Chevy’s muscular new Camaro goes leaf-peeping in the White Mountains
Author JOE KEOHANE
MAP BY VALERIE WALDBAUER
IT TOOK FIVE SECONDS — literally, five seconds — for someone to comment on the car. I went to pick up my “Victory Red” Chevy Camaro convertible on the west side of Manhattan, grabbed the keys, stepped in, and before I could even adjust the rearview mirror, a construction worker materialized beside me. “Yo,” he said admiringly. “Nice car.”
Low-slung, dark-browed and vaguely sharky in appearance, the Camaro inspires comments. Good ones, like this guy’s, and bad ones, which have to do with the outdated, if longstanding, perception of the Camaro as the ride of choice for a certain strain of rambunctious teenaged male. (Then there are the practical ones, like the friend who took one look at the car and told me, “You’ll never get that thing through Connecticut.”)
In fact, I did get it through Connecticut without attracting the attention of the Constitution State’s peerlessly vigilant State Police, and headed north to New Hampshire to see how it fared on the famed Kancamagus Highway, which at this time of year is a full-blown riot of autumnal color. I picked up “the Kanc,” as the locals call it, in Conway, off of Route 16, and started in. This is not a fast road. It’s meant to be taken at a leisurely pace, with frequent stops to hike, explore, nap or even swim, depending on the weather. While this pace likely affronted the Camaro’s bit-champing 3.6 liter V-6, the Kanc is the ideal road for a convertible in the fall.
My first stop was at Rocky Gorge, a scenic mini-waterfall and gorge on the Swift River. People lazed around on the rocks, eating lunch or just sitting quietly and taking it in. On one rocky outcropping, a man was fishing for river trout. “Any luck?” I asked him. “Got one this morning,” he said. “Little one.” It was 2 p.m. I left with the impression that catching fish isn’t the point of fishing in Rocky Gorge.
Next, I stopped at Sabbaday Falls, a 45-foot waterfall about a third of a mile into the woods that empties into another narrow gorge and a tranquil pool below. When I got to the top, an older woman had climbed over the safety fence and was standing on the ledge, beaming, doing a little jig for her two friends, who were standing on the other side, unamused. “She’s our friend,” one told me, “but if she breaks her neck, well, that’s just the way it is.” Ah, New Englanders. On the way out, I saw that a kid had taken up fishing in the pool. “Any luck?” I asked him. “Got a little one this morning,” he said.
The Kanc is short, just 34.5 miles, and before I knew it I was out the other side. In the pretty mountain town of Woodstock I stopped at Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery for the “Chef’s Mess,” a terrifically indulgent sandwich with pulled pork, guacamole, onion rings and garlic hot sauce, plus a cup of their famous chili and one of the lively house brews. I briefly considered the “Double Death by Burger,” two 18-ounce cheeseburgers served on a BLT with onion rings that comes with a T-shirt and a spot on the “Wall of Fame/Shame,” but I passed, fearing for my life.
For the last stretch, I followed Route 3 to the Flume Gorge, a narrow, 800-foot natural gorge with sheer 90-foot rock walls on either side, then wheeled onto Route 302, a beautiful winding path between mountains. By now, the car wanted to run, but we had one more stop: the Mount Washington Auto Road, a narrow, slightly white-knuckled cliffside drive up to the top of Mount Washington.
By the time I got to the top, where I stood awhile being assaulted by the wind (the fastest wind ever recorded was recorded here), it had become clear that the car had about gotten its fill of doing 20 mph on a steep grade for the last hour, and of hanging around 45 for the rest of the day. It was finally time to get this misused muscle car onto a highway, where it could unfurl its flag. I got back in, descended from the mountain and aimed it at Connecticut.
Hemispheres editor in chief JOE KEOHANE’s first car was a no doubt equally intimidating 1986 Chevy Nova.
Starting Price: $32,650
Engine: A 3.6L V-6 with 227 horses, 370 feet of torque and a nice, satisfying growl. The SS model comes with a more powerful 6.2L V-8 with 426 hp.
Performance: More a slab of American muscle than a European sports coupe, the Camaro feels heavy on tight turns, but it devours straightaways. And the gas mileage is excellent: 29 on the highway, 18 in the city.
Perks: The interior is pretty spartan, but it comes equipped with an eight-speaker Boston Acoustic audio system with a 10-inch subwoofer and satellite radio; a “head up display,” in which your speed is projected low onto the windshield; and heated leather bucket seats perfect for top-down driving in New Hampshire in autumn.