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1998 Chevrolet Camaro Z28

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

Over 300 horsepower. Check. Bright red. Check. Convertible top. Check. Sunny day in May. Check. List price about half of any car with comparable performance. Check. My chequebook.

Check.

Simply put, the 1998 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 convertible is one terrific car.

It's gorgeous, especially with this year's exterior freshening and (finally!) aero headlamps.

Inside, last year's interior upgrade replaced the Wall of Doom dashboard with a conservatively handsome, functional design.

The bright red paint, tan top and tan cloth upholstery are a great combination, much better than a black roof and black leather.

I reluctantly admit that even the chrome alloy wheels look good.

And it's fast faster than ever with the Corvette V8 stuffed in for 1998. I don't believe that 305 hp number for a minute; it's 345 in the 'Vette, and the Camaro has the same block and

compression ratio (10:1).

Let's just say that "at least" 305 hp would be more accurate.

Could it be that the engineers rate the Camaro at 5200 r.p.m., the Corvette at 5600 r.p.m.? I guess the cheaper Camaro couldn't have the same power rating as their flagship sports car.

Or maybe they're just trying to trick the insurance company dudes, like they admittedly do with the 200 hp rating on the Camaro's base 3.8 L V6.

My test car had what is now the optional six-speed manual transmission, again, the same tranny as in the Corvette, where it is also an option (the fourspeed auto is, um, standard on

both).

The gearbox feels strong and robust, if a little stiff. It has more ratios than it really needs with this torquey an engine at 100 km/h, you have five choices, since it'll do the metric

tonne in second.

There are four slots forward gears 1, 3 and 5, plus reverse, meaning it isn't hard to find third when you want first.

It also has the unspeakably stupid "skipshift" feature. Under certain combinations of road speed and throttle opening, a solenoid inside the shift linkage guides the lever from first

directly into fourth.

Lady Leadfoot thought the transmission was broken.

This is what the British would call a "wizard wheeze," which earns GM a couple of counts on the U.S. EPA's fuel economy ratings, thereby helping the General avoid the "gas guzzler"

tax. I guess they have to do it.

It is made unspeakably stupider by the fact that you can no longer just cut the wire that activates the solenoid without switching on the Check Engine light.

The easiest way to avoid the interruption to your driving smoothness is to accelerate hard away from every light (no great hardship), under which circumstances the skip shift is, well,

skipped.

Irony of ironies, a so called fuel saving trick ends up wasting fuel.

If this were my car (more on that later), I'd have the gearbox disassembled and the pin that does the dirty work filed off. Or cut the damned wire and take the bulb out of the warning light.

Something.

The Camaro handles. Not as well as a 'Vette, sure, since the live axle rear suspension has its limitations. But the cornering prowess provided by the fat gummy rubber is outstanding.

The steering is quick and responsive maybe a trifle too much so. Inexperienced drivers might find the car a little darty.

Get used to it, and you quickly do and you'll find the car hugely capable.

And those of you brought up on front-wheel drives will soon discover the joys of tail out power slides. The Z28 is immensely entertaining.

Needless to say, in anything but really bad weather, your first move is to switch off the traction control.

Remarkably, this handling prowess isn't achieved at the expense of ride comfort. Some time in the past few years General Motors has discovered that you don't need rock hard springing to

achieve decent handling. The Z28 is no Cadillac, but it won't shake your fillings loose, either.

WELLBUILT

It's even wellbuilt. The good folks in GM's plant in Boisbriand (formerly SteTherese, just north of Montreal) have figured out how to screw this relatively ancient design together pretty well. The exposed screw heads aren't their fault.

There is some cowl shake on certain types of corrugated pavement inevitable with an open car this large.

But after some 7500 km, which included some rugged performance testing by another Canadian automotive publication, this car was still tight and rattle free.

Brandnew Camaros never used to be so lucky.

STARTS AT $22,790

The Camaro is a bargain.

Even the base coupe, well equipped and fitted with that 200 hp (yeah, right) 3.8 L V6, starts at $22,790.

The Z28 coupe is $27,840. The V6 convertible is $29,795 and the allsinging, alldancing Z28 ragtop is $34,640. All these numbers line up very closely with Camaro's competitors.

So why doesn't Chevy sell a billion of these cars a year?

Beats me. If I knew, I'd be marketing manager for GM.

Ford's Mustang outsells it by a considerable margin two toone in the United States, where Ford throws more money at the deal than they do here.

Those looking for a droptop boulevardier are trending toward the Chrysler Sebring convertible, which looks remarkably like a Camaro from the rear, making the Sebring the best selling

convertible in the world last time I looked.

I know the customer is always right, even when he/she is wrong. But the Mustang simply doesn't deliver anywhere near the driving pleasure of the Camaro. And the optional engine in the

Sebring has 30 fewer horses than the base engine in the Camaro.

In the current vernacular, What up wit' that?

Maybe it's an image thing.

DOWNMARKET IMAGE

Camaros have acquired something of a downmarket, greasy haired teenager goofball halo that conspires against them.

There's no doubt there's a significant hooligan factor in the enjoyment of driving this car.

The Camaro may also be, believe me, I hate to even bring this up, a guy's car.

Lady Leadfoot didn't like the Z28 at all. She sat too low, couldn't see out of it properly, just didn't feel comfortable in it.

I would like to believe there aren't such things as gender specific cars. But the fact is, a big percentage of what's left of the sports specialty market is female buyers, and they

seem more attracted by cars like Mustang and Sebring.

All I know is that if I had the money, if I had any money the Z28 convertible would get my attention.

SPEND ON SOMETHING SATISFYING

If you're spending this kind of coin on a new car, why not spend it on something that makes you grin and giggle every time you get into it?

If you aren't going to actively enjoy the ride, to plagiarize Nissan's current ad slogan, why not drive around in a nice, reliable four-year0old Accord or something?

(Hey Accord owners, no mail, please. You know what I mean, I hope.)

Can I be so easily seduced by such cheap tricks as red paint, a convertible top and raw, brute power?

You bet. Call me shallow.

If you're looking for a boat load of driving fun and are comfortable enough with your selfimage that you don't need a car to either cover yours up or make one for you, you owe it to

yourself to give this thing, or its Pontiac Firebird fraternal twin, a serious look.

Quick specs

1998 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 convertible

Bodystyle 2door convertible

Drive train Rear-wheel drive

Engine304 hp 5.7L V8

Transmissions 6sp. man./4sp. aut.

Exterior mm (in.)

Length 4915 (193.5)

Wheelbase 2566 (101.1)

Width 1881 (74.1)

Trackfront 1542 (60.7)

Trackrear 1542 (60.7)

Front seat mm (in.)

Legroom 1092 (42.9)

Headroom 965 (38.0)

Curb weight (base) 1620 kg (3571 lb.)

These specifications are supplied by the manufacturer and can change at any time.

Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on driving experiences with a Camaro provided by GM Canada. You can catch Kenzie each Saturday on Talk 640 Radio at noon.

Email: jbkenzie@interhop.net

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