“What ya drivin` this week?“ a colleague asked.

“A 1992 Chevy Camaro, the 25th anniversary Heritage Edition,“ wereplied.

“Twenty-five years! Does it still come with a saddle?“ he said beforebreaking into laughter.

Actually, other than the Chevrolet Corvette and the Brahma bull, nothingon God`s Earth has given its owner a rougher ride over the last few decadesthan the Camaro, its cousin, the Pontiac Firebird, included.

When the Camaro became available to test we approached the week to bespent in a buckboard with hesitation.

Camaro was developed to torment the driver, to feed you a steady diet ofharshness, roughness, stiffness and general, overall discomfort. And thosewere its good points.

The allure all these years? It looked good.

It was a car for youth. You had to be young and foolhardy to put up withthe abuse just so you could zip past peers in a wild-looking, muscle-boundsports machine. A low 0-to-60 m.p.h. time made up for most of Camaro`s sins,such as a non-existent trunk, a microscopic back seat, poor sight lines andbig, heavy doors.

Yet we were pleasantly surprised by the 1992. The Heritage Editionanniversary model proved to be one of the nicest riding and handling carswe`ve driven in the last 25 years-regardless of the nameplate.

Once noted as rude and crude, Camaro turned memories of pain into moments of pleasure. The wide, supportive seats were downright cozy.

The suspension was just firm enough to hold the pavement withoutbouncing occupants` heads off the ceiling or tails off the floor pan. Gonewas the teeter-totter suspension of past years, when a thick wallet and tallhat were required to help cushion blows.

Camaro is a styling gem. How can you fault a design that with just a fewtweaks here and there has enjoyed 25 years of long-hood, short-deck stayingpower.

The Heritage Edition celebrates those 25 successful years by adding dualhood and deck-lid stripes and decorative hood air scoops just like thosesported on the `67.

The Heritage Edition is available in RS or Z28 coupe or convertible forms in red, black, white and recently added purple with silver stripes.

Camaro usually has been able to deliver all the power demanded of it,except after the energy scare, when someone decided to toss a four-cylinderengine under the hood and emasculate the machine in the interest of highermileage from 1982-85.

With the advent of the four-cylinder, rumors surfaced that the Camarowould be discontinued because it had outlived its usefulness and publicappeal. Actually, if memory serves, between 1967 and 1992 the wake and burial rumors probably arose every two years. Yet the Camaro is alive and well andawaiting a successor in the 1993 model year, when the fourth generation of thecar will be unveiled-though perhaps not until late this year or the beginning of 1993.

Our test car came equipped with a 5-liter, 2 05-horsepower V-8 teamed with four-speed automatic transmission, a combination rated optimistically at 16m.p.g. city/26 highway. By changing axle ratios you can get 230 horsepower,or, by adding the larger 5.7-liter V-8, you can get 245 horsepower-and helpoil-company stocks lead the nation`s economic recovery.

After 25 years the Camaro has put on a few pounds; at least, the small V- 8 made it feel so. The 5.7-liter V-8 is needed to make the car a bit morelimber on those quick side steps, even with the standard 16-inch tires.

With the 5-liter, you get immediate response when you tap theaccelerator, but after a few seconds you feel as if the engine is forced totake a deep breath to keep the momentum going.

On one occasion a pickup ahead of us abruptly pulled into the medianstrip to make an illegal U-turn. We had to make a sudden right-lane/left-lane maneuver to avoid tapping his rear bumper. The Camaro felt a bit heavy in the wheel, and the body leaned a bi t to the right and left when we pulled thewheel east and west.

But because this wasn`t a Lexus SC400 or Cadillac Seville STS, andbecause a new Camaro with an aerodynamic body and revamped suspension is only a few months from market, we forgave this one sign of aging.

The 5-liter would have been livelier if the Camaro were a bit moreaerodynamic-and lighter-which makes the 1993 remake seem even more promising. That this Camaro was a convertible with a fairly easy-to-drop manuallyoperated top made it special. Undo two knobs at the windshield and press onebutton to release and open the rear stowage compartment and the top is neatly lowered and stored out of sight under a plastic shield.

And a pat on the back to Chevy for a rather solidly sealed, quietconvertible top without a trace of wind noise or the typical slapping andcracking in the breeze when it is up.

The new `93 Camaro and Firebird go into production in October orNovember, and while convertibles are planned, they won`t be offered initially.By the way, initial shipments of the new Camaro and Firebird reportedly willgo to the East and West Coasts, with Chicago`s supplies not arriving untilspring.

Base price of the Z28 convertible Heritage Edition we drove was $21,500.A driver`s-side air bag is standard, but anti-lock brakes aren`t availableuntil the `93 model comes out.

Our test car added automatic transmission for $530; leather bucket seatsfor $850; AM-FM stereo with compact-disc player and digital clock for $236;the Heritage stripes, scoops and nameplates for $175; and a preferred optionpackage consisting of air conditioning; upgraded radio with cassette; powerwindows, driver`s seat and door locks; cruise control; dual remote mirrors;body-side moldings; and floor mats, for $2,181 but discounted to $1,181.

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