photos by: General Motors
We Take You Through the History of the Third-Generation Camaro
During its first two-generations of production, spanning from 1967-1981, the Chevrolet Camaro became etched in stone as an American automotive icon. For 1982, Chevrolet introduced a new iteration of its Mustang-fighting pony car, with the front-engine, rear-drive, 2-door sport coupe being completely redesigned and offering many firsts for Chevy’s legendary F-body.
Moving-forward with our guides to late-model GM performance machines, GM EFI will document the third-generation Camaro, it’s models, special editions, features, options and production totals, along with its place and significance within its now six-generation lineage.
A NEW TRICK PONY: 1982
Under the auspices of then GM Vice President of Design Irvin Rybicki, Camaro chief engineer Tom Zimmer and assistant Roger Hughet who provided preliminary sketches, the new for ’82 3rd-Gen Camaro was a fresh design and quite a departure from its 1970-81 second-gen predecessor.
All new Camaros featured deep-inset quad headlights, with each model presenting subtle differences in the front air dam and rear fascia. All Camaros had wrap-around tri-color taillights, (reminiscent of the late second-gen cars).
The new car presented a lighter (by 470-lbs.), shorter (by 10-inches), and sleeker hatchback body style, in line according to Chevrolet with “the essence of the contemporary American performance expression.” Camaro’s flush-mounted 62-degree raked windshield, (shared with it’s Pontiac Firebird cousin), allowed for one of the lowest drag coefficient numbers ever recorded by GM.
Chevrolet was not only rolling-out a new Camaro, but also a new mission statement with it. Chevy proclaimed, “Excess is out. Efficiency is in!” and “Brute power is out. Precision is in!” This directive predicted the increasing emphasis on fuel efficiency and modest size. Also taking into consideration that 37-percent of Camaros purchased in 1980 were by women, Chevy felt, at least for now, the days of gas-guzzling, big-block engines drawing buyers to the dealership were long over.
Despite a 7-inch shorter wheelbase then the second-gen cars, the interior dimensions were mostly unchanged. The new cockpit sported a black-finished instrument panel to minimize reflections and analog gauges with a twin-needle speedometer showing miles/kilometers per hour. Reclining front buckets were standard and the rear seats folded forward allowing for ample storage space accessible through the rear hatch.
The new Camaro featured unit-body construction with bolt-on front sheet metal. The suspension system was totally fresh, with modified MacPherson struts, coil-springs and a stabilizer bar up front. The rear suspension utilized coils instead of the old-school leaf springs, longitudinal torque tubes, gas shocks, short control arms ahead of the solid axle and lateral track rods. An optional F41 Sport suspension was available, which added a link-type stabilizer bar.
Three flavors of Camaro were offered for 1982, along with four available engines. The base model or “Sport Coupe” came standard with the Pontiac-built LQ9; throttle-body fuel-injected “Iron Duke” 2.5L inline four-cylinder engine, good for 90hp. This would be the first time that both fuel-injection and a four-cylinder were installed into a Camaro.
Optional engines included the LC1 two-barrel 2.8L V6 (standard in Berlinetta) rated at 102hp or the base LG4 four-barrel-carbureted 305ci V8 (standard in Z28) making 145hp. It should be noted that the LQ8 2-barrel carbureted version was available early on, but was phased out in favor of the fuel injected LQ9.
Running gear was updated as well; replacing the old 3-speed manual, a 4-speed unit was now standard equipment with a 3-speed automatic as optional. Both optional engines were available with the two aforementioned transmissions. A wide range of rear axle gear ratios equipped Camaros throughout the third-gens production, depending on year, engine and transmission. Production rear axle ratios included, 2.73, 2.77, 3.08, 3.23 3.27, 3.42, 3.45 and 3.73s.
All models were standard hardtop, but were available with removable glass roof panels (T-tops), and came with power steering and power front disc/rear drum brakes with four-wheel discs (J65) as optional equipment. In regards to rolling stock, base Camaro sport coupes came with standard issue body-color 14×6-inch wheels/hubcaps, while Berlinetta and Z28 were standard with their respective alloys (see each category).
The list of available options were generous, including:
- Power door locks
- Tinted glass
- Six-way power drivers seat
- Power remote mirrors
- G80 limited-slip differential
- Tilt steering wheel
- Full wheel covers
- Rear deck lid spoiler
- Removable glass roof panels (T-tops)
First introduced in ’79, replacing the LT (luxury touring) model, the Berlinetta was a more up-scale version aimed firmly at female buyers.
- LC1 2.8L V6 standard, (LG4 305ci V8 with four-barrel carburetor, optional)
- Unique 14×7-inch finned aluminum wheels with gold accenting and “Berlinetta” center cap and 205/70R14 radial tires
- Specific “Gold” accenting package including, body pin striping, 70R14 steel-belted radial tires “Berlinetta” badging, gold headlight pockets and gold/black taillight horizontal divider bars
- Custom cloth interior
- Rear storage well cover with additional carpeting on wheelhouse
- Additional body insulation
- Full instrumentation
Even with a new mission statement and the power-robbing federally mandated emissions regulations of the day, the Z28 stayed true as a performance car, mainly in the handling/appearance department, if not big horsepower numbers. The Z28 came standard with the base LG4 four-barrel carbureted 305ci 145hp V8, mated to the 4-speed manual or optional 3-speed automatic.
Available as a Z28-only option was the LU5 TBI (twin throttle body) “Crossfire” fuel-injected 305ci V8 that made 165hp. The LU5 was only available with the automatic. The increase in power, though slight, was a welcome option and would pave the way for the TPI engines already in the works in GM’s engineering department.
The Z28’s exterior was outwardly more aggressive; displaying a unique front fascia devoid of grille openings, lower ground-hugging air dam, black-painted headlight pockets, smaller driving lights and functional air inlets on the lower front skirt. The Z28’s hood featured twin air scoops that employed functional induction flaps on the “Crossfire” LU5-equipped cars.
Other features unique to the Z28 include:
- SMC (sheet molded composite) hood
- Specific 15-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels with gold or charcoal accents and white letter P215/65R15 tires
- F41 specifically tuned suspension with link-type rear stabilizer bar
- Dual mufflers/tailpipes
- Body-color sport mirrors
- Ground effects rocker moldings with lower body stripes and three-piece rear deck lid spoiler
- Specific Z28 badging on rear fascia and lower front rocker panels
Specific to the Z28 was the “Conteur” seat option, which added Lear-Siegler six-way manually adjustable drivers seat, (a “Conteur” passenger seat was not available because of production shortages). It was a touch of modern comfort and convenience that would help take Camaro to a higher standard in the coming years.
1982 Z28 Indy Pace Car:
Joining in-line with the iconic first-gen 1967 and ’69 Camaro Indy 500 pace cars, the new third-gen Z28 paced the great race in 1982.
To celebrate this honor, Chevrolet built 6,360 Indy 500 ‘’Commemorative Edition” Z28s. A purely appearance package, all Indy 500 Z28 replicas came with:
- Removable glass roof panels (T-tops)
- Unique silver/blue metallic paint finish with special striping and Indy 500 logos
- Red accented 15-inch Z28 wheels with Goodyear Eagle GT white-letter tires
- Special blue cloth and silver vinyl interior with “Conteur” Lear-Siegler 6-way manually adjustable drivers seat
- Special instrumentation, leather-wrapped steering wheel and AM/FM radio
The engine and transmission choices were the same as regular production Z28 – making the Pace Car larelgy a collectible cosmetic upgrade package over the run-of-the-mill Z.
The new Camaro received good reviews for styling/handling but grumblings about the Z28’s lack of power. That being said, Motor Trend Magazine still felt it worthy to be honored as 1982 Car of the Year and the buying public agreed. Even with it’s late release in January, model year production totals between the Van Nuys, California and Norwood, Ohio assembly plants, reached 189,747, up form 126,139 in 1981. With 51.7% being V8-equipped cars, the times may have changed, but Camaro buyers hadn’t so much.
STAYING THE COURSE: 1983
The Camaro line stayed much the same for 1983, with changes mainly to the powertrains. A new optional engine was available for the Z28, known as the L69 H.O. (High Output) V8. This 305ci 5.0L motor had a revised camshaft and a 650cfm QuadraJet four-barrel carburetor making 190hp. The L69 was available only mated to a manual transmission for ’83.
Other 1983 upgrades/changes include:
- A new Borg-Warner T5 5-speed manual transmission was standard across the model line, replacing the 4-speed unit
- New optional TH700-R4 overdrive automatic with lockup torque converter was available in the Z28 and was optional on Sport coupe/Berlinetta
- “Conteur” seat option received matching passenger seat
- Berlinetta/Z28 received an AM/FM stereo with electronic tuning
- Z28 now had two-tone upholstery with multiple Camaro logos (similar to Recaro seats available in Firebird)
- Horsepower increase on all engines with base LQ9 inline-4 now 92hp, LC1 V-6 107hp, 305ci LG4 now 150hp and LU5 “Cross-Fire injection 305ci now 175hp
- Both a five-speed stick and 4-speed automatic were firsts for Camaro.
Even with total production down to 154,381, the third-gen Camaro was selling well.
AN ALL-TIME HIGH: 1984
The third-gen Camaro had a banner year in 1984, with larger production/sales numbers than ever before or since.
Significant changes/upgrades included:
- Discontinuation of the LU5 305ci “Cross-Fire” injection V8 and SMC (Sheet Molded Composite hood) with functional intake slats on Z28 with LU5 engine, all Camaro hoods were now steel
- Optional Z28 L69 5.0L 305ci H.O. engine now available with a five-speed manual or 4-speed overdrive automatic
- Revised dashboard and controls with improved quality/appearance
- Addition of hydraulic clutch linkage on all manual transmission cars
The Berlinetta made headlines with a new “totally awesome-like” completely digital dash and instrument cluster, that some say clearly took a cue from T.V.’s then-popular Knight Rider.
Everything was electronic including:
- Bar-graph tachometer and digital speedo
- Overhead console controls
- Swivel-mounted control pods with turn signals, HVAC, wipers, headlights, and radio controls
- Steering wheel-mounted cruise control buttons
- AM/FM radio with graphic equalizer
Even with it’s new “Space Age instrumentation,” smooth ride suspension and standard 2.8L V-6, the Berlinetta was still third choice behind the sport coupe and Z28 in sales numbers.
In November and December of the model year, a 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics edition Camaro was offered. Designated as SEO (Special Equipment Option) 1A3, the white sport coupes had red, white and blue stripes and Sarajevo ’84 Winter Olympics insignias. Approximately 3700 were produced.
With two full model years behind it, 1984 was a high water mark for the Chevy Camaro, especially the Z28.
Almost 60-percent of all Camaros produced were V8-equipped. This was all good news for Chevrolet and GM, but the 3rd-Gen Camaro was about to become an icon of its era and more. Total production figures stand at 261,591 including 100,416 Z28s.
STREET RACER: IROC-Z 1985
As the first-gen Camaro and second-gen cars of 1970-’81 had defining models during their time, it was the IROC-Z that defined the 3rd-Generation and many would say, 1980s American performance cars as a whole.
After a three-year absence, 1984 marked the return of the IROC (International Race Of Champions) series to American tracks and television, with the third-gen Camaro Z28 as the chosen platform. Without missing a “Heartbeat” Chevrolet pounced on the chance to offer a street-going version of it’s famous racecar and thus, the ’85 IROC-Z was born.
Initially offered as an option package (B4Z) on the Z28, the IROC-Z definitely gave the performance-starved enthusiasts something to rave about and hinted at things to come, (1LE).
The IROC-Z depicted a tough older brother appeal, even when compared to a regular Z28.
All IROC-Zs came with:
- Twin fog lamps in front fascia grille opening
- Redesigned front/rear fascia with deeper valences
- Revised body-color ground-effects with deeper chin spoiler and rocker panels
- Ornamental hood louvers
- Unique IROC striping and door mounted “IROC-Z” decals
- Revised badging
- Unique 16×8-inch aluminum five-spoke wheels with specific front and rear offsets with 245/50/VR16 Goodyear Eagle “Gatorback” unidirectional tires – the word “Front” and “Rear” were cast into the wheels to ensure proper mounting and 16-inch wheels were another first for Camaro.
IROC-Zs came with a choice of three 305ci V8 engines including:
- LG4 305ci V8 with 4-barrel carburetor rated at 155hp-(standard)
- L69 H.O. (High Output) 305ci V8 with 4-barrel carburetor rated at 190hp (optional in IROC-Z)
- LB9 305ci Tune Port Injected V8 rated at 215hp (optional on Z28 and IROC-Z) only mated to TH700-R4 4-speed automatic transmission
For it’s day the V-8 allotment was good, especially the fuel-injected LB9, but handling was the IROC-Z’s real strong point, connecting it with the SCCA Trans Am winning first-gen Z/28s of the late ‘60s and it’s IROC racing brethren.
The IROC-Z was equipped with an upgraded suspension featuring:
- Lowered ride height with special-tuned springs and front struts
- Specially valved Delco-Bilstein rear gas shock absorbers
- Larger diameter front sway bar and rear stabilizer bar
- Harder durometer suspension bushings
- Reinforced front frame rails and steering brace (Wonder Bar)
Optional on the IROC-Z was the G92 (performance rear axle), which provided a 3.42 rear axle ratio, this coupled with the LB9 215hp engine and the ’85 IROC-Z was the measure on the street.
According to Chevrolet, an LB9-equipped IROC-Z could run to 60-mph in under 6-seconds, achieve the 1/4-mile in 15.5 at 90mph and generate 0.92g of lateral force on the skid pad. IROC-Z slalom numbers were 63.3mph – very close to it’s Chevy Corvette cousin.
Honored by Car and Driver Magazine as one of 1985’s Ten Best, the IROC-Z was definitely carrying the torch for Chevy’s ’85 ad theme, “Today’s Chevrolet.”
Chevrolet had clipped two birds with one stone, capitalizing on it’s sponsorship of the incredibly popular IROC series and bringing the Camaro back to the forefront of America’s performance cars. The new IROC-Z sports equipment package equated to more robust performance than had been seen in the past several model years.
Other 1985 notables include:
- Last full year of production for LQ9 inline TBI 4-cylinder engine
- Berlinetta now came standard with LB8 MFI (Multi Port Injection) V6 rated at 135hp replacing 2-bbl LC1 engine
- Redesign of speedometers with single-point needle replacing double-pointer- all models
- All models got “wet arm” windshield wipers with washer outlets on the blades
Total 1985 Camaro production was 180,018 including 47,226 Z28s and 21,177 new IROC-Zs.
Following the idea of Chevrolet’s California-based marketing department, a very rare first year IROC-Z was made available only to dealers on the California coast, designated as RPO (1C5) it was known as the “California IROC-Z.” Differentiating the Cali Camaro was the absence of all IROC-Z appearance features including the hood louvers, rear deck lid spoiler and decals/striping. All performance and suspension upgrades remained, and the buyer reportedly got a $75 credit for the exterior tone-down.
A total of 502 (1C5) California IROC-Zs were made with 500 sold to the public, including 100 in black and 400-red, and all were equipped with the LB9 TPI 305ci V8 and TH700-R4 automatic. Of course all of the (1C5) cars were built at the Van Nuys, California plant. Further details on this obscure Camaro are as rare as the car itself.
LOSSES EQUAL GAINS: 1986
After it’s 1985 refreshening and introduction of the IROC-Z the message from Chevrolet was clear, performance was a selling point and the Camaro would deliver. That being said, 1986 would clean some dead flesh from the Camaro line and give a sneak peek at additional muscle.
These were the losses effective for the ’86 model year:
- “Iron Duke” inline 4-cylinder (although some sources still designate this engine as standard equipment, 0% production tells a different story)
- Final year for L69 305ci H.O. (High Output) 4-bbl V8, with only 74 units produced, 63 for Canadian Players series racing and 11-to the public
- Optional Z28/IROC-Z LB9 305ci TPI V8 engine horsepower dropped from 215hp to 190hp because of camshaft change
- Last year for Berlinetta model with only 4,479 units produced
Additions for the ’86 model year included:
- New Federally mandated center high-mount stop lamp (CHMSL) installed on top of hatchback glass on all models
- All V8 engines receive a new one-piece rear main seal
- Base Sport Coupe receives LB8 MFI V6 as standard, new F41 suspension, revised rear fascia and new 15×7-inch Rally wheels with lengthy available option list
- Additional standard features and available options for Berlinetta and Z28/IROC-Z
The real kicker for 1986 was the release of a small number of L98-equipped IROC-Zs, appearing late in the model year. Sourced from the Corvette, the slightly de-tuned 350ci TPI V8 made 220hp mated to a four-speed automatic only.
It was obvious that Chevy’s eyes were on increased performance and with America’s sports car as its flagship the Camaro was surely the benefactor. Total production for 1986 was 192,219 including a whopping 88,132 Z28/IROC-Zs, it’s second highest total compared to 1984. This was also the last time Camaro production would flirt with the 200,000-mark.
MORE POWER, PERFORMANCE AND A SUNNY ANNIVERSARY: 1987
For 1987 the Camaro line-up embraced its best selling points, power/performance and appearance. The base Sport coupe remained as did the uber-popular Z28/IROC-Z, but the luxury oriented Berlinetta was gone for good, replaced by the LT, the very same designation the Berlinetta was conceived to replace back in 1979. Actually a group of option packages for the sport coupe, LT Camaros got specific styling features and softer ride suspension, the LT wouldn’t last long though and was gone for ’88.
Engines for 1987 included:
- LB8 2.8L MFI V6 rated at 135hp (standard in Sport Coupe and LT)
- LG4 305ci 4-bbl V8 rated at 165hp/ 4-speed auto-170hp/5-speed manual (standard Z28/IROC-Z)
- LB9 305ci TPI (Tuned Port Injection) V8 rated at 190hp/auto-215hp/manual (optional in (Z28/IROC-Z)
- L98 350ci TPI V8 rated at 225hp/330lb-ft (optional in Z28/IROC-Z- only mated to 4-speed automatic)
- All V8 engines receive friction-reducing hydraulic roller lifters, revised valve covers/head design (new valve covers featured improved sealing and center bolts in the covers, the new heads had a raised lip for better sealing with the two intake bolts changed from 90-degree to 72-degree orientation)
- L98 and G92 (performance axle) equipped cars got Borg Warner HD 7.75-inch four-pinion rear end with 9-bolt diff cover and rubber drain plug
- All 350ci-equipped IROC-Zs require 3.27 rear axle gears, J65 four-wheel disc brakes, G80 limited slip differential and KC4 engine oil cooler.
- The BorgWarner units built for GM Holden of Australia were the same used in the Firebird WS6 cars starting in 1986. The rear was painted black instead of bare cast metal was stamped with the BorgWarner logo and came with tapered rather than straight roller bearings and a cone clutch instead of a disc-clutch limited slip unit.
Other 1987 Changes:
- CHMSL Center High Mounted Stop Lamp now installed in the rear spoiler instead of top of hatch glass, (except on Sport Coupe without spoiler option)
- L98-equipped Z28/IROC-Zs added “5.7L” to the “Tuned Port Injection” rear bumper fascia writing
- Z28/IROC-Zs with tuned port injected engines received new 145mph speedometers, with carbureted V8 and V6 cars retaining 85mph unit
Perhaps even bigger hoopla than the 350ci motor surrounded the return of a convertible option for the entire Camaro line, last seen on the 1969 cars. Even though select coachbuilders were doing ragtop conversions on the third-gen Camaro/Firebird since ’82, 1987 now saw Chevy dealers taking orders for convertibles.
Chevrolet contracted ASC (American Sunroof/Specialty Company) to take T-Top equipped Camaros (that already had the necessary increased structural bracing) and make them full convertible cars. Although open-air cruising came at a $4,400 premium, 263 Sport Coupes and 744 Z28/IROC-Zs went topless in ‘87, all V8-equipped.
The 1987 convertibles also seemed to serve a dual purpose, as this was the 20th-year of Camaro production and Chevy used the topless cars to celebrate the milestone, wearing special a “20th-Anniversary” dash plaque. This was the only nod to the great moniker’s 20th birthday.
On top of the additional power/performance, a tax code-long list of optional equipment and new features, and of course the ragtop, the 1987 Camaro, especially the IROC-Z had blossomed into one of the top performance cars of its day.
With that said, the battle lines were drawn in 1987 between GM’s F-body cousins and Ford’s “Blue Oval” bad boy, the Mustang 5.0 LX/GT. All three cars had come into their own in ’87, with fuel-injected small-block V-8 power, optional 4-wheel disc brakes, 5-speed manuals, 4-speed automatics, tight sport suspensions and 15- and 16-inch wheels/tires.
The competition was fierce, the Mustangs were lighter and propelled by a 225hp/300lb-ft Ford 302i 5.0L V8 and GM’s slick but hefty F-body duo, powered by 190hp/215hp 305ci motors or the big dog 225-horse 5.7L 350-cube mill in the IROC-Z and Pontiac Trans Am/GTA and Formula 350.
With the stock market crash of Oct ‘87 and the resulting national recession, Camaro production felt the tightening of the belt as 137,760 were produced, down almost 55-thousand units from 1986. Despite the declining sales, 1987 marked the last year of Camaro production at the original Norwood, Ohio assembly plant, with all future production shifted to the Van Nuys, California plant.
With the national economy in a downturn, car sales waning and the 4th-Gen Camaro already in development, Chevrolet sought to maximize efforts and resources by simplifying the Camaro line-up for 1988. Gone was the one-year-back LT model and legendary Z28, leaving the Sport Coupe and performance flagship IROC-Z as the only flavors left on the cone. Both models could be had in hardtop, T-Top or convertible form.
The attempt at simplification was well meaning, but lost in the confusing shuffle of “Option Packages” now a necessary evil when choosing how you wanted to equip your Camaro. With only two models for ’88 and a slew of available options, like the G92 performance rear axle being standard on the IROC-Z, nothing could be taken for granted. For ’88 you needed to specify G92 to get 3.27 gears in place of the now standard 2.77s (on L98 cars).
With the Z28 gone, the Sport Coupe now came standard with many of its appearance features including:
- 15×7-inch aluminum five-spoke wheels with silver or gold accents (also standard on base IROC-Z)
- Body-color mirrors
- Ground effects/stripe package
- New raised Aero-style hatchback spoiler (Sport Coupe only for first half of production year)
Also gone and never to return was carburetion, as all available engines for 1988 now utilized TBI, MFI or TPI fuel-injection.
The 1988 Engine Choices:
- LB8 MFI 173ci V6 rated at 135hp (standard in Sport Coupe)
- LO3 TBI 305ci V8 rated at 170hp (Standard in IROC-Z, optional in Sport Coupe)
- LB9 TPI 305ci V8 rated at 195hp/automatic, 220hp/manual (optional in IROC-Z)
- B2L/L98 TPI 350ci 5.7L V8 rated at 230hp (optional in IROC-Z only mated to 4-speed automatic, not available on IROC-Z convertible)
Cosmetic changes for the IROC-Z:
- New ground effects rocker molding and rear bumper fascia badges read “IROC-Z” instead of “Z28”
- IROC-Z door decals move form front to rear (to provide visual space between rocker panel logo badge)
- Option DX3 deleted the “IROC-Z” door call-outs and striping for a $60-credit
- Base IROC-Zs now got an 115mph speedo with the LO3 or automatic-equipped LB9 305ci motor and 145mph speedo with five-speed-equipped LB9 or B2L/L98 350ci V8
- Now optional 16×8-inch five-spoke aluminum IROC-Z wheels had two thin design lines (’88-’90) in each spoke instead of single thick one (’85-’88) with center caps now silver instead of black
- Standard leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
Secret Weapon: 1988 1LE
The late ‘80s saw the emergence of a new SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) racing class called appropriately enough, “Showroom Stock,” pitting basically factory built GT/pony cars against each other in endurance road racing. Like some top-secret code that could only be deciphered by those most enlightened auto-racers, the 1LE high-performance package was born.
Initially run north of the border as the Canadian Players Challenge, the series would quickly spread, including SCCA and IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) races in the USA. Competition was fierce, with GM’s F-Bodies (Camaro/Firebird) locking horns with Porsche 944s, Nissan 300Zxs and their well- known street foe, the Ford Mustang.
Early races revealed a major chink in the Camaro’s armor. Her brakes were not up to the task and riggers of this type of racing, something had to be done. With this problem being expressed by Camaro racers, GM brake engineer Phil Minch sought a solution. As usual the answer was hiding in the parts bin for other GM platforms. Minch realized that the full-size Chevy Caprice’s 12-inch front brake discs would swap over to the Camaro, providing the stopping power required.
Next up, were the calipers. Minch researched and picked the aluminum two-piston (Australian-manufactured) PBR clampers from the C4 Corvette. After slight modification, they bolted up to the Camaro’s spindles. The rear binders from the IROC-Z’s optional 4-wheel disc brake package (J65) were found to be adequate, with the front system providing much of the stopping force.
Now with the Camaros stopping on a dime, a new issue of fuel starvation reared its ugly head. Under hard braking and corner carving, the fuel level could fall to less than a 1/4-tank. The fix was adding baffles to the tank with a small reservoir, revised pickup and sock. This allowed the fuel pump constant flow under all racing conditions.
Also of major concern, not much unlike what was true on the street, the Mustang’s lighter weight and shorter gearing had the Camaros chasing Ford’s pony out of the corners. To remedy this, the Camaro’s five-speed fifth-gear ratio was changed with the 1LE package and an aluminum driveshaft was used to save weight.
The modification process involved not only Minch, but also Camaro platform chief engineer Chuck Hughes and F-body powertrain manager Ray Canale, with Bill Mitchell of Special Vehicle Development doing the initial track testing. As per the rules of Showroom Stock racing, to qualify, all performance components had to be available on the production cars.
Assisting Hughes and Canale in bringing the 1LE package to fruition and having the new homologated performance components installed on the assembly line in Van Nuys, California, was Mark Stielow, who at the time, was a very gifted engineering student on internship for GM and soon to become the accepted godfather of the Pro-Touring movement.
Making sure that 1LE was formidable, was Chevrolet’s John “Heinrocket” Heinricy, automotive engineer and soon to be, 12-time SCCA national championship winner, Heinricy played an integral role in the ultimate end product through his unquestioned results on the racetrack. An interview with John Heinricy and more on the F-body 1LE package is found in “GM-EFI’s Guide To the third-gen Pontiac Firebird.”
Once all was tested and approved, the 1LE option or “Special Components Performance Package” was available on the 1988 Camaro. An enigma to all but the most intuitive racers, only four were delivered in the U.S., with an additional four sent to Canada, (although this is not confirmed).
Not an official RPO (Regular Production Order), the 1LE race-ready components could only be acquired by way of a password of sorts, basically ordering an hardtop IROC-Z with the G92 performance axle option, G80 limited slip rear with 3.42 gears and the all important crux of the deal, no air conditioning. Like a time-set bomb fuse, (C41) AC-delete triggered the 1LE option and changed the Camaro in question from street car to racecar with the swoop of a pen, and an additional $700.
The full 1LE Component Package:
- IROC-Z ordered with G92 Performance Axle, G80 Limited-Slip 3.42 posi-rear, (optional axle ratios-305ci/3.45, 350ci/3.27)
- Required/included with G92 option- engine oil cooler, four-wheel disc brakes (J65), dual catalytic converter exhaust, 16×8-inch aluminum wheels with 245/50ZR16 Goodyear Eagle unidirectional performance tires, 145mph speedometer and 5,500 RPM redline Tach
- B2L/L98 5.7L 350ci engine with 4-speed automatic or LB9 5.0L 305ci engine mated to 5-speed manual transmission
- Aluminum driveshaft
- Heavy-duty front disc brakes with aluminum PBR two-piston calipers, 12-inch rotors, revised proportioning valves
- Specially tuned front/rear shock absorbers and beefier lower control arms
- Specific harder durometer jounce bumpers
- Baffled fuel tank
- Fog light delete (for weight savings and increased air-flow to the radiator)
- Power accessories delete (usually)
- Smaller aluminum spare wheel/tire
- Some 1LE cars had lightweight mesh-style aluminum wheels
Specific options such as rear axle gears, etc, could vary slightly over the 1LE’s existence, according to driver/owner preference.
The performance and style of the third-gen Camaro was in its prime, the term IROC-Z was now a household name among car and non-car people alike. Total Camaro production for 1988 was 96,275, including 27,811 IROC-Zs of which 3,761 were the pricey $18k+ convertibles.
MORE OF THE GOOD STUFF: 1989
After a brief California-based experiment in 1987, the RS (Rally Sport) designation last seen in 1981, returned as the entry-level Camaro, replacing the Sport Coupe.
With stupid-crazy insurance quotes sky rocketing especially for the male youth who the HI-PO Camaros were marketed to Chevrolet provided the RS as an “almost” IROC-Z, equipped with a standard V6 or optional base 305ci V8, along with the less eyebrow raising and envy-imposing moniker. This was done in order to address rising insurance rates brought-on by the Camaros status on top of the stolen cars list.
Both the RS and IROC-Z once again were available in hardtop, T-top or convertible form and now came standard with a PassKey theft-deterrent system. The PassKey system, first to see action on 1986 C4 Vettes, provided a computer-coded ignition key. A sensor in the steering column/ignition key barrel, would read the coded resistor on the key, matching it with the cars computer data, thus allowing the engine to fire. Theft was lowered substantially in the Corvette with PassKey, much to the Camaro’s benefit.
The IROC-Z’s optional V8s got additional horses by way of the (N10) dual catalytic converter exhaust system that came as a part of the G92 performance rear axle option. The free-breathing exhaust added 10 ponies to the LB9 5.0L 305ci V8 mated to the five-speed manual, boosting output from 220hp to 230hp, and nipping at the 350ci with single exhaust.
For 1989, the G92 option upgraded the standard 2.77 rear axle ratio to 3.27 in the B2L/L98 5.7L 4-speed automatic cars and 3.45 in the LB9 5.0L 5-speed manual cars. When added to the B2L/L98 5.7L V8 with dual cat exhaust, horsepower jumped from 230 to 240, keeping its edge.
The RS came with the LB8 2.8L MFI V6 as standard, mated to a five-speed manual making 135hp (4-speed automatic, optional). The base LO3 170hp 305ci V8 was optional on RS coupes and standard on the RS ragtops (same as IROC-Z coupes/convertibles) with either a five-speed stick or 4-speed auto.
End of the decade Camaros had become well-appointed muscle cars, now adding leather bucket seats and a premium Delco Bose sound system to the laundry list of optional accoutrements, a topless IROC-Z could easily surpass 20-grand, and often did.
Following an ultra-secret 1988 debut, the 1LE option package came into it’s own in 1989, both in numbers ordered and it’s prowess on the racetrack. After only 4 confirmed examples leaving the Van Nuys plant in ’88, 111 road race-ready 1LE IROC-Zs were born for ’89, the cat was definitely out of the bag and the hardcore racers had the catnip.
When it comes to auto racing however, dominance comes one-way and one-way only, victories. With that said, 1989 saw the 1LE Camaros sweeping the SCCA and IMSA Showroom Stock series, winning every race in the Escort Endurance Championship and taking “Car of the Year” honors in IMSA’s Firestone Firehawk series.
No doubt, 1LE had more than proved it’s worth and had added another notch to the third-gen Camaros belt.
Total Camaro production for 1989 was 110,739 including 24,007 IROC-Zs with 3,940 being convertibles.
END OF AN ERA: 1990
The 1990 model year although only 5-months long, would hold significance in many aspects for Chevrolet’s Camaro.
With a refreshed 1991 F-body, (Camaro/Firebird) scheduled for an early spring 1990 release, the ‘90 model year lasted only from August to December ’89, meaning that technically, no 1990 Camaros were actually built in 1990. Reportedly, 39 Camaros were built in Jan 1990, yet it is not confirmed whether these cars counted as 1990 models, ’91 pilot cars or split between both.
Nineteen Ninety was also the final year for the now legendary IROC-Z; being that Chevrolet’s IROC (International Race Of Champions) contract was good until the end of 1989 and the “Bow Tie” division was not going to renew, the great race series was left to Chrysler and their Dodge Daytona.
Not being a sponsor and car supplier for the IROC series meant that Chevy could no longer produce IROC-Z street cars after Dec, 31, 1989, this left a conundrum for both Chevy and those looking to purchase the vastly-popular high-performance IROC-Z.
Rather than spring the news on the car-buying public mid-model year, the decision was made to bring back the Z28 moniker on the fresh for ’91 model and do it as early as possible.
With that confusing explanation of reality out of the way, here is a list of notables for the ’90 model year:
- Following a federal mandate, all cars built after Sept, 1 1989 will have a passive restraint system or (SIR) supplemental inflatable restraint, Camaros were now built with an air bag installed in the steering wheel hub
- LB8 2.8L MFI V6 rated at 135hp (standard on RS coupe) now designated as LHO 3.1L MFI V6 rated at 140hp
- *All Camaros get revised dashboard with more rounded edges and new “Half Moon” gauge cluster with yellow instead of white lettering
- Both RS/IROC-Z with 4-speed automatic got a modified torque converter with higher lockup points for better gas mileage.
- Limited slip differential now standard on IROC-Z models
- 16-inch aluminum wheels standard on IROC-Z convertible (optional on IROC-Z coupe)
- IROC-Z with B2L/L98 TPI 5.7L 350ci V8 gets lighter pistons increasing output from 240hp to 245hp with dual catalytic exhaust, and torque from 340lb-ft to 345lb-ft
All 1990 models were unique/recognizable in that they had the 1990-’92-only dash/gauges, but did not have the new for ’91 ext features. The 1LE option was still around for those hardcore racers in the know, with 62 being built for track duty.
Total 1990 production was only 34,986 cars, obviously because of the not even Hockey season long model year.
With that said, springtime would bring a new look and an old and storied name back to the Camaro line.
PICKING-UP WHERE IT LEFT OFF: 1991
Despite the cock-eyed, shortened 1990 model year and the IROC-Z now relegated to muscle car lore and haters stupid acronym-based jokes; the ’91 Camaro was bolder and fresher than ever. The revised appearance features presented a more slippery shape for the third-gen Camaro.
The new exterior styling focused on:
- “Aero-style” ground effects with aerodynamic cutouts to slim and modernize the Camaros look (Z28/RS)
- High-rise rear deck lid spoiler on Z28 coupes
- New 16-inch aluminum five-spoke wheels (standard on Z28/optional on RS) with a more flat-faced design and black center cap
- Z28 models now displayed the appropriate badges and were devoid of any body striping
- “Camaro” nameplate between fog lights on previous IROC-Z replaced by Chevrolet “Bow Tie” on Z28
- New body-color non-functional molded composite hood “Blisters” replace black slats (Z28)
Engine/transmission packages remained mostly unchanged for ’91, with RS coupes equipped with the LHO 3.1L V6 making 140hp, and the RS ragtop getting the base LO3 TBI 5.0L V8 rated at 170hp. Some sources say that midyear RS convertibles got the 3.1L-six as standard.
Both Z28/Z28 convertibles came with the LB9 TPI 5.0L V8 making 205hp with the four-speed automatic or 230hp (dual catalytic exhaust) with a five-speed manual as standard. Optional in the Z28 was the 245-horse B2L/L98 TPI 5.7L 350ci V8 mated to a four-speed auto only.
Underneath, the Z28s also got beefier 34mm front and 21mm rear stabilizer bars. Axle ratios were now focused on fuel economy, with most models getting 2.73’s/automatics or 3.08’s on sticks. Three body styles were still offered for 1991; RS/Z28 models were available as hardtop coupes, with T-tops and convertible form.
COP=Camaro on Patrol: 1991 B4C “Special Service” option or “Police Package”
Not offered to the public, the *B4C package was aimed at Law enforcement, from local Sheriffs departments and Highway Patrol to Government/Military agencies.
Often referred to as a 1LE Camaro with AC, truth be told, a better description would be an RS Camaro with Z28 engines/suspension and Z28/1LE components.
The original 1991-’92 B4C Camaros based on hardtop RS coupes, were not identical to, or equipped the same as race-ready 1LE Camaros which were based on Z28s and had a strict prerequisite of having no AC. 1LE front brakes and other 1LE equipment became available mid-’91 and wasn’t installed on all B4C cars.
For 1991, B4C Camaros came equipped with:
- Either the LB9 TPI 5.0L 305ci V8 mated to a five-speed stick or four-speed auto, or B2L/L98 5.7L 350ci V8 with a four-speed auto
- Full Z28 suspension with limited-slip differential (some had G92 performance rear axle option)
- Z28 16-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels with 245/50ZR16 Goodyear performance tires
- Z28 four-wheel disc brakes
- Engine oil cooler
- 105 amp battery
- 1LE front brake package (available mid year)
Not cheap by any stretch, 5.0L cars ran $3,135 over the price of an RS, with 5.7L B4Cs adding $3,950. Oh well, the Government can afford it.
For 1991, 592 B4C Camaros saw active duty. To this day some agencies still employ their B4C Camaros, as they have lost none of their handling capabilities over the years, matching or surpassing even current performance cars.
Over time through police auctions and such, some lucky civilians have been able to acquire the 3rd-Gen B4C Camaros, although they are extremely rare.
The 1LE option increased in demand for ’91, with 478 road-ripping race-ready examples being built.
The 1991 model year saw GM employing some new assembly techniques on the last 3rd-Gen F-bodies, including utilizing new seam sealers and structural adhesives to reduce interior squeaks/rattles and improve overall build-quality. These efforts would carry-over to the upcoming 4th-Gen cars.
Total Camaro production jumped back up to 100,838 for 1991. Even with loud whispers of a new generation F-body in the works, and a window sticker that seemed to rise with every glance, the fresh-faced 3RD-Gen Camaro still provided some of the best handling thrills of any American car on the road. The 3rd-Gen Camaro had one more year and hurrah to go.
SILVER ANNIVERSARY: 1992
Nineteen Ninety Two was the final year for the third-gen F-body Camaro, and more significant, it was also the 25th-Anniversary for Chevy’s great pony car. To commemorate a quarter-century of production Chevrolet offered the RPO (ZO3) “Heritage Package” for 1992 RS and Z28 coupes and convertibles.
Originally rumored to provide the C4 Corvette’s aluminum cylinder heads, tubular exhaust headers and 6-speed tranny, the end result was an appearance package only.
On top of all ’92 Camaros getting a “25th-Anniversary” badge on the dashboard, the $175 “Heritage Package” added:
- Special 25th Anniversary emblems, hood and rear deck lid stripes
- Specific body-color grille (RS/Z28)
- Black-painted headlight pockets
- 16-inch aluminum five-spoke wheels with body-color accents
To receive RPO (ZO3), Z28s had to be Arctic White, Purple Haze, Black or Bright Red. RS Camaros added Polo Green II Metallic to the list. It is unclear just how many “Heritage Edition” ’92 Camaros were built, but they are highly-sought among collectors.
Although performance figures remained identical to 1991, some TPI-equipped Camaros received C4 Corvette engine components toward the end of production. This included the rough-textured cast aluminum intake runners, black-painted valve covers and blank throttle-body plate.
B4C & 1LE
Even today, questions lie around the total number of 1LE and B4C Camaros built for 1992; two figures exist, citing 589 B4C Camaros and 705 1LE cars. Some sources state that for 1992 the total number of 1LE-equipped cars is 705, with 589 of them being B4C Camaros – thus, only 116 true race-ready 1LE Camaros were built for ’92.
This confusion seems based on the fact that by mid-’91 B4C Camaros were being equipped with 1LE front brake calipers and other 1LE components. Based on your author’s research and assistance from GM Heritage Center lead archivist Christo Datini, GM internal production reports can confirm the 1LE figures for 1991-’92.
As for the B4C production figures, Datini explains, that referring to a trusted source, “The Camaro White Book,” the B4C Camaros were for fleet use only and all based on RS coupes. For additional reference, all true 1991-92 1LE Camaros were based on Z28s without AC.
Even with the 1LE code appearing on the Service Parts Identification label on 1992 B4C Camaros, this was to identify the cars as having 1LE Corvette-style front brake calipers, not necessarily all 1LE race components.
With all this spelled-out, your author believes that for 1992 the two figures are accurate, 705 1LEs and 589 B4Cs, being that having 1LE equipment doesn’t make an RS into a Z28 and only RS coupes for ’91 and ’92 were B4C cars. Advertised by Chevrolet as a “Veteran American Muscle Car on the street and the track” the 1992 Camaro fit the billing to a T.
By recording it’s 5oth win in the SCCA Trans Am racing series in May 1992, The Camaro gained the honor of having the most first place finishes of any single model in 26-years of Trans Am racing, and it was the 3rd-Gen that captured the lions share of those victories.
Total Camaro production for ’92 was 70,007, not to shabby for an eleven-year-old platform/style, just more proof of the endearing appeal the third-gen Camaro had throughout it’s run.
This was also the last year of Camaro/Firebird production at the Van Nuys California plant and on U.S. soil as a whole. The upcoming fourth-gen F-bodies would be built in Canada at the Ste. Therese, Quebec assembly plant.
Almost a quarter-century has passed since the last third-gen Camaro – a ’92 Red Z28 Coupe – rolled down the assembly line at the Van Nuys, California plant. Finally after three decades of scorn, the third-gen cars, especially the IROC-Z, Z28, and 1LE cars are getting their due as a significant chapter in Camaro history, if not groundbreaking. Although often overshadowed by it’s successors, the 1982-92 Camaros can be seen as the gatekeepers to modernity for Chevy’s pony car.
Taking from it’s Corvette sibling, the third-gen Camaro offered many firsts like EFI in all it’s forms; MFI, TBI, TPI and 5-speed sticks, 4-speed automatics, 16-inch wheels/tires, special performance-tuned suspensions, big brakes, interior accoutrements, safety/anti-theft features and so-on.
Like most anything of worth and remembrance, the 1982-’92 Chevrolet Camaro, will continue to gain value, significance and honor with the passage of time. Scoop them up now, folks, they’re not getting any more plentiful!
Since obtaining his driver’s license way back in 1987, Andrew’s automotive interests have revolved around late-model, GM EFI iron. Predominantly a Pontiac guy, he had grown-up driving and experiencing many EFI cars from the ’80s to the present. Since 2008, he’s been a freelance writer/photographer for multiple niche auto enthusiast magazines and websites. Andrew claims to have a short yet definitve list of passions, in which late-model performance cars, hold a top spot.