ROAD TEST: HSV’s $85,000 Mustang fighter
AMERICA'S great trio of V8 muscle cars - the Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro and Dodge Charger - were each created within a few years of each other in the mid 1960s.
Only the Mustang has since made it into factory right hand drive production, in 2015.
It's a shame that factory right hand drive Charger, Challenger (now Dodge's two door coupe, Charger having gone four door in 2006) and Camaro are unlikely to happen any time soon, if at all.
The economics of small scale right hand drive engineering and production don't excite the major American car makers, especially when they can mint truckloads of cash building cheap monster pick-ups for Billy Bob, Bubba and Bodine at home.
A factory-built right-hand drive Chevy Camaro coupe at Mustang GT money - currently $63,290 - would be a highly attractive proposition.
However at the $85,990 being asked by Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) for its locally converted right-hand drive Camaro, it's a much more debatable deal.
HSV is converting seven or eight Camaros daily in its Clayton, Victoria factory. The cars are 2018 2SS models, with Chevy's 6.2-litre naturally aspirated direct-injection LT1 V8 matched with an eight-speed automatic. There's no six-speed manual option.
The General's V8 produces 339kW of power - the same as Mustang's 5.0-litre - and 617Nm of torque, a handy 61Nm more than the Ford.
Fixed rate suspension, four-piston fixed Brembo brake calipers all round, a limited-slip differential and 20-inch alloys with 275/30 (rear) and 245/40 (front) Goodyear Eagle F1 run-flat tyres are also fitted.
The cabin, a traditional dark man cave, has heated and cooled leather wrapped sports seats, heated steering wheel (also in leather), dual zone aircon, Bose audio, multi-coloured disco lighting, sunroof, wireless phone charging and GM's MyLink infotainment, minus navigation.
In June, HSV begins converting 2019 models, which will have a six-speed manual option, plus a new 10-speed automatic, both with launch control. You'll pay $86,990 for the update.
Or, you can engage your HSV dealer in a bit of hand to hand combat and negotiate a discount on this 2018 car.
You're seated deep and recumbent within the Camaro in a luxurious, supportive GT chair. The side mirrors are right at eye level, so their large housings, plus the adjacent front pillars, severely obstruct forward vision.
The conversion is a quality job with a few quirks. Your left elbow rests on hard plastic cupholders - so you can't really use them - rather than the padded lid on the centre console, which remains in its original layout.
You can mirror your smartphone via the usual apps. A lap timer and various performance data functions are also included.
The rear seat is a good place to carry people you don't like.
At this price, the Camaro's safety tech list is more notable for what's missing: autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise and lane departure warning/lane keeping. The 2019 update will add a head-up display and forward collision alert.
There's a reason they call these things muscle cars. That's exactly what you get: instant, brutal, "What the @#$%" acceleration, accompanied by the death or glory roar of 1000 axe-wielding barbarians on the charge.
HSV doesn't release performance numbers. US tests put the Camaro in the low-mid four seconds zone for the 0-100km/h sprint. That's line ball with the Mustang, which counters the Camaro's torque advantage with an extra 1000 rpm up top plus two extra ratios.
The eight-speed is a willing, if occasionally clumsy, participant in Sport and Track modes. Paddle-shifters are also fitted. Tour mode gets the V8 running on four cylinders with a light right foot, and at a constant 100km/h the Camaro can return 7-8L/100km. Use the accelerator as intended, though, and you can easily triple that.
It rides like a billycart and, at about 1.7 tonnes, it's never going to dissect corners with the precision of a Porsche. In its handling characteristics, however, the Camaro is certainly a harder-edged, less-compromised sports machine than the Mustang.
The Chevy gets away with razor sharp steering because body roll and understeer are almost completely absent. Until you learn to trust its responsiveness, and not overdrive it, such fast reflexes can feel overdone in a car of this size and weight.
There's little communication at the wheel, though, and the car does need to be pushed deep into corners before the front end begins to deliver feedback.
Under power, the rear squats a little but generally stays tidy; the limited-slip diff, premium tyres and sporty traction settings efficiently transmit drive and forgive slight … errr … indiscretions on the throttle.
Big performance cars need serious brakes and the Brembos do the job well.
Retired accountants buy Mustangs.
What I really want is the ultimate American muscle car - the 535kW 6.2-litre supercharged V8 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat - but nobody is converting those so this will have to do.
One for the bow tie badge believers. If you like 'em seriously mean I can see the attraction, but Mustang's also a great drive, more forgiving and you get close to $20,000 change.
Ford Mustang GT from $63,290
This buys the six-speed manual; add $3000 for the 10-speed auto. Its 5.0-litre is a revvier engine, spinning to 7500rpm. The mid-2018 update is a much better-sorted car than the 2015-17 model.
HSV Chevrolet Camaro 2SS vitals
Price: $85,990 (expensive)
Warranty/servicing: three year warranty (short); 12,000km/9 months (short); no capped price servicing
Engine: 6.2-litre V8, 339kW/617Nm (heaps)
Safety: Not yet tested, 7 airbags, camera, blind sport monitoring, rear cross traffic alert (below average)
Fuel use: 11.5L/100km (good luck with that)
Tyres: Run-flats (not good)
Boot: 257L (small)