HSV un­veils RHD Ca­maro

HSV’s much an­tic­i­pated Chev Ca­maro is here. Bruce New­ton sam­pled the ‘re­man­u­fac­tured’ right-hand drive Ca­maro at HSV’s of­fi­cial Aus­tralian launch of the Amer­i­can mus­cle coupe and reck­ons the wait has been worth it.

Australian Muscle Car - - News - Story: Bruce New­ton

“Go on, open it up,” urges Holden Special Ve­hi­cles man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Tim Jack­son. So, I do. And sud­denly, the cabin of the Chevro­let Ca­maro is awash in lus­cious, deep and loud V8 NOISE. “Hello,” laughs Jack­son. Our Ca­maro is now rapidly gath­er­ing pace, so in­stead of merg­ing seam­lessly into the traf­fic me­an­der­ing along Mel­bourne’s Eastlink we’re mak­ing a rather more ob­vi­ous, louder and faster en­try.

It’s as if Pavarotti has ar­rived on stage at La Scala rid­ing a rocket-pow­ered skate­board and us­ing Me­tal­lica as his back­ing band.

But then the Ca­maro is made for grand and ob­vi­ous en­trances.

Its sleek two-door coupe ex­te­rior is a stun­ning, sharp-edged ex­pres­sion of mus­cle. It is in­tended to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion.

But in Aus­tralia right now it’s the in­te­rior that’s oc­cu­py­ing cen­tre-stage, speci cally the steer­ing wheel sit­ting on the right-hand side. It’s been a long time com­ing.

Ca­maro has been part of our mus­cle car lex­i­con here in Aus­tralia for decades, mostly

be­cause of its pres­ence on race­tracks in the hands of the late great Bob Jane, Kevin Bartlett and even – al­beit brie y – Alan Jones.

But the road car, apart from the oc­ca­sional low vol­ume lo­cal con­ver­sion, has been ab­sent.

Plans to get the Chevro­let Ca­maro on-sale in Aus­tralia have been oated and sunk ever since the fth gen­er­a­tion was de­vel­oped in Aus­tralia us­ing fun­da­men­tally the same lo­cal Zeta ar­chi­tec­ture as the Holden Com­modore VE/VF.

Fo­cus shifted to the cur­rent sixth gen­er­a­tion of the iconic pony car af­ter Holden an­nounced it would end lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing, kill off the VF Com­modore in late 2017 and re­place it with a front/all-wheel drive four-cylin­der/V6 im­ported from Europe. Surely the Ca­maro was the so­lu­tion? Emo­tion­ally cer­tainly, but nan­cially ap­par­ently not. Gen­eral Mo­tors couldn’t make the num­bers add up for a pro­duc­tion run of right-hand drive Ca­maros. So, no V8, no rear-wheel drive on of­fer from Holden. It was an al­most im­pos­si­ble con­cept to fathom.

For Holden fans, it stung more be­cause Ford had been able to come up with a right-hand drive

It feels like an Aus­tralian mus­cle car in the way it has to be man­aged along a wind­ing, bumpy coun­try high­way. It re­ally is a case of slower in to be faster out, rev­el­ling in di­rect steer­ing re­sponse, sub­stan­tial grip of­fered by stag­gered 20-inch Goodyear Ea­gle run-flat rub­ber and the en­gine’s fab­u­lous all-round punch.

busi­ness case for the Mus­tang, a move that soft­ened the blow when Falcon died in 2016.

En­ter HSV, Holden’s high-per­for­mance part­ner set up by the late Tom Walkin­shaw that’s been turn­ing out hot­ted-up V8 Com­modores for more than 30 years… or as Aus­tralian Mus­cle Car read­ers know, ever since the Peter Brock po­lariser con­tro­versy [tem­po­rar­ily] ended a beau­ti­ful friend­ship.

If the fac­tory wasn’t go­ing to build a right-hand drive Ca­maro then HSV de­cided it would. Or to put it more ac­cu­rately, its fan-base de­manded it.

“Up un­til the time we an­nounced we were do­ing Ca­maro, I don’t think a day went by where I didn’t have a cus­tomer say­ing ‘can you please do Ca­maro, can you please do Ca­maro’,” Jack­son re­veals to AMM.

HSV’s head hon­cho sprinted for Aus­tralia at the 1996 Olympics. He’s still go­ing at-out th­ese days as HSV re­builds it­self in a new era with Ca­maro, a right-hand drive pro­gram for the Chevro­let Sil­ver­ado pick-up and an amped ver­sion of the Holden Colorado called the Sport­sCat.

“I think it [Ca­maro] gives us that an­chor of where we have al­ways been,” Jack­son re ects. “I look at this car as in some ways as giv­ing us per­mis­sion to do a few other things.

“I think this is the one our tra­di­tional cus­tomer­base is most con­nected with.”

Not only was that cus­tomer-base plead­ing with HSV to build the Ca­maro, it was also in­for­mally pro­vid­ing the mar­ket re­search data re­quired by HSV to make a call.

“Nat­u­rally, we took the op­por­tu­nity of say­ing ‘ok if it looks like this and that what’s your com­fort level?’ and we got lots of good feed­back,” Jack­son re­called.

“And once we had been through the en­gi­neer­ing work that gave us a far bit of com­fort that we could do it a pri­ce­point that would be ac­cept­able to the mar­ket­place.”

That pri­ce­point is $85,990 plus on-road costs for the Ca­maro 2SS speci cation HSV has sourced for Aus­tralia, com­plete with the lat­est 339kW/617Nm Gen­er­a­tion V LT1 6.2-litre di­rect in­jec­tion and vari­ably valve timed pushrod V8, mated with an eight-speed auto.

The pric­ing is con­tro­ver­sial be­cause it is nearly $20,000 higher than the equiv­a­lent Mus­tang GT Fast­back auto, while still lack­ing ba­sic equip­ment (for the price) such as au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing and satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion.

“If we needed to hit $66,000 it [the Ca­maro right-hand drive pro­gram] would never have hap­pened,” in­sists Jack­son.

“I un­der­stand ab­so­lutely it’s the nat­u­ral com­par­i­son – Ca­maro and Mus­tang – but if you look at the two-door sports coupe mar­ket at this level of per­for­mance, it stretches up to $170,000 to $180,000.

“In a world where Mus­tang didn’t ex­ist ev­ery­one would be say­ing ‘this [Ca­maro] is great value’.”

Since green light­ing the pro­gram in March 2016, HSV has com­mit­ted more than $10 mil­lion to the Ca­maro project, much of it re­lated to what HSV calls the ‘re­man­u­fac­tur­ing’ process.

It uses that term be­cause it be­lieves call­ing it a ‘con­ver­sion’ doesn’t do jus­tice to its ef­forts.

“We want peo­ple to un­der­stand we are not just cut­ting here or shov­ing there, or we left the steer­ing rack where it was and put some chain

across,” ex­plains Jack­son “It’s not that, it’s all-new parts go­ing in.

“The man­u­fac­tur­ing is to orig­i­nal equip­ment stan­dard ex­pec­ta­tion. But what’s dif­fer­ent is the man­u­fac­tur­ing, be­cause we don’t build it from the ground up.”

HSV has de­vel­oped a nine-sta­tion process to re­man­u­fac­ture Ca­maro at Walkin­shaw Park in Clay­ton. Cur­rently, the line is com­plet­ing three cars per day and it is tak­ing 130 man-hours per car from the start of dis­as­sem­bly to com­plet­ing the nal checks.

As the 51 work­ers on the line be­come more fa­mil­iar with the process, the plan is to speed the line to about six cars per day and 80 man-hours per car.

Be­cause the Ca­maro is a mono­coque rather than body on frame like the Sil­ver­ado, it must be al­most en­tirely stripped back to the bare shell be­fore the modi cation process can start.

Only the diff, the fuel tank, bootlid and front and rear wind­screen stay in-place. Every­thing else is pulled off the car.

There are two main chal­lenges that force such a dra­matic un­dress­ing. One is the sin­gle­piece wiring har­ness, which runs through­out the car and is the rst item in­stalled into the body on white on the Lans­ing assem­bly line in Michigan. That har­ness has to be re­moved and re­placed by one ‘re­man­u­fac­tured’ by HSV for right-hand drive.

The other big ticket item is re­mov­ing the en­gine to ac­cess the re­wall, which has to be drilled and patched as part of the shift of the steer­ing gear across the cabin.

Com­pli­cat­ing that, the lower sec­tion of the re­wall is lam­i­nated. So rather than or­tho­dox weld­ing, what’s re­quired is the use of struc­tural rivets and struc­tural ad­he­sives in those ar­eas to put pan­els in place.

The key com­po­nents of the vari­able-rate speed-sen­si­tive steer­ing rack are re­tained, but en­cased in a new cast­ing, then ipped for right­hand drive.

In­side the cabin a new cross-car beam and dash­board are re­quired. The for­mer is sourced from the same sup­plier that makes it in the USA. The latter comes from Mel­bourne-based So­co­bell, which also pro­vides the new dash for the Sil­ver­ado. The tool­ing for the new dash­board alone cost more than $1 mil­lion.

Un­der­neath the dash­board is a new Heat­ing Ven­ti­la­tion and Air-Con­di­tion­ing (HVAC) case and blower as well as duct­ing. The HVAC in­let has been re­designed to draw air from the left rather than right-hand side of the car. Assem­bly of the dash­board, re­work­ing of the front seats, airbags and HID head­lights all take place in a sep­a­rate sub-assem­bly area at Clay­ton.

All up, the right-hand drive Ca­maro re­quires the in­stal­la­tion of 357 new parts, the vast ma­jor­ity of which have been de­vel­oped by HSV us­ing its own en­gi­neer­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties in­clud­ing CAD (com­puter aided de­sign), FEA ( nite el­e­ment anal­y­sis) and rapid pro­to­typ­ing, in­clud­ing 3D print­ing.

HSV has ob­tained full ve­hi­cle com­pli­ance for its Ca­maro, which means im­port num­bers are not re­stricted. But that has also re­quired crash test­ing four Ca­maro to meet Aus­tralian De­sign Rule 73/00.

The ob­jec­tive was not to turn the Ca­maro into a HSV but re­tain its orig­i­nal Chevy driv­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics as much as pos­si­ble. So, in-house and real-world pro­to­type and pi­lot-build test­ing has fo­cussed on val­i­da­tion and dura­bil­ity.

That Chevy char­ac­ter in­cludes badg­ing. The only HSV sig­nage is in­di­vid­ual build num­ber­ing

tucked away on the ra­di­a­tor shroud in the en­gine bay.

“Ul­ti­mately, we felt we could ex­e­cute Ca­maro in a way that we would be proud of,” says Jack­son. “We could drive it and go ‘Jeez we’ve done a good job of this’.”

And sit­ting be­hind that leather-clad steer­ing wheel, it’s easy to see where Jack­son’s com­ing from. The in­te­rior looks orig­i­nal equip­ment. There are no cav­ernous gaps, no weird pan­els, no ob­vi­ous aws.

Odd noises are al­most en­tirely ab­sent. At one par­tic­u­lar mo­ment, cross­ing from bi­tu­men to gravel across a cor­ru­ga­tion, there is a rat­tling noise from the steer­ing col­umn. But that’s all.

And then there’s how it goes, which is fast. HSV isn’t mak­ing per­for­mance claims but reck­ons with the aid of launch con­trol it’s seen 0-100km/h times around 4.5 sec and 0-400m dashes in 12.8 sec. That’s about equiv­a­lent with the old LSA su­per­charged HSV Club­sport and the like. Seat of the pants, it feels that kind of fast too.

The Ca­maro makes up for its power de cit com­pared to Clubby and co mostly be­cause it is around 150kg lighter at 1719kg. Much of that comes from the lighter Al­pha ar­chi­tec­ture it rolls on.

But don’t get the idea the Ca­maro is some nim­ble eaweight. At 4784mm long, 1897mm wide, only 1348mm high and with a 2811mm wheel­base, it still oc­cu­pies a sub­stan­tial amount of real es­tate.

There is an old-style man­li­ness about this car. The steer­ing is heavy and gets heav­ier as it is wound through the Driver Mode Con­trol from Tour to Sport to Track. The Mac strut front and multi-link rear sus­pen­sion set-up has no tune-abil­ity, so it starts tough and stays that way, barely ab­sorb­ing in­puts around town, smooth­ing out a bit at higher speeds and never en­ter­tain­ing more than a sker­rick of body­roll.

Sit­ting deep within the dark cock­pit, look­ing out through that shal­low, nar­row wind­screen you quickly be­come at­tuned to the car’s traits.

It feels like an Aus­tralian mus­cle car in the way it has to be man­aged along a wind­ing, bumpy coun­try high­way. It re­ally is a case of slower in to be faster out, rev­el­ling in di­rect steer­ing re­sponse, sub­stan­tial grip of­fered by stag­gered 20-inch Goodyear Ea­gle run- at rub­ber and the en­gine’s fab­u­lous all-round punch.

This is the sort of car that in­vites you to go ex­plor­ing, to dis­cover more and more of its traits and char­ac­ter­is­tics. Some cars shut up shop once the heat is ap­plied, but the Ca­maro feels wel­com­ing, like it’s al­ways keen to play.

Not every­thing gels. The appy pad­dles feel cheap and ster­ile in their op­er­a­tion, the four-pot Brem­bos har­den up un­der a sus­tained work­out, sug­gest­ing more stop­ping power wouldn’t go astray.

And pre­dictably, fuel con­sump­tion starts arc­ing up­wards as the loud pedal gets ham­mered. But you would ex­pect that, wouldn’t you. Take the Ca­maro out of its nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment into an ur­ban streetscape and it has an­other im­ped­i­ment: it’s so dif­fi­cult to see out of in any di­rec­tion bar straight ahead. Thank­fully it’s got a re­vers­ing cam­era, cross traf­fic alert and park­ing sen­sors be­cause it needs them!

But what­ever the neg­a­tives, what­ever the equip­ment short­falls and what­ever the pric­ing, there’s no way the ar­rival of Ca­maro in Aus­tralia ends up be­ing any­thing other than great news.

As we bur­ble back to Clay­ton Jack­son sums it up best.

“What am I most proud of?” he smiles. “That this ex­ists.”

Tim, there’s a lot of peo­ple that agree with you!

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