It looks like the Camaro is about to get retired – again.
This time may be the last time, though. And it’s different this time, because Camaro isn’t selling poorly, which was the problem last time.
The problem, this time, is keeping Camaro alive when the federal government is doing everything it can short of an outright ban to stop the beating heart of the Camaro – and every other V8-powered muscular car, too.
The word is used – and italicized – to reflect the fact that Camaro (and its traditional rivals, the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger) aren’t really muscle cars, as a point of pedantic technicality. They are high-performance pony cars, the italicized latter denoting a sporty coupe – nominally compact-sized – with a V8 engine. Muscle cars were mid-sized, two-door versions of sedans – usually with even bigger V8s. They focused on straight-line acceleration, 0-60 and through the quarter mile. Plus attitude. High-performance pony cars also focused on those things – and handling/agility, which muscle cars didn’t usually offer much of.
The equivalent of the KT Boundary layer – the line in the geological record above which you will not find any dinosaur fossils – is probably 1974, after which the muscle car (like the dinosaurs) ceased to exist. 1975 being the first year catalytic converters and (usually, because of the cost of cats) single exhaust corked through one cat became all-but-mandatory to “achieve compliance” with government emissions regs.
Big block and even merely high-powered V8s could not breath through such stifled piping and that was the end of them – the last of them being the first of them, Pontiac’s GTO. It had already been reduced – by 1974 – to an options package for the Ventura coupe/hatchback – with a small (for the GTO) 350 cubic inch V8 as its only engine choice. But it still had dual exhaust that final year and offered 200 horsepower. With single exhaust plugged up by a cat, this would have fallen to embarrassing lows – and so the GTO (and every other muscle car) passed into history.
Pony cars like the Camaro, its Pontiac cousin the Firebird and the Ford Mustang survived the die off because they weren’t muscle cars. Their reputations didn’t hang on their straight-line acceleration prowess exclusively and so they could get by with V8s less powerful than many modern fours.
But it was a really close shave, even so.
GM gave serious thought to cancelling the Camaro – and did cancel the high-performance Z28 variant for the 1975 and 1976 model years. Ford transformed the Mustang into a Pinto-related, almost-economy-car. Pontiac got by on the appearance of high-performance. The Trans-Am version of the Firebird still had its still-shaking (but not scooping) “shaker” hood scoop poking through the hood, along with a screaming chicken on the hood – which Ford promptly copied for the King Cobra version of the ’77 Mustang II.
But they sold well because they still had more appeal than everything else – and because there was nothing else, if you were looking for more than just a car.
And – in time – they recovered.
By the ’80s, the engineers had figured out how to increase performance – while lowering emissions. Computer-controlled fuel injection (more about that, here) plus next-generation catalytic converters that cost less and flowed more air (allowing two cats and so dual exhaust, again) were mostly responsible for this.
The surviving pony cars thrived, especially Ford’s Mustang. So much so that Ford cancelled plans in the ’90s to replace the rear-drive/V8-available Mustang with a front-wheel-drive/V6-only car that came so close to production as the new Mustang that Ford produced it – as the Probe – alongside the Mustang.
Which continued to be produced long after the Probe no longer was.
Camaro – and Firebird – also did well. Until a polarizing re-styling was unveiled for the 1993 model year (teased very clumsily in the truly awful made-for-TV movie, Knight Rider 2000; watch this only after having had at least three stiff drinks). Both got cancelled after the 2002 model year.
This left the Mustang the last pony car standing – until 2008. That year, Dodge resurrected its pony car, the Challenger – which had been cancelled back in 1974, too. The revived model looked almost identical to the old model – which was hugely appealing to people who mourned the passing of the old model. Also back was the Hemi V8, which was never available in the last of the old Challengers.
The massively positive response to the resurrection of the Challenger prompted GM to reconsider its cancellation of the Camaro – though not the Firebird, which was gone for good this time (along with Pontiac, itself).
In 2010, the Camaro returned – and has been with us, ever since. It will be gone, soon. The scheduled date of execution is 2025. It will walk the Green Mile not because people aren’t buying them but rather because it will become all-but-impossible for GM to continue offering them – courtesy of the regulations bum-rushing “electrification” onto the stage by de facto banning cars that aren’t “electrified.”
Dodge has hinted it will attempt to deal with this by partially electrifying the Challenger (and its four door donor car, the Charger) which means some iteration of hybrid-electric drivetrain – and no more Hemi V8.
But this will result in something that isn’t a muscle car – or a pony car, either. It may be a performance car – but that is an altogether different kind of thing. A Tesla is performance car – but only someone who doesn’t understand what the words mean would call it a “muscle” or a “pony” car.
Hence, probably, GM’s decision to retire the Camaro before the name gets run through the mud, by affixing it to a thing that isn’t – and never can be.
Will Ford will hang on? The proposition appears doubtful. A new “probe” is already in production – the “Mustang” Mach e. It gives you a whiff of the future.
And it doesn’t smell very good.
. . .
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