The Camaro Convertible Roars Back

Growing up, having a hot Camaro was great. Putting a Camaro top down on a hot day was better.

The new 2011 Camaro convertible went on sale in February, beginning at $30,000. If you remember when American muscle flexed on street, boulevard and highway, or you want to create 21st-century Camaro memories, take a drive to your local Chevy dealership, and take a drive. This new convertible snugs right into the line of one of America’s great performance cars.

Unveiled at the Los Angeles International Auto Show, the convertible also starred at the recent Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, as the purchase right to one of the first was sold for $205,000, with all proceeds to charity. In addition, the 2011 Neiman Marcus Edition, 100 cars with custom elements and priced at $75,000 each, recently sold in three minutes.

A new Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible will pace this year’s Indianapolis 500. The new car delivers the same visceral joys as the coupe — acceleration and handling — with the additional excitement from the sun and stars experience that only a ragtop can deliver. Everyone should have a convertible at least once in a lifetime, so it goes. If you haven’t as yet, this might be that opportunity.

Top Down, Foot Down

Performance begins even with the standard engine — a 312-horsepower direct-injection V-6 delivering 29 mpg highway. The SS model upgrades you to the 6.2-liter V-8 engine producing 426 horsepower.

The basic double-overhead cam 3.6-liter engine (LLT) attains its maximum horsepower at 6400 rpm and torque of 278 pound feet at 5200 rpm. The cast-aluminum block, with cast-in-place iron liners, incorporates four valves per cylinder, continuously variable valve timing and 11:3:1 aluminum heads. With electronic coil-on-plugs, individual cylinder knock control and extended-life platinum-tipped spark plugs, engine efficiency is outstanding, including a 25-percent drop in cold-start hydrocarbon emissions.

The SS engines, the LS3 for manual-equipped models and the L99 for automatics, derive from the LS3 that Chevy debuted on the 2008 Corvette. Both begin with an aluminum block, also with cast-iron cylinder liners, and feature 10:7:1(manual) and 10:4:1(automatic) aluminum cylinder heads, overhead valves, two valves per cylinder, roller lifters and sequential fuel injection. The LS3 and L99 develop peak horsepower at 5900 rpm; the LS3 reaches its maximum torque, 420 lb.-ft., at 4600 rpm, and the L99, 410 lb.-ft., at 4300 rpm.

For fuel savings, the L99 offers an Active Fuel Management System, which shuts down half of the engine’s cylinders during certain light-load driving conditions, such as highway cruising.

Either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission can be ordered. The Aisin AY6 6-speed manual is standard with the 3.6L engine, and a Hydra-Matic 6L50 six-speed automatic is optional. The SS standard manual is a Tremec TR 6060, and the Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic is optional.

Power Begins with a Muscular Body

A strengthened unitized body structure ensures that, top up or down, the new Camaro convertible will negotiate everyday driving challenges as well as deliver those Sunday thrills you really shouldn’t ask it to but must.

“Our goal in development was to make the convertible match the coupe as closely as possible in ride quality, handling and overall performance,” says Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer, explaining that from the early stages of development, the Camaro structure was meant to accommodate both the coupe and convertible styles. The coupe debuted in spring 2009 as a 2010.

He notes four structural reinforcements to eliminate cowl/steering wheel shake — typical complaints from convertible owners: a tower-to-tower brace under the hood; a transmission support brace; an underbody tunnel brace; and front and rear underbody “V” braces.

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

Other reinforcements have reduced noise and vibration, including A-pillar reinforcements, an inner bracket in the windshield header, a stronger front hinge pillar and rocker panel strengthening. Chevy says that the new Camaro convertible offers superior bending and torsional stiffness than that of its closest competitor, the BMW 3-Series convertible.

In addition, the front and rear suspensions incorporate elements such as stabilizer bars and progressive-rate coil springs. Brakes are four-wheel disc with ABS, and wheels are 18-inch steel; the SS models feature four-piston Brembo aluminum units, and the wheels are 20-inch aluminum. Weight distribution front to rear is a respectable 52/48.

Tops in Tops

The same manufacturer created the new Camaro top as the Corvette version. Made of thick, durable canvas, the top has been engineered to deploy either way in about 20 seconds — so no desert monsoon should stay you from your appointed cruisings. With a tailored fit and acoustical foam in the headliner, the top has been designed as the central element of perhaps the quietest American performance raptop ever. A glass rear window and rear window defogger is also included.

For looks, Chevy designers met with engineers to eliminate the traditional top support ribs and substitute composite knuckles instead of aluminum ones. The top material has also been extended and the top’s stitch lines revised. Both fold in a simple “Z” pattern and latch with a single handle located at the center of the windshield header.

To lower, you place turn the latch to the open position, push a single button and the windows are lowered and the top activated. You don’t have to be parked for the top to be activated, so you can raise or lower while waiting at a stoplight.

A one-piece tonneau cover, which covers the folded top for a finished appearance, is standard on some models and optional on others. In addition, a windscreen, which installs behind the front seats to limit wind buffeting when driving with the top down, is available from Chevrolet dealers.

Down to the Details

The Camaro convertible is available in a variety of trim packages and nine exterior colors and the top in black or tan. Rear parking assist is standard on all convertible models.

To further enhance the look of the new convertible, Chevy has relocated the trunk lock cylinder from the panel between the taillamps to an area between the rear seat back cushion and driver’s side interior panel. This retains lockable access to the trunk in addition to that provided by the keyless remote fob.

The OnStar/XM/AM-FM radio antenna has been relocated on the convertible. On RS-equipped models, which include a rear spoiler, the antenna is on the deck lid, and the AM/FM radio antenna is incorporated into the rear spoiler. For other models without a rear spoiler, that is, without the RS package, a combined antenna is in the center of the deck lid.

Finally, the subwoofer, as an eight-inch unit with the standard sound system or a 10-inch subwoofer with the optional Boston Acoustics system — has been relocated from the trunk, as in the coupe, to an area between the rear seat cushions.

Top down, turn up the volume — and see the USA in your Chevrolet.

For more information on the Camaro convertible, see