as posted on PopularHotRodding.com
By Ro McGonegal
When the Camaro Concept (codename CZ6) was introduced on January 9 at the Detroit auto show, the joint went nuts. Master and Commander Bob Lutz did the honors, stressing that his Chevy had something that the re-born Mustang and the Dodge Challenger do not. Simply, it distances itself from the others with a lot more than a retro theme.
Lutz: "While the current Mustang and concept Challenger are very nice cars, I honestly think this goes beyond that. I like both of those cars, but they don't really break any new ground aesthetically. They are very close to the original car. Maybe that is a good thing, but we elected not to do that. We elected to do a thoroughly new car with totally new surfaces that doesn't just make the same statement of the old car again, but in fact, makes a new statement while capturing all of the spirit and essence of the original cars."
We asked artist John McBride to sketch for us what a 2009 Camaro Indy Pace Car would look like. We think it's more than just coincidence that the new Camaro will debut on the 40th anniversary of the most famous Indy Pace Car ever (the '69). Look for at least a 400hp LS2 in this high-end convertible.
Now that the bluster of reports and prognostication from the daily cyberspace and weekly print journals is over and the swell words from the manufacturers' pitch men have been pitched, we are here to see what's what. Yeah, the big question: how close is it to being a real car? Please keep reading. Lutz: "We have no production plans to announce. But this concept car was designed over a production architecture, using production mechanical units, and if and when there should be a production car, it would be as close to this as the production Solstice was to the concept. It took us about six months on the Solstice to get all the numbers together, see whether we could afford it, to see if we could fit in the engineering workload. It would probably be the same here.
"If we were to put this car into production, it would be priced with the Mustang ... you would have a popular-priced six-cylinder version, then you step up to an eight, then step up to the next eight, all the way up to 500 hp ... but you always would like to keep the Corvette with a few horsepower more than the Camaro." Let's step away from the superheated air, look at the Camaro proposal from an enthusiast's perspective, and leave Chevrolet out of it for the moment. Quite literally, it is an answer to several million prayers, silent or otherwise. It could easily put Chevy fans back in the performance picture in the same arena as the Mustang and the new Challenger. It's aimed at the younger as well as the older buying segment, the latter who remember the original Camaro when it appeared in the fall of 1966.
The base V-8 model, most likely a Z/28, would look like the concept car, while the top-dog SS/RS model (shown here) would have the upgraded 505hp LS7, larger 19-inch wheels and tires, the hockey stick stripe, and hide-away headlights.
Though the younger buyer probably has no idea of what the original F-bodies were like and could care less if the new version is retro, or even that it is true to the original lines, their interest lies in what's under the hood and how the power output is managed by the engine electronics, the suspension, and the drivetrain ... and how cool they'll look wheeling this icon in the immediate future. "And don't think twice about it," says Tom Peters, design director of rearwheel performance cars. "They want that V-8!"
So will they build it? We say emphatically "yes!" The telltale sign? If a concept car is posed with a production platform and ancillaries rather than parts from the unobtainium bin, it's a pretty sure thing that the Camaro will be a production item. [Ed note: A prime example of how not to do it would be the (2003) SS four-door concept--a red LS1-powered, six-speed, four-door sedan that couldn't be built in the real world because the underpinnings were lifted from a Corvette.] Two weeks after the concept Camaro's debut, the official PR
charge was that the car was still undergoing the fiscal scrutiny to see if the proposal makes business sense (a euphemism for there will be a waiting period, but it'll happen). And the waiting period won't be long. An educated guesstimate would be early '09. And you must realize that by GM standards, this car came together at the speed of light (less than 12 months). It surely won't be like the SSR, an on-again, off-again teaser that took an insane three years after the prototypes were unleashed to introduce for retail consumption.
The SS convertible will be a big hit in the sunbelt states. Check out the hood stripes, rear decklid spoiler and upgraded wheel/tire package. A 400hp LS2 is under the hood.
Global Design for GM, VP Ed Welburn, had a hankering to do a Camaro concept. That yellow and black '69 SS marvel master in his garage was more than an impetus. It whispered to him daily, poked him daily: the icon was still the icon and that it should not be left to wither. The clamor from the public sector (read a zillion e-mails) for Chevrolet to reinstate their favorite car was not lost on him (or Lutz), either. In early '05, two key things came together to forge his decision: there was a desire to build a knockout concept for the '06 Detroit auto show that would build on the momentum of the Corvette C6 (2004) and the ZO6 (2005). Second, the work on the global rear-wheel-drive Zeta rchitecture had progressed to where it could be used in a rear-drive coupe with the Camaro concept's proportions. The idea was to incorporate a fresh expression of the car's heritage; the caution was not to get trapped by history (e.g., a purely retro derivation), and to produce a quality that evoked the emotion of those years but without "copying" it line for line. But will this deviance from the original theme come back to bite ... like buyer resistance to the GTO, which was considered anything but retro?
This early sketch takes virtually all its cues from the '69 RS/SS. Later designs would see influence from the Second-Gen Camaro and concurrent C6 Corvette styling.
At first, the assignment was that of the Warren Advanced Studio team headed by Bob Boniface (whose first car was a Second-Gen Camaro). He and his team worked on the themes that would capture the heritage of the Camaro. For inspiration they used the First- ('67-69) and Second-Generation cars ('70-81). Welburn dug the First-Gen car, but others pushed for the European lines and flavor of the Second-Gen cars. Regardless of silhouette, Boniface's team created clay models of both renditions with the requisite long hood, short deck, wide track and large wheels.
On April 15, 2005, Lutz, Welburn, and the others reviewed these themes. Lutz wasn't completely satisfied with either rendition, though he did have lust in his heart for the First-Gen design. But how do you express the elements of the '69 in a modern way? What did the car mean then and what would it mean today? Because of the kinship they saw with the Corvette, they wanted to include some of the elements germane to the C6, especially in the form of the fenders and shape of the hood. Boniface: "The right thing to do is multiple themes. Both cars get better. As good as one might be, you can always make it better." Welburn is a big believer in competition, so at this point the Rear-Wheel Production Studio heavies were invited to the party. This cabal was piloted by Tom Peters (Design Director Rear-Wheel Drive Performance Cars, who did the C6 and the ZO6 and who shoes a ZL1-powered, six-speed '69 Camaro): "... Ed invited me to put a team together and develop an alternative. He wanted to kick it up a notch. And I was anxious to do that because I felt the car needed to have a very strong expression, much in the way that it was for the C6. But for me, it is not a matter of translating a car, to redo it. You want to analyze those designs and pull out those intrinsic, those timeless design elements, those cues if you will, and reinterpret those in a fresh way."
These early styling exercises have a heavy Second-Generation Camaro influence, as seen by the long hood and short deck. At this point in the process, there's little to be seen in the way of practicality from a production or end-user standpoint.
To add drama to the intramural competition, Peters' team would ply its earthly miracle in a secret room in the cellar of the design center called Studio X (after GM designer Bill Mitchell's secret laboratory). To the teams, the Camaro concept program was a microcosm of how product development should work. Once the advanced studio and engineers have the package and the proportions right, the production studio people can go faster and with more confidence. The two groups trekked across the Warren campus at regular intervals to view each other's work. Boniface: "This is the way things should work in a car company."
And there's nothing better than a heap of tension to make this little world, this microcosm, spin all the faster. The plan was to introduce the wraith Camaro at the Detroit show, about six months hence, as a running, barking, and very close-to-production-ready concept. Within weeks of accepting the assignment, Peters' crew had a full-size clay ready for inspection. Then Lutz and Welburn feasted their eyes, and liked what they saw. Peters: "It wasn't just a show car. We didn't want to just tease people. It had to be producible."
Finally, it all came together with this rendering from the design studio. Once the decision was made to proceed with a scale model concept, some of the cartoonish proportions began to give way to more practical concerns like wheel size, passenger comfort, and driver safety.
Come summer, it was show-and-tell time on the "secure patio" at the Design Center. As a foil, Welburn had put his '69 SS between the two clay Jakes. Stuff looks a lot different in artificial light than it does in the resonance of natural light--especially cars. Viewing them in the daylight was the real-world acid test. Lutz couldn't decide. Welburn did. Peters' production studio rendition got the nod, but obviously both teams borrowed from each other and contributed to the whole. Boniface: "The passion won out. The car people won. The guys in design and engineering demanded that this car would happen..." Performance was the early Camaro's middle name, so how could this one disappoint? The engine in the CZ6 is a 400hp, 400 lb-ft 6.0L equipped with Active Fuel Management (shuts off four cylinders while the engine is in light-throttle cruise mode). As in the iteration of the 5.3L V-8 that we've driven in the '06 Impala SS, the transition to full-throttle and vice-versa is seamless. Working with the deep overdrive ratios in the T56, the concept, or a similar production car, is expected to return at least 30 mpg on the highway cycle. In the production world, we envision a variation of the current 3.9L V-6 in the base car, an all-aluminum 300hp 5.3L V-8 with AFM, the 400hp 6.0L, and yes, even the killer 505hp 427.
"I want you to sketch the meanest street-fighting dog you can sketch."--Tom Peters, Design Director Rear-Wheel Drive Performance Cars
Throughout the exercise, thoughts clustered on functionality. In the '60s, most of the mechanical development was on the powertrain. Cars ran like hell but didn't stop or handle worth a **** ... and no one cared, but 35 years later, those qualities have become just as important as the output of the engine. The concept's four-wheel independent suspension system will remain in the production cars. We remember driving an early '90s F-body whose rear suspension had been converted to IRS. The difference in ride and handling between it and the straight-axle car was something we remember vividly 15 years after the fact. You'd better believe that the difference (ride, handling, and braking) between the proposed Camaro and '02 Camaro would be like night and day. Regardless, the size of the concept's wheel/tire package will shrink to something on the order of 18- or 20-inch wheels and include 13-inch disc brakes rather than CTS-V 14-inch Brembos posed on the concept.
Here the crew at the concept studio thrashes to get the Camaro concept ready for the Detroit show this past January. Note how the crew working on the minivan has lost interest in their project to gape at the Camaro.
The mission within the mission was to nail the spirit of the car but in a fresh, new approach. Peters: "To me it's the proportions of the car. The short front overhang, the longer rear overhang, the powerful fender shapes that say 'this is a front-engine, V-8, rear-drive performance vehicle.' I think this has to come across immediately. It has to be obvious. It has to be an American expression. "When you look at the theme, one of the things we wanted capture that was very powerful in this vehicle was the strong center port opening (grille) and enclosing the lamps inside it as a unit. To me, that says Camaro. This is very basic, straightforward. This also fits into the Chevrolet philosophy of functionally driven design. There is not a lot of excessive style. Because it is a powerful V-8, you denote that by a powerful hood bulge ... not a lot of fuss or detail to it.
This early one-third scale model was rejected as being too rakish. We found the background more interesting: The board at left shows the Camaro's competitors as being the new Mustang, but surprisingly also the Infiniti G35 and BMW 330. Could this be a sign of future pricing? We hope not!
"As you walk around to the side, what can you do that's a fresh expression of the Camaro's past? The brake vent (in front of the rear wheel), we want to make that functional. We want a functional brake port for cooling, much like that of the ZO6. If it's on there, it's got to be functional. Simple taillight functions, not a lot of tricky shapes, very straightforward, functional. Fenders that sweep back and tie into a central fuselage or nacelle. On the rear, we wanted to do something that was fresh, but again, we wanted to take some strength derived from the (C6) Corvette There are elements and influences of the strong Corvette fenders because the Corvette is a front-engine vehicle with rear-wheel-drive performance, so we wanted to develop a theme that hinted at cues developed from Corvette but still were uniquely Camaro, and not only uniquely Camaro, but uniquely fresh and modern. We used very simple structures in terms of the diffusers, and how they tie into the exhaust. Again, V-8-powered, dual exhausts. Also, the exhaust pipes kind of telegraph the power, the soul of the vehicle.
"Doing it in the timeframe we had, it was undoubtedly one of the tightest squeezes of my life. There was no time to look back. No second chances. We just went ahead and did it." --Tom Peters
"But the fact that this functional design is all part of the aesthetic, it in fact then does become part of the style, like the YF22 Raptor, which we used as a theme for the Corvette, as kind of an image vision. All those aircraft are designed from a functional standpoint, but that function becomes part of the aesthetic ... not something that's covered up with a styling shape or something that's just there for the looks. It's driven by something that's really needed for that vehicle to perform to its optimum level. From my standpoint, that's how I like to approach vehicles as well. That's the difference between styling and design for me.
"The same thing with a car. No excess anything that you don't need. If you look at the concept closely, it's just the right balance of line and form. So you have this kind of structure or backbone, from a form standpoint, and then it's sheathed in a very tight skin. That's where you get some of the more muscular aspects of the package.
Structure and tension. Tension is a key word. You can have very angular elements in a car, you can have very round, voluptuous shapes in a car, but they must have that forward visual tension. You like to use aircraft as a kind of visual, as kind of a metaphor, they are very forward thrusting, very directional. The lines go with the flow of the vehicle. They track around the vehicle. This beltline goes right into it, and gives you completeness, oneness of design. It's cohesive. It's one shape. Like you would say a human form might be."
"We didn't want to just tease people with a show car. It had to be producible."--Tom Peters
The simple but classic five-spoke wheel design suggests a feeling of strength, light weight, and displays the big rotors and finished brake calipers which become functional elements that add to the visual aesthetic. Peters: "As I mentioned before, we wanted to draw from the vehicle's strong heritage. General Motors has some cars that are just incredible in the way that they were very strong and exciting when they were first done, and they are still very powerful. The Sting Ray comes to mind, certainly the first Camaros. I would bet you any amount of money that 50 years from now, they will be every bit as exciting and hold as much interest and raise levels of excitement just because of the passion they express. They are timeless."
Tom Peters has been in the GM system for a while. He did the '85 IROC Z under Jerry Palmer and he put time in at Pontiac, so it's not like he just fell off the turnip truck. In his experience he's never had a reaction to a concept's first reveal like he did with the Camaro. Chevy had invited Camaro clubs and dotcoms from across the country to mingle with the company throng for the pre-Detroit show unveiling. He drove the Camaro through a kind of gauntlet, people crowding the line on either side of the car, and they were cheering and clapping and popping their thumbs up. "I wasn't ready for the reaction to this car. Not even the C6 got such a reception. That told me that there's a lot of emotion, energy, and passion for it. It made me think that this car must be pretty significant."