I’m a car guy. I’ve owned many cars and have driven dozens that I haven’t had the opportunity to own (yet). Hands down, my all time favorite car was my new, at the time, 1984 Camaro Z28 HO (High Output). An 80s example of the classic American muscle car. It had a clutch pedal that took Schwarzeneggerian strength to depress and a shifter with a softball-size shift knob and a throw worthy of a shot-putter or, as it was aptly often nicknamed, a rock-crusher. It could leave rubber in third gear and could get going from a dead stop in fifth. It didn’t actually require a steering wheel – there was so much oversteer that one’s right foot did the job in most cases. Man, I loved that car.
If you’re a car-as-transportation kinda person or believe that automobiles are all about getting from point A to point B, you may not understand this, but the sheer enjoyment of driving any vehicle is greatly about time and place. Much of what I cherished about that car had to do with the fact that I was in my early twenties, unattached (other than to work) and relatively reckless – on the road, anyway. Did I mention how much I loved that car?
At the time, the Z28 HO carried a Chevy small block – a classic, smallish 305 cubic inch one, although referred to as a 5.0 liter motor so Chevy could seem more European – that generated an anemic 190 horsepower with torque in the low 200 ft-lb range I’d expect, although I don’t recall precisely. It drank fuel faster than the Exxon Valdez leaked oil. I recall getting about 13 mpg. Of course, it’s not like I drove with conservation in mind. Oh, BTW, I paid about $19K for the car when new.
Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you know that a new generation of muscle cars has arrived from the
Big 3 Detroit-based auto companies [note: if you’re reading this long after it was written, there may be a smaller number]. Ford has its Mustang, Dodge has its Challenger and Chevrolet once again has its Camaro. Of course, each of these vehicles comes in a V-8 version that, to quote Car and Driver Magazine, “reduce tires to a gray haze that hangs on the horizon like a thousand dirty sweatpants.” They are, after all, American muscle cars. Unlike the original muscle car days, though, these cars are also all available outfitted with V-6s. Lest you scoff at the idea of dropping only six cylinders into the engine bay of a muscle car, read on. There is interesting news here. At least from The General.
The Camaro LS/LT sports a 3.6L (I guess the metric system won out after all) V-6 that generates 304 hp and 273 ft-lb of torque. It goes from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds, pulls 0.87 g on the skidpad and is rated by the EPA to frugally travel 29 highway and 23 combined city/highway miles on a single gallon of refined dinosaur remains. This not only kicks the ass of my favorite vehicle of all time using two fewer cylinders, it beats the original 1960s era Camaro SS with its huge 396 cu in engine to 60 mph by 0.7 seconds while riding in more comfort and safety. The icing on this automotive cake is that the car starts at less than $23K. In 25 years, that not much of a bump.
While the bashing of American car companies is certainly in vogue and pissing on GM, in particular, is the stuff of headlines, it’s great to see cars like this fighting back in showrooms and on the streets. There are many who will say that the Prius is now rated at 50 mpg and that any car that gets lower mileage than that should be banned from the streets. Those people are welcome to buy all the Priuses that Toyota can produce. I look at the advent of cars like this – cars that address our emotional desires as well as our economical ones – as a huge advance for the auto industry and a monster opportunity for the auto buying public. Who knows, maybe my new favorite car is coming soon.