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Car Corner
My next car: narrowing down the selection

September 1, 2000
By Scott Lewis

A few months ago I wrote an elaborate article on cars I would consider if I were going to buy a classic old car. Prior to that I wrote about some of the cars I would think about if I were going to get a new car. Well, as I live in an apartment waiting until my house is designed and built (with a 3 car garage), I though it was time to get some focus and narrow the choices for my next car.

New vs. Old

I still haven’t made up my mind whether to get a classic old car or a new car. A new car has the advantage of extreme reliability. And the performance level is very high these days. But my Camaro Z28 is still in excellent condition with low mileage. It is feasible that I could just update the interior to leather and add a supercharger.

But a classic Camaro or Corvette would be really cool. I could have fun owning, driving, and working on it. I could plan it out as a project car with a killer big block or a unique twin-turbo V-6. Anything I wanted. Since I would keep my 93 Camaro, I wouldn’t have to rely on a classic old car to get to work. Although driving to work in nice weather would definitely be in the cards.

Classic Old Car

In my previous article I stated the need to stay focused. If you read that article, it will become obvious how diverse the makes and models of cars I looked at were. If money was no object I could have bought any of them, and would have bought a few.

But money hasn’t started growing on the trees in my backyard yet. I will have to set a realistic budget, and narrow the focus of the make and model of car to look for. This will make the search much easier in the long run.

And the answer is... If I get a classic it will be one of two cars: 1) a 1969 Camaro Convertible with a V-8 and manual transmission, or 2) a 1968-1972 Corvette Stingray Convertible.

The 69 Camaro will not have the RS option. I don’t like the hide-a-way headlights of that year. However, I do like the hide-a-way headlights on the 68 Camaro RS. In fact that is the only way I would get a 68. So, if a 68 RS convertible turned up while I was looking I would consider it. The Camaro will definitely have to have a manual transmission. I will not compromise on this. (Read further to understand).

As for the Vette, it must be a Stingray, a convertible, and have an automatic transmission. My wife says I can get a Vette as long as she can drive it, and she refuses to drive a stick. Save your comments, I have tried to get her to change her mind. It won’t happen. This is the compromise I must make to get a Corvette. I decided on the 68-72 years because they are more affordable that the earlier years, and the 73 and later cars have those ugly bumpers. The chrome bumpers on the 68-72s look very sharp.

I would prefer a big block, but either a big block or small block will due. It doesn’t have to be a numbers matching pristine car, but it does have to look like a pristine car. I don’t know bodywork, and fiberglass work is expensive, so it will have to look great. That shouldn’t be a problem. I already decided if I go for a Stingray I will set my budget at $20,000 for a big block convertible Corvette with an automatic. Within the big block cars I would prefer a 70-71 with a 454. I shouldn’t have to go as high as $20K for a small block, though. I would expect to find a really nice looking driver of a small block for about $15,000. Neither of these numbers seems out of line considering the past research I have done.

New Car

Choosing a new car is harder. My primary considerations for a new car would be a true four passenger performance oriented convertible priced under $35,000. There aren’t that many convertibles I like on the market at the moment. I know... if you read my previous article you saw I had 5 picked out. I had to reduce that list due to budget constraints and power requirements.

A new Corvette is out of the question. I can’t afford one. I really love the looks of the Audi TT, but I don’t think I would be happy with the 180 hp version. Starting at about $33,000 I would barely be able to afford it in my budget. The 225 hp version would probably satisfy my desire for performance, but at over $40K, it is over budget. Also there is no back seat in the Audi. (I just saw on eon the road and it is sweet... If I didn't have kids...) The BMW 3 Series convertible was eliminated due to price as well. A 323Ci Convertible starts at $35K, and that’s with only 170 hp. Optioned out it will push $40K, probably $45K for the upcoming 330Ci that will introduce a new 3.0 liter engine having a little over 200 hp. A good friend of mine bought a 2000 Mustang Convertible. There is no way I would copy him, so of course I must out do him. Of course I could out do him by getting the Cobra version of the Mustang. But with the resent power problems they have been having, I am not thinking high of the original Pony car at the moment.

But there is a glimmer of light in the future coming from Chrysler and Chevrolet. So, without further ado... here are my current considerations for a new car.

2002 Camaro Z28 Convertible. This one comes with a caveat. Chevrolet (and GM) has made no plans yet for a new Camaro (or Firebird) after the 2002 model year. If this turns out to be true I will consider trading in my 93 Camaro on the future classic 2002 Camaro. It will be a manual and a convertible. Also, I would prefer the SS option that includes the "ram-air" package rated at 320 hp. This car would be a compromise. I was hoping for a slightly better ride than a Camaro as I enter my 40s, and the back seat is not for adults.

I have heard rumors that Chevrolet will build a special 35th anniversary edition Camaro for its possible last year (its first year was 1967). It will have a 6.0 liter engine (up from the current 5.7) and will combine the current LS1 engine moniker with the 6 liter size for a designation of LS6 bringing back memories of a time long past when Chevelles and Corvettes pounded the pavement with thumping LS6 454 big blocks. This engine is supposed to be rated at 385 horsepower.

The Corvette is getting a 385 hp LS6 for 2001 in a special package called Z06. It is still 5.7 liters, but it can't be a coincidence with the rumor about the Camaro. Since the Corvette can’t be second to the Camaro, I would expect the Vette to be upgraded to around 400 hp around the time they put the LS6 in the Camaro. Hopefully they won't follow the trend over the last few years and "de-tune" the engine for the Camaro.

The "final" Camaro is supposed to get a special paint scheme comprising the colors red, white and blue. A very patriotic farewell, I assume. In any event, if this special Camaro materializes I will think hard about getting one. I just hope it is available as a convertible for less than $35K. The Z06 Corvette is not available in a convertible, making a convertible Camaro with the LS6 doubtful.

The latest rumor: I heard that Chevrolet will build an all new Camaro for the 2004 model year. They will skip the 2003 model year. (Remember the 1983 Corvette? Of course not, there never was one.) It will have four wheel independent suspension, something that should have happened at least a decade ago. This rumor is sketchy at best, so I would not put much behind it. If it turns out to be true I may just wait and get the first of the next generation Camaro. Sales for Camaros and Firebirds have been dropping like a stone over the last 10 years. In fact, Mustang sales are about twice the Camaro and Firebird combined. That is a serious problem for a group of cars that owe their heritage to a fierce competition in performance. The GM cars are hands down better performers, but the Mustang is still far in the lead in sales. Apparently the world of SUVs is taking its toll on these American icons of the automotive world. We already lost all the serious (and reasonably affordable) performance cars from Japan (300ZX, RX7 and Supra). It looks like the American performance cars will be fading into the history books.

Chrysler 300 Hemi C. This car does not exist yet. Chrysler has only hinted at making it. However, they seem to be hinting too much, so I am hoping. This car is supposed to be based on their upcoming rear wheel drive platform. The same platform that will carry the new Dodge Charger. The Hemi is a throw back to the old days. It will be an all new engine with true hemispherical combustion cambered heads, just like the Hemis of years gone by. It will displace 354 cubic inches and be rated at 354 hp.

This car is supposed to be a true 4 passenger convertible. It sounds too good to be true. But if it comes to light, I will seriously consider this car. As for price, I can only assume it will cost at least as much as the current 300 M in the low $30K range. Hopefully it will be under $35K.

The latest rumor: I heard Chrysler is giving the go ahead to build the Hemi C. It will come out in 2004 for approximately $40,000. My wife told me to start saving, even though it is over the amount I wanted to spend on a new car. Due to the price I would have to trade in my Camaro. My biggest problem with this car, besides the price, is that I suspect it will be an automatic only car. I really wanted a standard shift vehicle. Car & Driver TV showed the concept Hemi 300 C and its back seat looked like it had less leg room than my Camaro. If it makes it to production with a kiddie-only back seat I may have to look elsewhere.

Chevrolet SSR. This car/truck doesn’t exist yet either. Like the 300 Hemi C, Chevrolet is talking about building this truck. Chevrolet never had intentions of building the SSR, but response to it on the auto show circuit has been extremely favorable and now they are seriously considering it. In fact, one rumor I have heard puts the SSR as the replacement for the Camaro after the 2002 model year.

The SSR has retro styling similar to cars/trucks of the 50’s. However, unlike the New Beetle, and Ford’s upcoming Thunderbird, the SSR was not modeled to look like any particular vehicle from the past. It just displays the styling cues of the 50s. The most unique aspect of this truck is a retractable hard top. You heard that right. Just like the Mercedes SLK sports car. My concern for this vehicle is limited seating capacity. I really wanted a true four-seater. This truck looks like is will hold three across the front, and the middle seat will be cramped.

The latest rumor: Chevrolet will build the SSR on the upcoming replacement for the S-10 chassis and will have a 6.0 liter engine, presumably around 300 hp like the current 6.0 liter Vortex engine. That engine in that chassis means that a V-8 S-10 and Blazer will be viable vehicles as well. Supposedly Chevrolet should be able to produce the SSR for a price around $32K. I hope they do it.

Conclusion

There you have it, the choices for my next car. There is a lot more sensibility here than my previous two articles. Notice that none of the new cars exist today. The Camaro exists, but might not for much longer and the version I am hoping for is speculation. The 300 Hemi C and SSR are concept cars, but at least they are running concept cars. That says something.

I plan on refining this list over the coming months, so expect another column when the list changes significantly. I am thinking about adding Toyota’s new MR2 Spider to the list. I like its looks, and it is essentially a poor man’s Boxster. Unfortunately it is a two-seater, which might make it impossible. Also, it only has 138 hp, which could have me looking for speed parts as soon as I brought it home. Priced under $25K I could at least afford some speed parts after buying it. Any supercharger manufacturers listening?

Another car in the wings is the New Beetle. I just heard that VW confirmed it is going to make a convertible version. If I got this car I would be conceding that performance is not a priority (Yikes!), for a new car (I would definitely keep my Z28). I would get the turbocharged engine rated at 150-155 hp, to maintain at least some performance. I wonder how much extra it would cost for the paint job on Austin Powers’ Beetle?

If any of you know of a performance oriented convertible under $35K let me know. No Miatas. A friend had one and left it with me for 6 weeks. I found it to be "cheap" feeling. It did not seem substantial, and with the current price of Miatas approaching $30K or more, I would stick with the MR2 Spider if I was going to get a two-seater. I also eliminated the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spider when I saw it actually had no rear seat legroom with the front seats all the way back. I understand Chrysler is getting ready to revamp the Sebring, but that car has never had any performance so I doubt I will give it much attention when the new one arrives.

I’ll keep you posted.

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