It took the Lord six days to create the Earth before taking a day to rest. Chevrolet, on the other hand, has been trying to assemble the perfect Camaro for more than 25 years. It still hasn’t earned a coffee break.
The Camaro sports coupe that was revamped for 1994 is better than previous generations. The suspension jars and jostles you less than previous models. The ride is a bit smoother, handling more predictable. The car grips the road rather than fighting the pavement for squatters’ rights.
But there are two shortcomings that haven’t been resolved since the Camaro appeared in 1966 as a ’67 model: design and visibility. In fact, some will argue the early design is more memorable, the early visibility much more user-friendly.
We test-drove a 1994 Camaro Z28 convertible. The low, wide stance and louvered hood and the deck-lid spoiler contribute to a sporty, bold appearance. And when the top is down, the car will turn heads, though, to be honest, almost any droptop looks its best when the canvas is rolled back and stored away.
Where Camaro falls short is the profile. The car takes on a Ford Probe-like look. The muscle from front and rear angles turns to flab when viewed from the side. Not so with Mustang or Stealth.
Chevy had been toying for years with concepts of the new-generation Camaro. Some of those dream cars displayed at auto shows or special media events would cause the eyes to mist in anticipation of seeing that machine in the showroom and on the highway.
The final product, however, reminds us of the old saw that a camel is a horse designed by committee. The 1994 Camaro is a chameleon, bold and bad coming at you, a dish of vanilla as it passes. Chevy teased us with the concepts and compromised on the design. Rather than the dreams becoming reality, we’re left with eight hours of solid sleep.
There’s one other problem with the new rounded, aero styling. The canvas top onthe Z28 convertible curves and slopes down to the windows. In heavy rain, the top serves as an irrigation canal to direct water off the roof and into the passenger cabin when the window is open even slightly. Carry a towel.
In coming up with a low, lean look for 1994, Camaro’s windshield is sharply raked. That’s a fine styling cue to denote power and performance when viewed from the outside, but when behind the wheel the slope makes you feel as if you are peering out through a peep hole. Visibility isn’t Camaro’s strong suit. The sharp angle of the windshield also leaves you with a massive dash similar in size to that in the Chevy Lumina mini-van. There will be those who say the large dash gives you the feeling of safety because it means lots of crush space between you and any object. Others will say the dash is so big it gives you the feeling of confinement in the passenger cabin.
The Z28 convertible’s canvas top also wraps so far around the sides that vision is dramatically reduced. Passing becomes a chore. Parking, especially trying to back into a space, becomes an adventure.
The rear window is glass, not plastic, and comes with a defogger. Great idea because you don’t have to worry about yellowing or cracking or discoloring as you would with plastic. But the window is small. Tiny is a better word. You don’t have a panoramic view of the world behind you, another obstacle to passing or parking. Add to that the fact the front-roof pillars are wide and you have one more distraction on the roadway. Ditto with the wipers, which are similar in size to the massive claw found on most Mercedes-Benzes.
It’s sad that Camaro wasn’t more dramatic in design because, in terms of performance, the car is a rocket with its 5.7-liter, 275-horsepower, V-8. A six-speed manual is standard, a four-speed automatic is optional. The mileage rating is 17 miles per gallon city/24 m.p.g. highway with automatic; 17/26 wi h manual. The six-speed is meant for sports car aficionados with strong arms and legs who live outside seasonal road construction zones, where you seldom find a long enough clear stretch to exit third gear.
The four-speed automatic is for everyone else and came with our test car. The 5.7 doesn’t lack for power with the automatic. You get a very lively engine complemented by a roadwise suspension. What you’ll miss with the automatic is the G-forces leaving fourth gear and the ability to downshift/upshift when you play on twisting country roadways. Then, too, you’ll miss downshifting to let the engine help you brake on snow-packed roads.
Traction control would make the Camaro even better and is a must for those who choose to drive a sports coupe in the winter rather than garage it. If you drive a car for go more than for show, you’ll want the added traction in moving from the light and when sling shotting out of corners.
However, though traction control was supposed to be in the Camaro months ago and was available in early preproduction prototypes the media drove last summer, it will be added only late in the ’94 model year, if at all, before ’95. We’d wait for that feature.
The 5.7’s performance also is complemented by four-wheel anti-lock brakes and dual air bags as standard. Two days of rain-soaked pavement in our test drive helped prove the value of ABS. You don’t hydroplane when applying the binders in a quick-stop maneuver. Previous generation rear-wheel-drive Camaros would have performed a rear-end rumba if the driver stood on the brake pedal on slick roads.
We didn’t have to prove the merit of the dual air bags in the test drive. But though those two cushions hide until needed, knowing the bags are there removes much of the anxiety associated with travel.
Camaro’s cabin is wider than past years and provides arm room similar to that in a Cadillac Seville STS. However, Chevy stuck the armrest and its power window controls at an angle along the door panel guaranteed to rub against knee and/or thigh at the cost of comfort. The front-seat side bolsters also could be a bit wider for better body-holding capability in corners and turns.
Like all Camaros since, the back seats are a joke. You get two deeply recessed buckets to hold little kids or grocery bags, but if you want to travel with two adults, you’ll have to take two Camaros to ensure they fit.
As for the convertible top, in last summer’s media drive of preproduction models some scribes noted the canvas top allowed abundant wind noise into the passenger cabin at speeds exceeding 55 miles per hour. Chevy listened. The production model we tested was noticeably quieter.
Unfasten two locks, push a button and the top motors down. A three-piece plastic jigsaw puzzle housed in a carrying case in the trunk covers the top for a clean-cut look. But why a three-piece flimsy plasti c cover? If a Camaro convertible is used in the homecoming parade, the queen better be on a low-fat diet or she’ll end up in the stowage compartment along with the canvas top.
The convertible has a base price of $22,075. Our car added the Z28 equipment group including air, speed conrol, remote hatch release, fog lamps, power locks/windows/mirrors, leather-wrapped wheel and remote keyless entry for $2,036. Power driver’s seat ran $270; bodyside moldings, $60; and automatic transmission, $595. The sticker read $25,036. Add $490 for freight.