Yes, this might well prove that I was the least-qualified, most-obstinate and un-Australian Wheels editor of all time, but I’ll tell you anyway – I’ve really never cared much for HSVs. Or FPVs, for that matter, in case you think I’m biased rather than just ignorant.
I’m not saying I couldn’t tell what the fuss was about, or that I was blind to the bulging-Speedo stylings of our most brazenly blokey brands, but the simple fact was that I’ve always been more likely to buy a Volkswagen Golf GTI (or a Subaru WRX, a Mazda MX-5, a Nissan 200SX, the shameful list goes on). And that’s despite having been allowed to spend some thigh-slapping good times in cars as deafeningly wonderful as the wild W427.
It’s not that I don’t think Australia ever made good cars, of course, because I always rated the Falcon XR6 Turbo as a performance bargain, and I would happily have a VF Commodore as my family car, if you gave me one. But for me, HSV represents fatty, shouty excess. It is the Triple Whopper of the car world, a pack of ciggies shoved up a sleeve. So it was with some level of disinterest that I journeyed recently to Clayton in malodorous Melbourne to borrow a new HSV Camaro.
Frankly, this car brings to mind those glory days of yore when I could drive around the US laughing superiorly at their billboards for cheap-ass compensation lawyers, and their fondness for strained-muscle cars that treated corners the way I treat Sudoko problems (screaming and avoiding at all costs). And their weird love of pick-up trucks. Thank goodness Australia is, er, sorry, was, completely different.
I felt entirely justified in my lack of excitement about driving HSV’s right-siding of a Camaro, right up until the point where I hit the start button. I chortled at the cheap plastics in this $85,990 car, I pointed and sniggered at the central touch screen and the way it points down, as if I had eyes in my crotch, and I bemused myself by trying to see out of the tiny glasshouse that, admittedly, makes this Camaro look so sleek and aggressive.
Then the vast V8 kicked itself into life, before the whole car settled into that kind of side-to-side idle wobble that speaks of poised power waiting to be unleashed.
A short while later, grinning not so much like a loon as a lunatic, it struck me that I’d also been too quickly dismissive of the loss of atmo V8 power, in a world where turbocharging has made modern engines so instantly invigorating.
It turns out there is something fantastic about that pause you get in a V8 bruiser of a thing like this; that point where you feel the volcanic V8 acceleration burbling, a split second in which you’d already be accelerating if you were in a sharpish turbo six.
It’s the moment of anticipation, basically, and it reminds me of the way old movies (Die Hard, The Goonies, Jaws, Aliens) used to build up to their excitement peaks, in a way that modern, furiously paced films seem afraid to do.
And it hit me that, without doubt, I do miss, and will miss, these old-school bent-eight bravura moments. That I could, indeed, see why someone might buy a Camaro, and that it might have nothing to do with a blind, dim-witted love of the HSV brand. Or at least not entirely.
Then, while I was chucking this big, hairy beast around some backstreets, the current, far-more-suited editor of Wheels, Alex Inwood, rang, and I felt compelled to plant my foot and let him hear how raucously uncouth I was being.
And he laughed, unreservedly, at the noise, and my immaturity (and probably considered whether it was time to send me off to a home for the infirm), just as I had been for the past hour, because he’d felt it, too. The sense that a time is passing, and that things will never be quite the same again.
At least I can tell you that if you want to hold on to that moment, the way things were, you still can. Just buy a Camaro, and a Star Spangled Banner with a flag pole for your front yard, and hold on to them both for as long as you feel you need to.