Wheels

2012 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

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The  year was 1967. Gasoline cost 33 cents a gallon. The first Super Bowl was played between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Elvis Presley married Priscilla. The first heart transplant was performed. And General Motors launched the Chevrolet Camaro to challenge the Ford Mustang.

The Camaro quickly gained a following in the sport segment of the market, with several models and high-performance options.

The “67 Camaro hardtop coupe was $2,466; the convertible with a 210-horsepower, 327 cubic-inch V-8 engine was $2,809.

A second-generation Camaro arrived in the “70s, followed by a third in “82 with a four-cylinder engine rated at a wimpy 90 horsepower. Sadly, the Camaro’s muscle car status lost its muscle, despite a “93 redesign that improved performance. The curtain closed on Camaro after the 2002 model year.

The demise of the Camaro sparked a clarion call for the car’s revival. The resurrection occurred upon Chevrolet’s introduction in 2009 of the 2010 Camaro coupe. A convertible followed in 2011. The standard model has a 312-horsepower V-6 engine. Two V-8 engines also are offered in SS models, 400 and 426 horsepower. Both are derived from a Corvette engine.

I spent a week behind the wheel of a 2012 “Inferno Orange” Camaro 2SS convertible with the bigger V-8, which cranks out 426 horses and 420 lb.-ft. of torque. The power plant of my tester was mated to a six-speed manual transmission; a six-speed automatic is available as well.

(The right to purchase one of the first Camaro convertibles was sold at the Barrett-Jackson car auction for $205,000. Neiman Marcus-edition Camaro convertibles, priced at $75,000 each, sold out in three minutes.)

Call me tetched, but the retro design and refinement of my test convertible is so masterfully executed that I opened the door to my garage several times during the week to admire the stylish profile.

“Our goal in development was to make the convertible match the coupe as closely as possible in ride quality, handling and overall performance,” says Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer.

Chevrolet claims the structural modifications to the convertible body give it superior torsional stiffness to the BMW 3-Series convertible.

The convertible top is made of thick canvas and acoustical headliner material and provides a quiet ride when the top is up. It also has the sleek roofline of the coupe and a smooth, taut, and tailored look. The top retracts in about 20 seconds. Simply turn the overhead latch and the push of a button lowers the windows and activates the top. A folding, one-piece tonneau cover goes over the folded top for a finished appearance.

Now step inside. Notice the complementary “Inferno Orange” highlights of the seats, door panels, and center console. An SS icon located on each headrest touts the high-performance model.

The shift knob greets me with a firm handshake as I depress the clutch and start the engine, which comes alive with a throaty exhaust note from the dual exhaust tips. I drop the top and commune with the great outdoors as I head toward Chadds Ford through meandering Hunt Country roads while listening to music from the “50s on the Sirius XM radio.

It doesn’t take long to experience the drop-top Camaro’s personality. First and foremost are seat-of-the-pants acceleration, road-hugging performance, and solid footing. Good stopping power, convenient cockpit controls, and comfortable seats are noteworthy. The convertible model, unlike the coupe, is equipped with a rear spoiler and a small “shark fin,” an OnStar/XM antenna mounted on the deck lid. The AM/FM radio antenna is concealed inside the rear spoiler.

The number of standard features is impressive. These include stability and traction control, rear vision camera, head-up display, navigation system, heated seats, rear window defroster, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and Brembo brakes.

My convertible test vehicle includes several optional goodies–special paint color, high intensity headlamps and 20-in. wheels–bringing the total price to $43,675. The EPA fuel economy rating is 16-mpg city, 24-mpg highway.

The Camaro-Mustang competition is smokin” hot!