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Pinned in a regulatory headlock, and suffering flat sales, the Pony Car GOAT dies with a whimper. It’s all our fault.

Sixth-Generation Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Sixth-Generation Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

We’ll look back on ourselves with disgust. Up until internal-combustion’s dying breath, we had every chance to walk into the local Bow-Tie dealer and drive away commanding eight cylinders and three pedals, the rumble of a clapping thunder cloud in our wake. 

Too few took the bait, however, to keep the door from slamming shut.

Welcome to Kinardi Line, mouthpiece of the free world’s most curious auto writer. Home to questionable takes, quiet revelations, and shitbox worship.

The sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro reached the end of the line in January, 2024, following nine continuous years of production at the Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant. It will be missed. In 20 years, we’ll wonder, “Why the hell didn’t I buy one new?”

Though it did not command my dollars, the sixth-gen demanded my respect. Over the past decade, I’d go so far as to say Chevy perfected the Pony Car formula, such was the Sixth-Gen’s blend of accessibility, performance, and charisma. It sold in many iterations, from four-cylinder turbo strippers to supercharged V-8 supercar killers; The model range could capture the imagination of any working American, no matter their budget. 

Sure the press droned on about the coupe’s bunker-like cabin, the material qualities contained within it, and the difficulty in seeing out of it. These were qualms I never had, but they still trail the Camaro in online echo chambers, thoughtlessly regurgitated by the automotive media like Starling mothers to eagerly awaiting mouths. 

If you can’t see out of a Camaro, adjust your goddamned mirrors. 

It will be missed. In 20 years, we’ll wonder, “Why the hell didn’t I buy one new?”

Depending on your priorities—and especially your sensibilities—you could make the same arguments for and against the sixth-gen’s contemporaries. 

The Mustang offered the same cross-cultural appeal, powered by four-cylinders, sixes, and even rare-air cross-plane V-8s. It honed in on a set of handsome body lines, and stuck to its guns more closely than the Chevy.

The Challenger wasn’t quite a Pony Car, save the excellent 392 T/A, but it competed with the Camaro for hearts and minds nonetheless. Americans responded to the SRT’s (nee Dodge’s) aggressive presence and snapped up the V-6 cars in droves, courtesy of competitive lease deals and the best-styled body of the trio.

And so the Chally outsold our hero car and the Mustang outlasted it. But neither of them stirred enthusiasts’ souls in exactly the same way. Because most of all, more than anything, this Camaro could whup some world-class ass on a race track. That’s why I loved it; That’s what made it special.

At the launch of the Camaro 1LE trim in Pahrump, Nevada, early in 2017, Chevy loosed us on an open race track with the coupe’s stiffest competition. That meant a V-8 Mustang spec’d up way past the V-6 1LE’s $33,000 MSRP. But also the BMW M4 to battle the V-8 Camaro. 

Eyebrows raised skeptically at the prospect. In 10-plus years writing about cars, only Acura had the cojones to bring competitors along for direct comparison. On that day, the exercise backfired.

But down in Pahrump, Chevy’s performance team offered no concessions or excuses. They just dropped keys in our hands and waved us on to the race track. 

Under a high-desert broil, the Mustang fell apart within laps. The three or four assembled ‘Stangs limped away with overheated transmissions and differentials. Their brakes smoked under the stress.

What of the Bavarian? The V-8 1LE nearly matched the M4’s ultimate lap times, but didn’t give up an ounce of durability, endurance, or confidence by comparison. At the time, the 1LE came in tens-of-thousands cheaper than the BMW. 

But the real kicker was this: the Camaro brought more joy than both competitors. Its 6.2-liter V-8 felt indefatigable, stout, relentless. Gear shifts from the Camaro’s Tremec engaged with a firmer, chunkier action than the BMWs, which fit the Camaro’s rough-and-tumble character. 

Later during my time at Road&Track magazine, we threw the kitchen sink at the sixth-gen Camaro. At a two-car comparison test on a race track near Palm Springs, BMW’s M2 Competition laid down black stripes through four gears when rolling onto the front straight. The V-8 1LE Camaro simply hooked up and boogied away.

I couldn’t tell you lap times from that day, but I can tell you the 1LE was a better track tool. It proved equally eager on California’s squiggliest canyon two-lanes too.

Because most of all, more than anything, this Camaro could whup some world-class ass on a race track.

At R&T’s blowout Performance Car of the Year test, the supercharged ZL1 1LE Kool-Aid Man’d through a nearby wall, shouted “HELLL YEAHHH,” then ripped the arms off supercars for sport. 

It didn’t take home top honors, because voting amongst our group of skinny armed journos devolved predictably into institutional self-sabotage. But the ZL1 1LE earned my vote.

That’s how it was. The bow-tied thundercloud sported class-leading handling in every guise. Its chassis tuning gave absolute confidence through tail-out triple digit sweepers. 

Its engine hardware proved to be as simple and reliable as a bench vice, and while it never sounded off in burly superlatives like its Brotherhood of Muscle counterparts, the LS V-8 is unmistakable when a Camaro lights off onto the highway across town. 

Even the V-6 car sounded great.

How then, did Camaro bite the bullet, while the Mustang lives? Firstly, Americans never took to the Sixth-Gen’s design. For all of GM’s attempts to graft sleeker, funkier, and even avant garde fascias onto the Camaro’s nose, it lacked the concrete visual identity of the ‘Stang and especially the SRT twins.

I blame our collective retro-fetishism.

The Camaro was never marketed to a degree that matched its excellence either. I can remember many Mustang commercials that ran during the Super Bowl, and maybe one for the Camaro in the past 15 years. Instead in 2012, Chevrolet inked a $600M deal with my beloved Manchester United and it didn’t do jack to raise the profile of the company, broadly, or the Camaro in particular. Oh how those dollars could’ve lifted the Camaro’s profile.

Of course our current legislative climate does the Camaro no favors. Naturally aspirated, V-8 playthings are financially untenable for large corporations to produce as they’re dragged screaming into full-on EV production; Plus fearsome gas burners are socially untenable for end users in many social strata. It’s never been less fashionable to build or own a Pony Car.

Finally, there’s aspiration. Ford’s GT is merely an abstraction for the speculative-investment class. The Mustang is the company’s halo product. Same goes for the Stellantis portfolio; The base Challenger is a ladder to the Hellcat. Meanwhile the Camaro has always had a Corvette problem.

Like your first big heartbreak, there’s a million small reasons why it all fell apart. And yet, looking back, few that really matter.

No doubt something Camaro-shaped and Camaro-badged will roll back onto showroom floors at some point, but it will not fill the hole in our hearts; Conjecture suggests the new Camaro will be some smoothed-over EV with the curb weight of a dying sun and the dynamic charm of a wet sock.

From the Thirties onward, Americans had their choice of sporting coupes with V-8 soundtracks. So long as the Ford Mustang lives on, that future is secured, but with the Challenger set to be replaced by an EV and the Camaro’s future uncertain, we can’t help but take stock of the moment. 

No car in history blended V-8 glory, handling, and accessibility as masterfully as this modern Camaro. Farewell, old friend. We failed you. I’m sorry. 

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