First Drive: Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Concept

Image: MuscleCarJohn at Team Camaro

Seventeen months have passed since the Camaro Concept coupe made its debut. Since then, we learned that the Camaro would indeed be produced (on GM’s much touted Zeta platform), we saw the stunning convertible concept, and learned, of course, that it, too, would be produced. Somewhere in between, editor-in-chief Csaba Csere drove the coupe concept in Detroit. And recently, we got to drive the sexy ragtop in California. Was there a production Camaro anywhere in sight? Nope. Were the designers on hand loose-lipped and revealing of all those details we’re so hungry for? Not this time.

A great ragtop in the making
What we did find out, not surprisingly, is that the Camaro is going to make a great droptop. In the California sunshine, the convertible’s Hugger Orange metallic paint shimmered, while light shot off the chrome from its massive 21-inch wheels. Next to the deep blue lake on Tejon Ranch, the Camaro looked every bit of badass, yet invitingly approachable in that extroverted hue. Indeed, the roofless Camaro will not only look good, but should allow the driver to look good in a way that the hardtop just can’t: by exposing him to the throngs of envious passersby. The convertible requires its drivers to trade some of the hardtop’s intensity for some genuine joi de vie. And that’s a trade we expect a lot of people to willingly make.

Too big for reality
But boy is she big. At 186.2 inches in length, the Camaro Convertible Concept is about as long as a Ford Mustang but the Chevy is fully six inches wider, and if the concept had a production-spec windshield and roof, it’d be a couple more inches taller. The fenders are waist high and the huge wheels completely fill out the fenders.

These dimensions, however dramatic for the auto show stand, render both concepts about two sizes too big for road-ready musclecar duties, a reality we experienced behind the wheel; it’s scary enough to be driving a multi-million-dollar one-off show star, but trying to keep the big thing within the narrow lanes of the Tejon Ranch back roads was absolutely nerve wracking, made only worse by its show-car (i.e. held together by Scotch tape) steering system that had its own whimsical interpretations of our directional inputs.

The Camaro’s massiveness was even more apparent when Chevy drove the convertible into the weekly classic car meet at Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank, where it completely dwarfed the vintage Mustangs, Corvettes, and Camaros on display. Gotta tell ya, though, even the Mustang guys loved it.

Great interior
All that width, of course, makes for a very spacious cabin. Whereas the Camaro Coupe Concept is closed and cave-like, the convertible is the opposite. Its chopped, gray-tinted windshield is way too low to be feasible for production, but boy does it make for a sunny cockpit. We can’t say enough about those bitchin’ gauges, though we doubt we’ll see them in the production model.

The white seats with contrasting stitching are great to look at and very comfortable. The rear bench is wide enough for three, though there are only seat belts for two. And the low rear headrests create a nicely unobstructed view out the back. And perhaps the best argument to take this convertible over is hardtop sibling: there’s no roof or window glass between your ears and the glorious LS2 V-8 symphony trumpeting through the tailpipes.

Don’t worry, it’ll shrink
The only real news from our brief joyride was confirmation that the production Camaros will be smaller than the concepts in pretty much every dimension, which would make it comparable to its Blue Oval–branded nemesis. It will be shorter, narrower, and shod with smaller wheels. Its windshield will grow to provide actual wind shielding for six-footers, and the interior will shrink to something more natural for a 2+2 musclecar. We were assured, however, that the changes won’t significantly alter Camaro’s flawless proportions, something we’re inclined to believe knowing that since late 2005—before either Camaro concept saw the light of day—members of the Camaro’s original design team have been working in Australia on the Zeta platform rear-drive underpinnings, ensuring that the production version stays true to the vision.

Shrinking the Camaro will also make it easier to extract the very most from the Camaro’s muscle. This is a musclecar, after all, and as such, the flagship engine will be the 400-hp LS2 V-8 straight out of the 2007 Corvette. One or two V-6s will also be available for lower-cost models, likely including the new 302-horsepower, direct-injection 3.6-liter from the 2008 Cadillac STS and CTS. All engines will offer a choice of six-speed transmissions of both automatic and manual varieties.

So is there anything left to do now? How about letting us see the real thing? For that, however, we’re gonna have to wait until it launches in spring of 2009.

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