Design Changes Delay Camaro's Return to the Muscle-Car Race?

Source: LA Times -- Saturday, March 29th, 2008
By Martin Zimmerman

The new Chevy Camaro would seem to have everything going for it; a genuinely storied tradition, a built-in fan base, even a staring role in a blockbuster movie.

But as they say at the local comedy club, timing is everything. And in that regard, at least, the Camaro can't seem to get its act together.

General Motors Corp. expects to have the new Camaro in dealer showrooms during the first quarter of 2009. That would be three years after the Camaro concept car was unveiled as GM's entry in the current muscle-car revival and well behind such retro rivals as the Ford Mustang and Chrysler's Dodge Challenger.

"I honestly don't understand what they're wating for," said Dick Guldstrand of Burbank, Calif.-based Guldstrand Motor Sports.

Certainly, fans of the original Camaro are eager to get a look at the new version. The last Camaro rolled off the assembly line in 2002, and the versions seen since have all been concepts, including the yellow and black copy that starred as Bumble-bee in last summer's popcorn hit Transformers.

GM knows that more than a few of its customers are toe-tapping with impatience. Designing the car around a new rear-wheel drive platform, rather than using existing automotive architecture as did Ford and Chrysler, is the main reason for the delay, GM spokeswoman Wendy Clark said.

"Maybe we showed the concept a little early," she said. "I know it feels like a long time. But it will be worth the wait."

Or will GM miss the "sweet spot" of the muscle-car rebirth? the trend began a few years back, when Ford fielded a redesigned Mustang that mimicked the lines of the iconic late '60's fire-breather but came with such modern amenities as fuel injection, air bags and four-wheel disc brakes.

The vintage look proved to be a big hit with baby boomer's who recalled the muscle cars of the late '60's and early '70's, including the Challenger, the Pontiac GTO, the Plymouth Barracuda and the Camaro Z28. Those cars, fabled as much for their dreadful handling and braking as for their straight-line speed, are the new stars of the collectible-car circuit, with rare and well-preserved models selling for millions of dollars.

The Camaro concepts seen so far have strong echoes of the 1969 model, considered by many to be the ultimate expression of the car, itself one of the gems of the muscle car era.

"If you're not into it, it's hard to explain," said Los Angeles attorney Barry Freeman, 69, who owns two vintage Camaros.

"It's a seduction that people of my generation have never escaped from, nor do I want to."

The first muscle cars were killed off by high gasoline prices, a weakening economy, new federal regulations, and rising insurance rates. Those same factors are threatening to choke off the cars' comeback before the new Camaro even reaches dealers.

"It's a tough time to be introducing cars like the Challenger and the Camaro," said Karl Brauer, editor and chief of online auto site, noting that the Mustang sales already began to slide last year.

"The number of muscle cars in the market is a good barometer of how well things are going in the economy, and these cars are late getting to the party."

It doesn't help that the new fuel-economy standards congress passed in December will make it tougher for automakers to justify selling big-engined cars.

GM points out that the new Camaro will be available in a more fuel-efficient six-cylinder version, as well as a V-8

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