2012 comfort versus 1968 style in Camaro match-up

When comparing a new Camaro with its classic predecessor, Neil Vorano wrestles with some old-school misconceptions.

The 2012 45th anniversary Camaro outstrips its 1968 rival in terms of power, safety and interior comfort but does that make it a better car? Christopher Pike / The National
Powered by automated translation

They don't build them like they used to.

No, my friend, they certainly don't. You just don't have the flair or the quality that cars from yesterday had; they used to be steel, with stylish bodies and big engines, charisma and machismo. Now they're just plastic boxes with "economy" engines that whimper out from the red light. Yes, you've got to be right.

Take the 1960s muscle cars; wow, that was an era, wasn't it? Those smaller two-door coupés with big V8s ready to drag at the drop of a flag. How about the Chevrolet Camaro? Originally, back in 1967, it was General Motor's answer to the Ford Mustang; that was a hot car, and the originals still are today.

Sure, Chevrolet just introduced a 45th anniversary edition Camaro; big deal. It must be one of those "show-no-go" versions - there's no way they can build anything like they did before. Today, it's all fuel injection and crush zones and fancy digital dials; those muscle car days are gone, and it's gotta be a shame, surely. I got to drive the new Camaro recently and, crazily enough, I also had time in one of the originals; a 1968 model (you can't be picky on the year when the cars are rarer than hen's teeth here). A local enthusiast, someone who knows the real value of these old classics, was kind enough to lend it out for a bit, a chance to see what real cars were like - real driving.

The old Camaro is a bit rough to drive, though; my bottom is still bruised from the road bumps around Dubai. But it took a real driver to handle those, not like today, when these new Camaros are soft enough to be a daily driver yet still firm for the corners. Oh, yeah, those corners; I wouldn't suggest going too fast around them with the '68, my friend - you'll likely go screeching off, tail-first into the curbs. No, the 2012 version has traction control and fully independent suspension (not like the solid rear axle and leaf springs on the old one), so it's like anyone can drive them fast - and you most certainly can, I can assure you. But how fun can that be for a real driver? There's no bouncing or skidding or losing control. Bah!

Sure, but put them in a straight line and the old cars have got to blow the new ones away, right? This '68 is kitted out with an aftermarket 502-cubic-inch V8 monster and four-speed automatic - a giant killer. Look out world. It may not feel as quick as the new Camaro's 6.2L, fuel-injected V8, but it just has to be. Well, maybe it's not, what with the 2012's 426hp and bigger tyres. And watch where you're going in such a hurry, because the old Camaro takes about twice the distance to stop as the new one does; maybe I just need a few runs to get used to driving this beast before I can really start beating the 2012 Camaro.

If only we could. After 15 minutes of driving, the carburettors on the '68 flood and I'm left stranded on the side of the road, with vapour lock leaving the engine dead. You know, with some old cars, you have to expect that; it's normal. A new car may not die as easily, but it just lacks the character, doesn't it?

I have to sit in the new Camaro and wait for a mechanic to come for the '68. The old one's interior is classic, with low bucket seats, big, round dials and, well, that's about it. No air conditioning, either. But the new one has A/C and, come to think of it, the new one also has classic-looking dials and gauges - kind of reminiscent of the old ones, in a modern sort of way - but the differences are the seats are really comfortable, there's a generous amount of sporty leather on the dash and a wide, white plastic wraparound around the doors and dash with accent lighting at night. And the sound system is pretty good, too. OK, the new interior might be more comfortable and stylish than the old one, even more so than some of today's cars. But that's just for wussies, not real men and real drivers.

Why, even the old one has that classic look that you just can't replicate in today's cars. Hmmm, I guess the new one is pretty good looking; OK, maybe it's even better than the old Camaro. That must be a fluke, but the sharp creases and hulking haunches do make it look meaner, I suppose. I am a huge fan of the metallic-black paint job on the 2012, though, especially with the red-and-grey striping on the bonnet, roof and boot; I'll bet the old car would look just as good in that combination. Probably.

Sure, the 45th edition Camaro is easier to drive in every way, it's safe and comfortable, ridiculously fast and has killer looks that may become a classic itself in a couple decades. Yeah, maybe it's better in every single way possible. I suppose you could use it to drive to work every day and still have fun hooning around with it, something you probably wouldn't want to do with a rare classic muscle car. But no way can you tell me that new cars are better than the old ones, what with all the "new technology" and "fuel efficiency" and all that hee-haw of today. You just have to know how to drive the old ones. And have a good mechanic on hand.