Reinventing Retro: A Way to Save the Chevy Camaro?
While recent months have been full of excitement over Chevy's fully redesigned flagship performance car, the C8 Corvette—the news around the brand's more affordable performance offering hasn't been as good. The Camaro is struggling and in fact it may be in danger of disappearing completely.
The current sixth generation Camaro was introduced for the 2016 model year and from a performance perspective at least, the car has been a home run. It's available with four different engine options: a turbocharged four-cylinder, a V6, a naturally aspirated V8 in the SS models and a supercharged V8 in the ZL1 models.
The Alpha platform the car is built on has earned incredible praise, and the track-oriented 1LE models are some of the most legit performance cars you can buy today. Yet the Camaro is not doing well. Sales of the pony car have been on the downswing every year since 2016, and last year a pretty substantial rumor surfaced that the sixth generation Camaro would continue through the 2023 model year but that after that the car would be discontinued with no successor to follow.
So why isn't the Camaro more popular? You can point to a number things, including a decline of traditional coupes and sedans in a market dominated by SUVs, but the current Camaro's primary issues go back to the debut of the fifth gen model for 2010.
Riding the hype of the Transformers film, the fifth generation Camaro sported concept-car looks for the street, and while that earned it plenty of attention, it also required a major sacrifice in visibility and ergonomics. From the earliest days the car's lack of massive dashboard, gun slit side windows, awkward cabin and poor size to interior space ratio kept a lot of buyers away.
So, when the sixth gen Camaro arrived for 2016 riding on all new lighter and smaller platform, there was some disappointment when the car carried the same general shape that had been circulating in concept form since the mid 2000s.
The sixth gen Camaro was a better car in nearly every way than the one that came before it, but it returned with the same poor visibility, awkward seating position, and tiny trunk of the previous car. It wasn't bad looking by any means, but it also wasn't a big departure from the design that had been around for a decade and was starting to feel a little stale. Compare this to the 2015 Mustang, which was a drastic departure from the previous model and it's easy to see why the Camaro started to slump.
Yes it was fast, drove great and GM's engineers had elevated the Camaro into an incredible all around performance car. But it didn't matter how well it drove if the average person felt strange just sitting in it.
The Camaro went on a long hiatus following the end fourth gen production in 2002, and it would be a shame to see the iconic Chevy pony car killed off once again. There is, however, a direction that GM could go with a theoretical next gen Camaro that would be a perfect blend of retro character and modern simplicity in a package that would do away with the current car's flaws. And there are a pair of non-GM concept cars they can look to for inspiration.
One of them is the Nissan IDx Concept, which was shown back in 2013 as a possible revival of the iconic Datsun 510 in a modern package. Sadly Nissan never gave the greenlight for production, and with the company's current woes its unlikely it'll ever be built. But that doesn't mean it can't be looked to for inspiration.
The fifth generation Camaro took a lot of inspiration from the first gen cars of the late 1960s, but it completely did away with the more boxy, airy feel of vintage cars in favor of its modern proportions. The IDx on the other hand, wasn't an over the top retro design, but it captured some of the most recognizable elements of the Datsun 510—a boxy, angular profile with just the right amount of modern aggression.
Despite the fact that it's now over six years old, the IDx concept would still be a hit today and that's because no automaker has truly attempted to adapt its shape to an actual production car. But there's also another, newer concept car that takes the same "retro-modern" thing to an even higher level.
In 2018, Peugeot showed a concept car called the e-Legend with a fully electric powertrain and a host of of driver-assist features, but the most impressive thing about the e-Legend isn't its powertrain, but its exterior and interior and styling.
The concept took its inspiration from the Peugot 504 Coupe that originally debuted in the late 1960s, and it's a fantastic execution of a retro-themed yet thoroughly modern automobile. The e-Legend is boxy, but also aggressive and most of all it captures the essence of a late '60s car with its upright proportions, squared off roofline, thin body pillars and angular front and rear fascias.
The cabin of the e-Legend is equally great, with an airy feel that couldn't be more different from the bunker-like atmosphere of the current Camaro. It drips with retro charm while at the same time feeling refreshingly modern.
Additionally, the more upright roof allows for a more accommodating rear seat as opposed to the sixth gen Camaro's rear seat which isn't much more than a space for small children or a glorified storage shelf.
My point is that if GM would like to make the Camaro relevant again it might be wise to take a look at cars like the e-Legend as a direction to go. Fully embrace the boxy, openness of the late '60s Camaros. Not only would it stand out, it would fix all of the problems of the current car—the kind that would turn off a buyer before they even start the engine.
It's unclear if a production version of the e-Legend will ever happen, but at this point there hasn't really been a production car that has executed the retro look in this manner and the Camaro might be the perfect car to borrow this formula.
As always with this kind of wishing, something like this is always easier said than done. Making a car with ultra thin body pillars like this isn't going to be easy given modern safety standards, but it would likely be worth the effort.
The hard truth is there may be no saving of the Camaro in its current form, but if Chevy wants to bring the car back to relevance and win over new buyers re-inventing the idea of retro might be just the way to do it.
Then again, there's no reason a similar strategy couldn't be used for future versions of cars like the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger or other iconic models looking for reinvention. Whatever the case, I'm hoping that some automaker will bring back the classic tall greenhouse and boxy look of the past in a new way. The retro boom of the 2000s might not be dead. Maybe it's just needs to be reinvented?
Speaking of modern concept cars that never saw that light of the day, don't forget about Chevy's own Code 130R, which as a bit of those classic proportions to it as well.