Now, I usually don't go for new American cars. They are usually miles behind their European, Japanese, and even Korean counterparts. They're slow, they lumber along, with no real handling to speak of. Usually, they're just not good cars. Lately, I must admit that they have been getting better and better, still not Mercedes or Toyota quality, but closer to them then they have been in decades. A few weeks ago, MotorTrend did a video on the new Chevy Z/28 Camaro where they propped it up against Godzilla-the mighty Nissan GTR. The amazingly brilliant technical exercise that is the GTR has lapped the Nurburgring in 7:24. This by any standard is blisteringly fast, and not to mention, it goes around corners like a squirrel on acid.
Now many of the commenters, people that have never gotten the chance to driver either of these cars immediately went into fight mode with MotorTrend. How could they compare an American Muscle car, to a world class sports car? How could they compare a Camaro to Godzilla? Like many of those commenters, I had never driven either of the cars myself, and it's entirely possible, that I will never even see the Z/28 in person. But I, as the usual internet commenter, with my hate and vitriol, none of which was based on fact, had my own opinion on the car, and my dislike of new American cars went deep. I still love old muscle cars, but with this new found forum, you nice people, I figured if I am truly going to try and make a go of this writing thing, I should base my opinions on fact rather than fiction.
Luckily, I have good friends and family. Some of these individuals have nice cars, and some let me drive them! However, in this case, my friend Mike has a 2010 SS Camaro, and I talked/conned him into the idea about doing an article on it and he agreed!
I met him at his house while he was washing the car. It had been sitting in his garage for the last few months because of the frozen hellscape that was Chicago this winter, and indeed every winter. His little girl was helping him wash it in her raincoat, and I started snapping a few pictures. The day we went was beautiful, nice and sunny, no humidity, crisp I would say. After he finished washing it, and blow drying it with a leaf blower, we said goodbye to the wives and hit the road. He drove it first so I could get a sense of the car, feel how it handled, how it rode, and the power delivery. Also probably because he was nervous about letting me, a quasi auto journalist have the keys to his baby. But after a few minutes, and a quick photo shoot in one of my favorite locations, I asked if I could get behind the wheel. He agreed and I was happy and ready to go.
The car really isn't setup for people of my height. I'm 6'4" and even with the seat in the lowest position, I needed to tilt the seat back more than I like to when driving. I had to lean my body a bit too, even with the seat at the lowrider angle I was already at! The steering wheel feels like a retro steering wheel. It kinda comes out at you, rather than just a static wheel that you could put a level on. It is an interesting feel, you look out in front of you and see modern gauges, a modern dash, but you can sense the heritage, the retroness that the designers of the car were going for. Sitting in the car now, I get a better sense of the car, and can see the appeal. Yes the interior is a bit bland, and the dash in front of the passenger looks pretty cheap, but everything is laid out correctly, everything has its function. This car wasn't made to compete with the foreign markets. It wasn't made to compete with Mercedes, or BMW, or anyone really. It has one purpose and one purpose alone. Blasting down the streets in a cloud of smoke and noise that will scare women and children!
As you look down through the dash, you notice a gauge cluster right under the central head unit. It has meters galore, and that tells you that you're not in a normal car. The clutch is firm to say the least, I'm not afraid to admit I killed it the first time. I'm so used to my FR-S's clutch which is a feather, that this 6 speed mated to that LS took me a bit off guard. After getting used to the car for a bit I was feeling way more comfortable, and I could tell that my friend was also becoming more comfortable with me driving. So at this point, as every one of you would do, I inquired about the traction control. To my amazement, he told me that he had never taken it off! I was flabbergasted! How could you own a muscle car and never do a burnout? That's like a rite of passage?
At this point I informed him, that I would get him to do a burnout, and he agreed maybe he would do one, so I asked if I could do one? He said sure, but really with a half-sure smile. I got us to a spot that is known for burnouts and asked him again, just to make sure that it was ok with him? He reassured me that it was fine so I went for it. What came next can only be described as Beijing smog levels of smoke. Since the tires had never really done a burnout, the top layer was pretty much still intact, so when I dropped the clutch and hit the gas, the tires turned into a super dense smoke that covered a good portion of the block.
After that he let me do a few more burnouts just because, and we headed back home. However, I really wanted to grab a shot of the car doing a burnout for you all. So I asked him for one more favor, for him to do the burnout while I snapped a picture. He agreed again, and headed back to the spot. I set it up first to get some great lines on the street, and then handed back the keys.
(I got the picture.)
So my work here was done, we headed back, hung out for a while, then headed home, thanking him once again for letting me play with his car. But what about my stigma that I had about American cars, what about my opinions, were they warranted? I'll say this, they were partially warranted. They do lumber along, they aren't the greatest of interiors, and you can tell exactly where they were made. However, this is a car that's not pretending to be something else. It's not trying to compete on those higher levels. This is a modern muscle car. It does well what muscle cars of a few decades ago did well. Turn rubber into smoke and frowns into smiles. The modern LS engine is a symphony of brilliance.
That massive V8 has more character in it than pretty much the entire range of new BMWs. I love it, I would love to drop it in my car. That Camaro taught me a lesson, something I really should have figured out when I drove the Tesla, that cars don't all have to do the same things equally to be good, the nuances of each car are the things that make them special, it's what gives the car a soul, and this car definitely has a soul, one bred to make you have the biggest grin as you are turning your tires to ash.
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