Dream Nearly Achieved – 1996 Chevrolet Camaro

After my Oldsmobile Alero was unceremoniously ripped from life, I needed a new car. Originally, I decided to purchase a brand new 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged. With a sizable down payment courtesy of my insurance payout, the monthly finance wasn’t going to be too bad. I ordered a blue coupe with matching blue interior. The car was to arrive in roughly six weeks.

During those weeks, I was presented an opportunity to move into a new apartment much closer to my job and closer to my wife (then girlfriend). The problem was, the increase in rent, plus upcoming monthly car payments, would be too high for me to cover. I had to either ditch the Cobalt or not take the apartment. After a bit of thought I cancelled the car.

A New Direction

That meant a new direction for my automotive needs. I now needed a car I could pay for, in total, upfront. I began hunting through classifieds. My search was proving fruitless as everything I could afford, I didn’t want, and everything I wanted, I couldn’t afford.

Then fate stepped in. While I was finalizing the cancellation of the Cobalt SS at the dealership, my salesman mentioned they had an ex-employee trade-in out back. It was cheap, in decent condition, but most importantly, it was a Camaro.

Ever since I was a teenager, I idolized the fourth generation Camaro. In high school, a 1996 Camaro SS was my dream car. I swore I would own one someday. That day was about to happen, just not exactly how I imagined it. The Camaro in the back of the dealership was a *gasp*, V6.

The Camaro

With my budget, V8 Camaros were out of the question and being any good self-respecting muscle car fan, I couldn’t bring myself to own a V6. But I begrudgingly wandered to the back to check this car out. As I approached it, I noticed it was in the perfect colour combination. It was two-tone, mostly red with the black roof, T-tops and black headlight surrounds. I didn’t know V6 Camaros could come like this.

I would do some research after I bought the car and discovered it had something called the Y87 package. Therefore, it had the previously mentioned two-tone Z28 appearance to it. It also included the Z28 rear end which meant disc brakes and a faster rear gear, as well as the Z28’s power steering ratio. It even had a dual outlet exhaust system, just minus the iconic mail slot tips.

I jumped in the car, fired it up and went for a drive. The 3800 V6 engine in these cars was rated at 200 hp and 225 lb-ft. of torque. I began to rationalize as I pulled out of the parking lot, ‘That’s a decent enough number’ I kept trying to convince myself.

The drive was better than I expected. I figured for my price range; I wasn’t going to beat it. Plus, it looked the part of a Z28 and had some Z28 parts on it, so it’s not that bad. Right? Right? I plunked down my cash and took the car.

Slippery When Wet

The Camaro arrived with undersized, balding 15-inch winter tires installed on black steel wheels. It was devoid of the original alloys and as an extra insult, the previous owner had seen fit to strap Chevrolet Cavalier wheel covers to these steelies.

One of my first trips in the car was to drive my sister roughly 100 km to her husband’s parents’ house (they were merely dating at the time). That trip on Ontario’s notorious 401 was as white-knuckle as they come. A massive spring thunderstorm hit, complete with a deluge of rain. The rutted highway started to pool water in long strips right on the Camaro’s tire tracks. I had no grip and at any corner thanks to the subpar tires. Slipping and sliding down the highway, I was ready to spin out at a moment’s notice.

We somehow made it to our destination, and I do recall her father-in-law complementing me on my car, likening it to a Maserati. That made our recent death-defying drive a little easy to swallow.

Tires are a Car’s Best Friend

Once back home I stated looking online for a new set of wheels. I found a set of stock Trans Am wheels and tires available for a reasonable price and grabbed them, making my Camaro an F-Body mash-up.

Now properly tired, I was ready to join my friends at the local dragstrips. Fast my car was not, especially since everyone thought it was a Camaro Z28 due to the paint job. But I was able to pull a 15.15 with my aged, stock Camaro V6, so I was happy.

My greatest claim to fame was beating a Foxbody Mustang 5.0L at the strip. Ok, the ‘Stang did have a slightly faster time and trapped at a higher speed, but I left the tree 0.2 seconds quicker and crossed the finish line first. Hey, a win’s a win, especially when lining up a V6 against a V8.

Who Needs an SUV

Being an outdoorsy young adult, my Camaro had to double as a utility vehicle. I slapped on a rear hitch to tow my Yamaha WaveRunner. It was surprisingly uneventful pulling a PWC at 120 km/h. The WaveRunner looming over my car in my rearview mirror did catch me off guard once or twice as I mistook it for some asshole tailgating me.

The Camaro also went camping a few times that summer. With four people and all our gear crammed in the car, I couldn’t take off the T-tops and store them, so they had to stay on. Not ideal when it is 30 degrees Celsius out and the car’s air conditioning is broken.

On the plus side, the Camaro was a hit with nearly every kid under the age of ten that past our campsite.

Things Start to Sour

As summer gave way to fall, my love affair with the Camaro began to sour. It developed this issue where the engine would not accelerate above 1,800 rpm whenever it rained out. On the flip side, sometimes after cruising for a bit, the throttle would stick, and the engine would begin revving up freely.

Nothing like being at a red light in traffic and the car is howling away at 4,000 rpm, stationary. Also, trying to engage first or second when the engine behaved this way just made me look like a delinquent, even when I was trying not to be. I am sure it was an easy enough fix and many theories were thrown around like a bad idle control valve.

With the colder weather descending, the T-tops also began leaking when they got wet since the rubber seals had contracted slightly.  

Still, none of these issues would have been enough to ditch the car. In the end, the final nail in the coffin came when I got a new job. I was going to be a roving service rep doing around 50,000 km a year of driving. I didn’t like the prospects of putting that mileage on this aging Camaro, especially during the upcoming winter.  So, after a brief 8-month love affair, I sold the car and bought a Cobalt SS. It’s funny how circular the world can sometimes be.

Thanks for visiting AutoLobotomy.com

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