I’ll go ahead and do the reader and I both a favor by skipping the mantra that typically comes with these articles involving the 50-year history between these two cars. I’ll refrain from talking about the 60’s when both of these cars first made their debut. The only thing that’s shared between the cars from the 60’s and today is their names. That being said, we will talk briefly about both previous generations to help us better understand where we are today with GM and Ford’s newest pony cars.
First lets start with the Camaro. It’s safe to say that the fifth-generation Camaro made it difficult for true Camaro enthusiasts around the world to remain loyal. The fifth-gen just wasn’t that good of a performance car, which happens to be the whole point behind its creation. It’s difficult to even make the claim that the Camaro was a good car in general. While driving the Camaro you enjoyed visibility similar to that of a shoebox. The Camaro was hardly a gas saver and there were definitely more comfortable vehicles that one could purchase. GM loyalists are used to the Camaro being their top dog yet this car was hardly a step up from that of the G8, GTO and even the previous generation Camaro.
To be honest, it was sort of expected for the Camaro to be nothing more than a hacked together chassis with the usual underrated power plant borrowed from the Corvette. That being said, in previous years this method of madness was more than enough to out run the Mustang, but the buck stopped here. Aside from 2010, the Mustang wiped the floor with the Camaro. With an eight-year wait between models we all expected more, much more than the fifth-gen offered. As difficult as is it for me to say, I hated the fifth-gen and this is coming from the very person who has owned more LS powered cars than he has had serious girlfriends.
Now for the sixth-gen SS. The sixth-gen is an entirely different animal than those that predated it. As many of us know GM’s seemingly never-ending alliance to the LS engine has ended and been replaced with the LT series of engines. That being said the 376 cu-in LT1 does compliment the much lighter Camaro platform. Most of you are probably sitting here wondering what the big difference is between the LS and the LT series of engines. One could almost sit here and argue that they are quite similar, which is somewhat the case. As a matter of fact the engines share the same part-number lifters.
LS VS. LT V-8
Not to anyone’s real surprise GM stayed loyal to the land of pushrods. GM also decided to remain loyal with their “square port” heads. These heads are considerably similar to those that you would find on the LS3 and LS7 engines. Although the intake port is similar, the heads themselves have a more efficient intake and exhaust port (something the LS3 and LS7 heads struggled with due to the relatively close proximity of the combustion chamber and exhaust ports). Block wise the LT1 shares a similar block to the LS3. The rotating assembly doesn’t differ a whole lot either. The stroke, bore and rod length remain the same as its father.
Although the casting process is a bit different resulting in a somewhat stronger rotating assembly, on paper they are quite similar. With that being said, the strength of an LS engine has very rarely been questioned and the same is to be expected of the new producer of power. The LT1 sports a smaller camshaft than it’s predecessor, while rocking variable valve timing. The LT1 quickly brings on its 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque. This power is produced with a somewhat low compression ratio with all things considered.
Something very important to remember about the horsepower number is the fact that they are only a small part of the story. What makes the LT1’s numbers as impressive as they are is how that power is brought on. Even at low RPMs the horsepower and torque numbers are somewhat staggering. The RPMs that this engine sees were considered somewhat ridiculous for a pushrod V8 ten years ago. A redline of 6,600 in a stock vehicle is a very rare sight for a pushrod engine due to their lack of valve train stability.
The transmission choice in the Camaro is between the eight-speed two-pedaled monster and our dear friend the three pedaled six-speed manual. For the first time it’s safe to say that the man pedal is at a distinct disadvantage. The eight-speed auto is an extremely durable and quick shifting unit. Not to be confused with the six-speed automatics that were placed in earlier model GM vehicles, the eight-speeds are painless to drive. The sloppy shifts are a thing of yesteryear. The six-speed manual is no slouch either, but the new eight speeds will run circles around the manual even with Mr. Chevrolet himself behind the wheel. For that reason the A8 is my choice of transmission. When it comes down to the factor of fun, I am choosing the M6, but with the heavy load of lacking performance looming over its shoulders the A8 makes much more sense.
As a GM loyalist I am finally proud to say for the first time in the Camaro’s existence it has a received a truly proper chassis. The Camaro utilizes the $2 billion Alpha platform. Although most Ford fans will claim that anything is possible when you have the government’s checkbook, you can’t help but admire the Alpha platform for what it is; an extremely rigid yet forgiving chassis. You may have also heard this referred to as the “ATS” chassis, as Cadillac was the first to utilize this in their ATS. The Alpha platform is one of the most refined chassis in terms of what’s available for those looking to purchase a four-person capable car for less than 50k. The Alpha chassis has managed to slim the Camaro down a hearty 400 pounds. For those interested in power to weight ratios reading that should result in a profound smile. This is enough to launch the Camaro down the drag strip in around 12.4 seconds. That type of time is knocking on the door of GM’s base model C7s.
It’s safe to say the Camaro is finally a competitor again. After 14 years of disappointment GM finally has a dog back in the fight. The Camaro is just as at home in corners as it is in the straight line. This is a claim that previous owners couldn’t say with a straight face. That being said, this is America and we don’t give a shit about left turns. It’s easy to see why we love the sixth-gen because it truly is a driver’s car. It is a big-engined, light car and whether or not we want to admit it, that is a feeling that cannot be replicated in any other walk of life. Not to mention the Camaro’s design appears to be that of the bedroom wall poster you grew up with as a kid. As a GM fan I just want to thank everyone at Ford because if you guys didn’t build the Mustang to the caliber you did no one would be enjoying GM’s latest pony car.
The Coyote powered S197 (2011-2014) Mustang was one of the best values for the money cars to ever be produced. In a straight line, the S197 wouldn’t have any issue kicking in the teeth of cars costing four or five times it’s MSRP. The Coyote engine was one of the best engines Ford has ever produced. As far as pony cars go, there are very few things performance wise you could pick apart on this car. Yes, the suspension set up was nothing to be proud of so corners would be hectic, but cornering is very rarely the go-to way to enjoy these cars. What it comes down to is how fast these cars are in a straight line; something this car does well, very well. These cars managed to bully the Camaro down the 1320. These cars will go down as one of the best vehicles Ford has ever built.
That being said, somewhere along the way the Mustang team forgot to take a step forward and just chose to take a lateral step to the side. The S550 (2015+) was a perfect example of why a complete chassis/body redesign without a complete motor redesign doesn’t warrant any performance enthusiasts’ approval. In typical Ford fashion, they decided to redesign the chassis and leave the primary engine, for the most part, alone. Although the 5.0 of the previous generation remained the go-to engine for the GT model, it did receive a minimal bump in power. Although it was nice to see the Mustang step into the 21st century with IRS, it’s difficult to see what the 2015 model offered over that of the previous years.
The design change between the S197 and the S550, although broad, was hardly that of the fifth-gen to sixth-gen. The 2015 Mustang is a much better car than its predecessor; we won’t dispute that. What we are struggling with in terms of the 2015 model is the lack of difference from the years prior. The S550 would be much better if the S197 cars were worse.
The S550 found an almost too similar 5.0 in its engine bay. It’s a great engine, but in our opinion not the best option. The 5.0 sports four overhead cams. Thanks to this cam arrangement, the 5.0 is able to have a considerably more stable valve train than that of cam in block engines. This results in the ability to turn extremely high RPMs. The redline is set at 6,800 which is only slightly higher than that of the LT1. Ford could have gained some serious ground on the competition by letting this engine rev to its full capacity. Ford is choking this engine off with its lack of confidence. With its variable valve timing system, the cam size wouldn’t even have to change to bump power. All things considered, we are left here scratching our heads at the relatively low RPM that is spun. The 5.0 still manages to bump horsepower and torque, but in no impressive fashion. 435 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque later we have Ford’s “newest” power plant.
It is important to remember that horsepower is a number than is derived from torque and 65 lb-ft is quite a bit for Ford to make up. Ford is also behind in terms of when power is brought on. The considerably small bore of the 5.0 is to thank for the slow arrival of the power. That being said variable valve timing does aid in the process, though unfortunately not quite enough. By and large, the S550 still makes it down the track in a respectable 12.6 seconds.
Transmission choices are somewhat similar in the Mustang as they are in the Camaro. You have the option of a six-speed automatic and a six-speed manual. Previous manual cars had somewhat of a lack of reliability with bent shift forks being more common than not. Only time will tell if these have a similar fate. The six-speed manual provides very smooth shifting and is a nice transmission to live with. Reliability issues are considerably more focused on the manual. We expect to see this trend continue. For that reason the automatic is preferred. The automatic also typically yields more impressive times than its high-school girl impressing counterpart.
If you are wondering why I love the S197 and hate the IMPROVED S550 the answer lies when you look a little closer at the competition. The S550 cars headed to the back of the pony car line because Camaro managed to make their car considerably better while Ford got comfortable. Innovation is key and unfortunately Ford just didn’t get it right this time. It appears that they got just a little too cocky, and maybe somewhat deservedly so, as the previous generation managed to mop the floor with the Camaro. The S550 GT was much more deserving of a detuned 5.2 flat-plane crank instead of a slightly altered 5.0 Coyote engine. Not to get it twisted, the S550 is a great car, but it is too similar to its predecessor to fall in love with it.
1998 ALL OVER AGAIN
When it gets down to brass tax, we have to give it to the GM camp. Both GM and Ford made cars they have nothing to be embarrassed about, but the pushrod boys take the title this time. The sixth-generation Camaro is sort of symbolic to GM. This car was developed in GM’s darkest times. With the government bailout looming over them, they knew this car had to be epic and delivered.
We all watched GM about go down and, to be honest, during that time they weren’t building the best of anything; the fifth-gen is an excellent example. The S197 mustang was twice the car the fifth-gen was. As strange as it sounds, the current Camaro typically describes GM better than any economic indicator. Right now things are going great and it’s beginning to look a lot like 1998 for our pony car friends.
We look forward to what’s next. Maybe next time Ford…maybe not.