HSV BUILDS A BRUTE WITH A BOWTIE

The right-hand drive con­ver­sion of the US mus­cle car sticks to the Chev script

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - CRAIG DUFF

Build it and they will come. That’s the ra­tio­nale be­hind HSV’s la­bo­ri­ous and ex­pen­sive con­ver­sion of Chevro­let’s Ca­maro to right-hand drive. Just 550 of the mus­cle cars will be con­verted and more than 70 per cent have been pre-sold — de­spite an $86,000 sticker price that makes the bow-tie badged V8 about $20,000 dearer than a top-spec Ford Mus­tang.

HSV manag­ing di­rec­tor Tim Jack­son makes no apolo­gies for the cost. He can’t match Ford’s economies of scale.

The Mus­tang sells at bet­ter than 7000 a year in Aus­tralia and is fac­tory built in right-hand drive. HSV must fab­ri­cate more than 350 new parts to en­sure the con­ver­sion meets GM stan­dards for a gen­uine fac­tory prod­uct.

“This car looks and feels like a fac­tory right­hand drive prod­uct be­cause that’s what it is,” he says. “We’ve in­vested mil­lions in R&D, engi­neer­ing and tool­ing to en­sure this car is just as safe and drives just like a left-hook Ca­maro. We even crashed four pi­lot cars to en­sure we com­plied with Aus­tralian De­sign Rules.”

The steer­ing wheel swap is so in-depth it in­cludes re­mov­ing not just the en­gine but strip­ping the head­lamps and re-engi­neer­ing the in­ter­nals for driv­ing on the left side of the road.

Even the driver’s footwell is en­larged to meet fac­tory spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

Un­like most con­ver­sions, the boot and bon­net re­leases are on the driver’s side and you’re hard pressed to see — or hear — that the car has been stripped down and re­built. The only thing HSV couldn’t achieve with the first batch was to re­cal­i­brate the head-up dis­play for the repo­si­tioned cock­pit and Jack­son says that’s a “work in progress”.

It also can’t of­fer the lat­est model Ca­maro, which was launched in the United States ear­lier this year with re­vised styling, up­graded in­fo­tain­ment and safety fea­tures and a 10speed au­to­matic with launch con­trol.

“We’re a niche player in this seg­ment but if you look at the V8 per­for­mance sports car mar­ket the Ca­maro still rep­re­sents great value, es­pe­cially at the spec­i­fi­ca­tion we’ve brought it in with,” Jack­son says of the leather-trimmed, Bose au­dio-equipped car.

HSV is con­sid­er­ing whether to test deeper per­for­mance wa­ters with the Ca­maro ZL1, ef­fec­tively a su­per­charged 485kW/868Nm ver­sion of the Ca­maro SS. The ZL1 would push well past the six-fig­ure mark.

De­mand for this batch of nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 6.2-litre V8 Ca­maros will de­ter­mine how many of the new model HSV will or­der.

ON THE ROAD

The V8 rum­ble will con­vince HSV cus­tomers still sit­ting on the fence to buy a Ca­maro. The bi­modal ex­haust goes from sonorously sexy at low revs to drag-strip deliri­ous as the 6.2-litre builds to peak revs at 6000rpm.

It should be an ir­re­sistible lure for HSV buy­ers who want per­for­mance and are pre­pared to forgo Com­modore lev­els of space.

Any ac­cel­er­a­tion be­yond 3000rpm is ac­com­pa­nied by in­stant surge from the en­gine, though the eight-speed auto can take a heart­beat to kick down in re­sponse to the right foot pres­sure. In HSV’s de­fence, this ver­sion has been specif­i­cally about the drive con­ver­sion rather than the en­gine and trans­mis­sion.

For the record the Ca­maro hits 100km/h from rest in 4.0 sec­onds, about 0.3 sec un­der the Mus­tang GT’s claimed time, and uses less fuel ac­cord­ing to the claimed com­bined thirst of 11.5L/100km to the Ford’s 13.1L.

Where the Ca­maro shines is on sweep­ing cor­ners. The two-door coupe turns in de­ci­sively but is then de­signed to be driven on the back end and pow­ered through the turn. The lim­ited-slip diff and for­giv­ably firm sus­pen­sion — this is a sports car — then en­sure the Chevy hooks in and hun­kers.

The steer­ing is di­rect and has de­cent heft and feed­back across the rev range. At less en­thu­si­as­tic speeds the Ca­maro de­ac­ti­vates four cylin­ders to try to save fuel un­der light throt­tle.

It is en­tirely en­ter­tain­ing, even if the nar­row rear view com­pro­mises ev­ery­day prac­ti­cal­ity and there’s no ac­tive safety be­yond blind-spot and rear cross-traf­fic alerts.

On pa­per, the Ca­maro can jus­tify its pre­mium over the Mus­tang from a straight-line per­spec­tive but we’ll need a com­par­i­son re­view to see how the pair han­dle the same wind­ing bi­tu­men at the same time.

FIRST DRIVE

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