Remember the story about the emperor who wore no clothes? His subjects avoided saying anything so that they wouldn’t upset his royalness.
That story came to mind when we test-drove the new 1993 Chevrolet Camaro dressed up in Z28 attire. After what seems like a lifetime of on-again, off-again plans to bring out an all-new Camaro, it finally has appeared. But while sporting new duds, Camaro doesn’t make you sit up and take notice as much as it makes you sit back and wonder why it couldn’t have been made far better than it is.
Three young men at the gas station stopped in their tracks and quit taking money from customers so they could focus their attention on the Z28 that pulled in. But then, when a young woman in an aged Honda arrived at the pump, the heartbeat of those three young Americans turned elsewhere than on Chevrolet.
For years there was rumor, speculation, innuendo and outright gossip that Chevy was going to remake the Camaro sports coupe. Concept cars that made jawsdrop and tongues hang were displayed on the auto-show circuit to pique interest in a replacement for the venerable (282,000 sold in 1979) and vulnerable (69,000 sold in 1992) Camaro.
There was talk of front-wheel drive, a plastic, Pontiac Fiero-like body anda V-8 engine so powerful it could be used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. There was also talk that imaginations so far exceeded budget that those in charge of pinching pennies at General Motors until Lincoln squealed ruled out a successor model and that Camaro had reached the end of the line.
Camaro survived the rumors and the accountants, and the ’93 version is wending its way to showrooms. It is a bit of a disappointment. Considering Chevy had eons of time to bring out a new car, we expected it would have takengreater pains to eliminate its shortcomings.
Camaro used to be known for a rough ride. With the new model, it continues to be, at least in the top-of-the-line Z28 we test-drove. The Z28 is the high-performance version with the high-performance suspension. You feel road harshness in the wheel, seat back and seat bottom-even in the soles of your shoes. Maybe the base coupe is more tush tolerant.
Camaro was known for a tight-squeeze passenger compartment only slightly more roomy than a telephone booth. The new one is little changed. Some designer opted to position huge armrests in the doors right at thigh and hip level. Drive this car across the country? Only if you stop after 100 miles andrent a van to pull it.
Camaro wasn’t known for a host of safety features, but the ’93 has driver- and passenger-side air bags as standard, not only to protect occupants, but also to help hold down traditionally high insurance rates. But why not identify that feature with SRS (supplemental restraint system) lettering in the steering-wheel hub and on the dash? That way, the first buyer and anyone who later bought the car on the used -car lot would know it came with air bags.
Camaro was known for a long hood and a short deck. The new one features a short, sharply sloping hood visible only from outside the car, and a short, glassy deck. All exterior panels are now sharply rounded and aerodynamic. One drawback is that the hatchback lid is nearly all glass. That means lots of sunwill filter into the passenger compartment to cook occupants. It also means that if you forget to cover the contents of the back seat or trunk with the fold-over top provided, all God’s children can see whatever you’re carrying inside.
Camaro was known for offering a pair of seats in back that humans couldn’t fit into. And with the slant of the roof, even if you could worm bodies into the back, their chins would become implanted in their waistlines.
The new Camaro is no different. Chevrolet kept the 101.1-inch wheelbase butextended overall length by a paltry 0.6 inch, to 193.2 inches. The rear seat back folds so y ou can at least use the space to haul things other than people.
While on the subject of room: The catalytic converter is housed under the car but bulges directly under the front-seat passenger’s feet. And the trunk is very deep but very small. After two bags of groceries it outlives its usefulness.
As for the body panels, kudos to the engineers who preached longevity. Roof, doors, hatch lid and spoiler are made of sheet-molded compound, and thefront fenders and front/rear fascias are composite material. The rear quarter panels and hood are made of rust-resistant, two-sided, galvanized steel.
Despite shortcomings, Camaro has merit. The Z28 was equipped with the 5.7-liter, 275-horsepower LT1 V-8 engine offered in the Corvette. The 5.7 is teamed with a Borg-Warner six-speed transmission as standard. A four-speed automatic is optional. You’re talking world-class quickness with the 5.7. Eachof the 275 horses is a thoroughbred.
The Z28 mileage rating is 17 m.p.g. city/25 highway with the six-speed, 17/24 with the automatic-nothing to write home about, unless you’re writing for gas money. The 3.4-liter V-6 in the base coupe is rated at 19/28 with manual or automatic.
Of course, a powerful V-8 is not new for Camaro. What makes this V-8 special and the Z28 an absolute rocket is that for the first time Chevy has complemented the brute force with tires that glue to the pavement and help propel the rear-wheel-drive Camaro forward rather than letting it slip, slide and fishtail as most of the energy goes up in steel-belted-radial smoke.
Our car came with optional ($144) Goodyear 16-inch Z-rated performance tires. All-season 16-inch Goodyear Eagles are standard. We attempted a couple power takeoffs from the traffic light on moist pavement, and still the Z28 broke into a sprint with all motion directed forward. It was almost as if we had traction control, which isn’t offered on the Camaro.
The six-speed manual is rather smooth. Typically we’ve faulted GM manuals as being arthritic. There was almost no hiccup between gears on the six-speed,and that means fluid motion for optimum acceleration.
The Z28 starts at $16,779 ($13,399 for the base coupe). Standard equipment includes power four-wheel disc brakes; power steering; AM-FM stereo; intermittent windshield wipers; tilt steering wheel; side-window defoggers, anti-theft Pass key; center console with tape holder; and the all-important cupholder, with a removable rubber base to accommodate a variety of sizes.
Air conditioning; power door locks, windows and mirrors; power deck release; cruise control; and leather-wrapped steering wheel come in a $1,900 option package. T-top roof panels (a convertible comes out this fall or in spring 1994) are an $895 option; a compact-disc player is a $531 option.
The Z28 has been designated pace car for this year’s Indy 500.