LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Glistening under bright spotlights on stage at the Los Angeles International Auto Show, a new convertible version of Camaro, Chevrolet's iconic muscle car, looks like it could outpace a tornado.
Camaro's shark-nose hood stretches long and the body's beltline on flanks seems tall, but a windshield racks so far back it leans over the open cockpit like a fighter jet's acrylic canopy, overhangs fore and aft seem whittled away and big wheels posted at the four corners convey an impression of swift performance.
The convertible Camaro scores strategic reinforcements to beef up the stiff body structure and a power-motivated fabric lid that retracts in about 20 seconds to offer al fresco motoring.
It rides on a long and broad platform with the wheelbase stretching to 112 inches and wheels set wide on a 63.7-inch track, stocks taut independent suspension elements plus huge disc brakes and four-piston aluminum front and rear calipers by the high-performance Brembo brand of Italy.
Oh, yeah: Top trim Camaro SS also packs the massive 6.2-liter LS3 V8 engine out of a Corvette.
The plant with aluminum block and aluminum cylinder heads develops 426 hp at 5900 rpm plus torque of 420 lb-ft at 4600 rpm as translated through a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission.
To get a six-speed automatic shifter for Camaro SS, the engine shifts to GM's L99 version (400 hp at 5900 rpm and torque of 410 lb-ft at 4300 rpm) working with the Hydra-Matic 6L80 electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission tied to a torque converter clutch and TAPshift manual shift controller.
All of that fire power flows directly to the rear pair of 20-inch summer tires (P275/40ZR20) and sets them spinning and smoking.
This thing flies down a straightaway in an awesome burst of horsepower and torque. A speedo needle in the instrument panel passes the 60-mph notch in fewer than five seconds and Camaro reaches the quarter-mile post in 13.2 seconds -- at a speed of 109 mph.
There's so much power here that a prudent driver must constantly guard against a heavy pedal foot. Without such caution, you'll lose your driver's license from too many speeding tickets.
Alternative to 426-hp muscle of Camaro SS is the Camaro LT model which totes a fuel-efficient LLT V6 engine from the CTS sports sedan of Cadillac.
The aluminum 3.6-liter V6 has dual overhead cams (DOHC), direct injection technology and VVT (variable valve timing). With direct injection, the fuel goes directly into the engine's combustion chamber and fosters a thorough burn of the mix of air and fuel.
The LLT six-pack generates 312 hp at 6400 rpm with the torque pushed to 278 lb-ft at 5200 rpm.
Standard transmission with the V6 is a smooth-to-shift six-speed manual gearbox by Aisin, the AY6.
Also available is an electronically controlled six-speed automatic, GM's Hydra-Matic 6L50, with driver shift control via paddles pinned to the steering wheel.
The 2011 Camaro Convertible begins with GM's global rear-wheel-drive architecture, which was developed in Australia by Holden, the Down Under subsidiary of GM.
To compensate for the removal of a rigid roof in the convertible version, the architecture acquires structural reinforcements such as a tower-to-tower brace under the hood, an underbody tunnel brace, front and rear underbody V-shaped braces and a transmission brace.
Other reinforcements -- to improve noise and vibration damping or check shaking of the cowl and steering wheel -- include hydroformed tubes added to windshield pillars, a windshield header reinforcement bracket and rocker reinforcements.
As a result, the convertible Camaro ends up with the tight and precise handling characteristics of the hardtop coupe Camaro.
Front suspension is multi-link, a dual-ball strut-type arrangement with direct-acting stabilizer bar and fully adjustable camber, caster and toe.
The 4.5-link independent rear suspension shows a unique L-shaped upper control arm which attaches to the knuckle at one end and has a ride bushing in the rear. It mounts on a sub-frame with double isolation to minimize vehicle body motions and dampen road imperfections.
Optional suspension packages include FE2 sport tuning for Camaro LT with a V6 engine or the FE3 performance package for Camaro SS with the V8.
Steering, firm and predictable due to a rack and pinion arrangement with speed-sensing variable assistance, feels direct and balanced.
And the four-wheel disc brakes are big, befitting a powerful performance car.
Camaro with a V6 engine carries 12.64-inch vented rotors up front and 12.4-inch rotors in the rear with single-piston alloy calipers front and rear.
Camaro with the V8 aboard has 14-inch vented front rotors and 14.4-inch rear rotors plus those Brembo four-piston fixed aluminum calipers.
Standard ABS (anti-lock brake system) is fully integrated with GM's high-tech StabiliTrak electronic stability control system.
The outer layer of Camaro's Z-fold convertible top consists of thick and strong canvas. It also has a glass rear window and acoustical headliner which stiffles external noise when the lid is raised.
The Camaro Convertible has a cockpit of sizable scale. Layout consists of two big sport buckets in front and a back bench with two articulated seats.
Chevrolet trims the convertible like the coupe with V6 models of 1LT and 2LT, and V8 models of 1SS and 2SS.
The 1LT provides power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors, the power folding convertible top, leather upholstery with six-way power reclining driver's seat, one-zone air conditioning, cruise control, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/XM audio kit, foglamps and 18-inch painted aluminum wheels with P245/55R18 all-season touring tires.
Camaro LT2 and 2SS models add a head-up display, heated mirrors and seats, steering wheel audio controls, a remote starter, console gauges including oil temperature, and a nine-speaker premium sound package.
Chevrolet establishes price points for the 2011 Camaro Convertible beginning at $29,275 for 1LT. Camaro 2SS tallies to $39,775.