Fifth-Gen Camaro (2010–15): The one that rose again
With the Camaro nameplate retiring soon, we’re honoring the beloved two-door with a series of love letters, fun lists, and memories that you can follow here. Many performance cars, especially nowadays, aim for an anodyne version of perfection that only a few can afford. The Camaro is for the rest of us—and it’s always ready to party. Still, we can’t pretend the car we’re about to celebrate over the next week or so is perfect. That in mind, let down your hair and come with us for a deep dive into what, exactly, makes the fifth-gen Camaro so bitchin’.
The Camaro Concept debuted at the Detroit auto show on January 9, 2006, to a full marching band from a local school, a parade of vintage Camaros (one from each generation), and 250 Camaro fans specially invited to the event.
Tom Peters, design director on the Camaro concept, was there, riding shotgun in his personal ’69 Camaro (the venue’s union rules dictated that only a union worker could drive). “I’ve been at the introduction of a lot of cars—Corvettes, other Camaros, Cadillacs—and this one was magnified times 10,” recalled Peters. “We drove down an aisle roped off on either side, and it was packed with people surging forward to get a glimpse of the car. The excitement was palpable—and a little unnerving.” After the first four generations had assembled on the stage, a curtain was drawn back to reveal the fifth-gen Camaro concept. “The place erupted into complete pandemonium,” said Peters. “Grown men had tears running down their faces.”
On August 10, 2006, GM’s CEO, Rick Wagoner, announced the Camaro’s official return: “As evidence that we’re not completely brain-dead, GM will build the Chevy Camaro.” Overlooking the fact that Wagoner felt it necessary to qualify the exact state of the company’s brains (this was GM in 2006 after all), the announcement meant that the Camaro would return in 2009 after a seven-year hiatus. Later that same day, on GM’s FastLane Blog, GM vice chairman Bob Lutz posted: “I’m not going to tell you that Camaro is happening because the blogosphere demanded it; that would be disingenuous. But I will tell you that the enthusiasm shown for Camaro in this forum is a shining and prominent example of the passion that exists for this automobile, and we thank you for sharing it with us.”
Equally important to the enthusiasm shown outside of GM for Camaro was the enthusiasm shown by Lutz himself. “I’m not sure that Camaro would’ve come back if Bob wasn’t there,” said Peters. Ed Welburn, then head of GM’s global design and owner of a cherry 1969 Camaro, also played a crucial role. “When Ed Welburn came on board, the whole emphasis and enthusiasm ramped up so hard,” recalled Peters. “He and Bob had common visions. Bob understood what design is about, how important it is. But Ed knew specifically the talent that we already had that could be unleashed.”
Even the prettiest Camaro was going nowhere without affordable rear-drive underpinnings. The lack thereof was one of the main reasons the car went away for so long. Chevrolet had flirted with the idea of a Camaro based on the Australian Holden Monaro but decided the design wouldn’t work. (That car wound up being sold in the States as the 2004–2006 Pontiac GTO.) For the fifth gen, Chevy again looked to Holden, which had developed a new platform for its full-size sedans, but this time had the latitude to change key dimensions.
Then came the financial crisis of 2008 and GM’s bankruptcy in 2009; suddenly, the Camaro’s fate was unclear. “I was hanging on a string with the fifth-gen Camaro for about a year,” recalled Al Oppenheiser, who at the time was lead engineer on the Camaro program. Ultimately, the car went ahead, in large part because it would have been costly to turn back. “We already had the dies shipped to the assembly plant, test vehicles on the ground, and a convertible that was coming,” said Oppenheiser. “We were more toward production than away from production, so we were allowed to continue.” What might have been a disaster for the gen-five Camaro turned into a positive. “The front grille of the fifth-gen Camaro became the face of the new GM around the world,” said Oppenheiser.
The stars further aligned for the Camaro when Ed Welburn happened to be giving director Michael Bay a tour of Chevrolet styling studios and Bay saw the Camaro concept. Bay stopped and said, “I’m going to make that a star of a movie.” That movie, Transformers, was the highest-grossing film of 2007.
The production version of the Camaro arrived in April 2009 as a 2010 model, featuring many of the concept’s design cues inspired primarily by the 1969 Camaro—the deep-set egg-crate grille, single round headlamps, and beefy hood bulge. Another benefit of the Holden-derived underpinnings was a multilink rear suspension—the first in the Camaro’s history. Long-hood, short-decklid proportions emphasized the car’s rear-drive setup. The fifth gen’s most notorious design feature, however, was its limited outward visibility. The low seats and cramped interior—especially the criminally small rear seat—contributed to a claustrophobic vibe. Buyers didn’t seem to mind, as sales averaged more than 100,000 a year over the car’s entire run.
Initially a coupe was offered and then, in 2011, a convertible. Engine choices included a 312-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 on the base models, while the top-trim SS boasted a 426-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 paired with a six-speed manual transmission. In 2011, GM offered a ZL1 option, brandishing a supercharged version of the 6.2-liter V-8 that cranked out 580 horsepower. The Z/28 version of the gen-five Camaro arrived in 2014, with a 505-hp, 7.0-liter V-8 featuring a dry-sump oil system (a first for Camaro), carbon-ceramic brakes, and a carbon-fiber extractor on the hood.
Although production of the fifth-generation Camaro ended in 2015, for Peters, its essence is summed up by a moment from the media launch of the car: “We were transporting journalists around the Milford Proving Ground to where the cars were on display. We hear the roar of a jet and here comes Bob [Lutz]. He comes back around, so close that we can see him, and gives a thumbs up. Then he turns up and goes into the clouds. And you know what? He took that company up into the clouds with him.”