Carl Casanova could be both divorced and fired for things he's done in his modified 1968 Chevrolet Camaro, a car he's owned for 30 years. We'd guess most of those "things" happened in Casanova's younger, less cultured days. He is, after all, a family man now.
Casanova's Camaro isn't just any car, though. It's a machine he obsesses over, beats on a racetrack, lovingly rehabilitates and then beats on some more. It has a supercharged 5.7-liter V8 under its hood along with cooling and fuel systems with enough capacity to keep the Camaro running on the hard-boiled racetracks of Southern California. Yes, it's a very capable track car, one that exhibits equal bits willpower fabrication, ruthless wrench wielding and 3 degrees negative camber at each front wheel. Yes, 3 degrees. If you're not familiar, that's a lot.
And the other Camaro? It's a 2011 Chevy Camaro fitted with a Magnuson supercharger and a full array of chassis parts from Hotchkis Sport Suspension. Its philosophy is largely the same as that of all Camaros: tire-melting power, equitable handling and an unrelenting reputation among long-haired owners.
Still, it's the Camaro's soul that's the concern of this story. Not if it has one — we know it does. But rather whether that spirit is more genuinely demonstrated in a new car like the contemporary example built by Hotchkis or an old one built with passion and busted knuckles.
Forgive us if our nostalgic slip is showing already.
The Old Car's Hard Parts
We'd bet you can guess what it takes to make a Camaro as old as Casanova's perform similarly to a freshly minted version. A mélange of parts — including replacement of nearly every original drivetrain or suspension piece — are in order. The LS1 V8 is from a 2002 Camaro and the supercharger and accompanying parts come from Magnuson's Hot Rod Kit, which was originally intended for a 2004 Pontiac GTO.
Casanova did everything — from hand-fabricating the six-spot gauge cluster to building the circulation system for the air-to-liquid intercooler — with his own hands. The rear axle utilizes a 3.73 final-drive ratio and is fitted with an Eaton Positraction limited-slip differential. The six-speed Tremec T56 is from the same fourth-generation Camaro as the engine. The front brake rotors and calipers are from a C4 Corvette and the rears are from a '90s-vintage Z28 Camaro. A Chevy HHR master cylinder pressurizes the system.
The wheels are V45s from Vintage Wheel Works sized 17-by-9.5 inches and wrapped in 285/40R17 Kumho Ecsta XS rubber. Suspension is Hotchkis' Total Vehicle system and includes all four front control arms, both stabilizer bars, front coil springs and rear leafs as well as Bilstein dampers valved for this application. Entire days were spent dialing the setup in at both autocross and road courses. In short, this Camaro is a stunning piece of American iron hewn from long nights and sheer love.
And the New Car's Parts
By comparison, the 2011 Camaro rolled off a GM assembly line in Oshawa, Ontario, sometime in 2010. It then made its way to a Southern California dealer before landing at Hotchkis, where it was stripped of its stock springs, stabilizer bars and bushings, all of which were replaced by Hotchkis parts designed to make the 3,925-pound beast handle.
Because Hotchkis and sticky rubber go together like peanut butter and chocolate, the company replaced the Camaro's stock rubber with Nitto NT05 tires. Sized 275/40ZR20 up front and 315/35ZR20 out back, the big meats are mounted on BBS CH wheels.
To keep things interesting, there's a Magnuson supercharger bolted to the top of the Camaro's 6.2-liter V8. The engine breathes through JBA long-tube headers and a Flowmaster exhaust. No power claim is made, but other similarly quick Camaros tell us this one is producing somewhere north of 500 wheel horsepower. Thankfully, it has a Centerforce clutch, so putting all that power to use isn't a problem.
Among the items in short supply during a 12.6-second quarter-mile pass in a 43-year-old Camaro: common sense, clean drawers, presence of mind. Certainly not horsepower, which is claimed at a completely plausible 490 at the rear wheels.
Sixty miles per hour came and went in only 4.9 seconds (4.6 seconds with a 1-foot rollout like at a drag strip), at which point it still hadn't occurred to us that the helmet we were wearing might actually be needed. Thankfully, it was not.
Nor was it needed in the 2011 Camaro, which ran the same elapsed time at 12.6 seconds, but trailed at the traps by more than 4 mph (116 vs. 120.7). The 60-mph milestone arrived in 4.6 seconds (4.4 seconds with rollout), demonstrating the new car's superior power-to-the ground abilities. Plentiful road-crushing mass and another few inches of rear rubber will do that.
Too Close To Call
It's not often a 40-year-old anything will out-handle its modern counterpart — even when cubic mega-hours have been committed to the task. Still, that's nearly what happened when we hit the track. In fact, around the skid pad, that's exactly what happened. The elder Camaro's 0.93g lateral acceleration number was clearly better than the new car's 0.91g performance.
Through our slalom cones, the first-generation Camaro achieved 68.1 mph to the new car's 68.6 mph. Much of the old car's pace is thanks to a Saginaw 12.7:1 recirculating-ball steering box, which seemingly doubles the Camaro's steering speed. It's a good thing, but makes us keenly aware of the value of rack-and-pinion steering.
Finally, when it comes to stopping, there's no substitute for antilock brakes. Sixteen feet separate the two (127 feet vs. 111 feet) when hauling down from 60 mph. This test, unsurprisingly, fell in favor of the new car.
It's Not About Numbers
Let's be honest. The modern Camaro isn't a car that triggers emotion like the original. To prove this we drove the cars together for a day and contemplated unvarnished public opinion. One observer drove his Civic into the middle of the photo shoot — equally ignoring both the shooter and the looming orange Camaro — to discuss the details of Casanova's LS conversion, even asking him to fire the engine. Another equally unaware spectator piloted his Altima Coupe dangerously close to the old car long enough to invoke stalker laws in most states. He eventually ended his fear-inducing gaze with a "look Ma, no hands!" double-thumbs-up salute. At 79 mph.
And so it goes with bitchin' Camaros.
There's a reason for this. Especially given the hardware we're considering. One is a legend, and the other wants to be. And it's trying hard. Drive them both back to back and certain legend-making qualities emerge in the old car. Like its pencil-thin A-pillars and elbow-on-the door-sill waistline — something that's hopeless in the modern car. A commanding view over the hood is easily embraced, particularly when the entire body twists in protest to its infusion of modern power.
There's a mechanical candor here that's a product of the successful melding of old and new. The best of the old remains — styling, visibility, blunt manual simplicity. But the things that too often prevent us from embracing old cars — worthless control feel, hopeless reliability, the stink of fuel — are distinctly and thankfully absent. Instead there's a modern, fuel-injected, supercharged lump that's ready, at any moment, to twist off this car's rear axle. And it's linked to your right foot via a cable that's indifferent to spinning wheels, yaw rate or steering angle — just like God intended.
In other words, it is good.
We've already told you which car we like better here. What we failed to do — thus far — is explain the extent to which the modern Camaro fails to inspire. Certainly it's not slow, so that's not the problem. Rather, it's a combination of small but damaging fundamentals that keep it from being a machine after which we lust.
Not being able to see out of it doesn't help, but that's hardly enough to send us running. Maybe it's the way the mulish shifter resists every effort to slot into gear quickly. Or maybe it's the off-center steering wheel or the unrelenting understeer — even in this modified car. Heck, it might even be the orange paint.
No, wait. It's none of those things. In fact, those are nitpicks leveled against a wholly capable pony car. Here's what's really bugging us: The modern Camaro — any modern Camaro, in fact — lacks the patina, passion and purity of character that oozes from every inch of this 43-year-old machine.
Well, that, and it's yet to inspire us to do anything that might end either our job or our marriage.