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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    The Last Camaro: A Look Back

    (This review was published in 2002, the final year of production for the 4th Generation Chevy Camaro)

    New car review: 2002 Camaro SS 35th Anniversary
    By Eric Peters

    "It shall not pass this way again."

    I remember being in junior high school and reading those lines in the 1979 Car and Driver. The article was about the last of the big-inch Pontiac Firebird Trans-Ams - which in those days were still quite distinct from their sheetmetal cousins, the Chevy Camaro and Camaro Z28. It was the final year of production for Pontiac's in-house 6.6 liter/400 cubic-inch V-8. These last Pontiac-powered cars were equipped with 4-speed manual transmissions only - and are considered by many to be the last of the "real" muscle cars. Subsequent "Pontiac" Firebirds and Trans-Ams were powered by smaller, "corporate" Chevrolet-built V-8s - and have become pretty much identical to their Camaro cousins.

    These thoughts sprang to my mind as I watched the 2002 Camaro 35th Anniversay edition SS sidle up to the curb for my weeklong test drive. It will be the last brand-new Camaro - or Firebird - I will get to play with for a long time, maybe forever. GM has pulled the plug. After 2002, they will be gone. This will leave the venerable Ford Mustang as the last of the '60s-era muscle coupes left standing - and it will have this market niche all to itself.

    That's both sad and ironic at the same time. Sad, because after 35 years of continuous production, GM is simply abandoning one of its most successful and beloved models - and thereby ceding a small but significant corner of the market to Ford, which will have no direct competitors at all to either eat into sales of the Mustang, or compel Ford to make the 'Stang any better. Ironic - because the current Camaro, as embodied by the 35th Anniversary SS that's the subject of this review, is easily the most powerful and capable Camaro ever offered for sale to the public. Ditto the essentially identical Pontiac Firebird and Firebird Trans-Am. These cars can bullet to 60-mph in 5 seconds flat and eat up the quarter mile in the low 13-second range at more than 100-mph - quicker and faster than such legends as the 1970 LT-1 Camaro Z28, with its solid-lifter, Holley-carbed high-compression small-block V-8. Even the base Camaro coupe (and Firebird) offer very impressive 200-hp 3.8 liter V-6 engines and available 5-speed manual gearboxes with performance-tuned suspensions.

    Yet the current Camaro (and Firebird) isn't nearly as popular as some of the doggiest Camaros ever - such as the "Disco Machine" 185-hp Z28s of 1977-81, or the miserable (in performance terms) 1982-83 Z28 and Trans-Am - breathless tape and decal jobs that gimped along with embarrassing165-horsepower 5-liter V-8s that could barely spin the tires on dry pavement and which were slower than a new Dodge Neon or Honda Civic.

    And so...

    Even though the brooding, testosterone-soaked '02 SS in my driveway has an unprecedented 325-hp (25 more than the standard Z28) and can easily outrun anything remotely cost-competitive - and hang with machines costing two, three, even four times as much - it isn't wanted. Or not wanted by enough people to keep it alive. Horsepower, it seems, is not everything - not even when we're talking about high-performance muscle coupes.

    So what's the deal?

    The Camaro suffers from a two-tiered malady. One the one hand, although it's attractively priced compared to cars like the Chevy Corvette, Dodge Viper, even the Porsche 911, it's still not cheap. The SS in my driveway stickers out at nearly $33,000. The SS package, which includes the functional ram air hood, low-restriction dual exhaust and other upgrades that goose the output of the car's 5.7 liter V-8 from the standard Z28's 310-hp to 325, also adds $3,625 to the Z28's base price of $20,583. The Anniversary Package - which includes tinted T-tops, special paint and stripes, 17x9-inch black powder-coated rims, leather sport buckets with "35th Anniversary" stitching and other trim upgrades - tacks on another $2,500.

    It's still a lot of car for the money. No argument there. A new Corvette with only slightly better performance (350-hp) costs thousands more - and a Viper or Porsche tens of thousands more. But on the other hand, few people likely to be seriously interested in either the Camaro or its sheetmetal cousin, the Pontiac Firebird, can afford to buy one.

    That's the catch-22.

    Also:

    The current Camaro, which is the fourth generation of the series since 1967 and which appeared in 1993, is a comparatively big car, yet it has little usable interior space. It is cramped and cave-like, with a steeply raked windshield and Batmobile ambiance that's not easy to love. Perhaps more fatally, though, its exterior styling, while not unattractive, nonetheless has a quality of juvenile braggadoccio that doesn't have much appeal to people over 30 - who tend to have responsible jobs, families, and a desire to appear respectable - or at least "adult." And it is precisely the over-30s who could theoretically afford to buy the car and sustain its marketplace viability. But they want no part. Meanwhile, the under-30s who dig "attitude" cars like the Camaro and don't mind the image problem can't afford to buy it - or insure it. The typical cost of an annual policy for a 25-year-old with a clean driving record can be as high as $2,000 due to the predictable consequences of mixing 25-year-olds and 300-plus horsepower.

    Result? Flatlining sales and general malaise. The slower, far less powerful (just 260-hp) Mustang has been outselling Camaro/Firebird combined by more than 2-1 for several years now - arguably because it has more mass appeal, which makes up for its performance deficit relative to Camaro.

    And as Camaro sales began to tank, GM displayed a very public and dispiriting loss of interest in developing the car, or correcting its flaws. It just sort of drifted along. The automaker has done next to nothing to change or improve either Camaro or Firebird (other than horsepower upgrades and minor cosmetic tweaks) since the 1993 models hit the streets. The last 2-3 years, especially, have been periods of near complete stagnation, with very little to differentiate one model year from another. The final 2002 models are basically complete carryovers from 2000-2001 with the Anniversary package and some paint changes being the only noticeable differences (beyond the uptick in hp).

    General Motors just gave up on the car - and apparently, did so a long time ago.

    There are rumors of a potential resurrection circa 2005 - with a "clean sheet" car supposedly already in development. But don't hold your breath. General Motors is among the most bureaucratic and staid automakers in existence, and "niche" cars like Camaro and Firebird, which, being two-door sports cars, are of inherently limited appeal (and thus profitablity) are easily lost among the dreary legions of mass-market sedans and econo-boxes. So these 2002s may be the last of the line.

    Get one while you still can, for they shall not pass this way again.

    END



  2. #2
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    Re: The Last Camaro: A Look Back

    Just posted this article on the main page with pictures:




    http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/...1&Itemid=10857



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