If you’re into nice round numbers—and track-friendly performance cars—you may want to circle May 24 on this year’s calendar. That’s when the 50th anniversary Chevrolet Camaro SS will be the pace car for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Behind the wheel? Roger Penske, a long-time Chevy motorsports partner who will be celebrating a golden anniversary of his own: 2016 is his 50th year as a race-team owner. Penske and Chevrolet are on a hot streak at Indy, too, as Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya won last year’s event in a Chevy-powered race car.
A High-Performance History Lesson
The Bowtie brand’s track record at the Indy 500 dates back to 1920, when Gaston Chevrolet, the younger brother of the company’s founder, Louis, won the race as a driver. (Big bro had his turn the next year as the owner of the winning car, driven by Tommy Milton.) Chevy engines have delivered motivation for nine winners since then, including not just last year’s racer, but also for a streak of six victories in a row from 1988-1993.
Yet Chevy’s role as a pace-car provider has been even more extensive. A Chevrolet Fleetmaster got things started at the 1948 event, and the very first Camaro, optioned with RS and SS upgrade packages, did the honors in 1967. In the following years, 25 Bowtie-brand vehicles paced the race, while the 2016 pace car will be ninth Camaro to do so. Only one other vehicle has been named Indy 500 pace car more often. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s another Chevy, the Corvette, with 13 appearances to its credit.
2017 Camaro SS: The Perfect Pace-Car Foundation
The Chevy-supported racers that are competing in the 2016 Indy 500 will be able to run laps at speeds approaching 230 mph, and though pace cars don’t have to supply quite that kind of capability, their role requires more than a leisurely Sunday drive. Of course, that’s no problem for the 2017 Chevy Camaro SS. As the most powerful Camaro SS ever sold to retail customers, it will handle track duty without any performance modifications.
Chevrolet engineering expertise is a big factor here. But so is the car’s standard V8 engine. Indeed, it makes 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque from 6.2 liters (or 376 cubic inches) of displacement. To put those outputs into context, the original 1967 Camaro SS was limited to 295 horses, although with 380 pound-feet of torque, from its 350-cubic-inch V8. There’s also the matter of acceleration. The current Camaro SS can fly from 0 to 60 mph in 4 seconds flat with an available eight-speed automatic transmission, or in 4.3 seconds with a standard six-speed manual. Official specs for the 1967 Camaro SS are harder to come by. However, an archived road test from Car and Driver magazine indicates 0 to 60 mph performance of 7.8 seconds for the older vehicle.
A further difference: Unlike the 1967 Camaro SS, and most classic muscle cars, the 2017 version doesn’t just stand out for its straight-line performance. It also serves up a sophisticated Magnetic Ride Control suspension for uncanny handling abilities.
The Camaro’s 50th Anniversary Edition
At this stage, Chevrolet has no plans to sell a pace-car replica to customers, something it’s done in the past – much to collectors’ delight. A rare 1969 Camaro RS/SS Indy 500 Pace Car Convertible, for example, went for $85,250 last fall at Auctions America’ Hilton Head Island sale. But the 2017 Camaro will be offered at dealerships with a 50th Anniversary Package that at least shares the same bold hood stripes as this year’s pace cars.
That package will be available for the Camaro coupe or convertible in the 2LT and 2SS trim levels, the former relying on a standard 2.0-liter, 275-horsepower turbo engine; a 335-horsepower V6 is optional for the 2LT, while the 2SS, as mentioned, is configured with that potent V8.
The exact details of the package include an eye-popping set of 20-inch wheels with an exclusive 50th Anniversary design, along with fresh style cues for the grille, which is complemented by satin-chrome accents, a Nightfall Gray Metallic exterior and a matching front splitter for an aerodynamic finishing touch. In the cabin, the instrument panel, seatbacks, steering wheel and illuminated sill plates each get the 50th anniversary treatment. The interior also is distinguished by a model-exclusive black-leather environment, and that’s set off by suede inserts and orange contrast stitching.
Pricing for the 2017 Camaro lineup has not been released yet, but Chevrolet has confirmed the 50th Anniversary editions will be ready this summer.
A Quick Recap of Today’s Camaro
The 2016 Chevrolet Camaro debuted earlier this year as a brand-new, sixth-generation model, quickly gaining the attention of critics and customers alike. More to the point, the Camaro has earned awards such as the Motor Trend Car of the Year trophy from journalists, and it’s also earned a 7.8 percent jump in first-quarter sales from car shoppers.
Chevrolet re-engineered the Camaro from the inside out to achieve those results, too. That means a cabin impressive enough to be named one of the industry’s 10 Best Interiors by WardsAuto, as well as a sleek and slippery exterior that improves aerodynamic lift by 30 percent versus the 2015 model. Taking a page from many modern-day sports cars, the lightweight 2016 Camaro also comes with that new turbocharged engine for relatively responsible performance.
The turbo, to be clear, is the standard power plant for the entry-level Camaro, and with it, drivers will be able to enjoy both 0-60 mph acceleration of below 6 seconds and EPA ratings that reach 22/31 mpg city/highway.
It’s additionally worth noting that the 50th Anniversary edition wasn’t the first 2017 Camaro to be revealed before it gets to dealerships. Chevy first premiered the 1LE performance package for the car at this year’s Chicago Auto Show. This bundle brings together serious suspension enhancements, Brembo brakes, Goodyear Eagle F1 tires and other go-fast goodies, all in service of track-tuned handling capabilities.
A similar package was available for Camaro SS previously, but the 2017 model will be the first to offer a 1LE setup in a six-cylinder car to widen the vehicle’s appeal.
The 2016 Chevrolet Camaro is on sale now with an MSRP of $25,700.