Thursday, November 5, 2015

Styling the Revived Camaro

Out of production for the better part of a decade, the Chevrolet Camaro sporty car was re-introduced for the 2010 model year.  Given that hiatus, the matter of selecting a styling theme was a matter of more complexity than usual.

To set the scene, let's first consider the original Camaro from 1967.  My information source is Michael Lamm's book, "The Great Camaro," 1979 printing.

1967 Camaro advertisement

1968 Chevy II Nova

It seems that for reasons of economy, the 1967 Camaro was developed concurrently with the 1968 Chevy II using General Motors' F Platform.  The 1967 Pontiac Firebird was added later in the development process to add production volume.  An important result of this was the sharing of the cowling structure which made the Camaro's hood a trifle taller than stylists preferred.  Another shared component was the front-end frame clip that made the distance from the front axle line to the front door shorter than desired for the Camaro.

Camaro: Second Three Generations

1970 1/2 Camaro - brochure photo
Lamm (page 98) comments:"William Mitchell [then head of General Motors styling] likes to say that the first generation Camaro ended up being designed by committee, while the second became a designer's design.... The first generation (1967-69) had to compromise its shape to some extent by sharing the 1968 Nova's cowl and front subframe. Not so the second generation, which became an all-new body, not compromised in any way."

Second-generation Camaros were indeed well-styled by Henry Haga's Chevrolet design group with considerable input from Bill Porter's Pontiac team (because the Pontiac Firebird shared the same basic body).  The only strong criticism I can muster is that it looked too elegant to play the "muscle car" role staked out by its Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger competition.

1982 Camaro
Another nice design.  The change in the slant of the aft part of the side windows give this Camaro a more solid visual stance than the pervious model had.  Now Camaro has more of a "performance car" appearance.

1993 Camaro
The fourth-generation Camaro appeared when GM styling featured aerodynamic blobs that were sparsely-ornamented.  It lasted through the 2002 model year.

During the years immediately before its 2009 bankruptcy, General Motors' management decided to revive the Camaro.  Two major considerations were (1) the platform it would be based on, and (2) its styling.

As for styling, previous Camaros had no strongly consistent visual theme, unlike Ford's Mustang.  GM stylists could have generated a new theme or might have borrowed from the 1970, 1982 or 1993 Camaros.

Instead, 1967 Camaro styling became the inspiration.

2006 Holden VE Commodore SS

In part, this had to do with the fact that it was decided to use GM's Zeta Platform that served as the basis for the Holden VE, shown above, and other GM cars, a situation somewhat similar to that of the original Camaro's relationship to the Chevy II.  The Holden was a compact design with short overhang, this essentially ruling out borrowing styling cues from the large-overhang 2nd- through 4th generation Camaros.

Still, stylists had the option of creating yet another new theme.  But they didn't, instead going back 40 years to the original Camaro.  Perhaps GM product planners and stylists felt that a consistent Camaro theme was needed, given Ford's long-term success with Mustang.  But forty years is a long time, and a significant share of potential Camaro buyers would not be very familiar with that shape signifying Camaro.  However, there was the fact that GM styling boss Ed Welburn was a fan of the original Camaro.  This General Motors web page dealing with Camaros has the following:

* * * * *
First Generation – 1967-69 Ed Welburn, vice president of GM Global Design
Currently owns: 1969 Camaro

“The Camaro should not have been a design success, as it was based on an existing architecture and admittedly hurried to market to address the personal coupe revolution occurring with Baby Boomer customers,” said Welburn. “However, the first-generation Camaro delivered a pure, classic proportion that will forever be regarded as one of the best-looking cars of its time. It was very lean and muscular, with comparatively minor embellishments for high-performance models. That was in contrast to some of the brasher competitors during the muscle car era, and it has helped the first-generation Camaro maintain timeless good looks.”

The Camaro’s first generation lasted only three model years, but one stands out for Welburn: “The 1969 model is the iconic Camaro to me. From the dual-plane grille design and speed lines stamped into the fenders and doors, it was original and distinctive. It didn’t borrow from any other design and all these years later, it still looks fresh.”

Welburn’s design analysis highlights for the 1969 Camaro include:

Every effort was made to make it appear wider, sleeker and more muscular Character lines that trailed the wheel openings gave the car an aura of speed The rear fenders were pulled out, giving the car a wider, more muscular flair Dual-plane grille added visual interest to the nose and became a trademark of Camaro design Wide taillights, with body-color sheet metal between them, exaggerated the car’s width Simulated grilles forward of the rear fenders provided accent detail and became one of the 1969 Camaro’s focal styling cues Chevrolet-signature “cowl induction” power bulge hood signified the muscle beneath it, from high-revving Small Block V-8 to high-torque Big Block V-8 engines.

* * * * *
So that awful, designed-by-committee initial Camaro became a design classic 40 years later.  Stepping back from the irony, 1967 Camaro styling was competently done.  Yes, the cowling was perhaps a little higher than what stylists in that era of long-and-low preferred.  And it did make the car seem a bit higher and narrower than the current ideal -- that was the impression I had in the fall of 1966 when first seeing a Camaro in a suburban Philadelphia Chevrolet showroom.  In the present era of taller crossover SUVs, the '67 Camaro's proportions seem just fine.

First and Fifth Generation Camaros Compared

1967 Camaro - Mecum auction photo

2010 Camaro
The two-part grille with that upper across-the-face slash is a current styling cliche and continues with the restyled 2016 Camaros that I will discuss in another post.

1967 Camaro - Mecum auction photo

2010 Camaro
Carryover details include the horizontal crease extending along the side from front to rear and the shape of the side windows.  Much of the rest is contemporary sculpting verging on overkill.

1967 Camaro

2010 Camaro
The quad taillight theme is another borrowing from 1967.

No comments: