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LA show: Chevy Camaro soft-top out in full sun

Hard edge: The topless Camaro is claimed to be stiffer than BMW 3 Series and Ford Mustang convertibles, and has the same suspension set-up as the Camaro coupe.

Aussie-developed Chev Camaro convertible debuts ahead of production early in 2011

Chevrolet logo17 Nov 2010

By TERRY MARTIN

AFTER showing a near-production concept in 2007 and making a pre-emptive strike with the final version on Facebook six months ago, General Motors has at last lifted the lid completely on its Australian-designed and engineered Camaro convertible ahead of its production early next year and sale in North America from February.

A centrepiece of GM’s stand at this week’s Los Angeles auto show, the 2+2-seater Camaro soft-top was originally meant to have reached American roads this year, but the global financial crisis and the company’s descent into short-term chapter 11 bankruptcy prompted all work on new derivatives of the muscle-car to be suspended, including right-hand drive variants.

As with the hard-top, Holden has advised that there is still no prospect that the convertible – which will be built alongside the coupe at GM’s Oshawa plant in Ontario, Canada – will be sold in Australia as a factory-built right-hand drive model, following the UK’s decision to import the Camaro, including now the chop-top, as a low-volume left-hook boutique model from 2011.

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“Although we have a great amount of affection for the Camaro and its convertible offspring due to the development work undertaken here in Australia, there are no plans to introduce it to the local market,” Holden spokesman Jonathan Rose told GoAuto.

It should, however, become available here through specialist converter Performax International, which has received Australian Design Rule certification for the Camaro coupe.

To be priced from $US30,000 and expected to bring new customers to the Chevrolet fold, the convertible stands as another example of GM’s resurgent new-model program and, within it, Holden’s increasingly important global engineering and design role.

As we saw with full frontal and rear-end images of the topless Camaro in April, the production version looks almost identical to the concept revealed at the 2007 Detroit motor show.

According to GM, the convertible delivers “great refinement, along with uncompromising, coupe-like driving dynamics” and “its enhanced body structure helps prevent cowl or steering wheel shake, for a strong, confident feel in all driving conditions”.

It also says the roof has a “smooth, tailored fit, with acoustical foam in the headliner that helps deliver a quiet ride with the top up”.

Specific reinforcements include a brace between the front strut towers, a brace for the transmission support, a brace for the underbody tunnel and V-shaped braces at the front and rear of the underbody.

To cut noise and vibration, engineers also added a hydroformed tube in the A-pillars, an inner reinforcement bracket in the windshield header, a reinforced front hinge pillar and reinforcements in the body section below the base of the door openings.

GM claims the structural changes to the Camaro convertible give it superior bending and torsional stiffness over its “closest competitor” – that is, the Ford Mustang convertible – and better torsional stiffness than the BMW 3 Series convertible.

Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser said: “Our goal in development was to make the convertible match the coupe as closely as possible in ride quality, handling and overall performance.

“To compensate for the reduced structure of an open car, engineers often will make the suspension softer, making the convertible a boulevard cruiser.

“Instead, we took the more difficult but better path of bolstering structure rather than softening the suspension. We didn’t change a strut, bushing or spring rate from the Camaro coupe.”

The convertible features a power-folding roof that retracts in about 20 seconds, but requires a front occupant to first twist a handle at the centre of the windscreen header to release the canvas hood, which includes a noise-reducing headliner material and a glass rear window with demister.

A folding one-piece tonneau cover that cloaks the folded top “for a finished appearance” is standard on higher-spec models and optional elsewhere. A wind buffer than slots in behind the front seats is available as an accessory.

Other details apparent on the convertible model includes a new subwoofer design located between the rear seats, and the boot lock cylinder moved from the panel between the tail-lights to the rear seat area (between the rear seatback cushion and the driver’s side interior panel) for a cleaner exterior look.

The Camaro convertible will be offered with a similar model line-up to the coupe, including the entry LT grade with a 3.6-litre direct-injection V6, and a 6.2-litre V8 at SS level, offered in two states of tune – 298kW/556Nm ‘L99’ guise (with Active Fuel Management) when fitted with the Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic variant, and 318kW/569Nm ‘LS3’ guise when equipped with the standard Tremec TR 6060 six-speed manual.

The right to purchase one of the first Camaro convertibles was recently auctioned for $US205,000, with proceeds donated to charity.

GM says the 2011 Neiman Marcus Edition Camaro convertibles – limited to 100 units, featuring custom-designed elements and priced at $US75,000 each – sold out in only three minutes.

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