Letters from America: The new Chevrolet Camaro might just be the car to save General Motors, and it is a lot of fun to drive.
Jay Leno finds fun in the new Camaro
I recently put a report up about the new Chevrolet Camaro on jaylenosgarage.com and within a few days I had 175,000 hits for the car. A few weeks before, we showed a video of a Type 37A Bugatti and that got 10,000 hits. Now to my way of thinking, the Bugatti is a way more exciting car than a Camaro, but to the average American the Camaro is such an icon. I mean, seeing this new version of the car is akin to seeing an old relative or old friend after a long time. Ford's Mustang and Chevy's Camaro have been battling it out since the '60s, and with the Camaro being out of the picture for the last seven years, there have been guys chomping at the bit waiting for it to come back. I mean, this is a real loyalty. Guys have Camaro jackets, Camaro hats. It's rock star idolisation. I have a last-generation Firebird, which is pretty much the same as the Camaro. It's a nice enough car but was made with a lot of compromises. You can see the hump on the floor of the passenger side to fit the catalytic converter in there. It was obviously an old platform that they just kept updating until they ran out of steam in 2002. The new Camaro is a brand-new car from the ground up. It's closer to a four-seater Corvette than anything else. It feels very European. With the Brembo brakes and performance springs and shocks, it rides and handles more like a German or British car. The Camaro doesn't flex and doesn't creak. Much like the last modern muscle car released, the Dodge Challenger, it's the classic American road car that finally stops and handles. Of all the recent muscle cars, the one that most impressed me was the Challenger, because I wasn't expecting a lot. I thought it would just be a typical American sedan in a shorter body, but no - it's a real road car. The Challenger was still designed while Mercedes-Benz was involved. So it has a real handling ability; it's a big, wide, fast car and it makes me smile when I drive it. Like the Challenger, the Camaro's styling is uniquely American. You either like that or you don't. I happen to like it. It looks reminiscent of the original Camaro. It looks to be a car in the same family, which is pretty amazing considering all the safety features. They've done a good job. There's not one panel that's anything similar to the original Camaro, but it's still identifiable as a Camaro. I come from a generation where things were styled by hand, so consequently there were a lot more curves and a lot more art. With computers now, everything can be surfaced and knife edged. And styling is hard. It's rare to see a beautiful car any more. I like the styling of this. I think it looks fine. It's aggressive and you have a really high belt line, which seems to be in favour at the moment for whatever reason. To me, the greatest car was the Triumph TR3, where you could drag your knuckles on the ground while you were driving the thing, or at least you could put your elbow on the window sill while you were driving. Those days are gone forever now for safety reasons, but that's OK. I think they've done a terrific job with what they've been able to do. But of course it all comes down to the price. It seems like incredible value for money for me: $30,000 (Dh110,000) seems to be the real break point in America. Above $30,000 it seems to be a real strain for people. Under $30,000, it's obtainable. And a car that is as well made and structurally sound as this, selling it for 30 grand is impressive. I was at GM and they had 14,000 confirmed orders the first day the car was announced. And I think up to now there's 40,000. So I believe it'll be the car that will save GM, at least for the time being. Everyone talks about GM having their new CEO, Obama, but I don't know how much of a car guy he is. Everybody talks about hybrids and green cars, but this is like trying to sell women sensible shoes. Buying a car is an irrational act that you try to do rationally; or the other way around, I'm not quite sure. But there's a lot of emotion involved in it. The Camaro makes you smile. I was talking to some of the GM guys and they were saying that some of the government people coming in to oversee GM came in to have a look around, and they saw the Camaro and they went crazy. The GM guys thought the government guys were going to look at the hybrids and the battery stuff but no, they wanted to look at the Camaro. So car guys are car guys. This is a car that people want. And I think it will do very well. People buy what stirs them emotionally. And I think what happens now, you get a situation where people go "oh oh, everything's going to be hybrid in a couple of years, so I better get my dream car while I can". I think the hot Camaro in the States will be the V6 with the six-speed. Some people like the front end of the V6 a little better, they think it's a little cleaner. The V6 has 304hp, which is just about what the fire-breathing last version of the V8 Camaro had when it went out in 2002. So I think there's some progress there. I think if people want a hot set-up, they will buy the V6 and put twin-turbos or some kind of supercharger on it and have a car that is lighter, more fuel-efficient and with the power of a V8. The halo car will continue to be the SS 425hp car, but the V6 will be the car people continue to buy for lower insurance rates, a little lighter steering, a little lighter overall. I think that will probably be the real bread and butter car. I drove the SS. It's a beast. Stir the Camaro and it flies. But it's also lazy long distance. Take it up to 130kph and you look at the rev counter and you're barely turning 2,000 rpm. If you want more oomph, that's easy enough to fix. I got one of the first Dodge Vipers and the first thing I did was put a 371 rear end in it. It was like I'd put a supercharger in it. It picked up another second and a half in the quarter mile. It was amazing what it did to it. And you can do that with these cars. That won't be a problem. One of my pet peeves with car magazines is when someone gets in who's a car expert, an ex-Indy driver or Le Mans winner, and he picks holes over tenths of seconds. Most people can't even crank out the zero-to-100kph time because they're not professional racers and they don't want to wreck their car. In real world driving, it's a nice-handling driving car. If you drive about 20kph over the speed limit, that's considered moving along pretty good, I thought it handled terrific. I'm not a race car driver. I'm just a guy that likes a car that can communicate well through the steering, through the gearbox and goes up and down nicely through the gears. So to me, it's great fun. Whether it can outhandle something on the Nürburgring I have no idea. But if you enjoy being by yourself and having fun then it's a great car to drive. I liked the Camaro. I was impressed with it. Here in the States it's the same price as a BMW 3 Series except with this you get 425hp and a six-speed. To get that in a European car you're looking at $100,000. In this market, I know what I'd go for. firstname.lastname@example.org