Kingston, New York--This battered Hudson River city, just 90 miles north of New York, is full of collector cars if you know where to look. Friday and Saturday evenings, groups gather in diner parking lots, at restaurants, and occasionally at the local firehouse. When it gets dark, they head home.
That's how I came to face to face with the past. I was in a glossy black 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS; he was driving toward me in a bright orange 1970 Camaro with thick double stripes on the hood. Both of us were startled; I lifted a hand, he growled past me on the narrow bridge and was gone. The past passing ... the future?
No, the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro isn't the future. It's an extremely well-executed homage to the past, but it has nothing to do with the future of General Motors.
It's not that it's a bad car. Not at all. The handling is light-year ahead of the original, and the V8 performance is spectacular, despite almost a second's lag as the six-speed automatic sorts itself out and downshifts. (A Tesla Roadster this isn't; few gasoline engines on earth approach the instant torque of electric power.) The very heavy Camaro even offers good gas mileage; the base V6 model scored a remarkable 29 miles per gallon on the highway cycle (17 mpg city). The SS I was driving, with its 422-horsepower V8, gets a bit less (16/25 mpg), but it's a halo car and Chevy will sell far more V6s than SS models.
Auto writers love the new 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. It's rear-wheel-drive, it has fully independent suspension, and GM has wrung a ton of performance out of a V8 whose lineage dates back half a century. It's got style, it's got grace, it's a winner ... and it gets rave reviews. Not to mention, both old and new versions have a huge fan base.
Of the three 2010 pony cars (the others are the Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang), the Camaro has by far the best mix of new, edgy style mixed into its classic homage. The Challenger is too literal, the Mustang just isn't as muscular.
No, it's more that the Camaro, like so many retro cars, mortgaged its future by harkening to the past. In the brief time I spent with the car, I was struck by the level of enthusiasm it generated--exclusively from men in their late 40s or older. Not a single woman or teenager paid the slightest attention. It's hard to imagine the "Fiesta Movement" Millennials seeing the Camaro as anything other than Dad's car. Maybe even Grandad's.
When GM decided late last year to cancel plans for a full North American range of large, rear-wheel-drive cars, it sealed the Camaro's fate. It's just entering the market, but it will remain the most modern, best-executed 1968 car in automotive history. The first Camaro was a striking new body built on standard compact-car mechanicals; this Camaro has nothing in common with the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu except a bowtie. Time has moved on. The Camaro hasn't.
How could Chevy make the Camaro more relevant to a new era? I suggested to a middle-aged fan that GM's Two-Mode Hybrid system would boost the mileage enough to give it a jolt of green credibility. It's already used in Chevrolet and GMC full-size pickup trucks, so it should be an easy fit.
He looked at me stunned, as if I'd vomited onto his very own 1967 Camaro--"first year, you know, had it since I was in high school"--and went back to gazing covetously at the new car's interior. The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro: Automotive performance, rendered in the future past tense.
2010 Chevrolet Camaro