HSV-built Chevy Camaro revved up to take on Mustang
BUILD it and they will come. That's the rationale behind HSV's laborious and expensive conversion of Chevrolet's Camaro to right-hand drive.
Just 550 of the muscle cars will be converted and more than 70 per cent have been pre-sold - despite an $86,000 sticker price that makes the bow-tie badged V8 about $20,000 dearer than a top-spec Ford Mustang.
HSV managing director Tim Jackson makes no apologies for the cost. He can't match Ford's economies of scale.
The Mustang sells at better than 7000 a year in Australia and is factory built in right-hand drive. HSV must fabricate more than 350 new parts to ensure the conversion meets GM standards for a genuine factory product.
"This car looks and feels like a factory right-hand drive product because that's what it is," he says.
"We've invested millions in R&D, engineering and tooling to ensure this car is just as safe and drives just like a left-hook Camaro. We even crashed four pilot cars to ensure we complied with Australian Design Rules."
The steering wheel swap is so in-depth it includes removing not just the engine but stripping the headlamps and re-engineering the internals for driving on the left side of the road.
Even the driver's footwall is enlarged to meet factory specification.
Unlike most conversions, the boot and bonnet releases are on the driver's side and you're hard pressed to see - or hear - that the car has been stripped down and rebuilt. The only thing HSV couldn't achieve with the first batch was to recalibrate the head-up display for the repositioned cockpit and Jackson says that's a "work in progress".
It also can't offer the latest model Camaro, which was launched in the United States earlier this year with revised styling, upgraded infotainment and safety features and a 10-speed automatic with launch control.
"We're a niche player in this segment but if you look at the V8 performance sports car market the Camaro still represents great value, especially at the specification we've brought it in with," Jackson says of the leather-trimmed, Bose audio-equipped car.
HSV is considering whether to test deeper performance waters with the Camaro ZL1, effectively a supercharged 485kW/868Nm version of the Camaro SS. The ZL1 would push well past the six-figure mark.
Demand for this batch of naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 Camaros will determine how many of the new model HSV will order.
ON THE ROAD
The V8 rumble will convince existing HSV customers still sitting on the fence to buy a Camaro. The bi-modal exhaust goes from sonorously sexy at low revs to drag-strip delirious as the 6.2-litre engine builds to its peak revs at 6000rpm.
It should be an irresistible lure for HSV buyers who want performance and are prepared to forgo Commodore levels of space.
Any acceleration beyond 3000rpm is accompanied by instant surge from the engine, though the eight-speed auto can take a heartbeat to kick down in response to the right foot pressure. In HSV's defence, this version has been specifically about the drive conversion rather than trying to tweak the engine and transmission.
For the record the Camaro hits 100km/h from rest in 4.0 seconds, about 0.3 sec under the Mustang GT's claimed time, and uses less fuel according to the claimed combined thirst of 11.5L/100km to the Ford's 13.1L.
Where the Camaro shines is on sweeping corners. The two-door coupe turns in decisively but is then designed to be driven on the back end and powered through the turn. The limited-slip diff and forgivably firm suspension - this is a sports car - then ensure the Chevy hooks in and hunkers.
The steering is direct and has decent heft and feedback across the rev range. At less enthusiastic speeds the Camaro deactivates four cylinders to try to save fuel under light throttle.
It is entirely entertaining, even if the narrow rear view compromises everyday practicality and there's no active safety beyond blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts.
On paper, the Camaro can justify its premium over the Mustang from a straight-line perspective but we'll need a comparison review to see how the pair handle the same winding bitumen at the same time.
The Camaro is a stand-out car, even at this price. Much like the Mustang, pent-up demand will ensure the first batch shifts. Is it objectively better value than the Ford? No. Will that stop it selling to the GM faithful? No again.
CHEVROLET CAMARO 2SS
PRICE: $85,990 plus on-road costs
WARRANTY/SERVICING: 3 years/100,000km; no capped price servicing
ENGINE: 6.2-litre V8, 339kW/617Nm
SAFETY: Not tested, 7 airbags, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert