Ignition Winter 2016 (#17)

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I’ll admit that when it comes to cars, there’s a special place in my heart for big Detroit iron. It’s my job to have an interest in all cars generally, and I do, but those with big engines and big horsepower, with rear-wheel drive and bullet-fast acceleration have a real hold on me.
I think some of the fascination is rooted in my age (mid-40s) and growing up in the shadow of General Motors’ sprawling Oshawa car-making operations, a place I’ve lived close to for most of my life.
Loud, rear-driving, V8-powered muscle cars were everywhere when I was young. My earliest memories of the automobile came from seeing these cars in my neighbourhood and being driven around in them by friends and family members. I thought these were the only cars in existence, and for a time when I was very young that was the case.
Chrysler, Ford and especially General Motors made exciting cars in the 1970s, and the one that soon became my favourite was the Camaro, and my interest began early.
Even though I was only four years-old at the time, I clearly remember being take for rides in the car of the general contractor who was renovating my family home in the summer of 1976.
Why were those rides so memorable? Because he drove a pale blue ’67 Camaro SS convertible with a white vinyl interior! It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen up until that point, and I remember tagging along whenever the contractor had to run out to pick up more building supplies.
My pre-school age mind was blown, and I couldn’t get enough. The sensations... the warm summer air washing over us with the top down, the sound of the Camaro’s V8 and just the feeling of riding in a car that excited my formative imagination – I was hooked.
As the years rolled on, my tastes in cars changed but I still thought the Camaro was cool, partly because I liked the way it looked and sounded, and partly because I knew they were fast.
When I was around 10, my uncle – who worked at GM in Oshawa for decades – bought a Camaro Berlinetta. I forget the exact model year – it might have been an ‘82 – but I remember going for rides in it and thought it was the fastest car around. My uncle drove with a bit of a heavy foot, but I sure wasn’t complaining.
When I was in high school, I remember wanting to own an F-body third-gen IROC-Z with a 5.7-litre V8.
There were a few of them in town and a friend’s Dad owned one. Occasionally, she used to drive it to the after-school job where she and I both worked and I remember that car like I saw it yesterday: a 1989 IROC-Z finished in royal blue with a black interior. I even remember the ‘tuned port injection’ badge on the rear bumper.
I never drove it, but did manage to ride in it a few times and it was memorable even though my friend drove it in a responsible way.
There are other Camaro memories – tracking the fifth-gen ZL1 at Virginia International Raceway in 2012 stands out – and I think that’s a big reason why the nameplate continues to matter so much 50 years after the its debut in the Fall of 1966.
The Camaro isn’t just the 2017 models currently filling up dealer lots, nor is it just the 1967 SS convertible like the one I rode in as a child. Instead, it’s the ongoing story of an iconic car that is firmly embedded in the North American automotive enthusiast consciousness.
My Camaro memories are personal and yet they’re also universal – this car has touched the lives of so many over the years that we’ve chosen to turn the Ignition spotlight on the Camaro at 50 (page 56) with John LeBlanc’s deep-dive look at this iconic car’s history and evolution.
Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better lead feature in my first issue back the helm of Canada’s best new car magazine.
It’s great to be back, and here’s to another 50 for the Camaro!