By on June 12, 2009

Though the Mustang and Camaro will forever be linked in the public imagination as “ponycars”, the truth is that only twice in history has the Camaro been explicitly aimed at the Mustang. The first time, of course, was at its introduction; the Mustang had caught the General napping and the first-gen Camaro was a simple “me-too” response to that success, as craven in its copying as the Russian faux-Concorde that would debut two years later.

With the arrival of the 1970 model, however, Chevrolet charted a drastically different path for its “ponycar”. The shape of the original split-bumper car could have originated from an Italian styling house, so much so that Andreas Pininfarina himself publicly stated his admiration for the design. It was clean, classic and unique. By contrast, Ford looked to the past for inspiration with the Mustang II, slathering the small Pinto-based car with retro cues, and then looked to Europe for guidance with Jack Telnack’s 1979 Fox Mustang.

The Camaro’s next redesign, in 1982, turned it into a sleek, futuristic spaceship of a car, and with that the battle lines were drawn. Where the Mustang would always be smaller, sedan-derived, and Baroque in style, the Camaro would become an ever-more-aggressive wedge, a naked statement of heartland American performance. Chevrolet pursued an aggressive series of upgrades—the 5.0 High Output, Tuned Port Injection, and the final 5.7 TPI—designed to stay one critical step ahead of Ford.

Between 1993 and 1994, there was an “all-change” period in the ponycar world. Ford’s new(ish) Mustang was another retro pastiche, a rather ungainly, high-shouldered sedan with more weight and no more power. The Camaro, by contrast, became what some would call a bona fide supercar, taking its styling directly from the “Corvette Indy” concept and its LT1 engine from the Corvette itself.

In one fell swoop, Chevrolet achieved permanent ascendancy in the performance war. Nothing short of a Porsche — or a Corvette — could touch an LT1 Camaro in full song. I drove an early-production ’94 through the hills of Kentucky lo these many years ago and was absolutely crushed by the speed and power. Coupled to a six-speed manual, the original fourth-gen F-body was easily the most capable vehicle ever offered at that price level.

Wouldn’t you know, the SN95 Mustang outsold it from Day One. The general public preferred the friendly accessibility of the Ford to the rocketship performance and Countach-esque seating position of the Chevrolet. The men from GM had backed the wrong horse. As young buyers moved to import brands in record numbers, the market for these increasingly expensive and difficult-to-insure ponycars shifted back to the same men who had purchased them a decade or two previous. Those men didn’t want a road-going rocketship. They wanted to sit up straight and enjoy themselves.

GM’s response was typically bizarre: they restyled the Camaro a bit and dropped in the LS1 aluminum V8 from the then-new C5 Corvette. This simply emphasized the model’s existing virtues — speed, power, supercar proportions — while doing nothing about the problems that led to the Mustang’s runaway sales victory. The good news: for the first time since the Trans Am SD-455, you could buy a thirteen-second car for a working man’s wage. The bad news: nobody wanted to.

The Camaro I’m driving in the header picture is the Trackbird Engineering “Street Modified 2″ LS1 Z28. Ordered for SCCA competition as a completely bare-bones, no-option car in the final months of Camaro production, it was then reworked from the ground up for the demands of competitive autocross on 315-section R-compound tires. The result was a car capable of slaughtering modern icons such as the Subaru STi or Mitsubishi Evolution. Exiting a sweeping turn at well over 1.5 g, feeling the small-block Chevy pulling forward like Apollo’s own chariot, tucked deep within the dismal plastic bathtub that passed for an interior in those cars, it was simply extraordinary.

The LS1-powered Camaro was discontinued with no clear successor. Obsessed with trucks, profits, and urban markets, always afraid to cannibalize the Corvette, GM simply didn’t care enough to continue. Nor did the consumer. Presented with the choice between a 350-horsepower (although always underrated in advertising to preserve the Vette) rocketship Camaro and a 260-horsepower dumpy New Edge Mustang, they chose the Mustang in droves.

If the customer liked the New Edge, they loved the 2005 retro ’Stang. Although still incapable of matching the 1998 Camaro’s performance, the new Mustang had retro character in spades and looked like a million bucks driving down the street. The man in that street had spoken, and GM decided to listen. The revolution of 1970 — the decision to embrace the future and create a unique identity — was done. From now on, starting in 2010, the Camaro would, once again, be nothing but another imitation pony.

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62 Comments on “Capsule History: Chevrolet Camaro LS1...”


  • avatar
    gslippy

    “As young buyers moved to import brands in record numbers, the market for these increasingly expensive and difficult-to-insure ponycars shifted back to the same men who had purchased them a decade or two previous. Those men didn’t want a roadgoing rocketship. They wanted to sit up straight and enjoy themselves.”

    I have never heard this before. Are you suggesting the Camaro covers the same market demographic as Buick?

  • avatar
    Power6

    Jack I don’t think the excess of performance, or the horrible interior, killed this car. All they had to do was shorten the platform a bit, and make it more upright. It would have been so much more useful without 200# doors, giant shallow hatch, and the “cat lump” in the passengers floor. As it was, it was too inconvenient and claustrophobic. It is possible to sit upright and have performance, the Camaro could have been it, they needed to give boring people a reason to buy the 6 banger model.

    I have never heard this before. Are you suggesting the Camaro covers the same market demographic as Buick?

    Though I haven’t looked at the numbers, I am sure the average age of a Mustang/Camaro buyer has gone up over the years. These cars aren’t performance and style bargains any more, they are old man way-back machines. The kids have moved on.

  • avatar
    DearS

    I want to drive one of those Camaros, perhaps I’ll forgive the interior quality for that V8 power and independent suspension.

  • avatar
    h82w8

    So Mr. Baruth, your inner-redneck shows through.

    Never cared for the 3rd gen Camaro, performance prowess notwithstanding. Overwrought styling with awkward Billy Bob tooth-front and mullet-rear overhangs, build quality only a Trabant-driving East German commissar could appreciate, and just an overall air of “trailer park”, where many of these Camaros continue to reside today.

    First-gen Fox Mustang had much a neater, more livable design. It was lighter and had much better build quality, and with enough aftermarket parts and tuning could easily run with a Camaro, especially down the drag strip. Gee, wonder why the ‘Stang way-outsold the Camaro all those years…?

    SN95 ‘Stangs…never cared for ‘em either, ‘cept the Cobra R models, which always pissed me off that Ford only made a few hundred of in each iteration. Stupid!

  • avatar
    Power6

    I want to drive one of those Camaros, perhaps I’ll forgive the interior quality for that V8 power and independent suspension.

    Corrected.

  • avatar
    pb35

    A colleague had one of these back in ’94. Green with ZR-1 rims. He let me take it for a spin once and I remember thinking it felt like an amusement park ride. Awesome.

    I was living in Detroit at the time so I had a Probe GT for the harsh MI winters.

  • avatar
    Seth L

    That interior is just going to be more and more of a dealbreaker. Those fabrics and plastic started decomposing before they got off the assembly line.

    The 4th gen Camero is still one of the best looking exterior designs outside of premium GT’s for me.

  • avatar
    N85523

    Not so much of a review as a capsule history, but interesting for sure. I’ve never driven a factory car that left such an impression on me as the LS1 Camaro. That impression was along the lines of, “This is the most amazing engine I’ve ever controlled, yet everything else about this car is the a total disappointment.” It handled poorly, the interior was unwelcoming, and the build quality seemed like nobody from the engineers to the assembly line workers gave a damn. The 6-speed was sloppy and lacked any precision and the clutch was going out, but oh, what a motor. What a truly remarkable engine that small block was.

  • avatar
    pleiter

    Emperically, it seems to me that plenty of today’s young people like the looks of the 2005 Mustang. To me, the 2005 re-style and the original Boss styling simply had the word PUNK written all over it. The exhaust note serves to reinforce. So, when it’s cool to be Punk, you’re in.

  • avatar
    paul_y

    I never did get why the SN95 sold so well. They’re really, really mediocre and ugly. On the other hand, I also think that the 4th gen Camaro was really good-looking, even if a bit 90s-futuristic (see also: the GM dustbuster vans).

    Such is life. Still, I’d bet the high-end 4th-gen Camaro becomes a decent collector’s item eventually, if it isn’t already.

  • avatar
    chris724

    I just sold my supercharged ’91 Mustang last night. 400HP and 3200# does pretty good. I put 100K miles on it over the last 15 years, and I embarrassed a few LT1s back in the day. I also remember getting creamed by a girl in a modified Supra. Ah, good times. But my drag strip days are behind me now. I have work do, and a family to raise. Also, the traffic around here sucks. Better to go slow and mellow, and get home relaxed. Or even better, take the train.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “Nothing short of a Porsche — or a Corvette — could touch an LT1 Camaro in full song.”

    Or a Viper, GT-R, Mark IV Supra, twin-turbo Z, etc.

    Nothing could match the Camaro in full mulletacularity, except maybe the Fireturd WTFx6OBOYO.

  • avatar
    Cole Trickle

    I managed to talk a salesman into a testdrive of the TA Firehawk (I think it was basically the WS-6 package with stationary headlights instead of the flips). This was maybe 2001, so it was a few years old. It had some mods, but who knows what they were or if they helped. He had no idea what the car was capable of, and couldn’t even drive a stick. We took it out to a backroad I knew and did some clutch drop quarter mile runs. Holy jeez, that car was fast.

  • avatar
    autoarcheologist

    I remember sitting in a Camaro at the Detroit Auto Show back in 1993/4 when the Camaro was new. I was the target market but as soon as I sat in it I thought “I could never drive this, let alone drive it fast” as I couldn’t figure out where the corners were. It felt like sitting in a 20 ft long bathtub. That and the GM bubbletastic interior had me heading over to the Mustang to take a look.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    This car has so many haters.

    Quality: It’s incredibly durable, just check model specific repair analysis on any website, this thing is bullet-proof. The perceived quality sucks because it rattles and, gasp, has hard plastics. If that upsets you it’s only because you’re cranky since someone stuck a pea under your 20 featherbeds.

    Live rear axle: “OMG, ox cart, LOL.” The BMW M5’s rear suspension can’t handle its power without sophisticated electronics that limit output on launch; GM took the easier route and put on an unbreakable live rear axle. It hurts the ride a bit (see “The Princess and the Pea” reference, above) but the performance goes unharmed by the live axle. As demonstrated by Camaro driven by Baruth, which is used successfully in Solo racing, where there are turns.

    White trash: Well, when all the other arguments have failed. . . The horribly ugly Monte Carlo was a white trash car. I know a lot of well educated people that have F-bodies and I see a lot in expensive suburbs. Take a very close look at whatever aftermarket garbage is on your car before calling a bone stock F-body white trash.

    The reality is that this car pissed off a lot of people with $25K cars that could have bought this but pussied out and got a fwd car that was more “practical” (I shouldn’t use a gendered term; I see a lot of hot women in V8 F-bodies). And it pissed off a lot of people with $50K+ cars that thought it unfair that someone could get the same performance for half the price.

    Time to get over it.

  • avatar
    rbmojo

    OK, let’s get this straight…Camaro = mullet, Mustang = redneck …

  • avatar
    Travis

    Am I just nuts, or are you driving a RHD camaro?

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    I always thought that car had waaaay too much overhang. It had a very awkward look to me when viewed directly from the side. In 3/4 view, it wasn’t as noticeable and the car was fairly attractive. Still liked the look if the Screaming Chicken better than the Camaro.

  • avatar
    George B

    My ex-girlfriend had the V6 automatic version of that generation Camaro. The car spent a fair amount of time in the shop which would have been a major pain except the dealership was just up the street from where she worked. I drove he Camaro many times and still remember how cheap the interior looked. Drove a Mustang loaner while the Camaro transmission was being replaced and I preferred the Mustang.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I own a 1999 Firebird Formula with the WS6 package. I’ve never driven a LS1 Camaro, but compared to a ’96 Trans Am I drove, the WS6 upgrades to the tires and suspension make the car handle much better than the stock setup.

    The cons of these cars:
    1. The number of mullet and trailer park jokes you have to endure will be in the millions.
    2. It has the same interior as my Grand Am did.
    3. The seats are woefully under bolstered.
    4. I can’t heel-toe this car to save my life.
    5. The insurance costs are high.
    6. A lot of time is going to be spent finding rattles. I just made the exhaust louder.

    FWIW, the GTO fixed a lot of these problems (except for the pedal placement issue), without softening the experience up too much. However, the narrow tires and IRS makes it harder to launch. Plus, it really isn’t any faster than than an F-body, even with the LS2.

    Didn’t matter anyway because Pontiac dealer’s jackass tactics ensured that no one bought the Aussie Goat.

  • avatar
    NickR

    The general public preferred the friendly accessibility of the Ford to the rocketship performance and Countach-esque seating position of the Chevrolet.

    I firmly believe the cramped interior and awkward seating were it’s undoing. I looked seriously at these at one point, for all the reason you touch on in this article. But the interior was ridiculously cramped for a relatively long car, a remarkably low roof, and a feeling of peeking out of a pillbox. Combined, I am sure they drove customers away in droves.

    Yes, the 70 was an awesome design.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    The lesson here is this:

    If you hate the F-Body because you think they can’t turn, then you obviously can’t drive.

  • avatar
    mistrernee

    I’ve got a 94 Z28.

    The LT1 is an incredible engine, and though it will lose down the stretch to the LS engined cars it has buckets of low end torque and sounds better in my opinion.

    On the downsides:

    -Cheap Interior
    -Optipark
    -Front spoiler drags on everything
    -Huge c-pillar
    -Skip shift
    -Horrendous city fuel economy

    Oddly enough, the ergonomics for the driver are almost perfect with a cramped footwell and poor pedal placement being the only real problems. I also find it pretty easy to see out of, especially compared to a modern car. The huge dash and steeply raked windsheild are pretty common place nowadays. It didn’t take me long to figure out where the front end was, though it was a bit daunting at first.

    Despite the pedal placement I still manage to heel-toe it and holy hell does it sound good doing it.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I like the 3rd gen F-Body. Firebird in this case, Firehawk or Formula.

    I like the 4th gen F-Body. Both.

    I like the 2nd gen F-Body, Camaro up to about 1973 and 1978+, Firebird… all.

    I’m not a mullet, nor a redneck, nor white trash (which doesn’t apply down here). I am an engineer and would really love to own one example of each generation.

    Great article. The part of the SCCA solo goes straight in the face of WRX/STi/EVO owners (and domestic haters).

    Those cars rock, so… suck it bitches.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Always loved V8 RWD coupes, and honestly I don’t really care who made them. Mustang and Camaro were part of my adolescent fantasies back in the early 90s but I have yet to own either. I actually hope to soon, something used but nice. If I was going to spend the kind of coinage a new one requires I would actually buy a Mustang GT. It’s got nothing to do with Government Motors, I just think the Stang is a better value for the money. The price of a new Camaro + dealers who likely want OVER sticker, is a deal breaker for me. I’d rather spend that new Camaro money on a gently used Corvette. Say a 5 or so year old one that some rich idiot in gold chains only drove a few thousand miles a year.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    @ Travis

    Mixup with photoshop?

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    I admire the style of the first two generations of Camaros, but felt the third fell victim to the same early 80s nadir of design quality that plagued most automakers (the Mustang back then was nothing special either). The fourth gen though has always been, IMO, one of the most hideously ugly cars to ever been produced. The same lines that work on the Corvette just come off looking cheap, plastic-like, and frumpy on the 4th gen Camaro.

    Performance wise, the Camaro has always been strong, and GM in general has always been good when it comes to small block V8s. The LT and LS engines are remarkable, and even being a Ford loyalist, I have to say that nothing coming from the factory has matched them.

    However, Ford has managed to develop great relationships with a number of tuners in the past 10 years that the Camaro has been napping, and with support not only from the in house SVT team pumping out the 540hp Shelby Cobra that no Camaro can touch, as well as Roush, Saleen, and a handful of smaller shops pumping out special editions, plus the rebirth of the 5.0 and EcoBoost sixes on the horizon, it’s going to be fun to watch what happens.

  • avatar
    Anchorman33

    Lucked into one of the final ones of these, after they ran out of the LS1 with the LS6 (Z06 motor). Black on black, tinted windows, T-tops. Absolute beast. Unfortunately it was no match for a 16 yr old girl driving a Beetle who thought she could run the train crossing arms, not realizing I had already stopped. Had it fixed, but it was never the same after that and sold it. God I miss that car!

  • avatar
    cbroeker

    In the mid 90’s even before I modified my Supra TT I didn’t pay any attention to these things.
    On the other hand, I ordered a new SS in May. And this one won’t stay stock for very long either.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    I guess since it’s ok to stereotype Camaro owners as “rednecks” and “white trash” I guess it’s ok to call import owners “faggots” and “pussies”, right? While we’re throwing out racial slurs I’m sure it must also be alright to call older model Caprice owners “n*ggers” and anyone who owns a low rider a “wetback” too. I don’t agree with any of the aforementioned stereotypes, but if one offensive stereotype is going to be allowed they should all be. They’re either ALL acceptable or they’re not. What’s it going to be?

  • avatar
    rtz

    “Wouldn’t you know, the SN95 Mustang outsold it from Day One”

    I’m pretty sure the Mustang cost less money? That was always the case(hence the sales).

  • avatar
    trackbird

    Nope, that is a standard US version of the car. There are two people in the car, the author is wearing the white helmet and he is in the drivers seat and warming the tires.

  • avatar
    Theodore Buxton

    The best thing to do with these cars is:

    1. Remove LS1.
    2. Place LS1 in a 3rd generation RX7.
    3. Enjoy a much better looking, lighter, more balanced car.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    @no_slushbox:

    GM took the easier route and put on an unbreakable live rear axle

    That live axle was hardly unbreakable. A close friend of mine ran his car a bit (in stock form) at Atco and destroyed his rear about 6 times during his ownership of the car.

    The rest of the car held up just fine, but that rear did not like the burnout box.

    Damn fun car for 1320 feet, but for daily life – nah, no thanks.

    -ted

  • avatar
    Cody

    I owned a 96 Cobra and a 99 LS1 Camaro. The Mustang won in sales because it was more fun to drive on the street.

    If you can keep track of the Camaro’s four corners while it’s creaking and flexing, the rear axle is hopping, and you’re sitting on the floor peering out over 10 yards of dash through the reflection of your cupholders, while hitting triple digits on an off ramp, and still have fun, then great.

    Personally, I’ll take the lower limits of the mustang and the fun of driving it sideways at relatively low speed.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    This car is basically a turd on wheels.
    The engine may be good, but who wants to be seen driving around in a turd?

  • avatar
    rudiger

    The GM f-body (Camaro/Firebird) story is an interesting one in that its success/failure was so intertwined with the sales of two other vehicles, the Mustang and Corvette.

    As an example, the f-body saw its best sales during the Disco years when Iaccoca wussed-out with the Mustang II and the Corvette became bloated and suitable only for the gold-chain, white-shoes-and-belt crowd. The car was just good enough and happened to be in the right place at the right time. For the era, those seventies’ Z28s and Trans Ams were about as good as it was going to get for cheap speed. ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ and ‘The Rockford Files’ certainly didn’t hurt Firebird sales, either. It’s fortunate because GM was taking it’s usual ‘wait and see’ attitude as the car went an entire eleven years without any major changes.

    But then the Mustang and Corvette began to get significantly better (while the 3rd-generation f-body got significantly worse – David Hasselhoff is no Burt Reynolds or James Garner) to the point that, by 2002, even though the nine-year-old fourth-generation version had been a pretty decent car (as domestic ponycars go), the f-body just wasn’t relevant enough to justify its meager sales so GM killed it.

    The cycle continues even today with the new version. Although reviews indicate it’s a fine performing car with an excellent bang-for-the-buck ratio, the overwrought, high-beltline, gun-slit window styling (guaranteeing a more difficult day-to-day driving experience) means the Mustang wins again.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I waited until the 3800 V6 roller-cam motor with 200HP (yeah, just 200HP, but I hate paying insurance bills) became available. With the 5-speed, it nearly matched the performance of the stock 5.0 V8 available in the earlier Fox Mustangs. I used the rear hatch often enough (once hauling a 32″ flat screen, surround-sound system and the unassembled stand back from Best Buy – the hatch was open about a foot, tied with twine).
    The car was heavy, but drove surprisingly “light” when pushed (Edit: Thanks to the low COG) – driver entry/exit was a bitch, but once settled in, the driving position was quite good, though being tall, you had to forgo the “T-Tops”.
    I drove her for 11 years, but my bad back and knees kinda pushed me into a more upright vehicle (Elantra).

    God, I miss that Camaro. Maybe next year, I’ll say “To Hell With It All” and buy a heavy, tiny-trunked pony car that doesn’t look like anything else in the parking lot.

    Edit: I had an RS model, and yes, the “cowcatcher” front spoiler scraped A LOT!

  • avatar
    mikey

    Turd on wheels eh.I prefer mulllet mobile myself.
    My fun car is a fourth gen 3800 Firebird rag top.
    F bodies are rattle traps and ragtops are worse.At 55 getting in and out can be a challenge.
    The interior after detailing is ok,but fragile.The ashtray is closed forever after the spring broke.I can’t recall when the seatbelt retracter worked.One has to take great care when raising the top,the bezel behind the switch moves with the switch.I’m going to have to order a new front air dam its cracked and held up with tie straps.
    On a smooth road the Firebird drives like a dream.The 200hp 3800 has lots of power and gets 27mpg.

    The original owner has managed to hit curbs with all four wheels.He also used to slam the door without retracting the seat belt. Then some moron used a spray can to cover the paint chips on the rocker panels.I replaced and repaired everything .White with a black top,and with lots of TLC it looks good. I get lots of compliments.

    The F body sure woudn’t be the choice of everybody.I really coudn’t care,its my little baby and I love it.

  • avatar
    noreserve

    I bought a 95 Camaro Z28 new simply because I wanted the fastest thing I could afford at the time. That was it. No traction control or active handling here. Taught me a lot about pulling out into traffic at a turn with too much boot. You could roast the meats off that thing all day long. A test drive in the rain taught me to respect it initially, but I’d always forget and get overly confident until the next time I would feel the ass-end start to sway like it was on stage.

    It was horrendous in its interior use of space. Had to be the largest car from the outside that had the least amount of room once in. Yes, the plastics and seats were terrible. If it didn’t make it go fast, I didn’t really care at the time. It had a V-shaped gas tank that left me stranded twice. The gauge would simply drop like a rock below half-full.

    I thought it looked pretty good from a styling standpoint. Pretty mean looking from the front, with a space-age rounded rear. I did hate and quickly change out those vacuum cleaner exhaust nozzles. Gotta love that adjustable plate Borla cat-back. It was easily in the 13s at the 1/4-mile with only intake/exhaust.

    I was an IT geek who could care less about stereotypes. It was a fun car to mod and take to the strip. It was a stepping stone to a Corvette in 99. I probably should have kept it. Like nearly all past cars. Sigh.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Mikey writes: “At 55 getting in and out can be a challenge.”

    May I suggest you come to a complete stop before trying to get in or out?

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    mikey:
    I prefer mulllet mobile myself.

    How about ‘Fuzzy-Dice Firebird’?

    A friend’s older brother had one. Black, 5 speed, V8. When he married in the late 90’s he sold it. And regrets it.

    Great car, but like you said, ignore the interior.

  • avatar
    Power6

    The 4th gen Camaro was great but also hugely flawed. Some people get over those flaws, some people don’t. No surprise there are so many polarized opinions.

    Pretty much the fate of every “pony car” in one way or another. I have yet to read a review of a Camaro concluding it to be an “all around good car”.

  • avatar
    blindfaith

    A lady that wanted one all her life test drove it and killed herself. She foolishly hammered it down when she was out of site and jumped lanes.

    It’s power is way to much for a normal person.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Maybe it’s my love of sleepers and “q-cars”, but there’s something about completely obliterating cars that cost twice as yours from a stoplight that makes every insult someone gives your car worth it. Some may call it a turd, but most are going to be doing so while watching your taillights fade in the distance. Greatest feeling ever. The best I way I can describe it is like being a low tier MMA fighter getting to take on Floyd Mayweather in an MMA santioned fight and beating the living shit out of him in a packed arena, but not getting paid a dime. For some, that wouldn’t be enough, but for others it’s everything. Just depends on the person I guess.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    noreserve: I bought a 95 Camaro Z28 new simply because I wanted the fastest thing I could afford at the time…Gotta love that adjustable plate Borla cat-back.I think I paid around $16k for a brand-new, low-option, six-speed ’94 Formula. It wasn’t perfect but there was tremendous value for someone that wanted a relatively competent performance car on the cheap. It was simply a modern musclecar that actually handled and braked as well as it went in a straight line.

    An aftermarket shifter, opened intake and exhaust (I used the Borla plate with the smallest hole) were the equivalent of what used to be the three H’s in the sixties – Hurst (shifter), Holley (carburator), and Hooker (headers).

    A problem with those early LT1 V8 engines was that the GM engineers moved the standard distributor from the normal, above engine location to a crank-trigger magneto underneath the water pump at the front of the engine to keep the hood low. Should the pump develop a leak, coolant would get into the magneto – not a good thing. I believe they corrected the problem with the later LS1 version but I don’t remember how.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I enjoyed the hell out of my 1980 Firebird Formula even though it had the small V8 and automatic. Nice riding, good handling car, red in and out. I even test-drove a 1980 Camaro that was a six with three-speed, and it gave a good account of itself; surprised the hell out of me.

    I have no idea what they were thinking with the 82-up Camaros and Firebirds, with their long front overhang and the front wheels tucked right back next to the doors. Were they originally thinking of making them front-wheel-drive?

    Any of you guys with a 80’s or later Firebird or Camaro ever had to replace the fuel pump? My neighbor did – he about fell down when he found out what the dealer wanted for the job. Ended up doing it himself, and wasn’t fit to talk to for a week and a half.

  • avatar
    noreserve

    fincar1 :
    June 14th, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Ended up doing it himself, and wasn’t fit to talk to for a week and a half.

    That’s funny! I haven’t replaced a fuel pump, but replaced the spark plugs on the LT-1. What a nightmare. There are a couple that are a major pain in the ass to reach – we’re talking underneath the car and reaching up into positions your arm was never meant to see. It was a multi-hour job at a minimum. I remember getting almost claustrophobic when my arm got stuck once. One of the worst engines to get to in that application.

  • avatar
    DarkSpork

    I remember sitting in a Camaro at the Detroit Auto Show back in 1993/4 when the Camaro was new. I was the target market but as soon as I sat in it I thought “I could never drive this, let alone drive it fast” as I couldn’t figure out where the corners were. It felt like sitting in a 20 ft long bathtub. That and the GM bubbletastic interior had me heading over to the Mustang to take a look.

    My thoughts exactly. I thought it would be a really cool car to own up until I sat in one.

  • avatar
    onerareviper

    Some people JUST DON’T GET IT! And NEVER WILL! So let’s do some math. Awesome V8 motor + huge tires/rims + stout 6-speed tranny (5-speed in Mustang) + impressive brakes (at least on Camaro – 4 wheel discs) + performance tuned suspension + stainless steel exhaust (On Mustang, not sure about Camaro) = close to the cost of a typical small car. In other words, close to the final cost of purchasing one of these cars back then…. So what’s my point? Simple, you’re not going to have a lot of money left for non-plastic/squeak free interiors. AND WE DIDN’T CARE!!!! In the early 90’s you could get a Mustang LX 5.0 (at invoice with typical rebates) for around $12,000. Let me repeat, $12,000!!!! And a V8 Camaro wasn’t that much more… Not to mention the aftermarket was full of go-fast parts that could transform either into a 12 second car for 2-3 grand (give or take). I MISS THESE DAYS!!!! Not only did you have to spend DOUBLE to match the performance, but TRIPLE!!! A Twin Turbo 300Z was mid 30’s and the Supra Turbo even more (Remember how Toyota had to drop the price 10 grand cause no one was buying…). Many of us could not afford that type of cash, so we were more than happy to hang with these cars at a third of the price. Plastics and all!! I long for these days, as V8 power is no longer cheap. If you adust for inflation, $12,000 in 1993 is now $18,000. But a V8 Mustang is approaching 30G’s (if not more), and the Camaro is priced even higher. At these prices people have a RIGHT to complain about sub-par materials. But back in the early 90’s, you knew you were paying for the performance and nothing else…. And you loved every minute…

  • avatar
    mistrernee

    @rudiger

    The optispark ignition was modified in 95 models with a vacuum line attached to the distributor to remove moisture. This greatly improved its durability.

    The LS1 got a coil pack ignition system which completely removed the distributor and any issues accociated with it.

    The older LT1 can be modified with an aftermarket coil pack system for not a whole lot of money (about the same as replacing the optispark distributor). It continues to use the optispark optical sensor but bypasses the distributor attached to it, which was the cause of the problems.

    The imsproved 95+ distributor doesn’t fit the older LT1 engines, of course.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    I wouldn’t get in or out of a car, any car, at 55. I would wait until it came to a complete stop.

    I’ll be in town all week, if RF will let me.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    Oops, too late. Sorry, Sunnyvale.

  • avatar
    spasticnapjerk

    My ’98 Z-28 6MT T-top Camaro has 183,000 miles on it. Yep, you read that right.

    It’s white, with the black b-pillars, window tint, and factory chrome wheels. I get complements on it all the time.

    2nd clutch, 2nd water pump, 2nd thermostat. 2nd driver’s side window motor and 2nd windshield. Oh, and the AC compressor ate itself three years ago. You would think that this car would be a hunk of junk (maybe it is) but it’s held up pretty well.

    She burns oil, especially at WOT (so the owner of the other car tells me…that’s the view they get!)but what do you expect, that engine has a lot of wear. Someone once told me that the LS1’s CADD design and manufacturing allowed the internal engine tolerances to be much tighter, and this is why this motor has such a long life.

    I was going to get rid of this car, but then I put an exhaust system on it a couple of years ago. The car starts up with a quick turn of the key, and sounds great doing it.

    Yes, the live rear axle is a pain. There is more than one story about someone wiping out on a mid-corner bump. BMW-like it isn’t.

    It refuses to drive in a straight line any more. Maybe it’s worn bushings or the fact that I’m on the original springs and shocks. Yep, rides like an ox-cart.

    But when I nail it, I can tell that the awesome power of the mighty LS1 is twisting the chassis, because it twists back during the 1-2 shift. I have to steer one way and the other to keep it in a straight line. No one can really appreciate how fast this car is until halfway through 3rd, when it’s pulling stronger than any car they’ve ever been in, most likely. It’s a seriously fun car to drive. In fact, I think I’ll go drive it, right now!

    Long live the LS1!

  • avatar
    threeer

    My father-in-law has squirreled away a final year Firebird Firehawk in his garage for the eventual handing over to my son. Burnt orange metallic, leather, t-tops, etc…not my cup of tea, but drove it once and have to admit that once you look past the crappy interior and build quality, stomping on the gas in a straight away sure is fun. I agree, however, that I would not want to drive it every day. So, it’ll remain a low mileage garage queen, even once my son inherits it (maybe in four years when he graduates from the Air Force Academy and my F-I-L is no longer able to drive it).

  • avatar
    mattftoo

    I’ve had a 99 SS since new.

    The comments made about “most performance for the money” applies here. My car ran 11.89 with an all stock internal engine. It has headers, intake, catback exhaust, and 4.10 rear axle ratio.

    It has been retired from drag racing (with well over 200 passes down the track) and I’ve been taking it to road courses, where it doesn’t get much attention until after the first few sessions.

    That is the time that the vette owners, porsche owners, bmw owners come over to ask “what have you done to that thing to make it run so good (or well)?” I must admit that I have made a few improvements since retiring from the drag days, but I haven’t spent over $30,000 including the original purchase of the car. Aside from a problem with O2 sensors blowing a fuse (caused by extended periods at full throttle), this car has been bulletproof, rattle free, and fast as hell. I’m probably going to turn it into a daily driver, as I’m saving my pennies for a lightly used Zo6.

    The car may not be for everyone, but I’m sure glad they built one for me.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    I never did get why the SN95 sold so well. They’re really, really mediocre and ugly. On the other hand, I also think that the 4th gen Camaro was really good-looking, even if a bit 90s-futuristic (see also: the GM dustbuster vans).

    I know its been a long time, but think back some. The ’87-93 “Fox body” Mustang’s styling had grown long in the tooth by ’93. Also remember that Ford had a huge fight on its hands as the majority of the company wanted to stop producing the iconic Mustang for the front drive Probe. A viscious backlash ensued, Mustang owners petitioning the company, that prompted the SN-95. The 5.0L soldiered on for two more years until the Modular 4.6L took over in 1996.

    I own and love my 1995 Mustang Cobra convertible with the optional hardtop and the last 5.0L made in Cleveland, OH, like God intended. Its got panel gaps so large that you could stick a pencil eraser through and has leather seating designed for durability not for comfort. But I don’t care. I bought an American Icon and Supercar that on its own was able to blast to 60 in 5.5 secs. For a little over $3K, I’ve redone the suspension, tweaked the engine and exhaust and now am a proud owner of a 12.5 sec car. The paint is still in great shape, no cancerous GM paintjob here, a major problem for GM at the time.

    Simply put. Ford never lost focus as the Mustang being a pony car. It has always been relatively inexpensive to buy in basic form and for relatively little extra money becomes a fast car with that American V8 baritone that even Europeans envy. The Camaro simply lost its MoJo.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    While working as a GM service advisor, we had a rather picky customer with a six speed LS1, which, surprise of all surprises, had a bad dash rattle. They all had dash rattles because the Frogs (sorry, French Canadians) who assembled them in St Therese were either drunk, stoned, hungover or all three about 90% of the time. The only exception to this rule was the day before payday, but I digress….

    So anyway, Picky Man comes in and says, “I’m going on vacation for a month. When I come back, it had better not rattle, so drive it until it fixed!”

    Well, who could turn down such an invitation? We did drive it. It even had a full tank of gas! Boy, did that thing have power to burn and since it wasn’t ours, we drove the snot out of it. I personally never did hear the dash rattle because I had AC/DC or Motorhead blasting on the stereo but I did manage to burn the entire tank of gas on the weekend and come back on Monday with a sheepish grin. OK, the car was a total POS like practically everything we sold but at least this POS went like stink. I also emptied the gas tank in like 250 km.

    We never did fix the rattle because since when we found one, another immediately took it’s place. Picky Man was really pissed but since the car had like 59,000 km on it we knew we would never see him again.

    I know, my bad, this kind of thing NEVER happens at dealerships…….The only other time was then I was at Chrysler when our tower operator took his eight year old out in a Viper and crashed into the local Bank of Montreal branch…..

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    I had a disco blue 77 Corvette (Corvette Light Blue was the official color) that I restored a few years ago. I yanked the worn out small block, that brand new barely had 180hp, and rebuilt it with some modern bits that cranked up the heat to around 300. It was a fun car that brought with it more than its fair share of stereotypes. But what, with the sound up (Styx, Journey, Zeppelin), and the t-tops off…it was a time machine that flat out rocked, critics be damned.

    I believe these older pony cars have the same magic about them. Pick one up for cheap, take care of it, and then rip off the tops, crank up the tunes, and hammer the gas.

    What better way is there to forget about today’s “cars-as-appliances” and today’s problems?

    Give me a late 90’s Z-28 or a Formula Firebird. Black or Mystic Teal.

    And a Soundgarden CD.

  • avatar
    whatsanobeen

    I’ve always found the redundant Pontiac Trans Am to be the more appealing of the two GM ponies, but I digress.
    I never really understood either the intentions of the Camaro/Trans Am during the late ’90s- early ’00s. People have told me that these cars are legendary, even in stock (V8) spec, but when I drove a 2001 Camaro SS coupe example, it felt like a muscled-up Buick. Don’t get me wrong, the power of the car was immense but so was the size, and the suspension tuning seemed too disconnected and floaty. The transmission gear ratios seemed to fall out of the engine’s power reach with every upshift unless you stood on the gas. It just felt too lazy to be a proper muscle car, or even a GT for that matter.

    I hope the 2010 examples, sold now, are a whole-hearted improvement.

  • avatar
    ktm

    Your 1977 Corvette had 180 hp because they choked it with a small carb. A simple carb upgrade would have resulted in significant power increase. It had 5.7L of displacement but was only allowed to breath through a straw.

  • avatar
    Run4TheShadows

    I’m definitely part of the younger generation and I have to say, for me, Mustang, Camaro, Firebird, and Challenger are the only cars that matter. To say that “the younger people have moved on” is false, I wouldn’t buy an import in a million years. Sure imports have come a long way over the years, but they are all business and zero charm.


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