In May, Autoblog got to spend time with the Hugger Orange hued Camaro Convertible Concept that GM brought out to California, along with a few of its designers. In case you didn't realize it already, the car is stunning. GM Designer Tom Peters, though, was looking for a special, brutal kind of stunning: the brief for the Camaro Concept was "The meanest, scrappiest streetfighting dog, the meanest looking thing on the road." When he was describing that to Autoblog last weekend, at dinner, he actually growled.
In addition to Tom Peters, Autoblog spoke to Brian Smith, lead exterior designer, and Micah Jones, lead interior designer. The first thing you'll want to know about this car, according to Smith and Jones: 90 percent of what you see will be on the production car. Whew.
And to hear Smith tell it, that is just reward for the "serious but fun" process that it took to get the Camaro Concept finished. The design team included American, Russian, Korean, and French designers -- all of whom knew the import of the original Camaro. When GM's Advanced Design Studio (ADS) in California was given the brief for the Camaro, they actually based their first sketches off the Gen 2 Camaro, produced from about 1970 to 1973. Then it was decided by the men in charge that not only did they need to use the first generation Camaro, they needed to use the 1969 model specifically. Smith said "It was more challenging than to use the Gen 2 car. The Gen 1 was harder to make 21st century. A lot of the muscle cars around that time looked similar, and it was easy to slide into enemy territory." He mentioned the time he looked at a designer's sketch and thought he saw something familiar. "I said 'It looks like a Javelin.' And the designer said 'Yeah, I had one.' So he had to redo it."
It's harder to bring forth heritage without overtly copying than it is to do an entirely new car. Add to that challenge the weekly meetings with Bob Lutz and Ed Welburn (VP, Global Design), who probably offered constant commentary since GM needed to get the car right. In the cycle of meeting, redesign, meeting, redesign, Smith said that at one point the car was too retro. When they finally did get a design they were happy with and were ready to cast the show car model, everything was stopped: it was decided that there should be some fresh eyes put on it. The Advanced Design Studio had two models of the car done, so they gave one to GM's basement studio in Detroit, called Studio X, to do an alternate version. Tom Peters ran the show there, and one of the designers he called on at Studio X was Sing Yup Lee, who did the original profile sketch that the Z06 is based on. They had one month to get the car ready.
Peters knew he wanted the baddest car on the block, as well as the '69 monoslot grill, which has a faster profile than the front of the car, a telltale sign of the '69. At the ADS, in the heat of the competition, the bigwigs stepped back and waited to see what would emerge, and Smith said "it really came together once we could just sit down and get to it. The competition and new eyes at Studio X made the car new." The result is what you see. Well, minus a top -- the convertible has had work done in the tonneau area, but it doesn't have a roof yet.
How does it look in the flesh? Really, really hot. It's wide and low (but not too low), with wheels out at the corners that make it look long. The expanse of metal -- highlighted by that Hugger Orange -- makes it look like there's Camaro everywhere. However, it isn't much bigger than a '69 -- one inch longer, two inches wider. You'll feel the menace when you get close to it. When it was still sitting in the trailer, in the dark, you could just make out the back of it, it was like just being able to see the outlines of a monster at the bottom of a well. The grill, jutting out like a cowcatcher, makes the headlights appear even more deep set, and with the hoodline squaring their tops ... the car looks like it wishes you would just get out of the &*$#@! way. Even in orange.
Inside, the car is disturbingly nice. There was close integration with interior and exterior design teams, who really worked together on the tonneau cover and rear shelf area. It's gorgeous (have we said that enough yet?) True, it's a concept, so it's supposed to be nice, but again, Micah Jones said most of what you see in the pictures will remain. It's basic in its layout, with two round dials put in rectangular holes -- another '69 feature -- and additional gauges on the floor at the end of the central tunnel. The car is also really roomy. We're sure the lack of a top added to the sensation of roominess, but it really did feel like we could raise a family in there. And the gearshift is the kind of thing that would fit Predator perfectly -- a giant polished knob at the end of a kinked strut. The steering wheel is cool, too -- but that won't make it. It needs an airbag. Under the hood, the engine is "a jewel in a setting," branded and polished, emphasizing the aesthetics. Even the extraneous wiring is hidden. But don't expect it to be so pretty in the production car.
How does it drive? Well, we only got it up to 35 per hour, but we have no complaints. It looks awesome, sounds awesome, feels awesome. Both Smith and Jones have said they are fighting to keep the production car true to the concept. Even better, they alluded to modifications that they say "could make the car even better." Everyone we talked to also spoke of working with the accessories department and promising great aftermarket stuff. The coupe arrives in 2009, the convertible "within a year after that."
We say enough said. We'll take it. In black. With tinted windows and black wheels. Convertible or coupe, doesn't matter. Either way it's how you spell "badass."