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1997 4th gen Chevrolet Camaro owners review

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I've had the Camaro for a month now, so it's time for a review of how ownership has been so far.

Let's start on the outside with the exterior styling. It may not be to everyone's taste, but I think it looks good. That said, I also like the look of the 3000GT and the older shape Supra which aren't dissimilar, particularly the shape of the rear window glass. What can I say, it's a style I've always liked smile.gif. It's a logical evolution from the 3rd gen and you can see the family resemblance. In some ways, I still prefer the 3rd-gen, even if it does look dated alongside mine. Either way, it's still a car that's different to the mainstream and that does hold an appeal. For the '97 model year, Chevrolet changed the rear light cluster; a popular decision which resulted in them staying on the Camaro until the end of the shape in 2004. Revised headlights appeared a year later, totally changing the front of the car. The front is probably the most striking angle, thanks to the unique looking inset front lights and the change to a more conventional look wasn't met with such wide approval. That's led to more than one person telling me the '97 was the only year to have both their favourite front and rear ends and I'd agree with them.

The fortune of finding a decent '97 model continues on the inside. Most important is the fact that this was the first year with the updated interior and it certainly looks better for it. The other point is that every Camaro sold in 1997 had "30" stitched into the seats to mark the 30th anniversary of the Camaro name. Nice touch smile.gif. Do you remember the clip on Top Gear of the Ford Lightning pickup, where all the interior trim pieces looked like they'd been assembled by a team that never agreed amongst themselves whether they were using metric or imperial measurements? Well, the Camaro is not like that. It seems well put together and I haven't heard anything rattle, though they did use cheap materials. We're talking slightly below what Vauxhall were using in the mid 90s. It doesn't feel like anything is going to fall off, but they don't feel rewarding to use. Oh, and the indicators self-cancel too easily. The stalk they are mounted to is like Mission-Control on a stick. It's responsible for indicators, main beam lighting, wiper speed, single wipe, screen wash and cruise control. When switched off, the windscreen wipers sit right at the bottom of the screen out of the way. Once you turn them on, they sit at rest slightly higher up the screen. The wipers have about 10 speed settings, which is something I'll certain miss in any other cars I'll drive which don't have the ability to change the duration of intermittent wipes. The screen-wash spray pattern is also the best on any car I've ever owned, covering the whole screen with water rather than hitting one spot and relying on the wipers to spread it around.

The dashboard and major controls are well laid out and I like the instrument display. It has all the usual gauges; revs, speed, fuel, temperature, etc, but it also has an oil pressure gauge and a voltmeter. If I'd bought the V8 model, I'd also get an oil temperature gauge and a couple more warning lights on the dash. Actually, we probably shouldn't get started on a list of things my car isn't equipped with because we'd be here a while. As far as I can tell, the first owner only selected one optional extra and that was the AirCon. That said, it has a number of toys the BMW didn't, such as the AirCon, electric driver's seat, cruise control, a switch mounted on the door for activating the central locking and a button on the dash for opening the trunk... errr, boot. There's actually a reasonable amount of storage space back there. Not as much as there was in the BMW but I'm told there's more space than you get in the boot of an Alfa 156 I think it was.

The seats are soft, comfy and very adjustable, but if you're short like me, it can take a bit of time to set everything up correctly. The steering wheel only adjusts for height and having set the seat up for the pedals, I'm sitting a bit closer to it than I'd ideally like. The wheel itself is a great shape. I had my doubts when I first saw the pictures of it, but whether you hold it at "quarter to 3" or "ten to 2", the moulded handgrips are ideal.

So, now we're familiar with the controls and sat behind the wheel, it's time to start it up and go for a drive. This being an American car, there's a very specific order you must do things in or it will bong at you. Thankfully, it's quite a pleasant sounding bong, because there's any number of things which can start it off. I don't mind that actually, because it's the car reacting and giving feedback to you that gives it character smile.gif. I haven't tried the Clarkson test of seeing if it notices when you've been breathing out for too long to remind you to breath in again! In most cases it only bongs 3 to 5 times then shuts up anyway. Put the predictably cheap looking key in the ignition and turn it and you're rewarded with a roar from the engine as the 3.8litre V6 bursts into life. Once it's warmed up a little and the idle speed drops, it's surprisingly quiet and refined. Not quite as smooth on tickover as the BMW was, but then in the Camaro if you blip the throttle pedal, it does the muscle car thing of rocking the whole car side to side laugh.gif. Drop the 4 speed auto [plus overdrive] gearbox into "D", glance over your right shoulder to take a look out of the rear window [it's Left Hand Drive, remember] and you're ready to pull away.

One of the first things to strike you is that this isn't a small car, especially by European standards. To compare it to a car most of us here are now probably familiar with, it's 88mm longer and 28mm wider than a modern day 6 series BMW. Thankfully, it's lighter than all but the 630i model, thanks to numerous plastic bodypanels. It's difficult to see where the very front of the nose is but otherwise, visibility is good, even when sitting on the "wrong" side of the car. I think there's an important reason why LHD really hasn't been an issue. This is an old car and as such, it doesn't have the problem that more modern cars have which is A-Pillars that are over 6" wide. Also, because of the very sloped windscreen, you can always see above or below the pillar as much as seeing left/right of it. Out the back, there's a huge glass screen and only the one pillar on the side of the car. This means that the blindspots are minimal. Driving LHD on some other cars [or, worse, a panel van] would be a nightmare, but in the Camaro it's not a concern. In fact, on the motorway, I think I prefer it, because a quick glance over your right shoulder when preparing to overtake reveals far more than you'd see from the driver's seat of a RHD car. It does hinder things a bit on single-carriageway roads, but if you can't see past the vehicle in front, you're following too closely anyway smile.gif. As things stand now, I have no regrets about buying a LHD car.

At low engine speeds, the noise levels remain unobtrusive; you're given a relaxed cruise as the auto 'box blurs the shifts through the gears. Depending on the level of acceleration, the change into 4th is a little more noticeable than the others, but the lower gears are pretty much seamless. Like the rest of the car, it's not a sophisticated piece of equipment so don't expect to find multiple programmable modes. It has overrides and a kickdown like normal but the only other thing it has is a button on the dash marked "SGS". That stands for Second Gear Start and it will apparently aid pulling away in slippery conditions. There's no traction control, so maybe it'll come in useful if we do get snow! The engine is redlined at 6k rpm, but when it selects overdrive on the motorway it'll generally stay below 2k while doing roadlegal speeds. There's some wind noise at that sort of speed, but nothing that will interrupt a conversation with your passenger. They, too, will be comfortable with plenty of leg room. There's a raised section in the passenger footwell because Chevrolet needed to make room for the catalytic converter. They've mounted it off to the left of the bay nearer the centre of the car, so at least it doesn't make it even harder to climb out of the car once you've reached your destination. The door sills are quite wide so, as with any low car, there is a certain amount of fall-in/crawl out.

This car, with it's V6 engine, was the "economy model" of the range. For '96 or '97, they upped the power slightly so it generates 200bhp and 225lbs-ft of torque. Official timed performance figures are hard to come by. I could tell you what a stock V6 does over the standing quarter, though I suspect that would serve limited use. I'd guess from what I've read and based on similarly powered auto 'box cars, 60mph comes up in the low 8s. Not hugely fast but generally just about quick enough to be interesting.

When you plant your foot on the throttle, the nose of the car rises and you get a rather purposeful growl from the engine. I'm sure with a different set of exhausts it could sound even better because currently all the noise comes from the front of the car, but even so it still sounds grin-inducingly powerful at times. Indeed, as a result, it sounds faster than it feels although part of the reason for that is a very linear power delivery. The suspension is softer than the BMWs was but it's got similar travel and certainly copes better on bumpy roads. In the BMW, full-throttle was always done rather cautiously, whereas the Camaro doesn't feel like it wants to throw you into a hedge. During everyday driving, the steering is nicely weighted; not overly light or heavy. We haven't had any fully dry days since picking it up, so I haven't had a chance to take it on any decent driving roads to find out how good the higher-speed handling is. From what I've learnt so far, it feels fine when driving at a "brisk" pace. I think it's biggest problem on the handling front will come from the tyres they fitted when it was imported. They are cheap and horrid. In the dry they seem OK but when it gets cold or particularly when it's wet and the roads are greasy, they don't feel surefooted when pushing on a bit.

Driving like that actually reveals a different sort of weak point common to many Chevys; the fuel gauge. In the case of the Camaro it's that old story of giving false readings caused by fuel moving in the tank. When you have between a quarter and three quarters of a tank of fuel, under heavy braking or hard turns to the right, the gauge slowly decreases. Under heavy acceleration or hard left hand turns, the gauge slowly increases. Once you finish the manoeuvre the gauge returns to the correct position, so it isn't really huge issue, just sometimes a bit distracting. They don't all do it, but it is a fairly common thing after a while I understand and changing the sender unit is more trouble than it's worth.

I suppose now would be a good time to discuss fuel economy. On a run it's pretty commendable but around town... less so. With so many of journeys I do being under 4 miles at a time, I struggle to get decent fuel economy out of anything day-to-day. Of course, to look at it another way, it doesn't really make a great deal of difference because my fuel costs are still lower than most peoples. On a "bad" week, the BMW would return about 20/21mpg. The Camaro is looking like it'll be closer to 17/18mpg in the same circumstances. It's early days but I'm guessing it'll work out to around £10 a month extra. I found a quote [forget where from] which put it this way: "Fuel consumption is predictably heavy, but treat every mile you motor as an occasion and the investment is justified". I understand that way of thinking. Driving this car is an event. The styling, the way it sounds and goes, it's all been designed to make your journey an experience. Look at it like that and you can begin to forgive the rate it's drinking fuel...

...But there's a rather important aspect that always causes me to pause before answering whenever anyone asks how well I'm getting on with it. It's something I praised earlier on in the review because it's not the car that's at fault. The problem is that I'm sorry, but I simply don't like automatic gearboxes. The one in the Camaro seems a good one and it's well suited to the engine but they're just not for me. Almost without exception, they harm the performance, the braking, the fuel economy and the driving involvement. What do you gain in return? The ability to be lazy. Fine if you view driving as a necessary evil and welcome the opportunity to remove yourself from the process, but it holds little attraction to me. I could go on for a couple more pages explaining all the things I don't like about auto 'boxes but I'll sum it up like this: Pretty much all the stuff I've mentioned about the car in this review could have included at some stage the line "It's good... but it'd have been better if the car was a manual".

There's one more thing I want to talk about and that's the sort of people who buy US cars in this country. Generally, they fall into one of two camps. The first type is people like me; those who have an interest and appreciation of all sorts of cars from a variety of countries and buy an American car because some aspect appeals to them, be-it the styling, the driving characteristics, the value for money, the rarity or a combination of those. The other type of person is the line dancin', country & western listenin', spurs wearin', flag flyin', elvis memorabilia collectin' fully paid up Yankophile. More often than not, to them the car is just another piece of the lifestyle. The Camaro, thanks to rather universal styling, isn't as instantly recognisable as being American as many of the other cars from the US, but I think if you drove an old finned Caddy or similar people may be quicker to make assumptions about how you spend your spare time [when you're not at the petrol station, that is!].

So, am I happy with my purchase? Yeah, I'd say so. I've got myself a decent American car, which is something I've been looking to do for years. Fuel costs may be on the heavy side, but parts will be cheap and depreciation should be glacial. It's part grandtourer, part sportscar with musclecar undertones. Every journey is an experience and you don't see them on every street corner. What's more, the car may be 10 years old, but it's only done 23k miles. When you consider you're getting all that for less than £4,500, I think it represents great value for money. At that price and mileage, the best you'd usually find is a small engined hatchback. Probably Korean at that. I may have my doubts about the gearbox, but right now I can't find anything else in range that I'd rather have smile.gif

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Sounds like your happy with your new purchase, not sure its my cup of tea but we are all different hey. You could do with getting some photos up to top the review off though. 169144-ok.gif

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