Bright Headlights at The End of a Long, Dark Tunnel

November 15, 2004

This article was written to cover the account of the Camaro and Firebird ceasing production, what happened after that and what could happen next.

Part I – The Beginning of the End…or Not?

When General Motors announced plans to halt production on Camaros and Firebirds, a very cold shudder swept through the F-body enthusiast community. After 35 years, it was a crushing blow in the form of something we all felt was going to happen even though no one wanted to believe it. It left all of us feeling abandoned and alone, with only questions ranging from “why did this happen” to “what do we do now?”, all the while Ford mocked and didn’t hide their glory. Many took it somewhat personally, and vowed to never buy GM again.

After roughly a year of swimming in a huge pool of mass-confusion and a relative amount of despair, ideas were generated by desperate enthusiasts in the hopes that from very far away, GM would awaken to hear the wishes of those who wanted the car to come back the most. And from very far away, not a sound was heard back from GM.

Remaining hopeful and continuing to hold on to the dream that the enthusiasts would shape even a small part of the future, our own 5th Generation and Future Vehicles Discussion forum became one of the most popular sources for conversation on what will come next…if anything at all.

Part II – The Long, Dark Tunnel

As time passed since production has ceased, it seemed that there was a collective hush in the community as far as morale and hope.

Beginning with a murmur and increasing in volume as time went on, the idea to bring over the Holden achieved great attention. Many considered this the best possible solution since the Holden Monaro was such a success down under. It was powerful and had a front mounted engine with rear-wheel-drive. Most agreed that would make a great replacement and the best way to continue the Camaro/Firebird into a new generation of performance. For the first time, an echo was heard back from very far away, and rumors started to flow in regards to GM bringing the Holden-based car into the states, but not as a Camaro or a Firebird but as a resurrected GTO.

However, morale was still low. One of the largest all-Camaro shows (Camaro Superfest 2004 in Michigan) was down on attendance by nearly 100 cars. The F-Body Bash in Bowling Green, KY was also very disappointing in its attendance.

Other vehicle manufacturers continued to push ahead in the performance vehicle segment, with Ford leading the headlines with an all new and very well received Mustang. It was impossible not to to notice that once-hopeful topics in the 5th Generation and Future Vehicles Discussion forum regarding an f-car comeback were gradually replaced with topic regarding future Ford and Daimler-Chrysler products. Many announced their purchases of Ford products, proving that the threats of not buying GM had actual merit.

What caused this to happen? Has the lack of a production f-car been hard enough on enthusiasts to the point where they were really giving up? GM has not remained exactly silent on this matter, but also not exactly been forthcoming.

A close friend of CamaroZ28.Com has repeated hundreds of times to “have faith”, but without GM actually giving concrete proof, some find it quite hard to have any faith, even though careers would be lost if anything was revealed.

Part III – The Return of the Goat

As rumors turned into fact, the new Holden-based Pontiac GTO was rushed into production in an attempt to fill the void in the hearts of GM enthusiasts and generate an all-new target audience. It offered great LS1 power and handling, and overall quality was much higher than expected thanks to proven Holden engineering. Despite being the answer to the enthusiast’s demands with significant improvements, the new GTO was not well received. A tremendous amount of work and money was burned up to bring the Holden to the U.S. market, and once it was available, the enthusiasts quickly changed their tune. The general complaint was that it was too bland looking and this complaint completely overshadowed the very noteworthy performance and quality aspect. Or was the fact that it did not say Camaro or Firebird on the side another large yet overlooked reason that the GTO was not as well received?

GM banked on both demand and a rush of new enthusiasts as well as classic GTO owners lining up to buy the new GTO. Dealerships followed and added thousands of dollars to the sticker price of the new GTO when they hit the showroom floors. However, there were few new enthusiasts and the classic GTO owners felt as though the new GTO was far from a reflection of the original GTO heritage. Delivering the second half of the one-two punch was an information leak regarding the 2005 GTO having the newer LS2 engine. Word spread fast and those considering purchasing a 2004 GTO opted to wait until the 2005 to get the latest engine. The GTOs collected dust on the showroom floors and the prices rapidly fell and to combat this, GM issued incentives and rebates to move the GTO from the dealers to the driveways. This negated any hopes of profit from the market segment.

Yet another crushing blow delivered to both the enthusiast and The General. The long dark tunnel seemed to have gotten even longer. Will GM mistake the lack of SSR and GTO sales for a permanent void in the market for a mid-size performance vehicle? And if so, would that completely kill any chance of a true Camaro and/or Firebird return?

Part IV – The Bright Headlights

The 2003-2004 vehicle sales period held something interesting. Through September of 2003, Ford was ahead of Chevrolet in the passenger car segment by 8,000 cars. At the time of this writing, Chevrolet is already a staggering 165,000 sales ahead of Ford in the same segment for 2004. This makes Chevrolet #1, Toyota #2, Honda #3 and Ford at #4 for the entire passenger car segment. The Chevrolet “American Revolution” had clearly picked up tremendous momentum in less than one year.

Part of the momentum includes the all-new Corvette C6 with a standard 400hp/400tq, a top-speed of 185mph and a price tag of $300 less than the previous C5. The C6 is not only going to become a home run, but if the rumors of a C6 Z06 are true, it will certainly turn the home run into a grand slam clear out of the park. Following quickly behind the new C6 will be the supercharged Cobalt SS along with a new Impala and Monte Carlo, both with an available 5.3 liter engine. Clearly, the performance vehicle segment is picking up even more momentum as the Revolution continues.

So how does this momentum benefit the f-body enthusiast when deep in their hearts, there is no replacement?

Have faith, and have a seat before you continue reading because from very far away, something was heard from GM’s direction starting quite some time ago, but it was simply too quiet to be heard at first.

Each time a new vehicle is proposed, part of the procedure is to have a clinic for it to gain consumer feedback. Certain participants are selected based upon very strict criteria to be part of these clinics where they view initial proposed vehicles and offer their thoughts. The data is then compiled to determine how the proposed new vehicle direction should go. Usually, there is no indication of who manufactures the vehicle or even what the car will be named. This is to ensure that the feedback is not biased to one particular brand or model.

A few months ago, GM held a clinic for a nameless vehicle in the coupe segment that drew very positive results from the clinic participants.

How positive were these results?

It scored higher than any other vehicle in Chevrolet’s history.

Something is coming. In the next couple of years, we may be nearing the end of that long, dark tunnel and what comes out of it may indeed be the best yet. Hopefully the negative aspects of the new GTO release won’t have an impact on that. Have faith.

Article by Jason Debler – 11/10/04

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