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Chevrolet Camaro SS (2000)

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

Chevrolet Full Line Video footage (23:22)

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

Remember the "muscle cars" of the 1960s? If you thought they were long-extinct, think again. The 2000 Camaro has the spirit and performance of a '60s muscle car in a contemporary package, especially in high-performance "SS" trim.

OK, "real" muscle cars were the next size larger than the Camaro, and used "big block" V8s of 400 cubic inches displacement or more. But cars are smaller today, and the heavy big-block engines are found only in trucks. By today's standards, the Camaro is a large car, and, if its available 350-cubic inch V8 engine is a touch smaller than the 427s and 454s of the past, it is not exactly anemic. If the regular Z28's 305 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque aren't enough, the SS uses ram-air induction and other modifications to make 320 hp and 345 lb-ft. Note that these are conservative, realistic net ratings, not the wildly optimistic gross ratings often used in the muscle car era. Today's 320 horsepower could be yesterday's 350 or even 375.

The most sought-after muscle cars were those with limited production runs, and the Camaro SS may well qualify as a future classic. It's based on the standard Camaro Z28 - itself no weakling in the performance department - and adds a host of drivetrain and cosmetic modifications. It's expensive for a Camaro, but an excellent value for a high-performance, limited-production car. I just spent a week in one. It's not a car for everyone, but that was never its mission. With plenty of V8 power and the sound to go with it, it's the closest thing today to a '60s muscle car. But its modern disc brakes and wide, sticky tires are a vast improvement over the drums and bias- ply tires of thirty years ago, and computerized fuel injection means that it idles smoothly and is a pussycat in traffic despite its power. Vintage rambunctiousness with modern civility, a fine combination.

APPEARANCE: The Camaro got a restyling in 1998, with a shortened nose, kidney-shaped headlights, and restyled front fenders. It is a more than cosmetic improvement, as the shorter nose has better clearance on steep driveways and curbs. The SS sports a special fiberglass hood, with a prominent, fully-functional NACA duct scoop. It also has unique spoked alloy wheels and a larger, more highly- arched rear spoiler with two support struts instead of the regular Camaro's one. It looks like it means business, and does. This is no poseur.

COMFORT: A Camaro is not a luxury car, but it might seem to be when compared to the appointment level of the classic muscle-car era. The $4,000 SS package buys raw power, not yuppie flash. My test car was no fancier inside than a Cavalier, with cloth upholstery and plastic trim on the doors and dash. The leather wrapping on the steering wheel is functional, aiding the driver's grip. Ditto for the shift knob, which, in honor of the Hurst linkage (a fine old name from the '60s!) is embossed with the "H" logo. The front buckets are thinly-padded but offer good side bolstering, an important consideration since the car is capable of generating high cornering force. Instruments and controls are well-placed for the job of driving, and interior sound levels are appropriate for a high-performance bad-boy muscle machine - a nice way of saying that the Monsoon stereo sounds very good, but it has nothing on the two chromed "subwoofers" tucked under the rear bumper. This is a car for engine lovers, not audiophiles. Two bucket seats are found in the rear, and, although they offer more room than is found in some coupes, they really aren't meant for long-term use. Luggage capacity requires ingenuity.

SAFETY: Safety cage chassis construction with front and rear crush zones and four-wheel antilock vented disc brakes are among the Camaro's many safety features.

ROADABILITY: The Camaro uses a classic front-engine, rear- wheel drive layout, but with modern rigid unibody chassis construction. The suspension is vintage muscle-car spec, with independent short-and-long arms in front and a solid axle in the rear. The SS's extra-firm springs and shocks are set up for stability at speed, and wide, low, sticky P275/40 ZR17 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires ensure adhesion levels that are far beyond anything in the muscle-car era. Vintage muscle cars were primarily dragsters, with little propensity to turn or stop. The 2000 Camaro SS has no deficiencies in acceleration, and, thanks in large part to the tires' huge contact patch, it has no problem with corners. The chassis may be a triumph of brute force over finesse, but brute force can work just fine. Thanks to massive four-wheel vented antilock disc brakes, it has no problem stopping. The SS is a well-balanced high-performance car that is like a barbarian in a business suit.

PERFORMANCE: The Camaro SS and the Z28 from which it is derived use the 346 cubic inch aluminum-alloy LS1 V8. It would have qualified as an exotic race-car engine in the 1960s, and it's nothing to sneer at today. With 320 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 345 lb-ft of torque at 4400, it moves the 3500-lb car quickly. It's a touch lighter than the old cast-iron "small block" V8, and has a very different power curve. The old engine had gobs of low-end power but ran out of breath at higher engine speeds; the LS1 has a bit less punch right off the line but a healthy midrange, and pulls strongly right to the redline. The ram-air inducted SS engine feels just like the regular Z28's, but with more power everywhere. The 6- speed manual gearbox is suited very well to the Camaro's character and power delivery. The controls are on the heavy side, but appropriately so. A high overdrive sixth gear means that highway cruising (at around 1500 rpm) is remarkable economical, and new enhancements give the LS1 a low emissions rating, so even the Camaro SS has some social responsibility.

CONCLUSIONS: Muscle car performance lives on in the new Camaro SS.

2000 Chevrolet Camaro SS

Base Price               $ 21,515
Price As Tested          $ 28,350
Engine Type              aluminum alloy pushrod overhead 
                           valve 16-valve V8
Engine Size              5.7 liters / 346 cu. in.
Horsepower               320 @ 5200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)           345 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission             6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       101.1 in. / 193.5 in.
Curb Weight              3439  lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    10.7
Fuel Capacity            16.8 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium, 91 octane
Tires                    P275/40 ZR17 Goodyear Eagle F1
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / vented disc
Suspension, front/rear   independent short-and-long-arm with 
                           coil springs /solid axle with coil springs
Drivetrain               front engine, rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      18 / 27 / 20
0 to 60 mph              5.3  sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)         13.7 sec

Preferred Equipment Group - includes: electric speed control, 
remote hatch release, foglamps, power door locks and windows, 
twin remote electric mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel with 
radio controls, remote keyless entry, theft-deterrent alarm system, 
carpeted rear floor mats, bodyside moldings, 6-way power driver's 
seat                                        $ 1,715
"SS" performance and appearance package     $ 3,950
Hurst short-throw shifter                   $   325
Electric rear-window defogger               $   170
Monsoon AM/FM/CD sound system (replaces standard system)   $   100
Destination charge                          $   575


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