There’s more to Art Basel than a banana taped to a wall
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Hang about, you can buy a new Camaro in the UK? You can. An enterprising dealer bought a load through GM Europe earlier this year, and still has a handful left – manual and auto, coupe and convertible, 2.0T and 6.2 V8. Easy. Manual, coupe, V8. I get where you’re coming from, although this obviously isn’t that car. Got the right engine, though. Anyway, let me talk you through some background. There is no Chevrolet UK anymore. It disappeared when GM sold Vauxhall-Opel to PSA. Instead a European office in Zurich manages the small flow of Cadillacs and Chevrolets into Europe, and out via dealers in each country. Dealer, mostly – Ian Allan Motors in Virginia Waters is the UK’s only approved sales and aftersales outlet. So although left hand drive, it’s been converted to UK/European spec – correct lights, speedo and so on. With me so far? However, because Camaros haven’t been subjected to WLTP testing, they had to be registered before this September otherwise they’d have been scrapped. So, you can buy a pre-reg, left-hook Camaro, with prices starting at around £39,000, with this V8 auto convertible costing around £10k more.
It’s this or a Mustang basically? The Ford Mustang opened a route for UK buyers to own a genuine muscle car without the hassle of left-hand drive and limited dealer back-up. It’s been an enormous success across Europe – back in 2016 it actually outsold the Audi TT for a few months. In Germany. It still sells around 10,000 a year, about of fifth of them in the UK. Those are good numbers for a coupe these days. The Mustang opened a route for the Camaro – rarer, even more muscular as standard, arguably better looking. But at the moment left hand drive and only one UK dealer. A big change is coming. Chevrolet has already announced the Corvette C8 will be produced in right hand drive. Ian Allan Motors already has over 100 pre-orders for a car that won’t land until mid-2021. What about the Camaro then? The current version is now four years old, but if you’re interested in the Camaro, you’re probably not fussed about cutting edge tech and bang-up-to-date engineering. This is a route one muscle car: big, lazy engine, laid back road manners, a feel-good car. Yep, even in the UK. But there is more to the Camaro than that. For starters this convertible steers more precisely than I expected. The damping is pretty good, too. And I was more surprised with the chassis than I thought I would be. You can lean on it harder than you think. And this is the one with the solid roof missing. The key is not to come at it with Euro-expectations. It might have 453bhp and a claimed 0-62mph time of 4.6 seconds, but it wouldn’t see which way an Audi TT Roadster had gone on a good road, let alone a 718 Boxster. It’s too big, too heavy. As with all muscle cars in my experience, you have to relax into them. Stick an elbow on the door frame – tricky here because you sit low and the shoulder line is high – and just guide it about. The engine woofles and barks pleasingly, it looks mean and has real personality. As a cruiser it’s a winner. OK, there’s scuttle shake, and quite a lot of wind turbulence with the roof down and with it up, noise from the trailing edge. But against the 24.6mpg claim, we got 28mpg on a steady motorway-heavy drive, with the engine spending a lot of time with four cylinders shut off, and pulling only 1,500rpm at 70mph. But go faster and it falls to bits, right? No. Or at least not immediately. As I mentioned above, the steering and damping are good (just avoid Track mode, which weights the steering too much), and although you feel the chassis flex, it seems to twist and untwist smoothly enough, I’d stop short of saying it drives crisply, but I guarantee it’s better than you expect. The natasp V8 will rev to 6,500rpm, but you won’t because there’s enough torque and progress available at half that. The automatic does crack the upshifts home nicely, but the real reason you’ll want the Camaro – over and above the Mustang too – is the way it sounds. The 5.0-litre Ford never sounds quite as hairy as it should. The 6.2 Camaro sounds like a cross rhinoceros. Sold. And it’s got four seats. It has, and it’s very hard to find a similarly-equipped European rival that has anything like the presence. BMW M4 Convertible maybe? I don’t reckon the Camaro, despite its generous dimensions, is any bigger inside, but it will take four adults – ideally with the roof down, as getting them into the back is a challenge otherwise. Said roof can be operated on the move and shifts pretty fast, but be aware that there’s a luggage divider in the boot that needs to be in place before the top can drop – and it really cuts down boot space. Don’t go thinking four of you are going to head off for a top-down weekend break. You won’t get further than a country pub. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. How’s the driving environment? Not exactly sophisticated, but then nothing else about the car is, so all you need to know is that it matches the rest. Interior design and quality is merely OK. On the plus side they’ve got to grips with Apple Carplay, screen interactivity and usability. The interface operates logically and pretty smoothly. Just mind visibility. This is a big car, not far short of 4.8 metres from nose to tail. With a long bonnet, chunky mirrors and A-pillars, the fact you’re sitting on the left and the slim view out the back, it’s not an easy car to guide through British towns. However, if you’re only there because you want people to look at you… job done. I’m not so fussed about that – I still want the manual coupe. Better choice, we reckon. A few years ago we drove a Camaro Z28 against a BMW M6 and Nissan GT-R and came away impressed. This Camaro is much more relaxed than the track-ready Z28, a car Chris Harris liked so much he bought one, but it’s not lacking in charm. And that’s the thing. I don’t know about you, but we are starting to miss things like this. Even if electric cars haven’t yet hit massive sales figures, their influence on toning down the more radical, excitable, V8 contingent is clear. There are fewer cars like the Camaro around. Specs: 6162cc V8, 8spd auto, RWD, 453bhp @ 5700rpm, 455lb ft @ 4600rpm, 0-62mph in 4.6sec, 155mph max, 24.6mpg, 260g/km CO2, **kg