossed lovers the two should intertwine, well, there’s nothing more magical.
For many, this year’s Camaro SS will be that perfect union.
True, there’s a strong, leaded whiff of déjà vu. The muscle car hood trailing long and wide into sharp flanks; topped by a cockpit as short and secure as a turret’s hillside battery, echoes Chevy’s first generation “pony car” from 1966. The front air dam and the edgy faux intakes also nod to the third generation Camaro, a boxy beast that for many encapsulated the gritty everyman’s sports car in the 80s.
Combined, these famous facets grant the new, fifth generation Camaro instant celebrity. Those brooding good looks are recognized everywhere. As when leaving from an anonymous garage in the lower forties to make your way cross Manhattan towards the Hudson – 6.2 Liter V8 burbling through twin exhausts – a surprise awaits you at the first light.
In this startling instance (one of many more to come) a middle aged man wearing the workday’s sweat that shows through a wrinkled wife-beater does a double take in his box truck’s side rearview and comes tumbling out the cab smiling broadly. He looks down at the hood – astonished- and peers through the pillbox windshield and gives you a meaty thumbs up.
“Camaro!” He trumpets.
To emphasize just how much he approves of your ride, he climbs back into the truck and waves after you as you drive off in his dream car.
Truth be told, in his mind your car is actually his. That’s because he knows all about the Chevy Camaro, gets its no holds barred message, whistles at the sheetmetal’s hotness, remembers the times he had in an old ’76 (in both front and back seats), and holds fast to the notion that the $36,000 2010 SS is a four-wheeled dream that he figures he can someday reach.
This retro car is the kind of déjà vu people love.
You happen upon another middle aged man enshrined in the social security of a vanilla Volvo V70 who offers you the most baleful look of contempt his political correctness can muster. You see, the Camaro doesn’t so much sponsor opinion as it provokes emotional reaction – even from our Volvo driver. In a certain sense, the Chevy flashes a fat middle finger at the world’s green parties and anyone who speaks in hushed tones and restrains honesty in their opinions.
Ecofriendly? One blip of the go control and this muscle car crackles with the electricity of a thousand… Volts.
Aside from the dot kit you left behind on your hasty road trip to Asbury Park, NJ – spiritual home of that other four decades old icon (Bruce Springsteen) – you’ve left out the baggage of preconceptions.
Fact is, if you recall the fourth generation, last of the F-body Camaros; you know… that one that marked time through the 90s as an also-ran… well, that’s just it. You’d rather not remember a car that bucked with all the torque of a bull that had parted with its balls.
Lucky for you, the 2010 model, simmering under its fresh coat of burnt orange paint (with interior match) and provocative black stripes that run clear down the hood, reminds you of another GM car entirely. It hints at its relation from the moment you take in the cockpit’s ESPN Zone appeal, that smell of rubbery plastics, synthetic leather, musky road rage, and the rouge of brightly lit ye olde schoole gauges that read “oil temp”, “transmission temp”, etc.
How the car proceeds down the road even seems familiar. It’s the way the MacPherson struts tied to the Pirelli PZero’d 19″ rims quietly cope with NY’s merciless roads without resorting to the bloated float that, say, an 13 year old Impala SS would feature. Twist the high mounted helm into your first real turn onto the New Jersey Turnpike and the association dawns on you faster than the first toll booth.
It’s the Pontiac G8 GT.
Underneath all this retro rests the same, accommodating rear wheel drive Zeta platform that supported the best contemporary sedan the ill-fated Pontiac division ever made. That this excellent platform’s high Australian-sourced virtues live on in this iconic enterprise is not only affirming to wistful sentiment, it’s rewarding in the tactile pleasures the setup provides the driver.
That said, as you log the miles you realize that the Camaro is not really a sports car, per se. It’s a liveable environment with accomodating seats and room four. Visibility is next to non-existent, but who cares? It’s the performance that matters and this is where some idealizations meet the road’s hard reality.
There’s a definitive difference between a performance car (sports car) and a muscle car. The Camaro SS is a loud example of what it means to be the latter.
Think of a sports car as a ripped Bruce Lee. His character was short, lean and devastatingly powerful. He slayed foes through the execution of accurately delivered force.
Then think of Arnold Schwarzenegger. There’s Arnold’s impressive muscular bulk, but all that weight (3,888 lbs) and size (190.4 inches long) hinders performance into simple displays of going straight ahead – really fast. Stop to sixty happens in 4.6 seconds. In other words, the might’s more for show than “practical” application. A particularly spry driver in a WRX could out fox you in this beast.
Plant the gas pedal and on tap pours a relentless surge of power. Relentless, until you’ll accelerate straight into the metaphorical wall at 120 mph. At which point you’ll find that the numbers proceed at an agonizing rate: 121…123…125…128. You can’t help but feel that the engine not only could, but should be able to push faster.
This might lead you to suspect that the Camaro’s been subtly detuned so as not to upstage the aforementioned cousin that competes on the higher plane.
You take an early exit off the Garden State Parkway and find yourself barreling up twisting roads that serpent their way through the Atlantic Highlands. With a 6-Speed automatic transmission that takes 20 horsepower off the top to lower the SS’ rating to 400 hp even, the AT misses the QT by acting as a sloppy slush box that takes its sweet time deciding when to swap one gear for the next.
Despite sharing the old G8 GT’s able pedigree, chucking this brute into corners isn’t the Camaro’s tank of premium. There’s plenty of power propelling you in, but hit the brakes and you feel like you’re reeling in a loose line. There’s plenty of yaw and pitch and the back end wiggles to let you know that since you stepped off the gas the tail would much rather lead he way.
This is where wheel mounted button shifting comes in very handy. As in auto mode, the electronic shifts don’t come quickly. They happen with all the immediacy of an old analog TV’s remote: you wait for one-Mississippi, sometimes two, from the time your index taps the back of the wheel to when the transmission gets around to executing your command.
The dramatic pause makes for perfect for comedic timing, because the resulting throttle blip or interrupted bellow is endlessly entertaining. Unless you’re actually trying to keep time.
So, you plan for corners more than you ordinarily would. And how you control the mass is by forsaking the lazy auto for manual shifting thereby using the engine’s prodigious torque to control all that body into and out of tight turns. Without it, you’re playing fast and loose with your life at worst, or reenacting a scene from Smokey and the Bandit at best.
Following Route 36, you’re over the bridge now – briefly gazing North to see past the watery haze to New York’s towers in the far distance – before routing south on Ocean Avenue through Sea Bright. Traffic’s heavy – in this part of the world as the summer seems to exist for the Jersey shore and half the Garden State and New York are muscling in on this thin barrier island for their pound of flesh sand.
Parading from one strip mall to the next, the Camaro’s celeb factor shines again. It’s like they’re watching The Boss himself guiding the E Street Band back to Asbury.
The Camaro fits perfectly here. Lower the windows and take in the sweet summer scent of “scene” as you cruise slowly past older Camaros, new Vettes, umpteen Porsches, and countless Benzes and the gaggles of pedestrians young and old.
“Bumblebee!” one kid elbows another as they watch you burble past. Thanks to Transformers, they own the Camaro’s legacy now, too.
Monmouth… Long Branch… Deal…traffic thins and you seem to gather momentum just as the sun is starting its own rapid descent.
You arrive in Asbury Park just in time to watch the sun set. Asbury Park sends you its greetings – via its finest – who couldn’t help but stop to inspect the sight of new Motown muscle that’s motored into the Boss’ “hometown”.
The friendly interrogation starts.
“How many horsepower?”
“V6 or V8?”
“Does the tail come out on ya?”
And on it goes.
Attracting attention. Causing a raucous on the Jersey shore.The revived Camaro, a new take on an old premise, is sure to become a familiar face as time wears on. Like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band, the very name Camaro promises a lasting appeal.
Long live the dream.