SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 16,215 Price As Tested $ 20,352 Engine Type 3.8 Liter V6 w/SFI* Engine Size 231cid/3800 cc Horsepower 200 @ 5200 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 225 @ 4000 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 101.1"/74.1"/193.2" Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 3375 Pounds Fuel Capacity 15.5 gallons Tires (F/R) P235/55R16 Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Four-passenger/two-door Domestic Content 85 percent Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 19/29/25 0-60 MPH 8 seconds 1/4 Mile (E.T.) 16.5 seconds @ 85.5 mph Top-speed 113 mph * Sequential fuel injection
(The Hagin father-and-son test team try out the 1997 Camaro and find that the latest version of this 30 year-old icon is still a class act. Father Bob likes the Plain Jane V6 version with a couple of upgrades, but son Matt would still like to try the hot-rod Z28 model.)
BOB - It's hard for me to realize that the Chevy Camaro appeared three decades ago and is still as popular as ever. It's one of the last three Pony Cars left on the market and one of the others is its Pontiac clone, the Firebird. It still sticks to its original axiom that a Pony Car have an engine up front that puts its power to the ground through a solid rear axle, and will accommodate two more people in a tiny back seat. And with the options list that's available for the Camaro, a buyer can almost custom-build one to taste, though it takes a while to get it special-ordered from the factory.
MATT - That's why dealers seem to have so many in inventory, Dad, which means there's always lots of different models to choose from. And after 30 years, it's still an extremely popular car. That first Camaro came stock with a little 230-inch straight-six, and the 1997 Base model still carries a six-cylinder engine, but now it's a V6 with 200 horsepower. The Z28 for '97 uses a 5.7 liter V8 that puts out 285 horsepower, while the SS version puts out over three-hundred. The 1997 Base Coupe and the RS are both only available with the V6, but a buyer can order either with an optional handling kit that comes with a lower axle ratio for better acceleration. They can also be had with a limited-slip differential and wider alloy wheels that carry stickier tires. The V8 is only available in the Z28, and it too can be customized up to the point where it's almost race-ready.
BOB - In the long run, I think the average buyer is better off with a Basic coupe with maybe a few cosmetic options, than a Z28 with all the bells and whistles. The V6 that was in our test car had no trouble staying up with any traffic that I encountered and the standard suspension handled well enough to make tossing the car around country roads fun - without beating me up over washboard city streets. There are four combinations of wheels and tire sizes available on Camaro, but I liked the fact that ours had just slightly wider alloy wheels with one-step bigger P235 tires, even though they cost another $275. A standard five-speed gearbox would be fun to play with and would give better stoplight performance, but it's hard to beat a four-speed automatic for everyday living. I liked the T-top on our car as an alternative to the pricey convertible versions. I also liked the tilt-wheel and six-way power seats that made finding the most comfortable driving position easy.
MATT - One nice feature I liked was the oil level indicator that tells the driver if the engine is low on oil. Service frequencies are now much further apart than they were when those first Camaros came out, and by the time an oil pressure light in the old car flashed red to warn the driver of engine problems, it was too late and the oil ran dry. Disc brakes in the rear are optional on the Base model, but like you, I don't think that the average driver needs them or would notice the difference in everyday driving. But buyers who use their Camaro for ski trips should look carefully into those optional larger tire and wheel combinations. The Chevrolet buyer's guide states that snow chains shouldn't be used an anything but the P215/60 tires on 7.5-inch wide wheels because they could cause damage.
BOB - It's really heartening to see that the Camaro has survived all these years and stayed pretty much true to the Pony Car code. Chevrolet is really playing up this 30th anniversary thing with its SS model, and is also offering and replicated convertible with white paint, white wheels and orange stripes, just like the Z28 rag-top that was the pace car at Indianapolis in '67. Chevy sold them to the public and wouldn't it have been fun for us to test one first-hand back then?
MATT - You must be referring to my older brother, Dad,. Remember, I was only two years old back then.