L.A. GUNS

THE CHEVRO­LET CA­MARO WILL MEET AN UP­DATED, HARDER-HIT­TING FORD MUS­TANG IN OZ LATER THIS YEAR. WE’RE STATESIDE TO SEE HOW THEY’LL FILL SOME BIG, BENT-EIGHT BOOTS

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - WORDS DANIEL GARD­NER PHO­TOS JAMES LIPMAN

Mus­tang v Ca­maro: the US cur­tain-raiser for Oz brawl

SUN­SET over Los An­ge­les is one of the great­est pseudo-nat­u­ral spec­ta­cles the sprawl­ing Cal­i­for­nian me­trop­o­lis has to of­fer. The stun­ning show of colours is the re­sult of a cool ocean on one side of the city, moun­tains on three oth­ers, some­thing called an in­ver­sion layer and tonnes upon tonnes of ve­hi­cle ex­haust belched into the at­mos­phere ev­ery day. Cal­i­for­ni­ans are ad­dicted to their cars and the at­mos­phere bears the scars.

The spec­tac­u­larly beau­ti­ful peo­ple are another ex­am­ple of a su­per­fi­cially pretty ve­neer mask­ing an uglier re­al­ity. Flick on a lo­cal TV sta­tion and be­tween per­sonal in­jury lawyers tout­ing no-win-no-fee rep­re­sen­ta­tion, you are bom­barded by ads for pre­ventable dis­ease med­i­ca­tion. Di­a­betes, high blood pres­sure, con­sti­pa­tion, obe­sity. Ap­par­ently cos­metic pro­ce­dures can con­ceal all...

Just weeks be­fore I ar­rive, the beauty of LA’S sur­round­ing coun­try was razed by bush fires. The tor­ren­tial rain and mud­slides that fol­lowed left lit­tle more than dirt. It was a grim metaphor for LA’S celebrity fa­cade, where stars prom­e­nade the red car­pet while 20,000 peo­ple sleep un­der bridges.

In LA there’s al­ways another story play­ing out just be­low the sur­face and you don’t have to dig too deeply to find it. It’s the same with the two cars you see here.

The pony car feud be­tween Mus­tang and Ca­maro has been rag­ing on US soil for half a cen­tury but the more in­ter­est­ing un­der­ly­ing story is their new sig­nif­i­cance in Aus­tralia, where the two arch en­e­mies will bump gloves for the first time this year. I’m here to get a taste of how the new Ca­maro stacks up against the Mus­tang be­fore the brawl kicks off, and to see whether ei­ther one can help soften our griev­ing for the pass­ing of the home-grown rear-drive V8.

In Aus­tralia, the Ford has en­joyed a two-year head start, and the lux­ury of time to es­tab­lish a foothold be­fore the Ca­maro ar­rives. That said, fa­mil­iar­ity may work against the Mus­tang, the rel­a­tive nov­elty of the Ca­maro play­ing in its favour. Ei­ther way, the look of these cars is a big part of their pull.

In the Blue – or, erm ... ‘Or­ange Fury’ – cor­ner, the Mus­tang’s styling gets a lot done with a lit­tle. There’s a sim­ple pu­rity to its lines and an el­e­gance that hints

at the Ford’s aim of ap­peal­ing in many mar­kets. While pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions worked a home crowd, this ver­sion must ap­peal to Euro­pean, Bri­tish, Ja­panese and Aus­tralian buy­ers. Lit­tle has changed for the 2018 car and that’s no bad thing. The Mus­tang is as hand­some as ever, the re­shaped LED head­lights and lightly re­designed bon­net and grille the only give­aways this is the well-re­vised 2018 model.

In the Red cor­ner, how­ever, the Ca­maro sac­ri­fices el­e­gance in the name of out­right tensed-bi­cep brawn. If you’re see­ing a lit­tle Corvette DNA in the ex­te­rior, you’re not imag­in­ing it. Of the two, it’s the Chevro­let with the most pres­ence and a de­cid­edly Amer­i­can stance, but that low roofline has had a dra­matic ef­fect in­side the car as well.

Get­ting into the Mus­tang’s cabin is lit­tle dif­fer­ent to a reg­u­lar sedan, but you en­sconce your­self in the Ca­maro and peer out through a let­ter-box slot. The vis­i­bil­ity is ad­e­quate for a moun­tain blast, but around town the Chevy feels no­tice­ably big­ger. The im­mer­sive Ca­maro ex­pe­ri­ence ex­tends to the er­gonomics with a clas­sic hun­kered-down, legs-out-in-front driv­ing po­si­tion com­ple­mented by an al­most ver­ti­cal steer­ing wheel that’s slen­der yet sporty to hold. For its abil­ity to cre­ate a sense of oc­ca­sion, the Ca­maro board­ing process wins, but it comes at a cost to daily ease.

Among the most com­mon crit­i­cisms of the cur­rent Mus­tang is the in­te­rior; specif­i­cally the lack of lux­u­ri­ous ma­te­ri­als or niceties. Yet any as­sess­ment also needs to fac­tor in the price. Yes, Ford Aus­tralia could have ho­molo­gated the ex­cel­lent Re­caro seats and the ma­chined alu­minium dash that’s avail­able to Amer­i­can buy­ers as an op­tion, but then the ’Stang wouldn’t be a $60K car any­more. The up­date hasn’t brought dra­matic change in the Mus­tang cabin, yet this doesn’t al­low the Ca­maro to steal any points for qual­ity or de­sign. They’re both fairly ba­sic, as mus­cle coupes have al­ways been. There are high­lights such as the pair of aux­il­iary gauges and retro-in­spired de­sign for the Ford, and its sharp screen res­o­lu­tion, but both cab­ins are scat­tered with pla­s­ticky switches and trim that merely adds up to the sum of their cheap ’n’ cheer­ful parts.

But mus­cle cars are about look­ing cool and feel­ing good. And the true test of how well Ford and Chevro­let have plied their craft lays in a good, hard drive.

Be­fore this, I had to ne­go­ti­ate just one more fa­mous Los An­ge­les land­mark – the traf­fic jam. And if you thought our cap­i­tals were bad, try com­mut­ing in LA. It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine seven lanes of free­way grid­locked in each di­rec­tion for the bet­ter part of the day un­til you’ve en­dured it, high­light­ing just how at­tached the av­er­age An­gelino is to their car.

When the con­ges­tion eased and we could drive at a stroll, the Ford’s wheels hopped over each join­ing seam of the La-stan­dard con­crete-slab free­way at a mad­den­ing tempo. The Ca­maro ironed the creases more ef­fec­tively, per­haps as a re­sult of a chas­sis tune that’s been tai­lored es­pe­cially for US roads, un­like the global Mus­tang. But we won’t re­ally get to the bot­tom of ride com­fort un­til they hit Aus­tralian roads.

Per­haps it was the frus­tra­tion of sit­ting in seem­ingly end­less tail­backs, but at the sniff of canyon roads on the out­skirts of LA’S sub­ur­ban sprawl, the mus­cu­lar pair leap from their haunches with a sat­is­fy­ing vigour and, in the Ford, the sort of sound­track I was jonesing for.

The Ca­maro’s 6.2-litre LT1 en­gine re­port is, not

sur­pris­ingly, sim­i­lar to some­thing wear­ing an HSV badge, the fa­mil­iar in­duc­tion gulp giv­ing it a nice homely feel. The ex­haust bark is not as sat­is­fy­ing as the noise from un­der the bon­net but it’s for­given in the con­text of its pace. Com­pared to the Ford’s Coy­ote V8, the pushrod tech in the Chevro­let donk is an­ti­quated, but it de­liv­ers a proven blend of grunt and com­pact pack­ag­ing, with di­rect in­jec­tion and vari­able valve tim­ing to bring it into 2018.

Switch to the Ford how­ever and the 343kw (Aussie GTS will have 339kw) dou­ble over­head cam Coy­ote V8 shines. The big­ger Chevy V8 prefers a short shift with de­cent low-down torque char­ac­ter­is­tics, but the Blue Oval equiv­a­lent is beau­ti­fully so­phis­ti­cated and begs to be revved. As part of its 2018 up­date, Ford’s en­gi­neers ex­tracted another 33kw from the 5.0-litre (see side­bar p75) and you can feel it.

We will have to wait for a lo­cal test to sam­ple the new 10-speed auto fit­ted to the 2018 Mus­tang, but we can re­port that the new twin-plate clutch fit­ted to the six-speed man­ual makes life sig­nif­i­cantly eas­ier on the left leg, as well as eas­ing clutch mod­u­la­tion.

Our Ca­maro had GM’S eight-speed auto which is smooth, quick and does a crack­ing job of pick­ing a cog for you, but is tardy in man­ual mode. There’s a pause be­tween pluck­ing a pad­dle shifter and a new ra­tio, and the ’box oc­ca­sion­ally re­fuses out­right to down­shift even though the bent eight is way out of the over-rev zone.

Spot a Mus­tang GT on Aus­tralian roads and you can al­most guar­an­tee it will have an af­ter­mar­ket or op­tional Ford Per­for­mance ex­haust fit­ted. It seems most own­ers take to the stan­dard car’s all-bite, no-bark per­sona with a set of open pipes.

US buy­ers have to pay an ex­tra $1000 for the Ac­tive Valve sys­tem, but thank­fully Ford Aus­tralia has in­cluded it as stan­dard in the GT. In nor­mal mode the gor­geous stain­less sys­tem sounds as se­ri­ous as an atmo Mercedes-amg 6.2-litre V8, but flick the drive mode to Sport and you are in for a treat. It’s like some­one tripped over your Fender amp and ac­ci­den­tally rolled the vol­ume to 11. When you strum a power chord all the win­dows ex­plode.

De­spite the chalk-and-chuck-e-cheese dif­fer­ences, the very dif­fer­ent donks achieve sim­i­lar ends. They’re just 4kw apart, ac­cel­er­a­tion is im­mense no mat­ter which badge you’re look­ing at, with both coupes crack­ing 100km/h from rest in around five sec­onds.

The big­ger ca­pac­ity Ca­maro is the torque champ with 614Nm (ver­sus 569Nm for the Mus­tang) and the in-gear ac­cel­er­a­tion dif­fer­ence is clear. Des­patch­ing slow traf­fic with a swift over­tak­ing ma­noeu­vre takes less ef­fort in the Ca­maro.

Un­leash­ing this sort of grunt in this pair’s an­ces­tors would be dan­ger­ous work, but they’ve come a long way.

I’ve grown to know the Mus­tang pretty well over a se­ries of hard drives back home, so the pointy front end, vast lat­eral grip and en­gag­ing char­ac­ter are fa­mil­iar. Op­tional Mag­ner­ide adap­tive dampers are new for the 2018 ver­sion, the sus­pen­sion has been re­tuned, and the good news is the Mus­tang has grown in­cre­men­tally bet­ter.

Can the Ca­maro com­pare? Damn straight. Its vo­ra­cious ap­petite for cor­ners is the most sur­pris­ing and sat­is­fy­ing part of the Ca­maro pack­age. Where the Mus­tang has a sup­ple­ness in cor­ners that is per­haps more com­fort­ing and ac­ces­si­ble, the Ca­maro is se­ri­ously pre­cise and flat. Own­ers with a taste for track days will grav­i­tate to­wards the Chevy’s re­lent­less de­sire to turn and burn.

With large to mas­sive V8s send­ing grunt to the rear wheels, power over­steer isn’t just a pos­si­bil­ity, it’s a way of life, yet the coupes tread the fringe of ad­he­sion in dif­fer­ent ways. The Mus­tang is friend­lier and sends a string of warn­ings the grip thresh­old is ap­proach­ing. A lit­tle com­plaint from the front tyres, a no­tice­able trans­fer of weight to the rear, a sub­tle lean of the body. By com­par­i­son, the Chevro­let re­mains staunchly ex­pres­sion­less right up to the point the rear boots are about to peel off. On these canyon roads, where en­thu­si­as­tic driv­ers reg­u­larly take an ex­cur­sion into the scrub and the fines for cross­ing a solid line are vi­cious, it pays to ad­just quickly to the dif­fer­ent ap­proach needed in the Ca­maro.

While the Ford is more friendly and for­giv­ing and won’t pun­ish you for be­ing off the ideal line, the Ca­maro is more de­mand­ing and re­quires greater pre­ci­sion. Get it right in the Ca­maro, though, and it will carve cor­ners with in­tox­i­cat­ing pace.

The lack of Porsche 911-grade steer­ing feel is no deal breaker and the lim­ited feed­back in ei­ther coupe is for­giv­able along­side the other steer­ing and han­dling qual­i­ties. The mus­cle-car leg­end has al­ways per­mit­ted and even rev­elled in – a few rough edges.

The sweep­ing canyon roads let you main­tain mo­men­tum and speed, so we didn’t give the brakes a track-style work­out to test the on­set of fade. We can say, though, that both coupes can shed speed to match their prodi­gious ac­cel­er­a­tion, cour­tesy of six-pis­ton Brem­bos on the Mus­tang and four-pis­ton calipers on the Ca­maro.

There’s a lot to take in and co-driver Lyn and I pull up to a re­mote moun­tain sid­ing to com­pare im­pres­sions. Our chat is quickly in­ter­rupted by a heav­ily mod­i­fied Baja Bug that ar­rives in a din of air­cooled Volk­swa­gen clat­ter­ing and pro­ceeds to rip up a large pud­dle in a friv­o­lous dis­play of dough­nuts, be­fore ex­it­ing in a shower of mud and stones. Yep, Cal­i­for­ni­ans re­ally are car nuts.

Sunny, mid-20-de­gree days and clear blue skies make it easy to for­get this part of the world is in the midst of win­ter, but the sun dis­ap­pear­ing be­hind the moun­tains not long after 5:00pm prompts us to head back into the me­trop­o­lis to par­take in an all-amer­i­can pas­time.

No road trip would be com­plete with­out a diner burger and Bob’s Big Boy is the quin­tes­sen­tial So­cal

road­side restau­rant, with the added at­trac­tion of a show ’n’ shine ev­ery Fri­day night. The va­ri­ety and scale of the im­promptu car show is in­spir­ing.

As I scull prob­a­bly the most wel­come cherry Coke I’ve ever tasted and nick some of the pho­tog­ra­pher’s fries, I pause to re­flect on the pair of mod­ern mus­cle coupes ev­ery­one is ig­nor­ing. It’s sur­pris­ing that two cars so closely aligned in phi­los­o­phy bring such dif­fer­ent characters and skill sets.

The Mus­tang’s driver-friend­li­ness, so­phis­ti­cated en­gine and slick dial set earn it praise, while the Ca­maro coun­ters with in­cred­i­bly sharp dy­nam­ics and kick-in-the-pants de­sign.

The Ford de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing team faced the chal­lenge of ap­peal­ing to a whole new au­di­ence with­out alien­at­ing the long­stand­ing Amer­i­can buyer. In at­tempt­ing to please many mar­kets the Mus­tang has per­haps taken a small side­ways step away from the mus­cle-car tem­plate. But is be­ing an all-rounder re­ally some­thing you can crit­i­cise? And per­haps the pa­tri­otic Yan­kee Ca­maro would even ben­e­fit from a sim­i­lar dose of cul­tural di­ver­sity?

Judged on raw abil­ity, then, the Ca­maro wins by a nose. But while this is a com­par­i­son of US$25K ma­chines Stateside, it won’t be such a fair fight by the time the Ca­maro lands in Oz. While the 2018 Ford Mus­tang GT Fast­back will see a small rise to $62,990, HSV will ask about $90K for the Ca­maro, which changes ev­ery­thing. Is a lit­tle ex­clu­siv­ity and dy­namic sharp­ness worth an ex­tra $27K? At that price point, the Ca­maro is bound to come un­der harsher scru­tiny, but it’s hard to put a price on the strength of brand al­le­giance.

The Ca­maro and Mus­tang may be taken largely for granted by their coun­try­men, but a Gen­eral ver­sus Blue Oval war with so few doors hasn’t been waged Down Un­der since the early ’70s when the Monaro butted heads with the Fal­con Hard­top. In the glow­ing em­bers of the home­grown, high-per­for­mance era, this is the new story that rises from the ashes.

IT’S SUR­PRIS­ING THAT TWO CARS SO CLOSELY ALIGNED IN PHI­LOS­O­PHY BRING SUCH DIF­FER­ENT SKILL SETS

ABOVE: CA­MARO CABIN CRUDE AND COM­PRO­MISED BUT DOES BRING SENSE OF OC­CA­SION. RIGHT: DE­CI­SION TO RACE FOR PINKS MADE EAS­IER BY THE FACT THESE ARE PRESS CARS

BE­LOW: DAN ESPOUSES ON HIS FAVOURITE SUB­JECT: THE UN­SUNG MER­ITS OF PUSH RODS. LYN’S FAK­ING IN­TER­EST. SHE LIKES HER CAMS ON TOP

LEFT: BOTH OF THESE BAD BOYS WILL GULP INTO THE 20L/100KM ZONE IF GIVEN A CHANCE; WITH USA GAS AT AROUND A$1 PER LITRE, NO-ONE THERE RE­ALLY CARES

Model Chevro­let Ca­maro SS En­gine 6227cc V8 (90°), ohv, 16v Max power 339kw @ 6000rpm Max torque 614Nm @ 4000rpm Di­men­sions (L/W/H/W-B) 4784/1897/1348/2811mm Trans­mis­sion 8-speed au­to­matic Weight 1697kg 0-100km/h 4.6sec (es­ti­mated) Econ­omy 13.2L/100km...

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