Tom Henry Racing talks to Camaro Concept Designer, Tom Peters

Tom Henry Racing in Bakerstown, PA talks with Tom Peters, Camaro Concept Designer

Back in January, at the two biggest shows in the U.S., Detroit's North American Automobile Show and the Greater Los Angeles Automobile Show, Chevrolet's Camaro Concept, was a smash hit.

Said to be a strong indication of what a 2008 Camaro might be, these striking cars, a silver one in Detroit and a red one in L.A., were a drop-dead-gorgeous mix of '69 Camaro inspiration blended with contemporary design cues. Needless to say, this prelude to Camaro's return to production created a ton of buzz in the car business.

The Concept's exterior was done by a team of designers led by Tom Peters, one of General Motors Design Staff's current stars who previously guided the group which gave us the C6 Vette, a '63-'67 Corvette-influenced interpretation some already term "classic". For more on Peters' C6 role, see

Here at Tom Henry Racing, Peters is a favorite of ours because, like us, he has a lot of Camaro equity. He was on the team which styled the 1985 IROC-Z along with other Camaro concept/vision efforts of the 80s and 90s. He, also, owns a '69 with an aluminum Big-Block in it which he acknowledges is nothing but a "hot rod."

So, without further adieu, here's Designer Tom Peters talking about the Camaro Concept:

Tom Henry Racing: What single aspect of the '69 exterior most influenced you?

Tom Peters: Probably the proportion.

THR: Long hood, short deck?

TP: Yep. The pony car proportion, exemplified by the the original, (1964) Mustang. You have a fuselage with a canopy sittin' on top of it, like the P51 Mustang. Big powerful engine. Lean, very tight package. Relatively small, agile with fighter proportions. I think the (1964 Plymouth) Barracuda followed that philosophy in its own, unique way. The (1967) Camaro did, too.

The other thing that influenced me was that front face–that circular front opening. I wanted to carry that through, but again, still interpreting it in a fresh way.

THR: How much did Ford's mixing '69 Mach 1 influence with contemporary design on the '05 Mustang affect the decision to use the '69 Camaro as inspiration?

TP: I don't think any at all. We just asked, "What's the quintessential Camaro statement?" That discussion occurred before I got involved, but I certainly agree. The '67? Very strong, neat shape, but the '69 was an evolution with a higher level of refinement and sophistication.

THR: Why not the 70 1/2?

TP: Again, that discussion happened before I got involved. Personally, I love that, too, for different reasons. It had more European influence. You see kind of Jaguar-esque influences, but to me; the '69 is pure American.

THR: You had limited time to complete the Camaro Concept. Tell us about that.

TP: The project kicked-off in April, last year. Actually, it was "tax day"–April 15th.

Two big players in Camaro's future, all smiles at the Concept's intro in Detroit: Camaro owner and GM Vice President, Global Design, Ed Welburn (left) and GM Chairman, Rick Wagoner

There'd been lots of discussion about the next concept car. Camaro is always being talked about–models going here, sketches going there–but they got organized and kicked-off the project with a theme to stay faithful to the Camaro icon. Of course, everybody focuses on the '69.

They developed that theme and started on a proportion and continued until about June when Ed (Welburn, GM Vice President, Global Design) felt the car was important enough that he wanted to look at an alternative theme. He gave me a heads-up just before the first of July, but we didn't jump into it until after the two-week shut down, in mid-July.

I picked a handful of sculptors, a few designers, sat 'em down and said, "Hey, man, Ed has asked me to put together a team and take a shot at doin' an alternative vision for Camaro."

We skunk-worked it in a studio down in the basement we refer to as "Studio X." One reason is other studios were full with production programs. Also, for a high-profile project like that, we didn't want distractions and all the people. Everybody's interested in Corvette and Camaro, so we wanted a place that's out of the way. Years ago, I worked on the Corvette Indy, down there for the same reasons.

THR: So Mr. Welburn was uncomfortable with the Camaro concept already underway?

TP: I don't know if he was uncomfortable but he wanted to look at what else was out there. If you have an important vehicle, you don't put all your eggs in one basket. You want to do as much exploration as you can within the time you're given.

THR: So he said, "Do an alternative concept but you've only got a few months."?

TP: Probably more like one month. Which is very exciting. We talked about Corvette? I applied the same formula. I didn't have time to mess with philosophies. I picked one that worked. We looked at the history–where Camaro has been. We identified the timeless, powerful elements that made that car successful when it was first introduced and still make it desirable, now–those timeless design cues, its fender shapes, profiles, proportion, detail–all that stuff. We looked at heritage cues, but I, also, wanted to do a new vehicle. I want to translate into the 21st Century.

I think it's appropriate to, also, have a touch of Corvette because there's always been a relationship between Camaro and the Vette. Just like on C6, we looked at some jet aircraft, like the F22.

THR: Who were the top guys working with you?

TP: We let a wide range of folks sketch on it. The ones I selected had a touch in their sketching and a feel for what I thought the car needed to be. I had Sing Yup Lee, who worked with me on the Corvette, and Steve Kim who was workin' with me on a production program currently in the studio. He was raised on the West Coast so he had a feel for what I wanted. The third designer was Vlad–Vladimir Kapitonov.

I told those guys to come-up with the meanest, scrappiest, street fightin' dog they could sketch. It has to be elegant, simple, beautiful, but, also, aggressive-looking because, I'm comin' from street racing where it's not about bein' nice; it's about bein' the fastest, the most aggressive and lookin' the part.

THR: To us the grille and headlight assembly have sort of a "devilish squint". Is that part of your wanting it to be the meanest, street fightin' dog you can get?

TP: There was a deliberate attempt to add an aggressive edge to the design not present in the 1969.

THR: What do you say to those who claim GM is just following Ford's lead with musclecar influence in their Mustang?

TP: Hey–whatever.

THR: Ha! You mean: whatever works?

TP: Yeah. Geez–whatever. If that was the catalyst to get things focused, fine.

THR: When we talked after C6 was introduced, you said you'd been influenced by the F22 Raptor. With this Camaro, you seemed to look a little more to the past. Why?

TP: There was an effort to draw more intensely on the heritage aspect. Because Camaro's been away for so long, havin' some recognizability goin' back to the '69–it's such powerful imagery, why not capitalize on it? There was, also, an effort not to make it literal-retro or literal-heritage. Put those heritage elements in, but make the final composition fresh and new. On Corvette, there were other influences, in terms of its function and the package, we had to work with.

Back on the Camaro, um–We wanted some elements, like that center opening, that we just felt good about. No solid reason or explanation other than they felt right. I wanted to strike a balance of a unique personality but with strong family ties or characteristics.

Late Summer, 2005. The "three" Camaro Concepts with Ed Welburn and his '69 as reference, in one of Design Staff's outside viewing areas. Tom Peters' clown suit car is at right.

When Ed gave it to me, I saw what was goin' on and I had a feeling for what Camaro needed to be. We didn't have time for scale models or varied exploration. I had one full-sized model–that clown-suit. (Webmaster note: a "clown-suit" is a model having a different design on each side.)

With sketches, to hedge my bet, I selected two different directions. In a short amount of time, I wanted to create two themes and we tracked those for a while. One was less blatantly Camaro–different grille, different feel to it. Eventually, we gravitated to one that was more recognizable as a Camaro or what we thought Camaro should be.

I gotta tell ya, it was good we did those two, because the one we pushed even farther, kinda assimilated into the final solution and made it even fresher, still. We didn't have as many iconic Camaro cues in the alternate version.

THR: This clown suit–is that in the picture where Ed's standin' in the middle with his yellow '69?

TP: Yeah.

THR: Why was the passenger side rejected? Not Camaro enough?

TP: No. We just felt it was very angular and sheer and the other side was more flowing and seemed to have more sensuous transitions in the surfacing. it just felt right.

THR: Did the final selection better portray the '69 theme?

TP: No. We're weren't trying to portray a '69, but it had to say "Camaro". Look at the taillights, for instance. They have more Corvette influence than Camaro. It all came together with the right balance. I wasn't thinking how close it is to the '69 but, on occasion, we did pull one out there–like Ed's car–but that was just for reference. It wasn't like we were tryin' to stack the concept up against it.

THR: The other car, on the left–is that the concept that was going when Ed brought you in.

TP: It's the evolution of the concept that was goin when I came in. There was some influence of our car onto their car. For instance, you see the body side is leaner and there's a similar character, too.

THR: They kept on working?

TP: Oh, yeah. The day ours was selected, they kept right on developing theirs. We'd lower our roof a little bit; they lowered theirs. They had a little bit more angularity, but I sensed our theme affecting theirs. They still had a unique theme, in that it was more faithful to the '69 philosophy, whereas I tried to push ours farther out.

THR: Towards the end of 4th gen. production, clinics revealed Camaro was a little short on trunk volume and had a backseat too small even by 2+2 standards. During concept's interior design, was any emphasis on making interior space larger?

TP: If we decide to produce the Camaro, it will have a competitive interior package without compromising the design.

THR: The Concept looks like its top is chopped. Will that aspect of the design go to production?

TP: While a production Camaro would look similar to the Concept, there would likely be adjustments to make the interior package competitive.

THR: Anyone concerned that, by the time this reaches production, interest in vehicles which mix contemporary and musclecar influences might have peaked?

TP: Not at all. If you do a vehicle right–if there's a universal, timeless beauty and it's got the right elements–if it looks right, now; it will be relevant for some time to come because it stands on its own.

THR: "Relevant", meaning–if all the boomers were teleported off earth and nobody had ever seen a '69 Camaro, you'd still want this vehicle to be one about which people say, "Wow, that's really cool."?

TP: Relative to that: I have a 17-year old and a 14-year old. They and their friends have given me feedback. Those kids don't have a clue what '69 Camaros are; they just love the Concept. That's what you strive for. I'm not lookin to make guys wish they'd had a '69 or remember when they were kids. I want to do a beautiful Camaro. I've worked on Camaros of the past starting with the '85 IROC Z. I understand Camaros. Look at all of them. Camaro has evolved over its life. The Camaro Concept continues that evolution.

THR: So, over the years, you've been a Camaro guy?

TP: Yeah.

THR: You own '69, which is a ZL1, right?

TP: Yes. It's not original. It's not a COPO. It's "inspired by". It's got modern running gear. It's got a T56 six-speed in it. I did some engine work on it. It's got dog dish hub caps on steel wheels, things like that. It looks stock but it's not.

THR: What a sleeper. It's just a big hot rod.

TP: Yep.

THR: Tom Peters, we appreciate your taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. I know the Tom Henry Racing site's visitors will enjoy our discussion.

So there you have it: Designer, Tom Peters', views' on the concept car prelude to the 2008 Camaro. With luck, you just might see something like the Camaro Concept at Tom Henry Chevrolet. around the end of '07. In addition, the Chevrolet performance experts at Tom Henry Racing are already thinking about another run of the famed, Tom Henry SS Camaros which combine the best of aftermarket performance enhancements with Chevrolet's quintessential muscle car.

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