By Tony Markovich (@T_Marko)
I'd never been so excited for a silly piece of snail mail spam in my life. But there I was, a stupidly wide-eyed college kid, looking at a Chevrolet advertisement. It had a generic, unlabeled key inside and it said "WIN A BRAND NEW CAMARO! Bring in your key and see if it unlocks the door to your dream car!"
I had to have it.
I dismiss all other sweepstakes like this. They're stupid, and your odds are pretty much nothing to nothing. But for this one, I legitimately thought that I had the key that would open that car. I was obsessed, even though I'd never even driven the damn thing.
I might not believe in love at first sight between people, but when it comes to cars? Absolutely.
It had started a couple years earlier, when I was able to see the brand new fifth-generation Camaro at the Chicago Auto Show. My dad and I went every year, but up until 2006, I had never seen Chevy's pony car at a show (I was nine when they had stopped production, so I didn't fully appreciate them back then). There had been a lot of hype leading up to the new concept, and as soon as I caught my first glimpse, I knew why.
I might not believe in love at first sight between people, but when it comes to cars? Absolutely. I was blown away. There were always a ton of incredible rides at that show, and I always ended up with tens of posters for my walls, but the only other car that had this big of an impact on me was the Cadillac Sixteen (my brain couldn't wrap itself around 16 cylinders and 1,000 horsepower).
Seeing the reintroduction of the Camaro (yes, I know it wasn’t debuted there, but still) was one of the most memorable car moments of my life. The bulked-up, blocky muscle. The oddly too-skinny-for-its-body mirrors. The gills on the rear panel. The extremely ostentatious chrome, aluminum and gold interior. The wide grille and low fog lights. It was all so reflective of my dream car, a 1969 Camaro (Z28, to be specific), and really brought out the giddy Hot Wheels-lover in me. I was obsessed. The type of obsessed that I had this and this plastered, nailed, and screwed onto my computer background for the next few years. It was the type of obsessed that my interest in a future girlfriend doubled the first time I met her simply because she had a Camaro poster up on the wall of her tiny dorm room. I was like, “yeah, this could work.” (Pro tip: Turns out that's not actually not how you should determine who you date)
There was just one major interference, an unwanted muscle relaxant to my beating heart, if you will: The production model didn’t come out until the 2010 model year (2009). Three more years of waiting before they would start filtering into dealerships. Talk about trying to kill my vibe.
So, I picked up what WAS available at the time: a fourth-generation Camaro, a black 1998 V6 with ground effects to be specific (V6 haters gon’ hate, go ahead, see if I care). It had 101,000 miles on it, the engine bay was extremely clean, it had a new black paint job, the tires were new, the system had some serious weight behind it, and the cabin was fresh.
It had a slight lean to the left, and the headliner looked like it’d been rubbed off by a super tall bald guy, but I’ll probably never again get the feeling I had that day from giving somebody every penny I owned. It didn’t hurt that we’d largely talked him down, but that’s beyond the point. For nearly three years, Vanessa (yep) was my baby. Unfortunately, when I moved to New York City, I had to break it off. But in a city of more than 8,000,000, I shouldn’t have been surprised that there was another love waiting.
It was the type of obsessed that my interest in a future girlfriend doubled the first time I met her simply because she had a Camaro poster up on the wall of her tiny dorm room.
The fourth-gen experience was great, but that insatiable quench for fifth-gen Camaro was yet to be satisfied. As it turned out, that piece of metal I told you about that had come to me in the mail, promising bright hopes and mammoth dreams, was nothing more than another tease. My short visit to Christenson Chevrolet in Highland, Ind. was, like many trips to car lots tend to be, a fleeting moment of fantasy. I walked up to that Camaro, I inserted the key (IT ACTUALLY FIT!), and I gently put pressure on my thumb and pointer finger.
No Camaro for me. Believe me when I say I will never get excited about any sort of car giveaway ever again. But that’s okay. There was a different plan in place that I didn’t know about yet, one that picked up when I began running the Rides channel here at Complex and started to receive loaner cars for testing.
At first, it was weird driving cars that didn’t belong to me. Especially when I knew it was only for a couple days, but it was a nice way to ease back into the game. Like anybody getting out of a long relationship, I went around the block with some cars that weren’t exactly my first choice. I test drove some Subarus; I tried out a Volkswagen; I even whipped around in a Mercedes-Benz or two. And although those were all nice, enjoyable experiences, they still didn’t give me that same feeling in my gut. That feeling didn’t come back until GM gave me one of the most ostentatious cars in ANY fleet: A 2013 Camaro SS Hot Wheels Edition.
The obvious, cliche way to introduce the car would be to say that the first time you see it, you feel like you’re looking at a blown-up toddler toy. Well, yeah, no shit, right? it’s the Hot Wheels Edition, of course it looks like a toy. Naturally, it’s going to put an ear-to-ear grin on your face, and you’re going to want to grasp the roof with your giant claw hand and push it down the sidewalk making “VRROOM, VROOOOM” sound effects. But that’s not the only way the package affects the car.
[Quickly, the Hot Wheels Package is not performance-based at all. It’s a $6,995 visual enhancement that includes Kinetic Blue Metallic paint, matte hood and rear panel “blackout” graphics, flame graphics on the fenders, black 21-inch wheels, ZL1 rear spoiler and front grille add-ons, ground effects, Hot Wheels logos on the grille and decklid, black leather interior with red stitching and door sills with a bunch of little baby Hot Wheels logos.]
Typically, the Camaro is a pretty menacing-looking vehicle. It’s beefy. It basically looks like an NFL linebacker ready to destroy you at any moment. But this package gave it a much lighter, more playful look. It still seemed tough, but tough in the way that that same NFL linebacker looks while he’s playing with little children in Play60 commercials.
Finally getting into the driver’s seat of this car was almost a religious experience for me. When I put the key into the ignition, it actually turned and started this time. It was literally a dream come true and not just because it was a live Hot Wheels car. The feeling I had when I shifted into first and pulled out of the parking garage is the reason I love cars. I felt empowered. Some might feel a little corny in this car, but my confidence was through the roof. It didn’t help that, literally the second I was pulling out, two dudes were stopped and pointing.
The 2SS model has a 426hp and 420lb-ft of torque 6.2L LS3 V8 coupled with a six-speed manual transmission. The sound coming out of the optional dual exhaust is great. As you’d expect from a muscle car, it has a fantastic low gurgle when you turn it on and are sitting in idle, and during acceleration, the growl stays low and uninterrupted. Straight up, It’s one of the best exhaust notes I’ve heard from a factory car.
Even for somebody so unabashedly in love with Camaros, there’s no escaping the fact that it does have its flaws that everybody has already talked about. Sitting in it was one of the more restricting experiences I’ve had in a car, not only because it’s harder to see around you, especially with the giant C-pillars (the biggest complaint when the fifth-gen first came out), but because it generally feels as big as you expect it to. It weighs 3,883 lbs, after all.
Once you get out on the road, the car is pretty smooth. It doesn’t have that super rigid and stiff ride you might expect from a sports car and it took on New York and New Jersey pothole-ridden roads pretty nicely. The power steering was solid, pretty much right in the middle. It wasn’t insanely touchy, but it wasn’t loose either. Large four-wheel disc brakes also made for very quick stopping.
Like I mentioned before with the looks on this car, it almost seems to have a dual personality. At the bones, it’s still an extremely capable and powerful sports car that wants to rip your face off. But at the heart, the Hot Wheels package appeals to little kids and gives the car a much less serious overcoat. Remember, this is a car that debuted at SEMA, where the wildest of the wild come to play. It probably could have debuted at ComicCon, too, if Chevy had wanted it to. Through and through, it’s a ride that is designed for fun. It’s fun for the driver, it’s fun for the passenger (unless you’re in the back seats), it’s fun for the older people who had boxes of these toys when they were growing up, and it’s fun their kids.
But you know who it’s the most fun for? A person whose dream car dates back to when the first SS debuted, a person who has owned previous versions of the Camaro, and a person who has been wanted to get behind the wheel of this generation for years. Me.