How old were you when you finally stopped referring to the Chevy Camaro as a “sports car”? What’s funny is that game show hosts and announcers still continue this practice today when revealing a shiny, new example on the stage as a potential prize. I was probably twelve or so when I had started to learn about differentiating between proper sports cars, GTs, pony cars, and other performance-oriented types of two-door passenger cars.
It was also around my adolescence that I had started to buy car magazines off the rack and had been gifted by my parents with my first copy of the “The Encyclopedia Of American Cars” from the editors of Consumer Guide. As I read and learned (over and over, until that tome was literally falling apart), some of my reactions might have been something like, “What do you mean, the Camaro isn’t a ‘sports car’? And that tiny Crosley Hotshot two-seater that looks barely street-legal and only slightly larger than a go-kart is considered the first, legitimate American sports car?” (For the record, I respect Powel Crosley’s vision, products, and legacy, profiled neatly here by Jeff Nelson.)
I spotted our red example in traffic a few blocks from Wrigley Field the day after the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series. It seemed that nearly everyone in the north side was in a celebratory mood that day, and being as warm out as it was in November, in Chicago (in the mid-60s), it seemed there was also a parade of cool and interesting cars on display, of which this rockin’ IROC was just one.
Merriam-Webster defines a sports car as “a low, small, usually two-passenger automobile designed for quick response, easy maneuverability, and high-speed driving”. Definitions may vary, but taking this particular one into perspective, this Camaro does not exactly fit this description, being too wide, large, and heavy (with the late-arrival, V8 convertible version having a starting weight of roughly 3,400 pounds; the base V6 hatchback weighed 3,000 lbs.) to corner as nimbly as a genuine sports car, and also by having four seats. The third-generation Camaro, though, also never seemed to fit my mind’s idea of just a “pony car”, which I would have defined at that time as a compact, affordable, sporty coupe with its own sheetmetal and mostly based on a much more basic, workaday platform.
To me, the Fox-platform Mustang seemed much truer to the original pony car formula, lacking only some of the elegance and undisputed good looks of the original, though still a great-looking car in many of its model years. This generation of Camaro, however, looked less the same type of car as the Mustang than like a steel-and-plastic bodied, four-seat C4 Corvette, with lines, stance, and what I imagined to be a driving position that was similar to its Chevy flagship stablemate.
It’s still not an easy task for me to classify the current crop of performance-oriented vehicles, even with the traditional definitions and mnemonic devices I have learned up to this point. As far as the next generation in my family is concerned, I’ll take pride in sharing with them what I have learned over time about the classics. (One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories is of playing with Matchbox cars with my then-four-year-old nephew, where he asked me if the purple AMC Gremlin he affectionately held in his palm was a “sports car”, with it seeming to be his favorite of the ’70s-era toy cars I had bought for him.) I also look forward to learning about the newer crop of cars from those kids as the automotive landscape and vehicular genres change as we move into the future.
Wrigleyville, Chicago, Illinois.
Thursday, November 3, 2016.
Related reading about the actual car:
- From Yohai71: Vintage Road Test: Camaro IROC-Z vs Mustang GT; and
- From Paul Niedermeyer: Classic Curbside Classic: 1989 Camaro RS – GM’s Deadly Sin #6 – 46 Trips To The Dealer In The First Year