By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. GM rocked the autoverse over the weekend with the unveiling of the all-new 2016 Camaro, the sixth generation of one of Chevrolet’s most iconic nameplates. In this case the overused descriptor “all-new” when it comes to the traditional hyping of new cars really does mean all-new as the 2016 Camaro has only two carryover parts from the previous machine: the rear bowtie emblem and the SS badge.
The new Camaro is shorter, narrower, lower, has a shorter wheelbase, and narrower front and rear track, but the really big news is that it is 200 pounds lighter due to the fact that it’s now shares the brilliant underpinnings of GM’s Cadillac ATS architecture, a superb driving machine in its own right.
Taking advantage of the slightly more compact dimensions, GM designers have given the new Camaro a sharp new look befitting of the name. It’s sleek, more aggressive, and honed to a finer edge inside and out. A seductive combination of high-style, high-efficiency, high-performance and high-value, to say that this will be the finest Camaro ever built when it goes on sale in the fourth quarter is an understatement.
The 2016 Camaro SS. Read more about Chevy’s new pony star in “On The Table.”
And before I go on, kudos must go to the PR minions at GM for unveiling the car away from the sheer drudgery of the auto show circuit (the Camaro event was held at Belle Isle Park in front of a horde of Camaro enthusiasts). Expect to see more of this from the manufacturers in the coming months and years, as automakers strive to break away from the tyranny of the existing auto show regimen to gain more attention. And since the traditional auto show format is tiresome and tedious, I view this to be a very good thing.
The unveiling of the Camaro here was significant in that it signals almost more than anything else that the auto industry as we know it around these parts has not only recovered, but that it is alive and well – at least for now anyway. But the real significance of the unveiling is that it’s the latest volley in a now almost 50-year battle between Ford and Chevrolet.
Let’s not forget that Ford started it all, introducing the pony car original at the New York World’s Fair on April 17, 1964. The Mustang’s evocative name and compelling design (along with its unprecedented value) captured the mood of the country perfectly. The U.S. was on an upward trajectory back then, the space program was targeting going to the moon before the end of the decade and a go-go attitude that absolutely anything was possible permeated the air.
The Mustang blew past internal Ford sales estimates and became the most successful launch in automotive history, with Ford selling 100,000 in the first three months alone, 418,000 in the first year and incredibly, a million in just eighteen months. Needless to say, the Mustang was the hottest thing in the market, and from that moment forward the term “pony car" was born.
The success of the Mustang caught GM completely off guard, and it took the company two excruciatingly long years to answer. GM’s response was the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, introduced in September of ’66. A compelling car in its own right, with a fresh new look and a distinctively crisp design – hallmarks of the Bill Mitchell era at GM Design – the Camaro was a worthy competitor to the Mustang right out of the gate. (GM also debuted the Pontiac Firebird at the same time.)
And the battle was indeed joined. Ford and Chevrolet hammered on each other with the Mustang and the Camaro in the showrooms and on the track. (The “glory days” of the famous Trans-Am series, when factory-supported teams of Ford Mustangs and Chevrolet Camaros squared-off on road racing circuits all over North America - with some of the most prominent driving stars of the day at the wheel - is still considered to be one of the high points of U.S. sports car racing history.)
Since then these two nameplates have battled off and on, depending on their respective product cadences, for almost 50 years. There have certainly been peaks and valleys for both, with some embarrassing troughs when the performance of the cars fell far short of their glorious legacies, but in the last half-decade especially we have been able to enjoy some outstanding “pony car” offerings from both Ford and Chevrolet, machines certainly worthy of the nameplates.
The latest Mustang is a beautifully rendered car that made its debut for the 2015 model year. With the addition of an independent rear suspension system (finally), detailed refinements and a wide range of performance available - from four-cylinder turbos to screaming high-output V8s - the current Mustang is an impressive piece of work.
As I mentioned earlier, the Mustang vs. Camaro battle ebbs and flows, depending on which manufacturer has the latest and greatest product iteration. The fifth-generation Camaro certainly had the measure of the fifth-generation Mustang, but now that the new sixth generation of the Mustang is in showrooms, Ford has come roaring back in the segment. The two companies seem to take turns playing the one-upmanship game, and that is because the “pony car” segment is notoriously fickle, with enthusiast consumers flocking to the manufacturer with the latest entry currently having the edge in the market.
There are critics in this business who dismiss the fleeting “pony car” segment as being a waste of time and money, because the volume isn’t there to justify the effort required to compete, and besides, the market is too volatile and too prone to mood swings. But that’s a jaundiced view. It’s also unmitigated bullshit too.
When it comes to the Camaro and Mustang it’s not strictly about the numbers. It’s about passionate True Believers on both sides of the ball swinging for the fences and hitting each other with their best shots. It’s about creating evocative cars with distinctive points of view, soulful machines that veer far, far away from the commoditization that has overwhelmed the business in so many ways of late.
The Camaro and Mustang get to the very essence of this business, and without them we would be left with just going through the motions, and nobody with a pulse wants to see that happen.
So around about next spring, when the all-new, sixth-generation Camaro is hitting the showrooms in force, ready to go up against the recently fresh sixth-generation Mustang, it will be… well, the same as it ever was, in fact.
I hope the battle continues indefinitely.
That’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
The 2016 Ford Mustang GT.