COAL: 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS2- The Angry Car

With the Miata now departed in the summer of 2017, I had a green light from the Mrs. to replace it. The world was my oyster, within reason. A C-6 Corvette? A newer Miata? I have always been intrigued by the Nissan 370Z. A cheap lease on a new Challenger R/T?  Or maybe a Mustang? In the end, I decided on a proper, newer American muscle car. In 35 years of driving, I had never owned a car with a V-8. And well, maybe it was now or never. I just turned 51 and you just don’t know what life might have in store for you.

Speaking to that, I had lost a beloved brother-in-law, George, in October of 2016. He passed away at 55 after advanced cancer was discovered, and in just eight weeks, he was gone. And I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. He was one-of-a-kind guy: energetic, hospitable, loud, contrarian, eccentric, whip smart and not to mention one of the world’s funniest humans. It didn’t seem possible that this could happen to George. It was absolutely devastating to our large extended family.

George’s 64- Still In the Family

And George loved cars. He bought new and used cars alike but the common denominator was driving them all into the ground and keeping them for 10-12 years or longer. With five drivers in his household, he was always wrenching on something. While not a professional, he had an amazing mechanical aptitude. There wasn’t much he wouldn’t take on. When he was in his mid 40s, he got his dream car, a 1965 Corvette coupe.  In the end, this barn find proved to be a bit of a basket case, almost un-restorable and he sold it and bought a much nicer 1964 Corvette roadster. He and my sister-in-law Sharon enjoyed their times very much in this car.

George didn’t have much use for what he called trailer queens, perfect numbers-matching classics that got the blue ribbon at car shows. To him cars were meant to be driven, and driven hard if you were of a mind to do so. One day he was doing burnouts and hole shots in the 64 out in the country where he lived, and blew out the rear end and limped it home. He was very proud of the fact that he smoked the rear end, and it was on the road again in a couple of weeks.

It was George who encouraged me to get a fun car in the first place when I bought the Miata. He said it would “add some Technicolor to an often black-and-white life”. He let me store it in his pole barn in the winter months. He checked on it and occasionally moved the car around so the tires wouldn’t get bald spots and marked the tire with chalk so he could tell. How “car guy” is that? We always talked about going to Le Mans one year and also finding a place that would rent us a Porsche 911 for a day, as he loved that car. We never got the chance to do either.

A year before he passed way, he bought a beautiful slate grey stealth 2015 Camaro SS. This was to be his summer to-work car for daily performance. He ended up trading in his Camaro with barely 2000 miles on it, two weeks before he died, to make sure his wife had a new car (a Silverado) after he passed. On the day he died, he was resolutely making phone calls to make sure his insurance and pension was sorted out. He died at home with his immediate family, as he wanted it.

He left his 1964 Corvette roadster to his son George, now 26. He had a 1964 GTO that was in the middle of a meticulous, frame-off-restoration, and he did much of the work himself. All of the big stuff is done, but now it needs to be put back together. Sharon vows to finish it, and work has continued in fits and spells, by George’s friends. I think it will be at least another three or four years before it’s on the road. I look forward to that day.

The one that got away….

My decision on the Camaro was no doubt influenced by George. To me the generation of Camaros from 2010-2015 seemed a bit cartoonish and bloated, though I liked them well enough. While I still had the Miata, I bid on a beautiful retro orange 2011 convertible SS with 13,000 miles on the odometer just east of Cleveland on eBay. I could have had it, but the timing was off.

Ultimately, I decided I liked the overall holistic evolution that took place on the 2016 Camaros. It’s a bit lighter, has a cleaner body line and the interior is less busy and better executed with nicer materials. Oh, and it’s more powerful. I almost forgot to mention that. George and I discussed the 2016s. He preferred the 15s and earlier. I know George would’ve been very happy for me to have a Camaro, and we’d be comparing notes to this day.

I cast a wide net, and ended up finding a red, manual 2016 SS in suburban Denver with just 2,775 miles on it.  A transporter the dealer recommended got the car here three days late. As one involved with logistics, delays happen and it’s often nobody’s fault and not incompetence nor sheer negligence. I have big reserves of empathy and understanding, so long as it got here in one piece. The trucker and I met at an empty strip mall for the exchange. Driving to it and seeing it off in the distance….the anticipation was exhilarating. I was a kid again! Upon inspection, it was flawless – what a relief! Smiling ear to ear, I started it, engaged the clutch. and stalled it.

You can read hundreds of reviews about the Camaro: specs, pros and cons, likes and dislikes, how it compares to its natural rival, the Mustang, or Challenger, or BMW M3 and so on. But what is it like for me, a 52 year-old, very regular, rather nerdy fellow to own and drive? In short: it’s fantastic!

American muscle has never been better, and they are absolute performance bargains. When you engage the Camaro’s push-button start, it fires up with an intoxicating and loud roar. It puts a smile on my face every time. It seems to beg you, to dare you even, to drive it hard. Sometimes, I think it wants to kill me.

I would prefer a shifter with shorter throws. My old Miata had a sweet gearbox and I liked the feel of it over this one. With 455 hp and 455 ft-lbs of torque on tap, it’s ready to go fast, right now, and will let you know it. Tests claim 0-60 in 4.2 seconds…and that’s legit (in the right hands, not my hands). It pulls extra hard in third and fourth. Hole shots and blasts on quiet stretches are tons of fun. At full throttle… what an amazing sound. That said, I’ve never really pushed it to the limits. I’m just not that good a driver, and really, why risk it?

It handles like a proper sports car and, and corners like it’s on rails. This is not in my opinion a muscle car, not any more. It’s too dynamically refined.  Nor is it a sports car. Among other things, it’s too big.  And to me, a proper sports car has 2 seats. So, let’s just say I think it’s a sports coupe and leave it at that.

On the interstate, drop it in sixth gear, she quiets down and is a real sweetheart. Ride quality is reflective of whatever road surface your on. Smooth interstate…great. In rough Detroit area roads with 20” performance tires…not so good. But I didn’t expect an isolated, cushy ride. Driven gently, it can easily get 26-27 MPG set at 75 miles an hour, as it’s barely breathing. It’s a fine road trip car and is comfortable, with heated and cooled seats. It has most options except a moonroof , and the modern infotainment and car-to-phone connection works very well.

Top: Poor Fit and Fish on Dash

Bottom: Driving Mode Selector Position. Really!?!

Complaints? Look where the driving mode selector is.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve accidentally toggled it to snow and ice mode by accident. Who thought to put it there? I think it’s well put together, but there’s an annoying dash panel gap I get to look at directly above the instrument panel… it looks worse in person. It has soft, high-quality materials in all the right touch spots. But there are still some awfully hard and cheap plastic pieces in the interior, on top of the dash, and on top of the inner door panels.

More?  It has horrible visibility out the back and sides. It has a backup camera for a reason.  An adult can sit sideways and be somewhat comfortable in a short trip in the backseat, but two grown ups won’t work back there at all. Why did they bother? It’s also not an easy car to live with, day-to-day. Doors are big and heavy. Running up to the store to get a gallon of milk… well, it’s an event. You’d have to be a special sort of person to want to have this as your daily driver.

As an aside, I’ve pondered that in the coming age of electric, autonomous and ride-sharing services challenging traditional vehicle ownership, what does the future hold for cars like the Camaro, Mustang and Challenger?  I personally love the horsepower wars between those three, fun stuff. The Mustang has a global mystique and fan base, and Ford wisely exports it outside North America. For the Camaro, I’m not so sure GM can allocate the resources to keep it viable in the long-term. And will cars like this still hold appeal for the millennials as they age? Look around and you see lots of grey-haired guys driving sports and muscle cars now (me included, but I’m only partially grey).

And the future is electric. Recently, I got a ride in a Tesla Model S, and I was blown away. It was beautiful inside and out, accelerated like a spaceship and was well-balanced. It was $100,000 but staggeringly good. I daresay though, the Tesla driving experience was a bit hollow. Will there be no differentiation in cars? Just a handful of electric motors stuck on the body of your choice? Obviously, zero emission cars will have a huge benefit for the environment, once the supply chain exists to make them by the millions, and sell them affordably. I daresay that in 5 to 10 years, or even sooner, cars will be even more of an appliance, and much, much more boring.

There is an element of  “watch for what you wish for, you might get it” here with my Camaro. Shocker! It’s expensive to insure. Premium gas is recommended, and I oblige. Around town, expect 11-15 MPG. Mind you, I did know all of this going in. Driving in stop-and-go traffic to work riding that clutch isn’t very fun, so I’ve taken it to work exactly 4 times. And really, where are you going to use all this power in day to day driving?

The Winter Habitat Of The Camaro

And there is the practicality of the whole thing.  When it’s here half of the year, when busy, working late, etc. I sometimes don’t drive it for 4 or 5 days in a row.  My wife and sons are more less indifferent to it. She misses our Miata. I put it away around December 1, up until mid-April.  It’s starting to feel like an expensive indulgence I can no longer fully justify. Or maybe… maybe I just don’t love it enough to keep it? There, I said it.

Last October it just turned over 7,000 miles. While it’s tucked away hibernating for the winter, I can’t say how long I will keep it.  But I am excited already about driving it home in the spring. Maybe I had the right idea all along with the Miata: top down useable performance and low-cost of ownership. I have a possible buyer lined up, a 20 something IT guy from the Netherlands who wants to ditch his WRX for something different. He wants to look at it at least. Regardless of what I ultimately decide to do, I’m glad I’ve had a chance to own a car like this, and I will have no regrets.