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.
“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!