I was resolute in my obstinance. The Chevy Camaro was old, archaic, primitive, and atrocious. I would hate it with all my being. It would not change me. I would change it. I would resist. But I was wrong. So, so very wrong. Because now I am in love, and l'amour, thy name is Camaro.
Camaro SS with the 1LE track package, to be specific.
(Full disclosure: Eh... just read below. It's in there.)
I didn't ask for the Camaro. Rather the opposite, in fact. It was proffered upon me. At a dinner meeting with some people from Chevy, Steve Martin, one of the company's PR men, look bug-eyed as I told him that no, I'd never actually driven a Camaro before.
"WHAT," he exclaimed. "It will change your life."
I'm pretty sure I responded with the equivalent of "Lol OKAY."
But Steve said he'd make sure I drove one anyways. I honestly didn't know why, as we'd done a review of the Chevy Camaro SS 1LE already, and I figured that was that. But he was insistent. Something about seeing new states of existence, or something.
The next morning, everything was all set up for an upcoming weekend. But I refused to budge. I'd be getting this horrific symbol of everything so wrong with American car companies, but I wouldn't change my plans accordingly. I'd go to Fairway, the disturbingly over-priced supermarket with the outstanding cheese selection. I'd make a trip to the East End of Long Island, to go apple picking.
I'd go visit my mother.
I would live my insufferable Brooklyn life, with all that that entails.
When I finally picked it up, wearing my best skeptical face, I was, how shall I say it, "skeptical."
It had enormous black wheels, and a matte-black hood. It was loud. It was obnoxious. It was possibly wider than 17 football fields – I can't be sure of the exact measurement, my tape wasn't long enough. But let's approximate at 17 football fields, because that sounds about right.
Driving it through Manhattan traffic, I convinced myself just how horrible of an idea it was. The clutch was stiff, and it pushed back at you. The catch point was about two inches down, but it had about a mile more of travel after that, like stepping your shoe into a big, mighty hole. It shook, it vibrated, there was a distinct rattling coming from the transmission tunnel, and it really, really hated crawling along in traffic at 2 MPH.
10 miles an hour, it could do no problem. But 2? 2 was an issue.
But whatever, just because I liked the light and the nimble, doesn't mean I would restrict myself to going 2 miles per hour. I ever-so-gingerly inched it down the narrow lanes of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (NO, HUGH L. CAREY, PISS OFF, I'M SURE YOU WERE A GREAT GOVERNOR OR WHATEVER BUT THERE IS NO WAY IN CAT'S HELL I'M CALLING IT THE HUGH L. CAREY TUNNEL GO AWAY), and managed to get it home.
My wife took one look at it, and immediately pronounced her befuddlement and consternation. Some cars are rather distastefully considered "chick magnets." This one appeared to be trying so hard, it might as well have been chick repellent.
But whatever, I am technically married already. She's got to stick with me, no matter my terrible car for the weekend, right?
Saturday morning, I took it out on a trip to New Jersey for a family function. I noticed small things, at first. It emitted a noise from the tailpipes that made small children alternate cry and/or shriek with delight, depending on the content of their character. It made my butt warm every time I came close to putting my foot down enough for half-throttle.
But, perhaps the worst crime of all, it made me happy.
I couldn't figure out why, not at first. Here was a car that weighed only slightly less than the collective mass of the entire Earth, and I should distinctly not be enjoying it. It went against everything I stood for, in my tweed Scottish touring cap, my double-breasted pea coat, and my thick-rimmed glasses. I wasn't nearly be-mulleted enough for this sort of insanity.
It weighed 3,860 pounds, and it had 426 horsepower, and that was just too much of everything. It was wasteful, it was excessive, it was unrefined, and I didn't get it.
Just idling in traffic, it would vibrate. Everything would vibrate. The shifter, the steering wheel, the retinas in my eyeballs. Immediately after parking it, all you would her was a loud WOOF WOOF WOOF and a booming GLUG GLUG GLUG. Just trying to change gear required effort, as if such an important decision was only to e made by those with courage and fortitude.
And then, Saturday night, as Europe's The Final Countdown came on the radio, I realized exactly what had happened.
I was in love.
It wasn't to match my eternal, undying love for the Fiat 500 Abarth, don't you worry about that, but it was a love all the same. It wasn't one of those boring cliches about "getting behind the wheel makes you feel alive," riding the New York City subway already makes you feel alive and/or dead.
The car itself felt alive. It had a pulse. It was beating, and the soul hadn't been beaten out of it already by a team of 500,000 engineers all seeking the perfect quest for "refinement."
Don't get me wrong – like any torrid affair, there were moments where a murder-suicide seemed appropriate. Sitting in four hours of traffic, desperate to pick some apples, was one of them.
(And NO, there were no more apples left, everyone else picked them already, thanks a whole bunch everyone else, may you all roast in a deliciously-scented hell.)
The clutch was all wrong, the throttle was all wrong, the fuel consumption was definitely wrong.
But going through a twisty road, it didn't feel like I was trying to swing the Titanic into low-Earth orbit using only some fishing twine and a set of handcuffs. It felt assured, it felt planted.
It felt – get this – like a car.
By Sunday evening, I had found a new mechanical best friend.
By Monday morning, I didn't want to give it back.
By Monday afternoon, I was doing burnouts, as the mullet inside me desperately clawed its way out.
And by Monday evening, the wife even liked it. Distasteful "chick-magnet" reputation, consider yourself repulsively restored.
Before I drove this ludicrous throwback to the past, I didn't understand this huge swath of American motoring. But now, I get it. As a new Camaro looms on the horizon, I just hope that they don't take away what makes this one so lovable. Yeah, the vibrations and the weird noises might be seen as a glaring quality issue, but in an automotive world where everything is so nice, so clean, so... meh, it was a wonder to have something different.
To have something inspired.
If there's ever an argument for the brutes of the world, it's the Camaro SS 1LE. If you want to keep your old "ONLY THE LIGHTEST IS GREATEST" religion, that's fine. It has great tenets, and I'll definitely be returning to it from time to time. It's definitely the way to the fastest pure speed, especially so on the track.
But for pure, ridiculous fun, consider me converted.