It’s reassuring to be reminded that some constants remain in our ever-changing world and among them you’d have to include Chevy’s Camaro convertible, which has stayed straight-arrow true to what it was designed to do for just five years shy of half a century now.
If you went for a top-down drive on a sunny day in one of the new fifth-generation 2012 models, or one of the 1967 originals, the how-cool-am-I-imagery being generated in your mind and many of the sensory inputs tickling its pleasure centre would be essentially identical despite the passing of 45 years.
In my early spring week with a $48,405-plus, Rally Sport package-equipped example with 6.2-litre V-8 and manual six-speed, the weather and deadline gods opened up only an hour-long window of opportunity to strip it down to the beltline. Thus creating the Camaro equivalent of the muscle shirt look and allowing me to drive around with a chilly wind in my, er, hair, er, tugging at the brim of my unfortunate-truth-concealing ball cap.
The rest of the cold and rainy week I had to content myself with feeling like a bad-boy as the test car – glossy black with black roof – looked about as sinister as any Camaro has ever managed to over the years. Undoubtedly an important component of its enduring charm.
The less than 20-second process of electrically lowering the cloth top is actually revealing in more ways than one.
You can actually see out of the thing in all directions now, including up, of course, rather than feeling like you’ve been driving around peering out from under an oversized yarmulke. The forward view is still tunnelled by those substantial swept-back A-pillars though.
And, top down, you can hear even more clearly the grumbly exhaust rumble of that up-rated to 426 hp/420 lb-ft of torque, big-bore V-8 that comes with the manual gearbox versions, generated whenever you step on the gas pedal – although the sound level isn’t at a noticeably impolite level.
Doing so, followed by stepping off the clutch pedal, results in an outpouring of propulsive V-8 power that blasts the car, punctuated by a yank on the stubby, short-stroke gearlever, to the 100 km/h legal limit in less than the time it takes to count the fingers on one hand.
With about 113 kilograms of extra weight, much of it in structural stiffening to compensate for its lack of a steel roof, it’s a tick slower than the coupe. This, however, is purely academic, sure you’ll likely give it a discreet squirt now and then, but you’ll generally just be burbling along in sixth at not much above idle watching the world slide past and listening to ’60s tunes on a satellite radio station.
What tipping the top into the trunk – where it uses up much of the less-than-generous available space incidentally – mostly reveals is “the point” of why people still want to buy and drive a Camaro convertible.
For many, it remains a really cool car to cruise in, preferably with a partner (there’s barely room for two in the rear seat) and actually merits that overused phrase “fun to drive”, just as it always has.
Like its Mustang rival, the 2012 Camaro is a time capsule of American automotive nostalgia.
This latest generation, for instance, doesn’t just share a few styling “cues” with its predecessors; it’s a sort of customized conceptual clone that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. And when you tug open its long heavy door and slide into the low-slung, power-operated, black-leather-with-Inferno-Orange-inserts seats, you’re surrounded by hard plastic surfaces (some in the same lurid colour), that provide a direct ambiance-link to Camaros of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80, ’90s.
The steering wheel is an overly-thick-rimmed handful that still judders (although not anywhere near as much as in models past) in response to constant feedback from the road surface through a suspension muscled-up to deliver a level of handling prowess few owners will ever dare approach. But which, of course, is a necessary part of the macho Camaro’s overall package.
I didn’t track-test the car, but buff book reports indicate it’s very capable when pushed to limits its forebears would find well out of reach, as a lot of the bits underneath have become much more sophisticated.
Through the audio control-equipped wheel’s spokes, you view radiological-green-luminescent main instruments and then discover another little cluster of gauges handily located on the console down by your right knee. Surely somebody with a direct spiritual link to the ’60s had something to do with putting them there. But plenty of 21st-century stuff has been included too, such as Bluetooth, a driver info centre, head-up display and Boston Acoustics Premium Audio system.
Top up, the interior is quiet enough at highway speeds, with the exhaust providing a not-unwelcome background note. And, with it down, there’s actually very little disturbance in the cockpit whether you’re on a back road or keeping up with traffic on a four-laner.
Essentially, Chevy’s engineers and stylists spent a lot of time, talent and shareholder dollars creating this latest generation of its classic “pony car” and ended up with a car remarkably and, likely on purpose, just like every one of its predecessors. So much so, that if I had a hankering to own a Camaro convertible, for this kind of money I’d buy a nicely restored old one.
2012 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible
Base Price: $48,405; as tested, $52,395
Engine: 6.2-litre, OHV, V-8
Horsepower/torque: 426 hp/420 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.4 city/8.4 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Ford Mustang, Chrysler 200, Nissan 370Z Roadster, Audi TT Roadster, BMW Z4, Mazda MX5, Mini Roadster