Why did this Camaro seem so familiar? It was a 2021 SS coupe and I’d never driven it before. And yet, it seemed like I knew it: burgundy paint, Bose stereo, tan leather interior, sunroof. Somehow, this car was already in my brain. Eventually, I figured out why.
When I was in high school, a kid named Bill would sometimes drive his dad’s IROC, which was conspicuously nicer than my own. My car had no air conditioning, T-tops or power windows, and its cargo area was sealed off by 12-inch MTX subwoofers. Bill’s dad’s car had the options—leather, power everything, T-tops, the 5.7-liter engine and respectable factory premium audio. The 2021 SS seemed familiar because it was the reincarnation of Bill’s dad’s car, tastefully optioned and respectably low-key. All it was missing was gold pinstriping and louvres over the rear window. OK, fine—Bill’s dad’s car didn’t have the trashy louvres. Mine did.
When we pay attention to the Camaro, we tend to focus on the outrageous versions, the 1LEs and ZL1s and the extroverted trims (of which the current roster includes the Shock Edition, Steel Edition, and Redline Edition). The only thing wild about this Camaro, though, was its color: wild cherry tintcoat. You know, burgundy. Its seats were heated and ventilated, its ride control magnetic, its exhaust note subdued. But the SS still packed 455 horsepower, hooked to a six-speed manual and a limited-slip diff. The brake calipers were black, not red or yellow or orange, but they were Brembos. This thing had the performance goods, but it wasn’t being obnoxious about it.
And that’s the definition of Dad Spec: you take a vehicle with stacked performance and a possibly juvenile rep and option it toward luxury and understatement.
You can’t Dad Spec every car. For instance, I love driving a Honda Civic Type R, but it makes me feel like I’m rocking skinny joggers. It’s not age-appropriate. I know I shouldn’t care what other people think and that the physical world is only a fanciful construct ginned up by our visual cortexes, but that wing makes me real self-conscious when I’m grabbing my Green Goddess salad in the Panera drive-through. The Civic Type R is the flat-brimmed hat of cars. A Civic Si sedan, though, in Modern Steel Metallic? Now we’re talking Dad Spec.
You can Dad Spec a lot of your favorite cars. For instance, the Subaru WRX STI Limited with the no-cost “low profile trunk spoiler” should be called the WRX STI DS. I love a widebody Hellcat Charger, but Dad Spec calls for a Scat Pack in subdued F8 Green—a subtle “not a cop” hue—with cloth houndstooth seats and adaptive damping. Any luxury car with a performance version that’s rational rather than all-out (M550i instead of M5; Audi S instead of RS) is Dad Spec, so get whichever one looks best with your salt-and-pepper beard stubble. You can Dad Spec a truck, too. The Jeep Gladiator Overland is total Dad Spec, which is the opposite of BroDozer, if you’re wondering.
Even a Mustang can be Dad Specced. It’s the GT Premium convertible in Shadow Black, no stripe. Does it have the Ford Safe and Smart package, you ask? You’re damn right it does. This is one Mustang you’re not going to see wrapped around a light pole in an empty parking lot. Not because dads don’t rip doughnuts, but because they’re good at them.
Of course, even the most Dadded-out performance car still has some ruffian edge, as it should. I live on a cul-de-sac, and one rainy night I pulled up to my driveway with my father-in-law in the passenger seat. And then I creeped past the driveway, cocking the wheel to the left while inconspicuously pressing the traction control off button on the console. “Whoops!” I said. “Missed our turn.” Then I spiked the throttle, dropped the clutch and kicked the tail out, the front end pivoting in place as the rear howled around and pointed us back toward the driveway, both of us laughing like maniacs. Because you can give a Camaro a heated steering wheel, but it’s still a Camaro.
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