Editorial

A return of the Muscle Car wars?
by David Cipolloni
 November 22, 2004

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Renderings of the rumored 2007 Camaro

Start beating the drums, the muscle car wars may be ready to erupt into their tire burning glory days once again. It had been strongly hinted, and now confirmed, that GM is working on a sporty car for Chevrolet which includes a 5.3-liter V-8 engine, rear-wheel drive, and four-passenger capacity. Could this be the 2007 Chevrolet Camaro?

GM is keeping a tight lid on the vehicle that will be based on the new “Zeta” platform that is under development by Holden, GM’s Australian division. The “Zeta” platform is to replace the aging Cadillac Deville, Seville, and Buick LeSabre, currently built at GM's Hamtramck, Michigan plant. This would be the likely place for the new “Camaro” to be built.

Lee Iacocca drew the first sword when he brought the 1965 (64 ½) Mustang to life at Ford Motor Company, striking a cord with buyers looking for a sporty car that was affordable, and had the capacity to carry four passengers in a pinch. The lines of the new Mustang drew praise from across the globe, exciting passion in its racy styling, even if the base models only packed a 101 horsepower inline 6 cylinder engine. A later model year GT could be had with a 271 horsepower V-8 engine, resulting in a bit more tire burning torque.

Chevrolet soon followed with the 1967 Camaro, utilizing the same strategy of a small 2 door, four passenger, sporty car. The Camaro mimicked the Mustang in that it could be equipped with an anemic inline 6 cylinder or a more powerful V-8 engine. This move provided for good sales of each model, allowing buyers that were not interested in speed to purchase a sporty looking car at minimal cost. The winning combination brought forth attempts from Chrysler and American Motors at muscling in on the competition. While some of these cars were real powerhouses, the mainstream always viewed the Mustang and Camaro as the real arch rivals of the pony car wars.

The muscle car wars raged until the early 70’s when emission regulations, the fuel crisis, and emerging newcomers from abroad, stuck a knife in the muscle car mystique. What remained of the muscle cars was little more than ungainly looking vehicles, with loads of decals and spoilers, attempting to fool the public into thinking everything was ok in the land of muscle cars.

So, here we are in 2004, and the Mustang lives on, driven by the heritage of yesteryear and the thoughts of revitalized sales figures. Will Chevrolet have the wherewithal to resurrect the Camaro? If they do will the effort be adequate to make the car a viable contender in today’s marketplace? During the 60’s there was little affordable competition from Europe to challenge the American muscle cars, and almost non-existent competition from the Asian market. When American buyers stepped foot on the showroom floor to purchase a performance oriented automobile it was likely made in America. Now, things have changed tremendously, the American muscle car has been knocked from its perch, and it won’t be an easy ascent back to the muscle car throne.

Chevrolet made several attempts to keep the Camaro alive, pumping the Z-28 and SS models full of horsepower and driving it through a 6 speed gearbox. The bowtie folks soon realized that savvy buyers would not ignore an ungainly unibody structure, and poor build quality, for simple straight line performance. The Camaro and Firebird gasped their last breathes of ram induced air. Ford has taken a different stance, keeping the marque alive through the use of retro styling and a much improved unibody structure. Ford has taken the risk of using a live rear axle, in an effort to keep the buy-in price of the Mustang GT in the $25,000 neighborhood. The new Mustang is much more refined, has improved road manners, a new 3 valve cylinder head V-8 producing 300 horsepower, and improved interior trim. Will this be enough to lure the young (17-25 yr old) buyers away from the quick and nimble cars coming from the Asian market?

Chevrolet must do several things to make a new Camaro appealing to the performance car buyer. They MUST improve the interior quality of their cars.  Cheap plastics and poor switchgear make for an unpleasant experience in many of the GM vehicles. They must improve the vehicle chassis, which should happen with the Zeta platform. They must make the vehicle stand out in a crowd while maintaining a clean fresh look. Power should not be a problem for the GM folks.  They have plenty of engine options to give the car good speed and acceleration. And, they must avoid the mistake Ford made with the new Thunderbird, pricing the car out of its market.

Americans want to buy American cars, but they won’t do so just because of a nameplate.  They insist on the same level of quality they can purchase from European or Asian automobile manufacturers. American manufacturers have greatly improved the reliability of their vehicles, now now we need to see them build on their marques, not cast them aside with every change of the wind. 

Comments can be sent to the author at feedback@autoracing1.com.

 

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