Monday, June 22, 2009

Can a reproduction ever come close to a classic?

Bond - a man who knew his motors...

Readers of Militant Ginger will know my feelings on modern cars: They bore the pants off me. Especially modern American ones. To me, they embody everything James Bond sneered about American motoring back in 1954's Live and Let Die.
Most American cars bored him. They lacked personality and the patina of individual craftsmanship that European cars have.

They were just ‘vehicles’, similar in shape and in colour, and even in the tone of their horns. Designed to serve for a year and then be turned in in part
exchange for next year’s model.

All the fun of driving had been taken out of them with the abolition of a gear-change, with hydraulic-assisted steering and spongy suspension
. All effort had been smoothed away and all of that close contact with the machine and the road that extracts skill and nerve from the European driver.

To Bond, American cars were just beetle-shaped Dodgems in which you motored along with one hand on the wheel, the radio full on, and the power-operated windows closed to keep out the draughts.
Back in the 'old days', I'd have disagreed with Mr Bond - there were certainly some loin-girding muscle cars being produced in the sixties and seventies. But modern American cars? Show me a lincoln mks and I'll show you an armchair on wheels - a modern vehicle that packs so many luxuries, its headunit even plays DVDs.

Even foreign cars are falling foul of the corpulent cushiness of American motoring. Take the lexus rx for example. It comes with everything - built-in Bluetooth, hand-free satellite navigation and even keyless entry. The only thing they haven't perfected is how to make the damn thing drive itself.

That's why I crave classic American cars - the old Detroit steel that made this country great. That old cliche, 'they don't build 'em like that any more' has come true. Hell, you can't imagine Bruce Springsteen wailing 'Oh, Sweet Lexus!' with the same enthusiasm he garnered for that old rock 'n roll classic 'Mustang Sally.'

But there is a car on the market at the moment which is at least attempting to recapture the testicular fortitude of its American muscle-car lineage - the chevy camaro. The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro definitely looks the business - with styling cues clearly taken from the 1967 original. But can it possibly live up to the classic that made the 'Camaro' name so evocative? Look at these car pictures.

The wicked looking muzzle of the 2010 Camaro

The original Chevy Camaro was introduced after a secretive development - specifically to nail the 'pony car' market that Ford had created with their highly popular Ford Mustang. When the Camaro was unveiled to the public, people often asked: "What does Camaro mean?" To which the marketing bods at Chevrolet responded: "A small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs."

Camaro combined the stability of a front-engined, rear-wheel drive coupe with the flexibility of accepting pretty much any of Chevrolet's current lineup of engines - from the inline straight-6 to their monstrous 396 cubic inch V8 (displacing six and a half liters.)

That, combined with the car's light curb weight, made for one hell of a performer.

The original - and still the best?

So forty years - and five incarnations - later, the modern Chevy Camaro has a lot to live up to.

Limiting your appraisal to the specs, things might look good. The new Camaro is seven inches shorter than it's chubby predecessor (the limp, forth generation) and the base model is driven by a 304hp V6. Pair that with a six-speed manual gearbox and you've definitely got a car to write home about.

But most Americans, despite being transfixed by the car's racy looks, will probably plump for the automatic transmission and that, in combination with the StabiliTrak electronic stability/traction control system, means the driving experience will be resolutely safe. Hardly the tyre-squealing, white-knuckle thrill-ride getting behind the wheel of an original one was.

The soft 'clunk' of the doors, the big, airbag-equipped wheel and the fully-featured headunit all conspire to make this a sporty-looking, but sedentary vehicle. There's no scent of gasoline, or tinny-reverb from the twin exhausts. The window panes don't rattle and the tachometer doesn't twitch. Really, what the bods at Chevrolet have done isn't to civilise the Camaro - they've damn near domesticated it.

I'll stick with the original, thank you very much.


pamokc said...

No, it isn't close to the classic Camaro, but at least they are trying. And finally clued in on the fact (as has Chrysler) that you can not just throw a classic-car name on any old car and expect the public to buy it. Then Ford went and retro-styled the Mustang and it took off big time. So now they are all on the same band-wagon and retro styling some of the classics. At least it is an effort!

mre30seattle said...

I absolutely's not the same.

The only company I know that never changed the body (except for sidemarkers) was Avanti. They had a 30 year run with the same body.

Bond's opinion on American autos is correct.