Versus the competiton:
I was about to leave on a two-hour drive and was trying to decide what music to take along.
After all, the car I was driving was Chevrolet’s brawny Camaro Z28 convertible. That meant the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind The Bullocks…” The album, which I first bought in junior high, was appropriately anti-social and loud, two adjectives that accurately describe this car.
The Camaro has been around almost as long as I’ve been alive, and is now approaching its 30th year. So Chevy is offering up its 30th Anniversary Package: an all-white car, down to the door handles and wheel covers. Onto it, Chevy pastes “Hugger” orange stripes straight from the ’69 Camaro Z28. Inside, cloth houndstooth seats remind you of its performance heritage.
But nothing will turn back time like starting the engine.
Dual exhausts throb with throaty anticipation. The exhaust note is just right, if you’re driving. If you’re on the outside looking in, the loud graphics and equally loud exhaust instantly paint you as a rebellious automotive Neanderthal.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter, because Chevy’s tried and true 5.7-liter small block V8 (or LT1 in bow-tie lingo) will propel you to 60 mph faster than you can say, “I didn’t realize how fast I was going, officer.” That’s about midway between five and six seconds.
The engine can be hitched to either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The test car was equipped with the following options: Acceleration Slip Regulation (which helped keep the rear somewhat planted), a performance axle, dual exhausts, and P245/50 ZR-16 tires. Acceleration is fast enough for the tires to break away and the back end to twitch with delightful playfulness. The Acceleration Slip Regulation is OK — it lets you play briefly, but then shoves the accelerator back at you like a scornful schoolmarm. Thankfully, this feature can be shut off, letting you enjoy this machine.
But the engine, like theSex Pistols, brings out the anarchist in all of us. Speed and great handling are so effortless you’ll wonder why everyone is driving a truck.
The handling is flat and grip is enormous from tires almost fatter than Mike Tyson’s bank account. It’s also about as refined. But that’s the point of this car.
It’s a brutish machine whose controls don’t reward finesse — except for the accelerator. It demands that you adjust your driving style to it. To those of you who have never experienced the hairy-chested character of this car, you don’t know what you’re missing. Front-drive sport coupes seem like a tea party in comparison to the Camaro’s frat-house, beer-bash character.
Four-wheel disc brakes will help when you spot the boys in blue. Other safety items, in addition to the previously mentioned Acceleration Slip Regulation, include anti-lock brakes and dual air bags.
But even the Camaro has some polish. It means that, for quieter moments, the Beach Boys were ca lled for.
It also means a great AM/FM-CD stereo system. The sound was great and the stereo comes equipped with speed-compensated volume — the faster you go, the louder the stereo gets to compensate for the added noise. The car also has a power driver’s seat, cruise control and other essentials such as power windows, locks and mirrors.
The top is easy and quick to stow — flip two latches and hold the button. The rear window is glass and has a defogger.
Of course, if you try to analyze this car too closely, you’ll have your doubts. Wind buffeting isn’t bad. There are some rattles, but nothing too annoying. Obviously, this car isn’t quite up to Asian standards of fit and finish, but that would be out of character. And cargo space? If you want it, look elsewhere. This car is not about hauling groceries, it’s about hauling. Period.
On the bright side, the car yielded a good 17 mpg, better than most “sport” utility vehicles, and not bad considering its 285 ho rsepower.
What this car does is remind you that, thankfully, not everything changes. People tend not to like change, and Pennsylvania is one of eight states that account for half of all sports car sales. (The others are New York, Florida, California, Texas, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio).
But that doesn’t explain this car’s popularity. Teen dreams never die. And neither does the promise of this car. No matter how old you are, it will take you back to high school, when Saturday night was still the most important day of the week.
1997 CAMARO Z-28 Standard: 5.7-liter V8, four-speed electronic automatic transmission, P235/55 R-16 tires with aluminum wheels, Decarbon monotube shocks, four-wheel disc brakes, power rack and pinion steering, dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, glass rear window with defogger, power folding top, air-conditioning, AM/FM cassette, tilt steering wheel, folding rear seat, analog instrument cluster, center console with cupholders, intermittent wipers, tinted glass. Options: Equipment Group 2 (cruise control, remote keyless entry, fog lamps, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, alarm system), 30th Anniversary Appearence Package, Acceleration Slip Regulation, AM/FM CD player, performance axle, six-way power driver’s seat, P245/50 ZR-16 tires, floor mats. Base price: $25,520 As tested: $29,486 EPA rating: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway Test mileage: 17.5 mpg