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Muscle car appeals to hip replacement candidates, not hipsters

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible

General Motors

Overall Rating
9
Overall
Buyers for a super sports car like this are thinning from the herd, but that doesn’t diminish the technical and aesthetic achievements here. You will like this car if: you are a baby boomer who wants to go just a little crazy before it’s too late.
Looks Rating
8.5
Looks
The design is not just in-your-face bold, it’s also a key part of the performance story. There are shapes here designed to create extra downforce to improve handling.
Interior Rating
8
Interior
The cabin is a tight fit, but this is a racy car, after all. The seats are only so-so for padding and support and some important gauges are located low in the console, as if an afterthought.
Ride Rating
9
Ride
You will not suffer just because the ZL1 is a monster both in a straight line and on the track. The everyday ride quality is comfy. And for a car without a permanent roof, the ride quality is amazingly settled, unruffled.
Safety Rating
9
Safety
The usual array of safety gear is standard.
Green Rating
5
Green
The engine is a supercharged V-8. ’Nuff said.

He had to be in his 60s, this greying admirer who stopped in his tracks when I turned the key. The supercharged V-8 barked out a savage growl as it fired up: 580 supercharged horses then rumbled and burbled, suggesting menace.

Which is exactly the point and why this old muscle car devotee had turned and then approached the door of the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible. I'd noticed him in the distance, but had shifted my gaze to Chevy's latest MyLink connectivity gadget, its touch screen lodged in the console just below the dashboard and above the climate controls.

I was startled by the "rap, rap, rap," on my window. Leaning down, palms on the knees of his worn jeans, an ear-to-ear grin topped by eyes wide with interest, he launched into a soliloquy about all the Camaros he had owned – the ones he had given up for a minivan, practical imports, a wife and kids.

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The kids and wife now gone, he was thinking about putting some sizzle into his single life. Welcome to the swinging '50s. Fifty, of course, being the new 30. Some call this car a "midlife crisis" solution. Sure. The fastest, sexiest Camaro you can buy has a whiff of wickedness about it and my new-found friend was warm to the idea.

"Hmm, I just might," he said, as I lowered the top with a twist of a release handle, followed by the push of a button. Down and stowed in seconds. And I was off, after quoting the particulars emphasized by the Chevy people:

  • 0-97 km/h in four seconds
  • Top speed: 294 km/h
  • The dragsters, who have not gone metric, yet, will like an sub-12-second quarter-mile – 11.93 with the automatic/11.96 with the manual transmission, says Chevy.

I'd have added that this version of the Camaro lapped the Nürburgring in 7:41.27, but muscle car devotees rarely bring up that particular German circuit. Still, the time is impressive as a proof point for performance.

This is what's starting to look different at General Motors. The company is spinning slogans and buzzwords less, delivering the goods more. It's almost as if the marketing people have been told to let the facts and the numbers sell the cars, and keep the mumbo-jumbo to a minimum.

And this car gets plenty of attention, not just from on-the-cusp geezers looking for a last taste of youth. Chevy types call the ZL1 an everyday supercar, with its supercharged small-block V-8. "The most capable Camaro ever," they say, adding that the car has "track-ready handling and braking power," which benefits from third-generation Magnetic Ride Control – a system that uses electrically charged metal particles to adjust suspension heft and control.

"You can take it to the drag strip and run 11-second quarter-miles all day long. You can also take it to a road course, where it's balanced, handles well, and does exactly what you want – including lapping Virginia International Raceway's Grand Course in under three minutes – and yet the ZL1 is sophisticated enough to use as a daily driver. It's a supercar you can drive every day," says Tony Roma, Camaro ZL1 program engineering manager.

It promises to make greybeards feel like the kids they were in the '60s and '70s, too. Yes, the sad truth for us baby boomers is that not many in the under-30 crowd care as much about nasty V-8s as they do smartphones. No one can know exactly how much longer muscle cars like this one will keep spitting from assembly plants, but if I had to bet I'd say a decade more, at most. It is the way of things for a new, young crowd that would rather listen to those sad-sack iPod earbuds than the meanness of a raunchy V-8.

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I'd still like them to give this one a try. Problem is, if the sticker price doesn't kill the deal – this tester came as-equipped for $69,940, including destination charge – the insurance costs surely would. A 25-year-old male is faced with spending thousands and thousands to get coverage for the ZL1. Smartphones are cheaper.

Social commentary aside, Chevy has done its worst here, making this particular Camaro nasty as Gene Simmons in costume – or not. This is a bad, bad thing, this fifth-generation Camaro. The chassis is stiff as a Navy SEAL's backbone. The engineers have done a crazy-good job of reinforcing the structure of a car with no permanent roof. No cowl shake, no unwanted steering vibrations, no oddball noises coming from here and there and who knows where.

Yes, this car is a throwback, but a modern one. The MyLink infotainment system has a high-resolution, full-colour touch screen through which you manage the sound system. GM has won a few awards for MyLink and it's easy enough for a luddite boomer to grasp with almost no anguish or pain or owner's manual.

More important than any of that, this Camaro with its aerodynamic shape flies and looks the part. Mr. "rap, rap, rap" on my window saw it instantly. I lived it.

Tech specs

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible

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Type: High-performance two-door convertible

Price: $64,250 (freight $1,550)

Engine: 6.2-litre V-8, supercharged

Horsepower/torque: 580 hp/556 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.9 city/10.6 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

jcato@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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