High-school reunions are great for reminiscing about the way we were. And the perfect four-wheeled time machine for such an event is the 2011 Camaro convertible.
The year I departed my alma mater in 1967 was the Camaro’s freshman season. By then, Ford’s groundbreaking Mustang had been around for two and a half years and had generated sales in excess of 1.3 million copies. Even so, the Chevy rival attracted plenty of attention with its head-turning good looks and enough available grunt to lay down lengthy rubber strips whenever the driver tapped the gas pedal.
To my teenage way of thinking, the original Camaro’s sophistication and swagger (especially the Rally Sport convertible model with its hidden headlights) blew the Mustang into the weeds and would have been my personal preference if only I had possessed the financial wherewithal.
Chevrolet mothballed the Camaro on its 35th anniversary in 2002, but with great fanfare the stunning coupe returned for the 2010 model year. The convertible was released this past February, just in time for the spring and summer cruising season.
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Chevrolet supplied a freshly minted example, ostensibly for road-testing purposes, but the real objective was to flip the lid, put on a fresh pair of wrap-around shades and wow the unrequited loves of my high-school existence — many of whom are now grandmothers of a certain age — at my reunion. Arrangements had been made to park the Camaro on the grass in front of the school for the duration of the event, alongside an assortment of classic and antique vehicles being showcased by former students.
An SS model with its 426-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 with a six-speed manual transmission had been requested, but the only Camaro available was a 312-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 unit that came with the optional six-speed automatic. Still, its optional black center stripe and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels made it appear almost indistinguishable from the mighty SS.
The three-hour-long top-down drive to the school revealed much about the Camaro. It’s well-insulated power-operated cloth top is secured by a single center-mounted latch and takes just 20 seconds for the windows to automatically lower and the top to fully retract. Chevy can also supply a windscreen that’s secured between the seats that will help keep most comb-overs in place.
Although the V6 lacks the V8’s vibratory rumble, it’s capable of delivering neck-snapping acceleration, especially with the manual transmission, and decent passing performance. It’s also reasonable on gas, with a rating of 18 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway. The Mustang convertible’s 305-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 earns a similar rating.
Traversing the back roads, the firm-riding Camaro’s 20-inch boots clung tenaciously to the twisty tarmac and the optional leather-covered bucket seats proved equally grippy and quite comfortable for long-distance driving. You’ll also be hard-pressed to see or feel any bizarre shaking or body flex that’s problematic on some other convertible designs.
One of the Camaro’s few shortcomings was a steering wheel that partially blocked the gauges, regardless of tilt position. Then there is the folded top’s intrusion into the trunk that, along with a too-tiny opening, severely restricts luggage volume. Also restrictive when the top is up is the undersized rear glass window (thank goodness for the backup warning system) and a rear seat that should be declared off limits for anyone taller than five feet.
But the Camaro admirably fulfilled its primary mission of affordably carrying two adults and their kids (or more likely grandkids) with a starting price in the $30,000 vicinity. Unfortunately, any chance to impress the reunion’s attendees was dashed by a steady weekend downpour. And while the top proved absolutely leak-proof, the Camaro failed to deliver the desired effect that I’m certain a few hours of sunshine and open-air posing might have otherwise accomplished.
Still, whether it’s around the block or across the country, the Camaro should definitely transport you to another state of mind.