Under a warm summer sun on the grounds of the St. Catharines Powertrain facility, the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro made its official Canadian debut on Friday August 7. Eschewing the sterile glare of an autoshow unveiling, this event had a somewhat homespun feel, not least because the plant was also hosting its 17th annual Show and Shine. With over four hundred cars spread out over the rolling grass, it was a GM love-in of the highest order.
The gen-six Camaro was presented by Canadian General Motors prez Steve Carlisle. Also present was a throng of media and a number of local dignitaries. But it was the dozens of GM workers and enthusiasts that made this reveal special – if a little bitter sweet.
After all, production of the Camaro is moving from Canada to Michigan. While we were all admiring the 2016’s taut flanks and quality interior, the plant in Oshawa was churning out the last of the 2015 cars.
But there’s a Canadian story here. The heart of the 2016 Camaro SS – that being the 6.2L LT1 V8 that makes 455 hp and 455 lb-ft – is built at this St. Catharines plant.
We got a brief tour of the V8 section of the facility (they also build an auto transmission and the 3.6L V6 here). Huge CNC machines mill the aluminum blocks and heads, and the cranks are made in-house as well.
In the first section of the tour we watched a 1,200 kg Gantry Robot load the cylinder heads into multiple CNC machine where the following processes were performed: mill rocker clearance, intake and exhaust surface, mill valve seat and guide, fuel injector and rail holes, intake manifold holes and rocker arm support mounting holes. Later on, another robot picks up the head from the conveyor and moves it to a camera that checks if threads are present. Then it places the head in the leak test, and based on a pass/fail criteria will either drop off the head on a continuing conveyor, or send it to the reject chute.
While walking through, we pass by stacks of palettes holding hundreds of crankcases – a pretty good indication of the plant’s production volume.
The V8 line runs two eight-hour shifts daily, and with 104 workers per shift it spits out an LT1 every 42 seconds. Not just for cars, the plant also manufactures truck variants of the LT1.
This factory opened in 1954, and is one of the largest engine/transmission plants in North America. General Motors Canada just announced a $13-million investment in the facility to enable production of more 3.6L V6 variants.
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The red pre-production Camaro SS certainly sounded the part of an angry pony car as it barked to life and rumbled up the lawn. It looks the part too, sticking close to the angular look of the gen-five car but coming across as more athletic and less bulky. Probably because it is.
Built on GM’s Alpha platform that debuted with the Cadillac ATS, this new Camaro is 28 percent stiffer and up to 136 kg lighter than the outgoing model. It’s marginally shorter and narrower too. Some weight saving measures include an aluminum hood, aluminum instrument panel beam, lightweight fasteners, aluminum suspension components, and with the V6 models, some of the suspension bits are molded from high-strength plastic.