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Muscle car gets makeover

Last year’s North American International Auto Show saw the debut of the 2007 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Concept, Dodge Challenger Concept and the Chevrolet Camaro Concept. They were both high-octane, high-performance incarnations of two of our favourite ‘60s era muscle machines. If their introductions could be summed up as a movie, it’d be a gun slingin’ duel from the Wild West. Well, it was a happy ending for both manufacturers. Both cars were the stars of the show and given the outright positive response, both automakers committed to putting their respective concepts into production.

At this year’s NAIAS, only one will make its return (so far), and you could say that it’s not even complete. No, it isn’t the production version of the Camaro (that’ll probably come at next year’s show, or LA), but rather another Camaro concept vehicle that’ll have fans trekking across the country to see it in person: the Camaro Convertible Concept.

On its first public outing, the Camaro Coupe’s sharky 2007 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Concept surfaces were covered in a pearlescent silver coat of paint that looked like liquid aluminum - a good match to its pointed V-shaped egg-crate grille, inset headlamps and quad, flat surfaced LED tail lamps. All the details from the bulged hood and Corvette ZO6-inspired intake vent to the large-diameter exhaust tips remained the same on the convertible with the exception of the windshield surround. It’s been changed to accommodate the soft-top convertible roof and is finished in a bright anodized surfacing like the door handles and the fuel filler cap. Another mandatory addition for the Convertible is a tonneau cover; it’s nothing special, just a wrap-around unit in black.

As for the bodywork, you can tell that Ed Welburn and his 2007 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Concept design team wanted to give the car a fun-loving look that still maintained all the sports-car eating menace of the original concept. For the Convertible, Chevrolet resurrected Hugger Orange, perhaps one of the best-known colours featured on Camaros of past. The triple-layer pearl paint keeps the same brightness, but adds visual depth and is accented by twin gunmetal racing stripes that stretch across the hood and trunk like the markings of a smokey burnout. The 21-inch front and 22-inch rear wheels have spokes painted to match the stripes.

Last year’s Camaro had an industrial theme to the interior, its pitch-black with orange lighting scheme providing a driver focused ambience. By comparison, the convertible is a little more relaxed with its lighter retro inspired colour scheme. The seating surfaces are trimmed in platinum coloured leather with silver Alcantara inserts, while the side bolsters and seatbacks are trimmed in black for contrast. It’s a modern twist on a classic; as cool as houndstooth patterning was for the original Camaro Z28 and on powersuits from its era, it would look out of place in this interior. The only other change to the interior that Chevy made was adapting an aqua coloured lighting scheme for the gauges in place of the fit-for-Halloween orange. The speedometer’s 25 mph (40 km/h) increments may be a bit too large though, and a gateway to a world of trouble with members of your local law enforcement patrol.

I very much like how the interior designer Micah Jones executed the design, understanding what elements of the classic Camaro ought to be carried into the future and what should be left to the history books. The round gauges in square holes look for the instruments are cool, as are the quad ancillary dials located beneath the HVAC and stereo stack. And I especially like how he resisted the urge to plaster the dashboard with that awful plastic “zebra” wood, giving it the billet aluminum treatment instead. Perhaps what I like the most about the car is that it’s got an air of civility to it, avoiding the sparse minimalism of the first rocketship bowties. I know it’s a concept, and all of GM’s concepts look great on the show stand, but I really hope they put their all behind putting this one into production. It deserves GM’s fullest attention.

Because the purpose of this concept is to display the Camaro sans roof, GM didn’t change anything mechanical with this rendition. Last time around we learned that a 6.0-litre, 400-horsepower LS2 V8 engine, direct from the Corvette, motivated the hardtop Camaro. It mates to none other than a six-speed manual gearbox that drives the rear wheels. Though automatic transmissions were popular with Camaros, on this concept a clutchless gearbox won’t be fitting. Now I’m more or less speculating, but with this particular engine, that gearbox, and a curb weight greater than the Corvette, I reckon that it could hit 100 km/h from standstill in a very respectable five seconds. And though it’d be at home converting its expensive tires into a smoke show with a screeching soundtrack, it’d be equally at home cruising an open road thanks to its four-wheel independent suspension system.

When will the road-going version of the Camaro arrive? General Motors hasn’t set an official on-sale date yet, other than sometime during 2009, but the automaker is hard at work testing the vehicle and ramping up the factory that’s set to build it. The open-topped version of the Camaro will start production within a few months after the coupe at the Oshawa, Ontario assembly plant. We can hardly wait for the return of the Camaro and the muscle-filled competition that will accompany it.

Specifications

Body: two-door convertible

Layout: front engine, RWD

Engine: 400-hp, 400 lb-ft of torque, 6.0L OHV V8

Transmission: 6-spd manual

Dimensions (L/W/H/WB): 4,730/2,022/1,344/2,806 mm (186.2/79.6/53.0/110.5 in.)

Brakes: disc/disc, ABS

Wheels (front/rear): 275/30R21 / 305/30R22

Seating Capacity: 2+2

Website: www.chevrolet.gm.ca

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