Familiarity does little to diminish the Camaro's appeal

Source: Edmunds.com -- Daniel Pund, Senior Editor, Detroit

We're aware of only one way in which the Chevrolet Camaro Convertible concept is like Christmas: The knowledge that it's coming and will be shown at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show does little to diminish the excitement when it arrives.

We find this also true of Oktoberfest, but that is another story.

The existence of the Camaro Convertible concept was so predictable, in fact, that any number of Photoshop manipulators, both amateur and professional, have already built their own. Or at least they have made virtual versions of it for fun or profit. In the last 12 months an entire cottage industry has cropped up around digitally chopping the top off last year's Camaro Coupe concept.

Well, those Photoshop junkies are about to be put out of business. Here's your first real look at the production version of the Camaro convertible, which will go on sale around the middle of 2009, several months after the coupe's launch. Looks good from where we sit, but too bad about those Z28 stripes.

Chop, chop
We don't want to understate what the folks at GM design have done here, but the convertible concept is, in effect, a coupe with its top chopped off.

And we mean the company literally chopped the top off. The team, headed by Exterior Designer Tom Peters, popped a fresh fiberglass Camaro-coupe-concept body out of the mold used for last year's showcar and got to cutting.

It is a testament to the tedious and time-consuming detail work of the design team that the car doesn't really look much different from the coupe. Although the doors and front end are unchanged from the coupe, the upper half of the car's rear section is entirely different. According to Peters, if you measured down 2 inches from the top of the rear fenders, everything above that line is new.

Consider the rear spoiler, for example. The one on the convertible looks the same as the little lip on the trailing edge of the coupe, but it's not. It's shorter and is set at a different angle to the rear deck. This and thousands of other minute contouring changes are aimed, paradoxically, at making the convertible look like the coupe — making it appear as if you could construct your own version given only a Camaro coupe and a reciprocating saw. To endure a description of each example of surface-change minutia, one would have to be paid a great deal of money by General Motors.

Huggably soft
It is perhaps more fruitful, or at least less painful, to discuss the more obvious changes to the vehicle. Possibly, you've noticed that the convertible concept's body is covered in retina-searing orange paint. This is more officially referred to as Hugger Orange pearl tri-coat. The paint treatment, both the Hugger Orange and the dual gray stripes, nicely represent the thinking behind the convertible concept.

It is at once more overtly retro and also more frolicsome-looking than the stern silver coupe concept was. "Hugger" was the Chevy marketing department's nickname for the Camaro in 1969, because it "hugs" the road. Hugger Orange first appeared on Camaros in 1969, the model year that inspired the current concept and was the color of the stripes on the Camaro convertible that paced the 1969 Indianapolis 500. (An advertisement from that year read: Why is the Camaro the pace car again? Because it's the Hugger.)

The thick double stripes on the hood and deck lid, which were used on the Z28 model beginning in 1967, are obviously another retro touch. Instead of white or black stripes that were most common 40 years ago, Chevy went with decidedly modern gunmetal gray stripes for the new concept. It's just that kind of interplay between retro inspiration and modern finish that made the Camaro coupe such a success. The problem is, Chevy never built a first-generation Z28 convertible, so we question the choice.

"We wanted the convertible to have a more fun, sporty personality to it," said Peters. "The coupe had machined seriousness to it which was partly inspired by the T2 [Terminator 2] robot."

Certainly the new wheels were designed to strike the same balance. Intended as a modern interpretation of the classic Chevy Rally wheels, they're the same size as those on the coupe (21 inches front, 22 inches rear) and have become a focal point. The way the radial lines of the spokes are carried to the very edge of the rim makes the wheels look enormous. And the combination of a highly polished rim, gray-painted spokes and raw aluminum centers keeps your eyes' attention for longer than the relatively austere, machined five-spokes of the coupe. There's also more retro in the wheels' orange pinstripe that mimics the look of old red-line tires.

To temper the coupe's malicious mien, the designers added a few more shiny bits to the body. The convertible's taillamp surrounds are now highly polished as is part of the exposed racecar-style fuel filler. The windshield, which is about 10 millimeters shorter than that of the coupe, is also covered in bright anodized metal.

Lighten up
Lead Interior Designer Micah Jones gave the convertible's cockpit a fairly large dose of Prozac compared to the unremitting — almost German-level — somberness of the coupe's cabin. Only a designer could claim that white is both retro and modern. Technically white isn't even a color. But we see where Jones is going here: White is the color of that ubiquitous totem of modern design, the iPod and the stark contrast of white and black interior pieces and upholstery is reminiscent of the old black-and-white houndstooth upholstery offered four decades ago, certainly in combination with Hugger Orange.

The interior's basic design is unchanged from the coupe, with the same uncluttered dash and cool four rectangular auxiliary gauges just forward of the shifter. But now the deep-dish, retro-unreadable gauge faces are white instead of aluminum and are trimmed with blue light. And to make room for the top mechanism, the rear bucket seats are squeezed nearer each other. Actually, that's not true: There is, in fact, no top mechanism because there is, in fact, no top. It's a concept, OK? There's nothing under that black hard tonneau cover.

The unspeakable dirty bits
There's a reason we haven't mentioned the powertrain, suspension, brakes or any other dirty bits yet in this story: They are unchanged from the coupe. Even Chevy's public relations people don't mention how much horsepower the 6.0-liter small-block V8 makes or the number of gears in the manual transmission. When pressed, they'll say it's "carryover" from the coupe, meaning 400 hp, six speeds and rear-wheel drive.

The suspension is all-independent just as it will be when the production version, based on an Australian-designed Holden platform, arrives in about two years. Likewise, the top engine will be the big pushrod V8, while base cars will receive V6 power.

Like we said, nothing too surprising but we're still excited to see and drive the real thing.

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