Exposed to daylight: An early taste of the car that might become the next Camaro

By Rex Roy -

And you thought it looked good spinning on a turntable under the electric lights at your local auto show? Well, the 2006 Chevrolet Camaro Concept looks even hotter rolling on asphalt under a bright, open sky. And it drives pretty darned well, too.

The bow-tie folks at Chevy invited us out to General Motors' Milford Proving Grounds to test-drive the Camaro concept. Next to the expansive Black Lake skid pad, we had the smooth North Loop all to ourselves. Its gentle curves and moderately long straights gave us ample room to sample the Camaro concept at speed. Not high speed, but moving at least.

Naturally, GM provided a vehicular chaperone to babysit our enthusiasm. Our "overseer" was none other than Tom Peters, director of GM's rear-wheel-drive production studio. For those needing a translation of Peters' title, he's the design boss who directed the Camaro concept's birthing.

On the pavement

We walk around the car before getting in. The shoulders on the top edge of the rear fenders are huge…perfectly huge. The gas cap is beautiful. Peters is particularly fond of the areas featuring the most complex compound curves; where the front fender and hood flow together over the headlights, and where the rear fenders flow into the trunk lid. "It takes a really special person to get surfaces like these just right," Peters announces, obviously grateful and proud of his team's work. He's right. When you look at those two areas up close and personal, there's a lot going on, with multiple lines and panels coming together.

On the inside

Wanting to get in, we look quizzically at the flush-mounted, thin door handle. How do it work? Peters presses the trailing edge of the chrome bar in and the leading edge pops out. The long door opens wide to a beautifully detailed interior. We duck under the low roof line. First impression: The driver seat is way too high off the floor. A show-car compromise, Peters tells us. The only adjustment is fore/aft.

Regardless, we settle in. The beefy steering wheel frames circular gauges recessed within chromed rectangles. The wheel feels good, the pedals are well placed and the huge ball atop the Tremec T56 six-speed manual falls to our grip. So far, so good.

Peters directs us to clutch in and press the red button to the right of the steering column. Brrraaaammmm! The Hounds of Hell sound pretty good. (If only Chevrolet could bottle the sound from those quad pipes….) "We worked a long time getting it to sound like that. Do you think it's too loud?" Peters asks. We shake our heads "no" and just smile.

As we look out over the long hood to see if we're cleared for takeoff by Milford's flight personnel, we notice its careful detailing. The fender lines and cowl-induction rise look even better from the driver seat than they do from the outside. The dash is higher than you'll find in garden-variety cars, and the roof line is low. Peters watches us getting the feel of his creation and asks another question. "Do you think the roof is too low? We're getting some internal people saying they want a higher roof."

Before we answer, we wonder how Harley Earl or Bill Mitchell might respond. Those guys knew design, and they wouldn't let comments from hand-wringing, prune-faced marketing wonks screw up their designs. Thinking that discretion is the better part of diplomacy, we tell him to leave the roof line alone. So you'll have to stop a few feet farther back from a traffic light. That's not a good enough reason to alter a shape that is so obviously spot-on.

On the throttle
Granted clearance by the track monitors, we move out. The clutch's take-up is smooth. The cabin fills with the sound of the tuned exhaust and the familiar Tremec gear noise. Short shifting into 2nd gear, the all-aluminum 400-horsepower LS-2 V8 (lifted from a Corvette) pulls strongly. We had expected the concept to be a veritable rattletrap, being hand-assembled and all. And we love being wrong about things like this. A heavily modified Cadillac STS underpins the Camaro, and bits from many rear-wheel-drive General Motors vehicles were used to make the concept drivable. The result is surprisingly good and delivers a taut, virtually rattle-free ride.

While Chevrolet PR categorically forbade slaloming or full-throttle bursts of acceleration, Peters did let us push the car a bit. Steering response was crisp and cornering was pancake flat. The front struts were firmly calibrated, and the independent rear suspension tracked along as if it were painstakingly developed solely for this application. The huge 21- and 22-inch Goodyears did their jobs without protest. Performing as it always has, the 5.7-liter V8 provided far more power than we ventured to tap, fearing instant ejection from the grounds and permanent blacklisting by GM. Monster 14-inch front rotors easily burned off the modest speeds we achieved.

To that point, none of the gauges in the Camaro concept worked, so we don't know how fast we were driving. The climate control didn't work either. And the exterior and interior mirrors were fixed in spots that look great from the outside, but proved utterly useless for the driver. This is what driving a "concept" is like. The car's purpose is to point to what could be, not to be what could be.

After a good hour behind the wheel, we gave up the reins. Pressing the red button again killed the V8. We climbed out, seeing the threatening storm clouds gathering in the rural Michigan skies. Wanting to take in the shape one more time before it disappeared into its garage out of the rain, we turned its way a final time. With natural light spilling off its surfaces, the look was unmistakably Detroit. No other city could turn out a shape like this and call it their own.

Walking out with Peters, we ask the question he's fielded a thousand times since the Camaro concept's January introduction in Detroit: "So, are you going to build it?" Peters answers in kind, "If you were Bob Lutz or Rick Wagoner, what would you do? I mean, come on. After the reception this car has gotten…you answer that question for yourself."

We answer, "Yes." But that's always been our answer. It's time for the General to step up and make it official.

See the images and a video HERE

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