The 1998 Chevrolet Camaro's performance benefits from General Motors' version of trickle-down economics.
The new Camaro's high-performance Z28 and SS trim levels pack a slightly less-potent version of the Corvette's LS1 all-aluminum 5.7-liter V-8.
Also new for 1998 are a restyled hood, front fenders and fascia. New fully enclosed headlights give the Camaro a slightly softer, more rounded appearance.
The exterior changes are the first for the Camaro since the current design was introduced in 1993. The Camaro's interior received slight changes for the 1997 model year.
The changes are meant to draw new attention to the Camaro, whose sales have dropped recently along with the rest of the sporty coupe segment.
For the first four months of this year, Camaro sales totaled 19,463 units, down 25.7 percent from the same period in 1996.
Sales of its chief competitors also have dropped. For the first four months of 1997, sales of the Pontiac Firebird were down 23.7 percent; the Ford Mustang, down 20.5 percent; the Toyota Celica, down 23.7 percent; and the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Eclipse Spyder combined, down 6 percent.
SHARING THE RICHES
Chevrolet pegs the typical Camaro buyer as 36 years old with a median income of $54,000. Slightly more than half of them are males.
GM completely re-engineered its venerable small-block V-8 for use in the fifth-generation Corvette. But justifying the expense meant spreading the engine around. In addition to the Camaro and its twin, the Firebird, other versions of the LS1 are expected to appear in GM's redesigned full-sized pickups due for the 1999 model year.
But while the LS1 cranks out 345 horsepower and 350 pounds-feet of torque in the Corvette, the same V-8 in the 1998 Camaro Z28 is rated at only 305 hp and 335 pounds-feet of torque. Yet that is up 25 hp and 10 pounds-feet of torque from the LT1 V-8 that powers the 1997 Camaro Z28.
The reason for the power difference is twofold: Less space under the Camaro's hood restricts the size of the air intake; and the Camaro needs to maintain a respectful step behind the Corvette - Chevrolet's flagship.
Because the engine block and heads are aluminum, the LS1 weighs about 40 pounds less than the cast-iron V-8 used in the current Camaro. That improves fuel economy. Chevrolet estimates that the 1998 Camaro with the V-8 and a manual transmission will get 18 mpg in the city, 2 mpg better than the 1997 model. Highway economy remains unchanged at 27 mpg.
MORE MUSCLE FOR SS
Chevrolet has yet to release engine output figures for the higher-performance SS model, which uses an open hood scoop to force more air into the engine, but they should fall somewhere in between the Z28 and Corvette numbers.
In addition to the hood and engine modifications, the SS package adds a tighter suspension, 17-inch tires and wheels, a unique rear spoiler, power steering cooler and distinctive badges and decals.
The base engine remains the 3.8-liter V-6 that makes 200 hp.
Other changes to the Camaro for 1998 include:
Four-wheel disc brakes and antilock brakes are made standard. The new ABS, which is supplied by Robert Bosch Corp., is lighter and has fewer parts. It also is the system that prompted a three-week strike at two GM parts plants in Dayton, Ohio, last year that virtually shut down all of GM's assembly plants as the automaker and the UAW faced off over outsourcing work.
Spring rates have been increased and shock absorbers revalved for better ride and handling.
The 1998 Camaro goes on sale this fall.