Words Dennis Pittsenbarger
Photos copyright of General Motors
What does it mean to the world to be the next generation?
If you’re the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro then it means the performance world has just been loaded onto your shoulders, and you have no choice but to take a deep breath and start to prove why you deserve it.
This was my gut feeling once I landed in Detroit for the launch of the sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro. The level of excitement and fanfare was evident and Chevrolet knew it too.
Imagine taking over the inside of the Belle Isle track for a weekend that included not only the launch, but over a thousand current Camaro owners showing off virtually every variant there is from first-generation base cars to several variants of Z28s … and this was only the beginning.
Day one started per the normal, with hundreds of fanatical Camaro owners chomping at the bit to get inside the paddock to see, hear, and get their hands on the all-new car. This in itself was a treat and one of the best parts of launching the new Camaro in Detroit.
Car after car filed in, found their place, and in the controlled chaos the owners registered their respective car. Then like a wave of excited kids about to enter Disneyland they took to the various displays.
Groups from Chevrolet Performance showed off their latest crate engines, the folks from BOSE had the music pumping, and all the while there was the “museum” filled with twenty-five milestone Camaros. The first of which started with VIN 0001, a 1967 Camaro — one of the 49 hand-built cars. For most, it was a shrine more than a vehicle and never would have made it to the unveiling if it was a breathing celebrity.
Also in the museum was Mark Donohue’s 1968 “Acid-dip” race car, Bill Jenkin’s “Grumpys Toy,” and the actual fifth-generation Z28 that did 7:37:40 at the iconic Nurburgring in Germany — in the rain.
All of the cars were smothered in affection from the time the doors opened until late into the night. But it was not all about static displays and cool collectibles, it was also time for a ride.
The team from Chevrolet gathered up drivers from Spring Mountain and let them loose on the rain-soaked Belle Isle track with 2015 Camaro Z28s. We all took the ride of a lifetime.
A lifetime you ask? Well the drivers held NOTHING back. From the moment you strapped in and headed out onto the track, you knew this was no average Sunday drive.
Sliding into corners, blasting down the straights, and feeling the carbon-ceramic brakes giving it their all to scrub off speed was just part of the dynamic driving and subsequent “thrill-ride” attendees enjoyed for hours on end.
This was all fun, entertaining, and even educational, but everyone knew we were there to see the all-new 2016 GEN6 Chevrolet Camaro.
Approaching the four o’clock hour you could feel the excitement in the air, and Chevrolet did everything they could to make it last as long as possible.
After some insightful and heartfelt words from Alan Batey and Mark Ruess, Chevrolet finally did what everyone was waiting for and unveiled the car.
I’ve been to a hundred launches and all types of automotive hoopla, but this was different, it was true to the heart of the Chevrolet brand, and more importantly to the love of the Camaro.
I’m a big guy with all kinds of bravado, but even I found myself getting a little choked up looking at the faces of Al Oppenheiser and Tom Peters as they watched the crowd go crazy when the three GEN6 cars entered the stage.
It was magical and you could feel it. Yes, there are all types of automotive love in the world, but I stood back and watched not the cars, but the faces of the men and women truly responsible for bringing this car to life, and it was just that magical.
“This is like getting married, having your children, Christmas, and your birthday all at once,” Al Oppenheiser told me. Tom Peters added, “it’s proof that if you put your heart into what you love, it will be rewarded by making customers happy.” And it showed more than ever in those first few minutes.
As the crowds gathered around the parked 2016 Camaros, which were positioned at different corners of the arena, I stood back and paused for a moment at each one, taking in the comments and buzz around each car.
Comments about style, wheels, and interior design filled the air. Of course, once the hoods came up the performance junkies dove right in.
As I made my rounds to congratulate all of my colleagues at Chevrolet, I made sure to grab one of my favorite people in the GM family to see what he was thinking and how this new Camaro would impact his world. Here is a little question and answer session with the one and only Dr. Jamie Meyers, Marketing Director of Chevrolet Performance:
What role will the 2016 Camaro play in the scope of Chevrolet Performance?
Chevrolet Performance — since its inception in 1967 — has always supported performance parts and motorsports applications for the Camaro. This car is such an amazing new platform, there are several directions we can take this car.
How will you go about developing products for the 2016 Camaro?
Development for performance parts and accessories for the new Camaro have been in development for several years.
Jim Campbell, Jennifer Goforth, Mark Dickens, and their entire teams have been in lockstep with the Camaro team. These are exciting times for Chevrolet Performance and the support that our entire team is lending to the vehicle platform team.
Will the 2016 Camaro be the star of the upcoming SEMA show for Chevrolet/Chevrolet Performance?
You will see Camaro out in force at this year’s SEMA show. It’s an incredible new platform that lends itself to performance parts and accessories. You’ll have to stay tuned on this one. Camaro will be the talk of the industry in October and November.
How will the 2016 Camaro differ from the 2015 Camaro in regard to marketing to the public, as a sports car vs. pure power/muscle?
This really started with the GEN5 Camaro — how we got away from calling it a “muscle car.”
Al Oppenheiser has built such a well-rounded performance car that it really deserves a better description. I love muscle cars as much as anyone, but this new Camaro is much, much more well-rounded than any previous generation.
Al’s team has built a lighter, leaner, meaner car. And, don’t forget how amazing the powertrain line up is. The four-cylinder is fascinating for me. How will people leverage that light weight and torque? The V6 is world class. And, I’m in love with the LT1.
My personal ’15 Stingray runs 11.80s/120 mph in the quarter and the new Camaro won’t be too far behind.
Power, with amazing handling, and an interior that will blow minds, no, this is much more than a muscle car.
Will Chevrolet give the 2016 Camaro customer the ability to upgrade, and is there a plan in place?
You’ll see us roll out more details on the accessories and performance parts. Mark Reuss mentioned this portfolio in the launch, but the plan was to always hold this to have more news on the car as we get closer to it being available for purchase. Yes, you’ll be able to make this your car, just like every Chevrolet at your local Chevrolet dealership.
What is your favorite part of the new Camaro?
I’m a powertrain guy, but the interior takes me to a different place. The seats are trick. The dash looks like a jet. And, those subtle little leather pads for my right knee and left elbow — brilliant!
What has it been like working with the passionate Camaro team (Al, Tom, Mark, and Alan)?
I’m used to it now. But, it’s very difficult to know what’s coming but not be able to talk about it. With this car, you could see the team working so hard to get the car ready, work up the accessories and performance parts portfolio, and then craft an amazing communications and marketing play.
Great cars make my job easy. The design team, the engineering team, the product team — they’ve built a Camaro that will get a lot of attention.
My team will help the Camaro marketing staff position this car in the market for the enthusiast, as well as for folks who just want to feel special behind the wheel of a car. Camaro has it all, my friends.
With that I shook Jamie’s hand and thanked him for some great insight into the future of the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro.
Now there was just one very important thing left to do — drive the new car.
Being lucky is part of it, being blessed is another, but I was both this day as I jumped into the driver’s seat of one of the development mules sitting on the paddock wall inside the Belle Isle road course.
Once strapped in, I was ready to see if what the team responsible for developing the new car said was true. They were.
Here is a condensed version of my thoughts on the new Camaro.
Power: Granted these were only the 3.6L automatic, but it was more than enough to have fun. Throttle response was crisp, mid-range torque was strong, and it was more than willing to bounce off the 7000 rpm fuel cut-off.
Brakes: The mules had the standard brake package, which would give the average driver more than enough braking power. I purposely dove into the two larger braking areas with only my palms on the wheel. The car was settled and under control even in threshold conditions and the brakes performed wonderfully. However, Brembo packages are standard on some, but optional on all levels of the new car and would certainly be even more impressive. Note: I COOKED the brakes after only four laps — it could have been new pads or worn rotors — either way I worked them like an old piece of farm machinery and they took the abuse.
Suspension: This is where I was most impressed. Chevrolet has been talking about weight savings and the new Alpha architecture for months, and all I can say is they nailed it. I’ve driven the 5th generation Camaros at Gingerman Raceway and though the 3.6L/automatic is no Z28, you could instantly feel the different personality of the new car. Light on its feet is an understatement as it rotates with ease. Where you previously had to man-handle the car, it can now be done with much more finesse.
Bottom line: The 2016 Chevrolet Camaro is now a more mature all-around sports car for the masses to enjoy. I’m sure Al, Mark, Jamie, and everyone involved with the new car will wow us with the (hopefully) inbound 1LE, ZL1, and Z28, but for now we will all have to wait and see.