First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible

Roy Ritchie

With a healthy coating of McGrease in our bellies, we stop for some fruit. Philip Gomez, understandably stunned by the arrival at his roadside fruit stand of one of the first new Camaro convertibles in existence, barely lets us pay him for a grapefruit. A shrimper until very recently, Gomez reminds us that Katrina isn't the only disaster the area has recently weathered.

"We're not really making any money right now," he says, explaining that the BP oil spill ran his catch down to about 600 shrimp per day, from an early season average of 2000. Like most of the fishermen around here, he argues that the money made during the cleanup hardly fixes matters. "BP thinks they did us a favor [by hiring fishermen for the cleanup]. They ain't done us no favor."

As we head south toward the fishing village of Delacroix, the traffic clears enough to make way for the LS3 V-8's 426 hp. We wondered at first if the weight gained in chopping off the top-a shocking 258 pounds-would tame the V-8's bite. But through some engineering voodoo, the car feels as strong as ever even at a certifiably porky 4116 pounds, and the droptop will likely get the same 16/24 mpg city/highway rating as the coupe. The Camaro still doesn't jump off the line as ferociously as the lighter, live-rear-axle Ford Mustang, but the pushrod V-8 rips and snorts up to its 6600-rpm redline with an eagerness that puts most overhead-cam engines to shame. The Camaro's clutch and six-speed manual transmission are satisfyingly beefy, and the $380 Hurst short-throw shifter is very precise. (Convertibles equipped with an automatic transmission put out a slightly less impressive 400 hp and have a 6200-rpm redline.)

Delacroix was familiar with the dangers of flooding long before Hurricane Katrina. The camps here, mostly seasonal homes for sport and professional fishermen, were already raised on stilts. The storm surge, once it had blasted across the shriveled marshlands, knocked out the stilts and then the houses, too. Sometimes the water deposited them hundreds of feet away, along with the occasional upturned boat. More often, it simply wiped them off the face of the earth. "This all used to be houses and camps," Arnold says of the mostly desolate roadside. "It all disappeared without a trace, like it had never been there." Most haunting, though, are the trees. The few that still stand are visibly contorted and bent, as if still screaming in agony from the fury of the storm. Amazingly, little buds of green sprout from their branches.

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