First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible

Roy Ritchie

"Who dat!? Who dat!?" We're in a packed seafood joint -- one of about four such seafood joints on one block-reveling with some very happy, if somewhat inebriated, football fans. "Dat," of course, would be the latest team "dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints." Once again the Saints are vistorious. We're touring the Crescent City five years after Hurricane Katrina to take the pulse of recovery efforts from behind the wheel of a brand-new Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible. If the Saints' success and the crowds they draw are a sign of the city's resurgence, the Camaro convertible is a celebration for General Motors because it's exactly the sort of frivolous product a company on its last legs would never produce. Question is, are the Big Easy and the nation's biggest automaker really back in the swing of things?

First impressions would be a definitive "yes" on both counts. Even the coldest weather New Orleans has seen all year -- the General has in its curious corporate wisdom decided to launch the convertible in the dead of winter -- clearly hasn't dampened the evening scene. Football fans pour out of the renovated Superdome and join the usual throng of fun seekers in the French Quarter, strolling the streets and carrying alcoholic beverages with names like Hurricane. "This is the only city where you can have a storm and drink one at the same time," boasts one local. Recorded jazz and pop music from the bars compete with live performers on street corners. There's a guy singing into a bucket. Nude dancers? How about "Live Love Acts"?

You should be able to pass unnoticed through such a scene in a gunmetal gray Camaro. A gunmetal gray Camaro with no roof? That's another matter entirely. At a light on Canal Street, a young woman jumps out of her vehicle to point and shout, "I just love the Camaro! I hope y'all enjoy the rest of y'all's day!" At a voodoo shop, we get some sage advice: "I wouldn't be driving a convertible now. But maybe that's just me." The front desk clerks at our hotel ignore a Girls Gone Wild bus parked outside but vacate their stations to catch a glimpse of our topless beauty. A throng of young Camaro groupies materializes as if from thin air, taking pictures for Facebook and peppering us with impressively astute comments and questions. "Can you get the top in a color other than black?" Yes, tan. "Can you get a louder exhaust?" Not yet, but stay tuned. "I'd throw on some bigger wheels and drop it a few inches, but, really, it looks right already." Agreed on the last part. As with most cars developed during the Bob Lutz era at GM, designers got the first, second, and last word on the Camaro convertible, so it looks almost exactly like the 2007 concept. The top folds nearly flat, with no Volkswagen Beetle-like hump.

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