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1996 Chevrolet Camaro

by John Heilig

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide


ENGINE: 3.8-liter V-6
HORSEPOWERITORQUE: 200~5200 rpm/225 Ib-ft@4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY: 19 mpg city, 30 mpg highway
WHEELBASE: 101. I in.
OV1CRALL WIDTH: 74.1 in.
CURB Weight: 3306 Ibs (16.5 Ibs/hp)
FUEL CAPACITY: 15.5 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 12.9 cu. ft.
TIRES: P235/55R16
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power seats, air conditioner, AM-
            FM stereo radio with cassette, anti-lock braking, dual air bags.

We all know there are two levels of Camaro: the hot Z28 and the tamer V-6- powered version. Externally, the two are almost identical, with very minimal decoration identifying the Z28 version. So you can get a Camaro that looks like a Z28 for the price of a six. And unless you're a dedicated boy racer who likes to tear away from stop signs and traffic lights, and continually push the envelope of rising speed limits, then the V-6 version is fine.

But any young adults, or people who wish they were young adults, or people who can still remember when they were, will enjoy a ride in this latest iteration of the Chevrolet "pony car."

The base engine for the Camaro this year is the 3.8-liter V-6 (GM calls it the 3800 Series II). It serves as the prime mover for sedans from Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick, and can even be found in a minivan or two. It replaces the 3.4-liter version used in the 1995 Camaro.

For 1996, the 3800 has been improved so that it now delivers 200 horsepower and 225 ft-lbs torque. As such, it's a viable alternative over the 5.7-liter 285hp LT] V-8 that powers the Z28 and the Pontiac Firebird. The bonus with the six cylinder, of course, is that the insurance payments to drive it will be far less than the car payments to own it-- unlike the V-8 version.

But still, 200 horses in a 3300-pound car adds up to about 16.5 pounds per horsepower. Anytime you get that number in the mid-teens, you're doing well. Our tester was Bright Red (finally, the manufacturers are naming colors honestly) with a Flame Red cloth interior. It is a car that is noticed and one that attracts favorable attention. For example, our office is located next to a state university, and the Camaro was an ideal car to tootle through the campus with between classes. Unfortunately, the "sweet young things" notice the gray hair sitting behind the wheel and don't give the Camaro a second glance. The guys do, though.

The V-6 was attached to a five-speed manual gearbox and drove the rear wheels, as has been the case since the first Camaro. I hope they never change 'em. We got spirited performance from the Camaro, even if it was the tire-squealing type found in the Z28. On our twisting mountain road we found that the handling was very good and the car wasn't overpowered as some have been. The Camaro rides on fairly wide 235/55 16inch tires that gave an excellent ride and had good grip.

Space-efficient modern design is not a part of the Camaro's equation. There is room for two people. The vestigial back seat and 12.9 cubic foot trunk when combined offer sufficient room to carry the "stuff' necessary for two people on vacation. We recall that many years ago we vacationed in San Francisco. Our Camaro renter was packed to the gills, and this was just for the stuff we brought on the plane.

A quick blast down a smooth, curvy road revels that this car, even with the "standard" equipment, can more than hold its own against its more sophisticated European and Japanese competitors. They have complicated (and expensive) suspensions and multivalve engines. The Camaro makes do with very well-developed, much simpler components This relative simplicity is at least partly responsible for the relatively low sticker price, making this Camaro a standout in its field.