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Car Corner
Mustang/Camaro Predictions Part II

September 1, 2007
By Scott Lewis

Last month I reviewed several items I had written about the new Mustang before it came out. You could call them predictions, or you could call it a wish list of what I wanted. It's time to do the same thing for the upcoming all new Camaro.

Old Predictions

Before we get into my new wish list items, I need to spend a few moments going over some old predictions. That's right, if you have been reading this column for a long time you know I already predicted the Camaro needed a retro design. But what else have I predicted about the Camaro... before it was taken off the market in 2002.

In April 1999 I predicted the Camaro (and Firebird) would not get another "generation" makeover. Note, this was over 3 years before the Camaro went out of production in the end of 2002.

I was concerned that this was the beginning of the demise of the Pony car. You probably think I was wrong back then. After all the Mustang was a huge success in 2005. But how long can that new-ness last? In April 2006 I wrote that I suspected the Pony Car market is already full with the Mustang. I don't believe there are enough Pony Car buyers out there just waiting to buy these cars. Oh, without a doubt the new Camaro and the new Challenger will be initial successes.

But can they continue to sell these niche market cars for long? That is the real question. The new Mustang sold well because there was no competition, and it was radically new. When the 2005 Mustang came out I read a couple of times something to this effect, "Finally Ford built a Mustang that can beat a 1993 Camaro." Bold words, but true in regards to out-and-out performance. The 93 Camaro kicked the "new" 1994 Mustang's butt clear across the parking lot.

But sales of the new Mustang are down... already. With less than three full years on the market, the new Mustang sales have dropped 12.8% for the first 7 months of 2007 compared to the same months in 2006. I expect the Camaro and Challenger to make similar production numbers. The first year for each they will sell significantly better than projected, then within two years sales will fall off quickly. Once there are three Pony Cars on the market the drop in sales will be even more dramatic than 12%... for all of them.

Pony Cars are just too impractical in a SUV world. I know, single people that drive SUVs. Why? They can't really need all that room with no kids to shuttle around. Pony Cars are for single people, with the rare exception of the die hards like myself that will try there best to get their wives to let them get one.

Who wants to bet that the Camaro and Challenger are off the market completely by 2015? Any takers? The Mustang will still need a significant redesign to make it fresh again, or it too could go away this time.

The Retro Design. In January 2002 I wrote an article as a tribute to the Camaro... in its last year of production. In that article I thought the Camaro could be saved by a retro design. Notice that this was 3 years before the new Mustang hit the streets, which would have been enough time for Chevrolet to execute my idea and steal some of the Mustang's buyers. Oh well. In that article I mentioned some key items that would be key to make the retro design work. Here is the short list:

  • Base it off the first generation Camaro.
  • Performance only has to be good enough, not a bad boy racer.
  • Make it sporty... but not a hard core sports car. Keep it fun to drive without worrying about how fast it can run around a race track.
  • Make it more upright.
  • Provide a usable back seat.
  • Make the doors small enough and light enough to be easy on the owner.
  • Make it light and nimble.
  • Provide multiple engine options for all trim levels.

Well, they are off to a great start by basing the new Camaro from the first generation Camaro. We can count that as one right for me already. Let's get onto our new prediction wish list items.

New Predictions

There is still time before the new Camaro launches for Chevrolet to read this article and incorporate anything here into the 2009 Camaro. Nothing here should be out of line for the new Camaro. Maybe Chevrolet can listen and get it right... or my old prediction mentioned above will come true and the Camaro will fade away... again.

1) Appeal To Women - The Mustang is a chick's car. Sorry for the lack of political correctness in that statement, but it is true. More woman buy Mustangs then men. All the chest pounding for performance that "real men" do is largely a waste of time. Yes, Ford is going to make high performance versions of the Mustang. So will Chevrolet with the Camaro. But how much effort is going to go into the base Camaro?

Here is a little bit of Mustang history that Chevrolet can learn from... when the 1974 Mustang II came out it was panned by reviewers and Mustang fans. These were almost all men. Ford sold more 1974 Mustangs than they did in the years 1968 - 1973. Why? Because the 74 Mustang was small and cute like the original and lots of women bought them.

This is were Chevy needs to concentrate a lot of effort. You must make the Camaro appeal to women. If women don't like it there will not be enough men buyers to save the new Camaro from following the fourth generation... to extinction.

2) Great V6 Engine - I fear they are going to put the pushrod 3.9 liter V6 from the Pontiac G6 into the Camaro as a base engine. This engine usually has 240 hp. This will plenty of power, and will make the V6 Camaro faster than a V6 Mustang. Who cares? Women don't look at performance numbers. If it drives well and is peppy enough they will buy it. Trust me, 99% of the women that buy a Camaro or Mustang will never get into a showdown with the competition.

Chevrolet does not need to beat the Mustang in a drag race with the V6. It needs to be peppy so the car feels sporty to drive. 0-60 in 7 - 7.5 seconds (same as my prediction for the Mustang) is fast enough. It is how you get to 60 that is important. I think Chevrolet is missing a huge opportunity by not putting in a modern SOHC or DOHC V6 engine. The V6 in the Camaro needs to be smoother than the V6 in the Mustang. If you want to win the Pony Car war... the V6 Camaro should beat the V6 Mustang in gas mileage... by a significant amount. This will be a great selling point to the females that should be buying the Camaro.

3) Great Transmissions - Along with a great V6 you need to have really good automatic and manual transmissions. I would prefer 6 speeds in both auto and row-your-own trannies. Five forward gears is an absolute minimum. You could save the six speeds for the V8 if necessary, but I think it best to offer the best transmissions throughout the lineup.

4) Base Camaro with a V8 - Add a small V8 to the base Camaro as an option. The original Camaro and Mustang from the sixties had plenty of engine choices. Create a small V8 of about 4.5 - 4.8 liters with about 250-275 horsepower. This should mop up the V6 Mustang without going to the full bore performance editions (see below). The best thing Chevrolet could do here is get this base Camaro with a V8 to get the same mileage as the V6 Mustang yet have better performance. A target 0-60 time should be in the 6.5 - 7.0 second range. Quick enough to have fun with, but without a bad boy image. You might want to let the performance get down to 6.0 seconds, but no faster for this small V8. This engine should be super smooth and not be loud.

This V8 option should also be very affordable. Not more than $1,000 for the engine. Don't pack it with a bunch of options just for the sake of getting the price up. This could easily be a refined version of the base V8s they used in pickups a few years ago.

If you want to go after some extra money you should have performance options easily available (more later). A cold air induction package, CAT back exhaust, and a computer reprogramming option should be available for this engine from the day of launch. Make sure it is dealer and customer installable. If the dealer installs it then it should be part of driving the car off the lot. Even if the customer is going to install the parts themselves, make it easy to write it into the price of the vehicle for financing (let the dealer put the parts in the trunk... like they did with the old cross-ram manifolds in the 60s.). This is mainly for the men that will buy the V8, but can't afford the heavy hitters.

You might even call this "base" V8 Camaro the Berlinetta or Type-LT from the past. I really like the idea of a base Camaro with the Rally Sport hide-a-way headlights (more below) and minimal options. Just a simple little Camaro with lots of potential.

Trust me on this one.

5) A Real Z/28 - This is the answer to a stripped down performance model. The Hot Rod survey, and the editor of the magazine, were expecting respondents to clamor for a stripped down edition devoid of luxury items such and air conditioning, power windows and even a radio. I don't see this happening. No one would by a daily driver in today's market without these necessities. However, I have a formula that might work. It's called the Z/28. Notice how that is spelled, with a slash (/), like the original.

The original Z/28 was a unique car. It came with an engine all its own. A high revving 302 that made 290 hp. It was only available with a 4 speed manual transmission. It was also not available with air conditioning. I live in South Texas and will never buy a new car without A/C. But you might be able to get away with minimal comfort and convenience items. Here is how I would spec out a Z/28:

  • Destroke GM's 5.3 liter engine to 5.0 liters (302 cubic inches).
  •  Set the horsepower at no more than 325. This is just above the Shelby GT's 319. However, I could see setting this engine at 290 hp for nostalgic purposes. Hey, it is working for the SRT-8 Hemis that are rated at 425 hp like the Hemi from the Muscle Car era. Like they did with the original Z/28 engine rated at 290 hp, this engine could be underrated at 290 hp. It would really be 325, but that's our little secret.
  •  Make sure this engine revs higher than any other engine in the Camaro lineup. 7000 RPM redline would be perfect. Of course, it should be as smooth revving a V8 as they can make it.
  • Make it only available with a manual transmission. This would make it difficult for me to buy it, but it does follow the original formula.
  • It should be available with the Rally Sport option (see below) that will includes hide-a-way headlights.
  • It should come with air condition standard as the only "luxury" item (this is the 21st century).
  •  Limit the number of options the car can/will come with. You probably have to provide a stereo for a car that will be a daily driver. Power windows and locks may be necessary since they may be standard equipment on all Camaros. But that's it. If ABS is legally required then add that, otherwise it should be an option. No traction control, no GPS, no power seats, no automatic climate control, no heated mirrors, stability control, etc. In fact, try not to offer OnStar. The guy buying this car is not going to subscribe to OnStar anyway, so why waste the hardware.
  •  Lighten the car to no more than 3500 lbs. Less would be better.
  •  Provide at least 2 unique colors to the Z/28, maybe more. Make it stand out from the rest.
  •  Keep the production numbers low, but not so low that dealers jack the price.
  •  Speaking of price... make this car affordable... but priced slightly "less desirable." Less desirable means that the cost would be very close to other well optioned performance models. Who wants to pay just as much as a nicely optioned SS350 for this stripped model?

That last item requires an explanation. Why price the stripped down Z/28 at the same price as a another reasonably optioned performance model? Because you are getting the customer to pay for performance... performance that comes from a light and nimble package instead of a killer engine pushing a lot of dead weight. But the Z/28 model still needs to be affordable. Price it between $26-28,000.

6) Rally Sport Option - Chevrolet needs to get its heads on straight. There should be a Rally Sport (RS) option and it needs to be available on all trim levels of the Camaro, even the Z/28. The Rally Sport option must have a unique look that is more than JC Whitney style spoilers. Hide-a-way headlights is the best thing Chevrolet can do, just like in the 60s. The Rally Sport was a spoiler addition for the third and fourth generation Camaro, and was only available on V6 models. Don't make this mistake again. Add some unique appearance changes that stand out. Hide-a-way headlights, maybe some chrome trim, deeper front spoiler, etc. You want enthusiasts to point them out on the road.

7) Special Models - The Mustang already has this area won. GT, Mach 1, Bullit, Boss 302, Shelby GTH, Shelby GT, Shelby GT500, Shelby GT500KR. Not to mention Saleen and Roush. The original Camaro had the SS, RS and Z/28. The Z/28 has been watered down over the years that the SS was above the Z/28. In the 60s the Z/28 was the one for racing... around a track not down the quarter mile. We discussed the Z/28 in length above. You also need some well chosen SS trim models.

I would love to see an SS 350 trim level that was just like it was in the 60s. This would be the model you should load up with all the options. Put a bunch of standard equipment in it. Power windows, locks, seats (with memory), deluxe interior (leather), high end stereo, etc. This would be the one with keyless entry and the starter button. Other models would have to use a traditional key (unless this was a RS exclusive feature... Hmmm). Leave some options to be added by the customer like OnStar, GPS Navigation, iPod connector, heated seats, Recaro seats (hey they put them in the Cobalt SS), etc. Start this one at about $27-28K and let the options list take it to about $33K. The 350 would be the horsepower rating. You don't need more than 350 hp for this car. It is supposed to be fast, but not brutal. 0-60 should be right at 5 seconds. The SS 350 would be readily available with no production limits.

Of course, the concept cars have 400 hp, so we need a way to get that into the mix. Have a SS 396 trim level and say it is rated at 396 hp (everyone will know it is really 400-425 hp, like in the old days). Or maybe it would be a 396 cubic inch engine with 425 hp. This would be the brutal performance model in limited numbers. 0-60 for this model should be around 4.5 seconds.

For an ultimate performance car, on par with the Shelby GT500 & KR would be the ZL-1. In 1969 they made 69 ZL-1 Camaros. These were special order cars with an all aluminum 427 big block. Today's ZL-1 should be the top horsepower car in extremely limited numbers. The best thing they could do would be drop in the 505hp motor from the Z-06 Corvette and keep the numbers really low. 69 may be too low, but maybe 600 would be perfect.

I would love to see them get Baldwin Chevrolet on Long Island to team up with Joel Rosen of Motion Performance to recreate the Baldwin Motion Camaro. Don't forget about Yenko and Berger Chevrolet either. These were the hot dealers during the Muscle Car era. Chevrolet could create a 450 hp engine for all these dealers to build a car around. Maybe these cars get their horsepower from an under hood supercharger or something. That would be extremely cool! Just make these "tuner" cars available from any dealer, just like Saleen and Roush in Ford's dealers.

8) IRS - Use an independent rear suspension. This one is almost a given, and still Ford's only big mistake with the Mustang. Hot Rod magazine was hoping their survey would show people want a solid rear axle. The exact opposite happened. An IRS provides better handling and ride comfort over a rigid rear axle. Certainly there is more handling potential with an IRS. Only hard core drag racers want the solid axle because they are stronger. You need to make the Camaro more world class than that. Higher priced models will be compared to the Nissan 350Z, Infiniti G35 Coupe, BMW 3-Series Coupe, Honda Accord Coupe, etc. You can't compete with them without the IRS.

9) Performance Parts Available - I briefly mentioned this above. Chevrolet has a performance division and a catalog. From day 1 there should be items in the catalog to get more power from a Camaro. Cat back exhaust, cold air induction, and computer chips should be available on day one. Make sure there are some parts available that do not void the warrantee. Let them be dealer or customer installed. This satisfies the guy that fears tearing into a brand new car while also providing something to the shadetree mechanic in the rest of us. Cams, higher flow fuel injectors, high capacity coils, throttle bodies are all relatively easy bolt-ons. High flow cylinder heads would be cool. Some parts should not void the warrantee if installed buy the dealer or the customer. Other parts may be require dealer installation to maintain the warrantee.

10) Don't make a Firebird - This one will not be nice for Pontiac fans. There is not going to be a large enough market for coupes, especially Pony Cars. My guess is that brand loyalty will keep Mustang fans going to Ford and Challenger fans going to Dodge. GM can't afford to segment its buyers into two different dealerships. Let Pontiac use the chassis under the Camaro to build a proper GTO. I know this goes against what I believe for Ford in that they should build a Cougar. But a Cougar would be a truly upper class vehicle and the Firebird would compete against the Camaro for buyers.

Hot Rod magazine tried to get feedback on a houndstooth interior. Back in the days of vinyl it was easy enough to have a vinyl weave and call it houndstooth. I would love to see something that looked like that, but I will not make an actual prediction or wish for it here. I think this would be wasted on the general public, and the few hard core fans of sixties Camaros won't care enough to make this worthwhile. Make the Recaro seats from the Cobalt SS available as a straight up option on all trim levels of Camaro instead (but standard in the Z/28). That would be better.



To make things easier for me when I look back on this article here are the predictions - wish list items:

  1. Appeal To Women
  2. Great V6 Engine
  3. Great Transmissions
  4. Base Camaro with a V8
  5. A Real Z/28
  6. Rally Sport Option
  7. Special Models - SS 350, SS 396, Z-L1, Baldwin Motion, Yenko, etc.
  8. Independent Rear Suspension
  9. Performance Parts Available
  10. Don't make a Firebird

Conclusion

Well, there you have it. My recipe for baking up a series of Camaros that will appeal to as many people as possible. To keep the momentum going all the special trim levels should be released slowly, but not too slowly. Every 6 months put a new trim level out and send it to the magazines for review. The more press the better. You want to stay in the limelight. You should also make sure to leak rumors about the upcoming trim levels to build as much anticipation for them before they hit the showroom floor. I could go on and on what they could do to build a great Camaro. But my time here is done.

Next I should do the same for the Challenger, though that is a lot easier. I am behind on a few topics, so a Challenger wish list may or may not come.

We'll see...

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