Chevrolet wheeling out its version of 'fun cars'

Front drive, rear drive, mid drive - GM engineers considered them all in putting the pieces together for the all-new '82 Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird.

Rear drive won out, despite the fast worldwide shift toward front drive.

Enter the smaller, lighter-weight, sophisticated fun machine - the new General Motors F-car with its easily identifiable, low-drag shape; comfort features galore; a choice of 4-cylinder, V-6, or V-8 power; and a sporty feel to match the image of the car.

The shape is aerodynamically clean and the suspension all new.

The new Camaro is what the GM people call a head-turner. And it does just that. In a week of driving the new machine, I believe I saw more heads turn in my direction than in the combined total of the last dozen cars I've been in. If nothing else, it is bound to increase showroom traffic - and this is what the rebates and other come-ons are all about.

Despite it all, however, there are some things that aren't entirely to my liking, at least. The speedometer is confusing, for example, and it can easily be partly covered by the left hand on the steering wheel. On one side of the speedometer are white readings in m.p.h.; while on the other side, the readings are in kilometers per mile - in orange.

A single needle gives both readings. By looking at one end of the needle, you get m.p.g.; but if you look at the other end, you get the reading in metric. Confusing!

Also, the clock in the car I'm driving is to the right of the driver on the console. To read it, you have to take your eyes off the road, twist the neck, and look down at the clock. Meanwhile, you can travel a couple hundred feet over the road. It's a lot safer to look at your wristwatch.

The floor on the front passenger side has a deep rut, and my wife complains about the footing for a person 5 feet 2.

All in all, however, the car is a blast to drive. The 2.8-liter V-6 engine has enough power to satisfy me, but a bigger-output engine, a 5-liter V-8, is available as an extra-cost option in the Camaro Sport Coupe and more luxurious Berlinetta. The V-8 is standard in the high-performance Z-28, this year's pace car at the Indianapolis 500 auto race in late May.

A 4-speed manual transmission is standard in the Sport Coupe and Berlinetta equipped with the 2.5-liter L-4 and V-6 engines.

Like the Chrysler K-cars, the front and rear-end bumpers are encased in plastic.

The sleek Camaro Sport Coupe, base car in the series, carries a drag coefficient (CD) of 0.374, a full 9 percent lower than in last year's Camaro. The lower the CD, the better so far as moving the car over the road with the least resistance from the wind.

The sophisticated shape to the back hatch, with concave and convex turns in the glass, involved new glass-forming techniques, according to GM.

The hood line is low, with quad rectangular headlamps.

Front disc brakes and rear drums are standard, but 4-wheel discs come as an option with the two larger engines, the V-6 and V-8.

Missing in the handling department is a fuel-injected V-8 with manual transmission. That will come along later, say the people at Chevrolet.

The new F-body cars demonstrate clearly the escalation in car prices over the last few years. In 1973 a new Camaro could be bought for around $3,500; four years ago the price, with options, was less than $6,000.

The car I'm driving - a Berlinetta, to be sure - is base-priced at $9,266.06 and, with many options and a destination charge of $399, checks out at $12,007. 06.

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