By on January 18, 2010

the not-so well built in front of the well built

The eighties were the decade when GM destroyed itself. There were some memorable screw-ups in the seventies, but  merely warm-ups to GM’s main act of self-mutilation, when it managed its biggest market share drop ever. There’s enough fodder in that horrible decade to keep our GMDS series going for way too long. But perhaps the saddest story is the new-for ’82 Camaro, because it promised so much, and yet couldn’t escape the death rattle that permeated GM. And I mean rattle in the most literal sense.

the RS came standard with the 2.8 V6

Like so many of GM’s products of the eighties, the new Camaro sounded good on paper and looked pretty nifty in glossy prints: completely new styling, a 300 pound weight reduction, a new coil-spring rear suspension, optional rear disc brakes, a glass lift-up rear hatch that was said to be the largest and most complex piece of car glass-work ever. That’s about where the good stuff ended. A closer look under that swoopy skin and the spec sheets quickly turned some of us a whiter shade of pale.

still pretendingThe standard engine was now the 90 hp 2.5 liter “Iron Duke” four, a lumpen element that rivaled a Farmall tractor’s noise, vibration, harshness and even its power characteristics. It was one thing for granny’s 2400 lb Citation four to shake, rattle and roll all the way to the Safeway, but the Camaro weighed about 600 lbs more.

Ah, but there was a Z-28 on tap! And it came with an optional V8 that featured actual fuel injection. A fuelie Chevy V8 in a new lightweight RWD chassis; praise the Lord! And the Z came decked out in with the stripes and hood scoops guaranteed to raise a young man’s testosterone level. Unfortunately it was a cock-teaser and an exercise in frustration, because the Z-28 did anything but come.

In 1985, I finagled a brand new W124 300E . Its street-light drag racing prowess was hardly high on my list of risking-my-new-job-by-leasing-an-expensive-company-car rationalizations. But then I hired a Sales Manager who drove one of these Zs, proudly wearing its Cross-Fire Fuel Injection badges. It had a husky exhaust note, and he liked to make the big tires chirp (cheep?) as he pulled out of the parking lot.

The little 3 liter six in the Benz was almost half the size of the Z’s V8, and I knew my solid hunk of German steel weighed about 300 lbs more than his pride and joy. But something told me I could take him out, or I damn well better, because there was a lot at stake psychologically: he was a few years older, but I was his boss; he was driving Detroit’s latest V8 pony car; I was driving an expensive German taxi cab. Ever since I hired him, I began to have nagging doubts that his management abilities were as over-sold as his Camaro’s swiftness. We both knew a showdown was coming, one way or another.

zoomy, but not roomy

The road that led to the station had once been part of the former Glendale Airport, and was as good as it got for a grudge race: about a mile long, and almost no traffic. One morning, we both arrived at the same time, and as we turned the corner to the home stretch, we lined up side by side, stopped and nodded.

The V8’s torque and the Camaro’s lighter weight gave him a decided edge at the start, and I had a nagging sense of dread. But the high-winding six breathed deeply and sang its song; I caught up and passed him pretty quickly, and hit well over ninety before throwing out the anchor to pull into the parking lot. It was the beginning of the end for him; and within a couple of weeks he was pulling out of the parking lot in his blubbering Z28 for the last time.

Don’t believe me? The 300E pulled 0-60 times between 7.5 and 8.5 seconds, depending on the magazine. Here’s a link to a M/T test of the Z-28 with the optional fuel-injected V8: 0-60: 9.42 seconds; 1/4 mile: [email protected] mph. Pathetic, but it does makes for an interesting time-warp and the typically fawning review of the times.

not painted for the long haulBefore I rag on to much about the Camaro’s limp ways, I will admit that Chevy eventually dealt with that problem. By 1985, the Viagra-popping IROC Z had 215 hp, and by the end of this generation in 1992, it was packing all of 245 hp. Still not exactly momentous, but that would come with the next gen F-body.

If it wasn’t quite earth-shattering, it certainly was nerve-shattering. My one and only drive in a Camaro of this vintage almost made me puke. It was an unanticipated rental for a multi-day conference in Houston. It sported the V6 that was standard in the RS like our featured car. Ok, it would be all too easy to rag on the 2.8’s pretentious semi-burbling exhaust that raised utterly unfulfilled expectations.

I had never actually gotten into one of these F-Bodies, and the experience was a let-down of the lowest kind. I was of course spoiled from my tall, comfy and superbly-built Mercedes, but I was quite familiar with the Fox-body Mustang GT of that time too, which had a fairly practical body and reasonable build and material quality.

the plastic tombLowering myself into the Camaro was akin to getting into a Disneyland kiddie ride: the “car” felt like it was a malformed cast-plastic replica of what a real Camaro presumably was. I found myself sitting on the floor of a plastic-lined tomb, with the worst visibility and most wretched dash I’d ever encountered. And once under way, everything creaked and groaned: was this the new cart for the Haunted Mansion?

The ride was about as supple as a roller coaster, but I admit it had a pretty sharp turn-in, enhancing the amusement park theme. That may be mildly amusing for about five or six minutes, given the lack of power and profound ride quality compromises otherwise. I also like having a rear seat that is actually accessible and usable, as well as a genuine proper luggage compartment, not a tray like the one you put your shoes in at the TSA line. That biggest piece of automotive glass ever covered the smallest automotive trunk ever. Kind of sums up the Camaro right there.

Well, the kiddies (and Sales Managers) sure fell for the new Camaro, and sales shot up for the first two years, topping a spectacular 250k in 1984. Then the painful reality of horrible build quality, mechanical ailments, a useless interior and getting shut down by German taxi cabs set in, and sales began their long plunge. The Mustang was discovered to be the Camaro’s polar opposite in almost all these qualities, and thrived. The Camaro shriveled, along with the rest of GM in that decade of decline.

a study in contrasts

I had a choice of quite a few Camaros to chose from, but I picked this one for two reasons: the 1989 RS came standard with the 2.8 V6, and thus typifies the false expectations it generates with all of its body kit and scoops. Quite the contrast to 1970 RS we gushed over in our CC here.  And it’s sitting in front of the same well-preserved Carpenter Gothic house whose owner has driven his 1984 Tercel Wagon trouble-free since new. The Camaro and Tercel reflect the two opposite extremes of the spectrum of their time. Obviously, they had different missions, but the Camaro strayed too far from the reality that even a pony car needed to be somewhat practical, reliable and reasonably well built.

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96 Comments on “Curbside Classic: GM’s Deadly Sin #6 – 1989 Camaro RS...”

  • avatar

    is that a parking ticket on the windshield?  That might total the car right there.

  • avatar

    The steering wheel on those F cars wasn’t aligned with seat…i forget if the wheel was offset left or right, but it always bothered me…It was too close to the seat, too… for my fat ass.

  • avatar

    When in high school (82-85)  my boss bought a z28 and let me borrow it to go get some lettuce, we worked at a Village Inn.  I did that but also drove it by my friends house, another place to drop off my resume and then back, never did get the tires to chirp and the t-tops were noisy.  He caught me gone too long so I ended up with the new job.  My only time spent with this car.

  • avatar

    Pretty terrible car, with an awful interior, but I think the exterior styling has aged much better than most cars of that era.  It certainly looked a lot better than the Escort-esque Mustangs.
    What was the fascination with huge overhangs back then (from the 60’s through mid 90’s)?

    • 0 avatar

      That car completely ripped off the early Fox Mustang’s style! The Mustang got a lot more modern looking in ’87 when they dumped the sealed beams and went with the Euro looking halogen lights that are now the norm. GM rode those 4 sealed beams out 10 more years, even after a bodystyle change.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree.  The Fox-stang was very upright and stodgy.  The Camaro had a sleek, pointy nose, long hood, and that stylish laid-out fastback.  I would agree that the Mustang’s looks improved a lot when they got rid of the sealed beams and busy grille, but from the back and sides they still looked like econo-boxes- particularly the LX.

    • 0 avatar

      On most cars, overhangs helped add useful cargo room and gave the styling a graceful sense of proportion.  On wagons, rear overhang is absolutely essential.  If we hadn’t decided somewhere in the 1990’s that rear overhang was evil and must be destroyed, we could still have useful station wagons instead of bloated crossovers.  Overhang per se is not the problem.  Building an ugly rattletrap of a car is.  I was only ever a passenger in a Camaro of this generation once and that was enough to convince me that I didn’t want one if you gave it to me.

    • 0 avatar

      @superbadd75 – I disagree totally. The original Fox body was a nice looking car for the time, but by the 1987 facelift was made extremely stodgy with the kludged on euro lamps and the pasted on flush side windows. It never really recovered. The Camaro and Firebird were much better aesthetically, but mechanically (especially relating to the interior bits) it was inferior. I had a 1981 Turbo Mustang, a 1983 WS6 Trans Am and then a 1986 Mustang GT, of the three, the T/A was the fastest (5.0 & 5 speed), but the ’86 GT (first year with FI) was far more liveable.

    • 0 avatar

      The worst part of the styling on this generation of Camaro is the way the front wheels are tucked back against the doors. It makes me think that they’d planned for it to be fwd.

    • 0 avatar

      It was something called styling which most of todays short stubby small trunk blandmobiles totally lack.

      In all fairness the only V8 Camaro Z-28 that was ever as slow as the reported Motor Trend time of 9.4 seconds to 60 was the 1982 Cross Fire 165 HP automatic car. This was very soon resolved in 1983 when Chevy upped the power to 190 horses from a higher compression and more aggressive cammed 305 4BBL that lowered times to around 7 seconds which was quick at the time.I remember most Mercedes of this same era with the sloth slow 80 HP turbo diesels clattering and vibrating there way from shop to shop so in my 12 year old eyes at the time the Camaro and Firebird with a 305 V8 were a breath of fresh air along with the energized 1982 Mustang 5.0 GT. I rememeber most cars of that era being very slow performers with many tiny 4 cylinder Asian cars like the above Tercel and Subarus running 0-60 times of 17 seconds! That wonder feat of engineering marvel sitting next to the Camaro may have run for what seemed like forever but few remained on the road past 6-8 years in many snow regions because they either rotted out or got too clostly to keep going because every part cost twice as much as the big 3 cars of the same time period. The rustly rear quarter was a big reminder on how terrible those older Toyotas and Hondas rotted away in front of your eyes or needed a new $800.00 exhaust system every couple of years.

  • avatar

    Any spots of rust on that Tercel rear hatch? ;)

    • 0 avatar

      I certainly don’t want to make excuses for G.M. having their head stuck in their(well where the sun never shines) but the peeling paint was a culmination of California’s A.Q.M.D. fines on the Van Nuys assembly plant for air quality. G.M. started using water-based single stage paint and later two stage base coat clear coat using the latest “Enviromentally Friendly” chemicals. This led to the peeling paints of the time! Beautiful!! G.M. has since closed all but two small parts warehouses in California to the loss of California’s tax base and workers.

  • avatar

    It is the fastest looking slow car ever.

  • avatar

    Car and Driver did one of their first long-term tests on an ’82 Z28.  If memory serves, just about everything went bad on that car in the first 30,000 miles.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the caption for that C&D article was “A 25,000 mile tale of woe”. It ranks as one of the worst long-term test cars C&D ever had.

      Additionally, in the inevitable comparison tests with the Mustang, the 3rd-gen F-body always lost, even the latter years when it was actually competitive. I think it was C&D that summed the reason up this way: “The [Camaro] is one of those cars that’s all numbers and not much fun”.

      It’s not that those later V8 Camaros were poor performers, they just didn’t have the ‘tossability’ of the Mustang and, hence, just weren’t that entertaining of a ride. Combined with the abysmal quality, the 3G Camaro is just another page in the steady demise of GM.

  • avatar
    Dave Skinner

    I worked on one of these for a younger cousin of mine about fifteen years ago. I could not believe the “trunk” space. You story should note that the rear seats cannot fold down (the only hatchback ever built with fixed rear seat backs?), and that there’s a thick bulkhead separating the rear seat back from the underglass luggage space.

    What was inside this bulkhead? Why the fuel tank, of course, cleverly tucked above the rear axle. To replace the fuel pump, the Service Manual instructed you to remove the axle. No tech in their right mind would undertake such a time consuming project, so many a fuel tank, filler neck, and tank sending unit have been “reshaped” (the tech’s word for it- you would just say”bent”) to aid in fuel pump installation WITHOUT axle removal.

    • 0 avatar
      A is A

      “the only hatchback ever built with fixed rear seat backs?”
      The dismal commie-Polish FSO Polonez hatchback also had this feature.
      It is structurally cheaper and easier to have a fixed rear seat and maintan body rigidity. A hatchback with a fixed rear seat screams “CHEAP”.
      I would never, ever buy a car with a fixed rear seat. A car is a machine to transport people AND cargo.

    • 0 avatar

      My 86 Iroc had folding rear seats, 60/40 split, I think. It was actually a decent enough car, it had some computer issues, all fixed under warranty, and a battery and hoses and belts. The squeaky dash drove me nuts, and it took me about a year of trying different things to finally get it to stop. It was a bad design, no doubt. I used everything from silicone caulk to rubber hose, to hunks of foam rubber put under the dash and compressed to shut it up. I wonder what the first person said when they took that dash off and saw all that stuff in there?

      Other than it not being quick enough to make me happy, I liked it.

  • avatar

    Another enjoyable CC, thanks Paul. 

    A slightly better poster-boy for the decline of GM in this period was the Vette (was it C3 or C4) … had all the foibles of the Camaro but at a higher price point … I remember sitting in one of these at the mall … and was so unimpressed by the cheap plasticicky dash with the cheesy hex screws in the corners of all the instruments …

    … Camaro added to this with GM’s standard feature of ablative outer paint … cheapo velour seats … rubber-like torsional chassis stiffness compensated for by uncomfortable suspension spring rates …

    Paul, I almost forgot … like you in your MB, I used to blow these cars away with my cat- and thermactor-free 1980 4-spd 1.6L Fiesta!

    • 0 avatar

      It was C4, and I totally agree with you. It’s one thing for the Camaro to be an embarrassment, especially with its base volume-selling powertrain, but the flagship of Chevrolet should never have been so poorly executed. The early C4s were just absolutely miserable, and only serious increases in power made them tolerable in their last few years. I must admit liking the clean exterior styling of them though, much like the Camaro, the designers did a nice job. Too bad everything under the bodies of both cars was typical ’80s GM garbage.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      C4s are not common on the street. I just missed one the other day. Eventually…

  • avatar

    In 1983, my fabulous company car, a 1981 Olds Omega Brougham, was in the shop for a new transmission and I rented a new 1983 Camaro with the 5.0 litre V8.

    I enjoyed it at first but, the heater refused to send air anywhere except to the windshield outlets so I drove everywhere with an overheated face and frozen feet.

    Next, I couldn’t back out of a head-in parking space because a tiny bit of ice had formed on the pavement and all I could muster was wheelspin. 
    I actually had to ask strangers to push from the front to get it moving in reverse.

    That’s when I began to realize how incredibly crappy the whole interior was.  The glow of the new ‘sports car’ had definitely worn off.

    I returned it to the car rental agency and they gave me another 1983 Camaro.  This one had the 2.8 V6.  It was way worse than the V8-equipped car.

    I was glad to get my Omega back.  At least it was comfortable.

    That was my Camaro experience.  I don’t think that 5.0 felt any faster than the 2.8 V6 in the Omega.  The 2.8 V6 in the Camaro was definitely slower and wheezier then the same engine in the lighter, smaller FWD Omega.

  • avatar

    My Cross-Fire Injected Corvette lost in a drag race to my friend’s 4.7L H.O. Grand Cherokee.
    Cross-Fire Injection was a pathetic excuse by GM to create power without destroying gas mileage.

  • avatar

    I bought an ’83 Z28 new. It had just been named the best handling American car in a US vs Europe Car&Driver test. (Porsche 944 won overall).  It was a total piece of crap but made up for it by being extremely slow. I remembered having sex in it one night. I was all alone at the time.

  • avatar

    If memory serves, these latter 80s RS had a 3.8L not a 2.8L.
    Styling-wise, these are my favorite Camaros.

  • avatar

    My high school parking lot (Miller City, OH class of 95) was filled with these suckers including one particularly pathetic 1982 model with the Iron Duke.  The jerk who drove it was a real “winner” too.  Why was it always [email protected]$ who drove Camaros?  And why have they all moved on to 3 series BMWs?

    • 0 avatar

      An ex-girlfriend had an ’82 with the 2..8. I hated that car, with a burning passion, after spending several weekends obligated to work on the POS.
      As a bonus my ’87 Escort, with the 1.9L and a 5-speed, handily smoked the worn out piece of junk.

    • 0 avatar

      Gluttons for punishment??? On a positive note…they are reaping what they sow.
      “Why was it always [email protected]$ who drove Camaros?  And why have they all moved on to 3 series BMWs?”

  • avatar

    Ah the W124.  We had 4 in the family at once at one time.  The 1985 you refer to (model year 1986 in the USA) was one of the faster versions relative to the other cars at the time.  The gearing was fairly short… redline in 2nd gear was barely more than 60.  Taller gearing slowed down later models so that even the 3.2L 24-valve didn’t feel quicker around town.  The 400E packed 500 pounds onto the 1986’s 3150 curb weight and was geared to hit 80 MPH in 2nd;  it felt slower to 60 because it was quieter and smoother, but was in reality slightly faster (and only slightly).  I had a 1986 with stick-shift;  similar first 4 gear ratios as the automatic but with a bonus 5th.  I suspect the automatic would be quicker to 60 unless you drove the stick without mercy.

  • avatar

    Reminds me of 1984 when my wife fulfilled her dream of getting a new Pontiac Trans Am.  That was the 15th Anniversary one with the HO 305 with 4bbl carb, making a stupendous 190 HP.  That’s “HO”, folks. Those were indeed the awful 80s at GM and Ford. The regular 305 made a lowly 150 HP.  It did seem to have some V8 grunt, though, and was pretty fun car and pretty good looking in white with the big firebird on the hood.
    After one year the creaks started.  The hatchback release cable broke and there was no other way to open it from the outside.  The brake pads needed replacing already. The coatings on the alum wheels started to peel off.  Other minor repairs were needed. The Pontiac dealers treated you like a damn liar every time you brought it in for a warranty repair.  The creaks got worse. At two years we decided to get rid of it before it became a liability and found some young guy to take it off our hands for more than it was worth.  Sorry, guy.  It was fun while it lasted.

    • 0 avatar

      Growing up during the 80’s in a UAW area, these things were quite common – every 20-something male with a mullet seemed to own one. What I remember most were the interiors. I don’t know what was worse: the POS switchgear or the interior plastic that tended to warp after a couple years of summer sun.

    • 0 avatar

      In my neck of the woods the way you could tell if a teenage boy’s daddy worked for GM was the boy had one of these.  The only one who bucked the trend was a guy a year behind me in school whose Dad worked for GM Powertrain but the kid decided to go his own way and pick up a used 1984 Pontiac Bonneville and then hot rod the V8 within an inch of its lazy revving life.

  • avatar

    If your Sales Manager wanted to drag race, he should have skipped the mind-bogglingly terrible Crossfire engine and just stuck with old-school carburetors.
    1983 Camaro versus 1983 Mustang GT

  • avatar

    I am very leery of chassis that can support an I-4 or a V-6 or V-8.  I just laughed when I raised the hood of an I-4 model and you could read a newspaper on the ground between the radiator and the engine.  It just seems like the chassis is a big compromise to support all those different configuration engines.

    • 0 avatar

      Of course if you are going to pass that kind of fraud off on the public you can build a chassis stout enough for a V8 and then know that the I4 version will feel solid as a tank, however, that’s not how GM rolls.

    • 0 avatar

      The Germans have been building chassis that support 4, 6, or 8-cylinder engines since the BMW E34 5-series and the Mercedes-Benz W124 (E Class) received V8s in the early/mid 1990s to compete with Lexus in the U.S. They eventually stopped putting 4-cylinder gasoline engines in their executive cars, but you can still buy 4-cylinder diesel engines in Europe. They brought this practice to smaller cars such as the BMW E90 3-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The 4-cylinder variants of these cars aren’t sold in the U.S. any more, but in 2005 Americans could have purchased a C-Class with either an supercharged inline 4, a V6, or a V8 engine.

      Audi buyers also had the option of inline 4, V6, or V8 power in the B6 or B7 Audi A4/S4/RS4. Unlike BMW or Mercedes-Benz, Audi didn’t have the same aversion to 4-cylinder engines in their cars. However, the Germans feel that Americans will not buy expensive cars with 4-cylinder engines unless forced-induction was involved.

      I remembered the W124 being solid at 120 mph, while American and Japanese cars of the same vintage started ratting and wandering at 90 mph.

  • avatar

    Once owned a ’67 Camaro.  275 hp 327 with my most unfavorite feature a powerglide transmission.  Yes a nice easy revving small block hooked to a two speed automatic.  This was in the early 80’s and a friend just got one of the V8 Camaros brand new.  Insisted on a race.  Mine actually had PS, PB and AC which was a bit unusual for 1967.
    Friend insisted on a race with his new Camaro.  I was pretty sure of the result.  Even with just two gears it wasn’t pretty for my friend.  He insisted on getting lots of onlookers.  So sorry for him.  He was rather glum and quiet afterwards.  He did say “those old Camaros sure have some pick up”.  Now if I had a 396 and 4 speed he would have seen some “pick up”.
    Seems I recall my friend could barely chirp the tires on his then new Camaro while the old 67 would smoke ’em as long as you wanted (not lots of weight in the rear).  I did have some “modern” 70 series tires so that wasn’t the difference.

  • avatar

    Isn’t this the same car Jeremy Clarkson left in New Orleans on the Top Gear US Special?
    In 1989 a friend bought one of these with the 305 V8 and auto trans, and compared to my 82 Escort it was pretty quick.
    I thought that right until the day I  decided to jump the queue at a stop light to get in front of a early 80’s VW Rabbit GTI, and I lost, badly.
    And to add insult to injury that Rabbit was fully loaded with passengers.
    In all honesty I always liked the looks of this car, but that’s about it, everything else was sub par.

  • avatar

    Okay, I have to stick up for my 3rd Gen F-bodies… a bit. I’ve had three in my life; a pair of Firebirds and a Z-28 convertible. The convertible was unreliable (it seemed to cost me repair money every time I drove it) and the first Firebird doesn’t count because I put a relatively built 350 SBC and a few other pieces in it to make it fast enough. The ’85 with the V6 was fine for what it was. The first motor lasted about 200k miles, the replacement was cheap and the second motor was going strong when my brother stuffed the car into a pole.

  • avatar

    Interesting write-up about the Camaro. Consumer Reports just published the Auto Brands Survey and survey respondents considered Chevrolet as one of the top five brands in the Design category…most likely due to the reborn Camaro. The article is free if you’re interested –

  • avatar

    I can’t believe it took 20-some replys for someone to mention the Camaro cut (aka the mullet)!
    My brother-in-law drives an ’02 Trans Am WS6 and likes it not one bit when I refer to his $30,000 Mullet Car.
    Long live the Ape Drape!

  • avatar

    The very first new car I ever owned was the kissing cousin of this car, a 1985 Firebird with the 2.8 V6 and a 5 speed stick. I just finished grad school (for the second time) and literally had $54 to my name (plus thousands in school loans…). The car I had at the time of graduation was a – wait for it! – 1975 Renault 5, the infamous ‘Le Car’. That beast had to be the most unreliable car I ever had. It got more miles on the hook of a tow truck than under its own power. It was OK as student wheels when I could bus or walk to class, but it would never do when I had to reliably get to work every day. 

    I had a job starting in a month, so in that time had to find something more reliable than the Renault. With $54 in my pocket, and the $500 I got for the Renault, the options were limited (even in 1985). Then GM came along with one of their clever marketing schemes – a ‘credit card’ sent to new graduates, which let you buy the GM car of your choice for no money down and 5 year financing (the amount they would finance depended on your income).

    Well, that was like a gift from the pagan gods to me. I made the rounds of Chevy and Pontiac dealers, had a bullseye set on the Camaro and Firebird from the start (the Corvette was way out of reach for my starting salary). Unfortunately, I soon discovered that a V8 in any F-body was also out of reach of my wallet as well. So, the best combination I could afford was a Firebird with the 2.8 V6, but at least with a 5 speed (I rationalized that lots of European “sports” cars had 6 cylinder engines, plus other than off-the-line torque, the V8 really didn’t feel that much faster).
    It was a 20-something’s wet dream car. Bright red, with a 2-tone red and gray interior and red lighting everywhere (which my girlfriend at the time – and now wife – called tackier than a cheap whorehouse). My first paycheck went to real “mag” wheels, a 5 spoke 3-piece forerunner to the real wheels of today (I had to get rid of the “wire wheel covers” – on a Firebird!).
    Paul, I completely second all of your comments on build quality (such as it was). That fowl started rattling itself to death within the first month. It was obvious that GM didn’t expect to sell many sticks, because the shifter boot was the cheapest, flimsiest, tissue-paper thin excuse for plastic I had ever seen. It would crack and split every month. I literally brought it back to the dealer 10 times in the first year just to have the shifter boot replaced (I eventually tired of the regular visits, and had an upholstery shop make one out of decently durable material).
    I vividly remember water leaks around the stylish ‘frameless’ windows. The fit of the door glass into the roof was less than exacting (about a 3/4 inch or more gap all around), which, in GM’s typical way, they “engineered” by fitting inch-thick foam weatherstripping gaskets (which I think they also did on the Solstice/Sky – time-tested and proven!). Which would pinch and get caught in the window, and then leak like a reamed out sieve. I would bring it back to the dealer just about every week for another attempt at replacing the weatherstripping and keeping the interior dry (hey, it was my first new car and I was going to get my money’s worth on warranty work).
    The best example of GM engineering prowess was when the engine started leaking oil like a worn out colander – right after the (at that time very short) warranty period expired. Like, a quart every 300-400 miles. The service manager cheerfully explained to me that “they all do that” because the engine had virtually no gaskets in it. In a typically short-sighted GM cost-cutting move, some bean counter somewhere calculated how much money they would save by using liquid sealant in most of the engine gaskets (valve covers, oil pan, etc.) instead of gaskets (I’m sure it must have been at least $2 or $3 per car). So, behold, the gasketless wonder, assembled with liquid sealant (which I suspect was specifically “engineered” to get through the warranty period but not much further). However, he even more cheerfully informed me that GM did sell a “gasket kit” and they would be happy to  partially dismantle the engine and fit gaskets wherever there were not any – completely at my cost, of course.

    Overall, in the first year I brought it back to the dealer 46 times. It became a regular Monday thing. I was heartbroken. I had owned many 1960’s and 1970’s GM cars (including Camaros) which were fantastic, and was thrilled to buy my first new car. But it would be my last one from GM.

    With the 5-year no-money-down financing, I was way upside down on the loan. I didn’t have the ready cash to sell it and pay off the difference, so I had no choice but to keep paying it off until I got close enough to the balance. Which eventually I did, and then sold it – to my boss (I left the company very soon thereafter). As soon as I sold it I bought a 2-year old 1984 Honda CRX, followed by my second new car, a 1988 Honda CRX, and never looked back at GM.

    My experience was far from unique. All of us in the waiting room of the dealership on Monday morning, bringing in our problems of the weekend, swapped very similar stories. There were a lot of guys like me who grew up loving GM iron from the 60’s and 70’s, and were just aghast at what had become of GM’s cars in the 80’s. I loved the old GM cars, but I haven’t set foot into any GM dealership since that Firebird fiasco 25 years ago, and doubt that I ever will for the rest of my life. GM lost millions of buyers forever with their insane cost-cutting.

    Roger Smith specials. I guess that’s what happens when you have bean counters running a company. They make decisions based on income statements and balance sheets, and assume that hey, look at this nice revenue line, let’s just reduce costs and presto!, more profit. They don’t understand that if you don’t give customers a reason to buy your product, and instead give them reasons to not buy your product, the revenues are going to go down a lot faster than the expenses do. Which is exactly what happened to them, and why GM’s market share over the past 30 years has had the trajectory of an Iraqi MIG augering into the desert.

    I remember reading an article at the time which interviewed both Roger Smith, and Toyoda-san, the head of Toyota at the time. Each was asked, ‘is your company in business to make cars, or to make money’? Smith answered, ‘of course, we are in business to make money’. Toyoda answered, ‘we are in business to make cars, and by making the best cars in the world, we will make money’. While Toyota has had its problems lately (they caught some GM virus), I think the general path both of those companies have taken over the past 30 years shows which strategy works best.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Wow! Thanks for exceeding even my low expectations of build quality of these things.

    • 0 avatar

      I want to make sure I read something correctly…

      46 TIMES???

      I hope they were nice enough to give you your own parking spot at the dealer’s shop!

      I think I would have torched the thing…or there a nice sized river 8 blocks south of me…maybe an eternal car wash would have been in the cards.

  • avatar

    I’ve only had the one F-body, a 1983 WS6 Trans Am with 305 HO and 5 speed stick. I bought it in 1984 as a used car. It was a young guy’s dream, except mine was gunmetal gray, bowling ball wheel covers, no exterior stickers except the lower tape stripes that ran around the car. Very low key, especially for a 22 year-old guy. Many folks confused it with the old S/E version. Back then I would have probably wanted something visible from spy satellites, but it was a blessing in disguise. We started out OK, the car ran like a beast, for the times. (I think many folks are having selective memory lapses about what cars were like in the early to mid 80’s, they were all crap.) The fog-gray paint job made me all but invisible to the local constabulatory, too.
    But then the issues started. I blew up or broke these parts: the rear axle pinion, the tailshaft and bearing in the trans, the rear main seal of the motor, the shifter handle, the water pump, something with the distributor, etc., etc. And these were only the big things I remember now 25 years later. There were many, many other things that broke or fell apart on this car. I gave up after two years of payments, I was underwater in the loan, but also at the repair shop, too. I had owned a 1981 Turbo Mustang previous to the T/A, a total POS once the turbo started having problems, but oddly enough, after driving a friend’s 1984 Mustang GT V8, I got into a 1986 model. That car gave me virtually no issues in the three years I owned it. For the times, it was a total anomaly.
    BTW, the model in the pix is later than 1989, as it appears to have an airbag equipped steering wheel. I’m guessing 1991 or 1992.

    • 0 avatar

      IIRC, I saw many a Firebird from that era which had those tape stripes (and they were cool … consisting of dots of varying size and density which gave a fade-in/fade-out effect) delaminating and peeling off the car while they were still relatively new …

  • avatar

    I’m proud to say I drove a 1986 Iroc Z-28 with t-tops for many years before it died of rust and a bad head gasket (milky brown oil = not good).

    I loved the car, and I had a chance to compare it with then-current 5.0 GTs. The Iroc wasn’t as light or as nimble, but it cornered flat and had real torque that allowed you to effortlessly glide ahead of other traffic without revving the piss out of the car. GM’s TPI system put every other manufacturer to shame, and really led the way (Crossfire was a one-year abortion). I had few mechanical complaints but the t-tops leaked (even when new).

    However, when you compare the reliability of a 2002 Z-28 to a 2002 Accord, you can see why GM died (and will be dead). Not updating the product for eleven years, you deserve what you get.

  • avatar

    The ’82 Camaro made me very happy…that I’d bought a loaded ’81 Z28 with a real engine and 4-speed stick. A solid car, although one mechanic said working under the dash was like solving a Rubik’s cube made out of razor blades because of all the unfinished metal edges!

  • avatar

    I was in high school in the late 80’s and I would have gladly driven an IROC or a T/A.  We had an 85 Z-28 in the family, non IROC.  It was white with a red interior, T-tops that creaked as you pulled in and out of driveways.  Gave the car character.
    I remember when they dropped the Corvette version into these in 88 or 89.  A blonde girl I knew pulled up in a black one with blue stripes running along the bottom.  Just below it said 350TPI. Nice. Bonnie instantly became three points hotter.  We cruised it while listening to Ton Loc pour on about Funky Cold Medina.

    Compared to today, when minvans are putting out more power than yesteryear’s Corvettes, these old Camaros aren’t spectacular cars.  But here’s a clue–NOTHING WAS SPECTACULAR IN THE 80’s.  The Porsches weren’t even THAT great.  Pull out your books and take a look.
    Still, FOR THE TIME, these cars were cool.  The TPI was a runner with great torque.  The Mustang GT with the 5-speed and five-point-OH was cool as the day was long (forget about the auto, it sucked the life out of the car).  And who can forget the Grand National and later, the GNX (in the high school halls we all whispered about how the FBI was buying up the GNX’s to use for pursuit vehicles…).
    We listened to Tears for Fears and The Fixx and Motley Crue .    We watched Weird Science, and The Breakfast Club, and MTV all day long, because you could actually see music videos.
    So in the context of this, and purple hair, and writing Def Leppard on your jeans, the Z-28 was cool.    220 HP was cool. T-Tops were cool.  And the creaking didn’t mean shit.

  • avatar

    I worked for Ford, and among my management lease cars were an ’83 Mustang GT, an ’84 Mustang SVO, and another GT in ’87.  I lived in Plymouth at the time, and my route home took me via M-14 to the Sheldon Road exit.  From the light at the Ford Sheldon Road plant, there was about a quarter mile until you had to get on the brakes hard for the CSX tracks.  My fave times were when I was first in line at the light and had a contemporary Camaro/Firebird next to me.  I don’t think I ever lost one of those impromptu drag races.
    Wow, good times…

  • avatar

    Yeah, all cars in the 1980s were crap,
    Like the 1986-1992 BMW E30 M3, 1985-88 M5, 1983-89 M6, Mercedes 1979-1991 W126 S-classes, mid-80s Porsche 911s – these cars were crap and I will reluctantly, as a public service gesture, take any of these off your hands.

    • 0 avatar

      You miss my point:  I too would take any of the cars you mentioned, and I would also take any 80’s Mustang, Camaro, Corvette, etc., for their time, they were good cars and competed well.  But compared to Today’s cars, they are crap.   The power isn’t there, and the interior and build quality isn’t what it is today.
      In the mid 80’s, the 911 was making 207 hp.  Today, my Grand Marquis makes more  power than that, as do a host of minivans.  That’s not saying that I wouldn’t give my left nut  to own an 80’s 911.  It was and is a beautiful car.
      For someone who was there, I remember the 80’s as being the long awaited automotive upswing from the dismal 70’s, when horsepower disappeared with every model year.  Say what you will of GM’s Tuned Port Injection, or Ford’s Sequential EFI of the time (used in the 5.0), but these were exciting developments that proved we could have our cake and eat it to.  And from that point on, cars were offered with more and more power, while at the same time being cleaner and in most cases, more efficient and reliable.

  • avatar

    I think the Carralo is more of a deadly sin than the Camaro

    Granted yes its a Camaro and they only made 100 of them, but it shows that GM learnt nothing from the Berlinetta. It’s also hideous.

  • avatar

    One poster mentions how “Everything went bad at 30,000 miles.”
    Funny that because I was just thinking about that. In 1984 my buddy and I both bought new cars. I got a base Jetta two door, a total stripper without even power steering and man did that little car ever go like snot and handle but I digress. He sprang considerably more dosh on a 1983 Camaro Berlinetta, lightly used. It was black and did it ever look cool!
    And it was also one of the worst pieces of crap I have even sat in, let alone driven. It was so weird to drive because the steering wheel didn’t line up with the seat. The shifter had throws as long as a school bus. The seats were like sitting on sacks of flour and as the other poster said, by 50,000 km the entire car was worn out. It rode like a pogo stick because all the shocks were toast. Things started to fail. In addition is was horribly underpowered with the 2.8 V-6. What a truly awful automobile. It started to $500 him to death and he flogged it in 1986. He bought two more scions of American engineering before he went Japanese about 1995 and never went back.
    In 1990 I traded the Jetta for a Honda Accord and I still dive Honda cars. I miss the little Jetta but I don’t miss VW dealers.

    • 0 avatar

      …The shifter had throws as long as a school bus. The seats were like sitting on sacks of flour..

      I learned to drive a stick with GM iron. Then, around ’85 I drove a CRX 5 speed. At the time, I was too young and inexperienced to understand what an epiphany was. I was just too thrilled with how the  CRX clicked.

  • avatar

    gotta admit, the styling has aged well (if nothing else)…of course, GM ruined THAT as well with the overgrown Geo Storm look of the next generation.

  • avatar

    WBC’s-Wife Beater Cars.
    cars you see in the county-side where doublewides are parked on lots with aging Satellite TV dishes in the front yard.

  • avatar

    The “iron duke” is probably  the ONLY thing from these cars worth having. Much like the 70’s straight sixes, the 2.5 would usually be a running motor with a lump of carnage decaying around them.

  • avatar

    Whether its an ’89 or ’92, this is the best-looking Camaro ever, IMO. 21 years later and it still looks awesome. I wish this had the LS1 of the 4th-gen model…and was built with a modicum of care…

  • avatar

    The music teacher in my elementary school drove an IROC-Z in this body style. He was gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and kicked the bathroom stall door in one time on me (there is something wrong with that). Good to know he was driving quite the POS, because it always looked like such a cool car.
    I hope you do a feature on the Chevy Beretta, Paul (look, it’s a Corsica with 2 doors!). My wife and I lived in a dumpy apartment back in 2000 and there was a guy with a mullet that lived downstairs that owned a black Beretta Z26. He was always outside washing it and not taking care of his kids. Once again, it looked cool. But I’m pretty sure my ’85 Jetta was a nicer car. (His wife once loudly asked their kid if he wanted his ass smacked. They were a classy couple.)

  • avatar

    These F-body cars were the last ones built at the Van Nuys, CA GM plant before it closed. Due to that giant glass rear hatch, the supporting structure was difficult to get right. 1/8 of the total floor space of the plant was at one time dedicated to rework of that part of the body.
    Crossfire Injection, cheapened (not Corvette) rear disk brakes, chattering Positraction rear axles, the list of defects on these cars was huge.

    • 0 avatar

      They were the final vehicles to be built at the Norwood, OH GM assembly plant, too (until it closed in August, 1987). Crap engineered car, built at a crap plant, for a crap  company.

      Of course, Lordstown assembly is still running to this day (designated to be the plant to build the upcoming Cruze) and it was the plant that built most of the Vegas.

  • avatar

    As someone who grew up in a family of 9, I knew the meaning of practical.  My dad bought Comet station wagons and whatever was the cheapest transportation.  I particularly remember our little Opel and it’s non-existent defroster.
    Cut to college and me as a young mechanical engineering student, at Penn State, with aspirations of some day “designing” a car in Detroit.  Had a summer job, as a waiter in the Pocono mountians.  Read every issue of Motor Trend and Road & Track as soon as it hit the stands.  The Camaro was my wet dream.  I longed for that car…even as I thumbed my way to and from State College, Pa, to my job at “The Beautiful Mount Airy Lodge.”
    One summer, with wad of ready cash in my pocket, I decided to rent a 1982 Camaro for a weekend family reunion.   They has a brand new one on the lot…unfortunately it was an auto…but I wasn’t going to be choosy.   I got a friend to ride shotgun and we were off.  Even as a total naiveté, I recall thinking how incredibly cheap the interior looked…all plastic molded fake rivots, uneven seams and sharp mold line edges.  The car was slow as anything my father ever bought…but that isn’t what I remember.
    What I remember was how that car was a chick magnet.  We probably doubled the mileage driving girls everywhere and nowhere.  Ended up keeping the car an extra day which stretched into a full week.  That car gave me enough material for my own “Summer of…” movie and a dozen “Dear Penthouse” letters. It was all good fun while it lasted but then I had to get back to work and that was the last time behind the wheel of that icon.

    P.S. To the guy who asked why the same guys who drove Camaro’s in the 80’s drive Beemers now, there is one answer. Girls gravitated away from the muscle cars, to the “look I’ve got money” cars as they got older…and we moved from the disco 80’s to the “get rich quick” 90’s.

    • 0 avatar

      That ‘chick magnet’ observation is really quite profound, and now that you mentioned it, I actually remember getting attention when I drove my gf’s 79 Bandit Edition TA without her. But what a scary car as soon as the roads get slick!

      But my Camaro memory is from when a friend’s red shiny brand new 1989 RS leaked 3 drips of fresh red, green, and amber factory fluids in a couple of hours parked in our driveway. I declined the test drive, having already had my fill of merkin iron and being more wise with my 85 SAAB 900.

  • avatar

    It would have been great if this car was as good as it looked. What I remember about this era was wondering how much longer GM was going to build Camaros in this style.

    While the car was new – it really didn’t seem new at the time. It appeared more like a refresh. Like the previous model, these cars sat too low to the ground, had oversized doors, cheap plastic interiors, mouse-fur carpeting, and parts-bin engineering. The Camaro was a compromise. GM couldn’t decide whether it was going to be a larger Fiero, (a daily commuter with a four cylinder), or a muscle car. The market at that time wasn’t clear either. GM had to get this car out of the door and onto sales lots, and it didn’t have a clue where the US market was going to be. This is why the Camaro looks like a squared off version of it’s earlier design and had such a lackluster performance package. This is also why later years were better – the market for the car became clearer.

    The build quality was another big problem. The car was not solid. But remember that earlier Camaros were also not solid. The body twisted and flexed. With it’s oversized doors and plastic interior, this car sounded like the POS it was. The car was engineered by budgeting accountants. The car’s parts were engineered to be used in other models. This made the Camaro a sloppy vehicle. Even if you got the best assembly guys to build your personal ride – the Camaro wasn’t engineered to be solid.

    I read through all these postings about how crappy this car was. And it was. But hindsight is 20/20, and in the auto world you don’t get that benefit. No one could have predicted the success of this Camaro regarding sales numbers. It flew in the face of most of us watching the auto industry and auto markets at that time.

    Remember hair bands? After punk, this sound was shown the pasture by music critics. KISS was representative of this sound at that time, a mixture of clown and faux angst and a shadow of itself. No one expected this music to gain a following since it was a retro-throwback to an earlier era. It is not for nothing that today we see these Camaros, which were another retro-throwback, popular with that other musical phenominae of the time, crappy hair band music. No one predicted either. Critics thought these two’s time had come and gone. So this Camaro was expected to die after it’s lousy redesign – just like Ford expected the Mustang to evolve into a Probe. Many times critics are wrong.

    Don’t blame this Camaro for being a piece of crap. It was never supposed to be popular.

  • avatar

    I have an ’88 Trans Am GTA which I bought for $500, dumped $15k into and now its beautiful and worth $5k. All new suspension parts plus subframe connectors and it rattles and creaks and produces more disturbing sounds than thought possible. T-tops leak like crazy, and although it has never left me stranded (in 7 years and 5k miles of ownership), I’m a nervous wreck when I drive it because I know my luck will eventually run out. I really don’t enjoy owning it.

  • avatar

    After the 1989 refresh, these were some gorgeous F-bodies.

  • avatar

    Not really fair comparing a 1 year only “Cease-Fire” injected Camaro to the fastest 6-banger W124.

    As the years went on the Camaro only got faster as they cranked up the HP and the 300E got slower as they cranked up the axle ratio for better fuel economy.

  • avatar

    I just started college in New Jersey when this gen Camaro came out.   Within  a year it was the official ride of the Jersey Guido.   If Snookie was alive back then, she’d have gotten punched in the face for sitting on the hood. 

  • avatar

    CArnick, amazing story. Thanks for this insight into GM’s problems.

  • avatar

    Paul, you should at least give it the benefit of the doubt that it is (presumably) running and being driven 21 years later. No one seems to like the GM cars of the 80s, but nevertheless I see them in daily traffic here in Pennsylvania, driving around 2+ decades later (80s A-body and C-body sedans particularly come to mind.)

  • avatar

    I helped a Japanese friend buy one of these in 1988. He was here with his company for a few years and wanted an American muscle car.  I was driving an Acura Integra, and frankly, I was embarassed at how primitive the Camaro was.  Basically struck me as a great engine and transmission in a rebodied pickup truck designed and built by an amateur.  The steering wheel wasn’t aligned with the driver’s seat somehow. The T-tops rattled. Etc, etc. It’s all been said.

    However what made me swear off GM cars was when the RF wheel bearing failed at 12,300 miles.  Went to the dealer, and the service writer decided to write it up as 11,300 so as to get it covered under warranty.   This told me how poorly GM stood behind its products…. I didn’t want to own a car where I’m dependent on the sympathy of the Service Writer to get things fixed when my car is less than a year old. 
    The Integra had a 4 year 50K mile bumper to bumper warranty.

    Still, that was the car that taught me that “GM cars run bad longer than most cars run at all.”

    That particular Camaro led a classic Camaro life. – Bunch of speeding tickets – ran an observed 140 mph on the interstate. Stolen, stripped, recovered, and put back on the road.  Probably still out there somewhere. 

  • avatar

    I had four 3rd gen F-bodies betwwen 1985-1993 and contrary to most of the above posts- they were good cars. All had cheap interiors and some rattles, but didn’t  seem any worse than the other sub-$20,000 dollar cars I had owned. One had a 2.8 V-6 and the others had 5.0 v-8’s; not overpowered, but very reliable and the drivetrains were able to withstand the constant floggings they recieved. 

    BTW-the Camaro in the photos is a ’91 or ’92,  judging by the faux brake-cooling vents in the lower cladding. Believe it or not, it also has the “uplevel” cloth interior.

  • avatar

    Really, only 7 GM Deadly sins? I would posit that from 1967 until 2007, GM did nothing right.

  • avatar

    Yes, these were the pits alright.  I remember when a friend got the Firebird with the 2.8.  I remember he offered to let me drive it and I thought ‘Oh man, this is going to be awesome.’  I still remember burying the throttle (ha!) and experiencing a dramatic increase in noise and remarkably little forward motion.  Funny thing was, he was young, and because it was a Firebird he could only get facility insurance despite a clean driving record.  I told him he should let the insurance agent drive it.

    His next car was an Optima.  His vehicular judgement was lacking.

    Funny, as soon as I saw the headline I thought ‘God, please don’t mention the Iron Duke 4’.

  • avatar

    The 305 was a long stroke, tiny bore emissions engine better suited to duty in a  Caprice than a muscle car. I never understood why GM waited 10 years before going to the 350, a lot of owners didn’t wait. The 350 swap was mandatory if you didn’t want your ass kicked by a Corolla . The big small block 400 was even better, and a few I saw had 396 or 427 transplants. Those WERE the days.

    Handling was a little better than the ‘stang but that was it. Every FI engine they sold developed huge problems due to dirty injectors, not enough detergents and they were baked by heat. Paint came off a little more everytime you washed it, ask any owner. By the time the Camaro was retired it cost so much and delivered little in the way of value.

    But a bigger question was exactly what was GM supposed to do with the Camaro? It bloated up in the 70’s while the Mustang stayed relatively small. Ford had an ideal package for it’s small block, an option it had all along which hotrodders had favored for cheap thrills.

    I haven’t seen an 80’s Camaro on the road in a long time. Or one from the 90’s either. I guess they are either being stored in garages for Barrett Jackson sales some day or else they are recycled into Malibus

  • avatar
    John Holt

    My buddy in college had a ’90 RS with the 305, which was good only for creating smoke from approximately the rear tire area. Sometimes. When it was wet.

    Agreed, the interior, fit, finish, visibility, and squeak/rattle performance is the low water mark for automobile engineering. Absolutely atrocious. A plastic tomb, indeed.

  • avatar

    I like the style of the 3rd gen F-Body. Although I prefer the Firebird over the Camaro.

    They look gorgeous. And still look better than the Fox body Stang.

    I’d like to see a CC on the 300E.

  • avatar

    I used to have 2 of these in high school in the 80s. One an 82 with a V6 and an 86 IROC with a 3.5v8 with 245 hp. Were they premium luxury cars, no. But the 82 ran until it had 350,000 miles on it and was plenty of car for a 16 year old. The IROC was a blast. Once got it up to 135mph and chickened out before I could pin the speedo. I think it was supposed to go 0-60 in 6.8sec. Go back and look at the premier exotic sports car of the day, the Ferrari Testarosso. It had a 5.2 liter V12 only managed 390hp for a 0-60 done in 5.2sec. So the $20k camero was about 1.6seconds slower in 0-6 against a supercar.I remember a solid, fast, well made car until it got stolen.

    A quick skim through the comments seem to show, as does the author, that they never really spent any time in the car, or that they drove under powered models (which most were). Plenty of blame should be placed on GM. They never offered a manual transmission for the IROC, with the rumor being that it would be faster than, or about as fast, as the Vette for $20,000 less. Most models didn’t have power, and did not update the model so they became very tired looking and cheap.

  • avatar

    “Camaro while the old 67 would smoke ‘em as long as you wanted (not lots of weight in the rear).”

    If you had had the 396 with a 4 speed you’d have done a lot more smoking and probably been not a lot quicker. The big block Camaros, Novas and A-Bodies had horrific weight distribution.

    Now, what you should have looked for was a 66 Nova with the 327/350.

  • avatar

    My father was in the Navy, on a mine sweeper, during WWII. In the 80’s he couldn’t imagine how real Americans could drive Japanese cars; Mitsubishi particularly exasperated him since the company had built airplanes that had been flown by kamikazes into the side of American ships. It seemed that Alfred Sloan had Dad specifically in mind when he created GM’s brand hierarchy. From a Chevy Caprice, to Old’s Ninety-Eights, to the the ultimate aspirational vehicle, the Cadillac Eldorado, Dad was a believer. In 1982 he proudly presented my Mom with her own personal sports car for their anniversary: a brand new white Z28. All went downhill from the drive home.

    The rear end howled like a coyote in heat. Bad ring and pinion said the dealer. A week later, the car came back, drove properly for roughly seven of the ten miles home, and then started howling again. Back to the dealer he went. Turning left, off of busy Gulf-to-Bay blvd (downtown St. Pete Florida) into Dimmitt Chevrolet, the car stalled. In the passenger seat, I remember staring at ongoing traffic while Dad tried to get her restarted. We survived. Left the car at the dealer, RENTED a car (no loaners back then), and went home. Two weeks pass. The service manager calls to tell us that the GM rep had determined the rear-end noise was “within tolerances.” This despite the fact that two other new Z’s that we test drove were comparatively silent. Arguing got us nowhere. On the way home, she stalled again turning into our neighborhood.

    The car had less then 200 miles on her and had spent three-fourths of its life at the dealer. Back and forth we went, Dad demanding to meet the “judge and jury” factory rep who had proclaimed the car “within tolerance.” The coward wouldn’t meet with him. Car kept stalling. The fix — the Service Manager suggested leaving the air conditioning off until the car was “properly” warmed up…the warm up period defined as when she could turn without stalling. The rear-end howl added an (apparently) tolerance exceeding grinding sound and vibration. After replacing everything between the rear tires, the problem was resolved. Shortly thereafter the water pump failed and the front right brake began to grind. We’re still comfortably under 1000 miles on the odometer. I went off to college, so the detail of the continuing travails are lost to my memory…but the problems never stopped. After about a year, at Mom’s insistence, Dad traded the sad thing for a (gasp) Nissan (Datsun then?) 280Z. Dad never admitted to liking the Jap Z-car, despite its flawless reliability and pleasant performance over the next four years.

    Dad tried to stay with GM, but after achieving his automotive aspiration – a new Cadillac equipped (more appropriately “afflicted”) with the engineering marvel known as the 8-6-4 engine – he quit the company forever. I introduced him to Toyota, Lexus and finally bought him a E320 that he drove until he passed away last year.

    I am angry at GM. Seemingly by act of commission, the company destroyed my father’s deeply held patriotic faith in American manufacturing. Initially I was glad to see Dad wake-up and understand that you bought the best product and didn’t simply queue up for whatever Detroit deemed was good enough. Looking back, with the wisdom of age, I see a member of the Greatest Generation, who fought for a country he loved, who believed in the idealism of the 1950’s and unlimited possibilities of a country that put a man on the moon in the 1960’s, robbed of that much of that idealism by wholesale incompetence and corporate greed. Within this context, the current recession/depression seems a tragic example of reaping what we sowed.

    The last TV I bought for Dad was the best available at the time – a 27″ Mitsubishi – I remember being a little hurt when he looked at me and asked “what happened to Zenith.”

  • avatar

    NOw this is a car that I have a lot of experience with.

    Like some of the other posters I remember these cars being a revelation compared to the underpowered land barges of the 1970s. I wanted an IROC BAD and reading over the reviews it was the 305 TPI with a 5 speed which I had my heart set on. With the electric blue paint if you please.

    I worked with a guy at NOrtel in the late 1980s who had a 305 TPI IROC with the 5 speed and compared to the 1983 Pontiac 6000 I got to drive this was so cool! Then a buddy of mine bought a 1983 Belinetta and started to go nuts putting a 350 in, putting headers with dual exhaust etc. Good thing there was no drive clean back then! Believe it or not he still has the car. After 5 years the paint was all gone from the roof. Even though it was a pretty peppy car for the day I never thought much of this Belinetta and still don’t.

    My Father-In-Law had a 1985 Z-28 which he loved but got stolen at his work. So, that is 3 of these I have had significant seat time in.

    Despite the fact that the IROC, LX 5.0L Mustang, and Grand National were the serious iron of my youth I went with a car a year older than me for my toy. A 1969 Chevelle:

    I am from this era and I cannot even stand to drive the products!

    That being said my Chevelle was the el strippo of its day when I bought it from the original owner. 250 ci inline 6, 2 speed powerglide, and 4 wheel drums with no power! Even all rubber for the floor with no carpeting on this 300 Deluxe trim package. The braking and power have all been updated in the 10+ years I have had the Chevelle.

    Still kind of weird that I have never owned a 1980s Pony car considering how much I lusted after them back in the day. My wife had a 1986 Grand Prix when we got together so perhaps living with that car took the lust out of my for a Grand National as well.

  • avatar
    Joseph Evans

    It was a terrible car…my buddy had the subject car pictured above but in red with camel interior.  It looked GREAT!!!  It was otherwise a complete travesty.  I think he has based his taste in women on that old red Camaro RS.

  • avatar

    In 1985 I bought a new Pontiac Firebird V6. What everybody seems to have forgotten is that these cars were cheap. The V6 was about the same cost as a low end A body and even the V8 Transam was about the same as a mid/upper range Cutlass Ciera.

    The interior was superb – mine had the “luxury interior” option with comfy seats. The performance with the auto box wasn’t great but what 80s car in that price range was ? Not fair mentioning MB and BMW as they were hugely more expensive.The handling and grip weren’t that good either although that might have been the fault of the tyres. Tyre squeal was always close by but remember also that these were the days of the universal 55mph speed limit. On the up side the car had great style and the pop-up headlights were always entertaining. Luggage space was adequate for a single man too.
    It did have a few problems, mostly electrical, but it never stranded me fortunately and I bought an extended warranty so they didn’t cost me $$$. In that respect it was bottom of the list of cars that I’ve ever owned but by the standards of the time and considering what else was available on the market in that price range, it was a good choice. And mine never rattled or squeaked. I sold it after 2 and a bit years to buy a Firebird Formula 350. That was a car with a serious engine and was fantastic value for money.

    Overall I think the write-up was unfair to the F-body. It needs to judge the cars by the standard of the time and against its peers, not against European cars that were many times the price.

  • avatar

    Totally biased editorial here… And for the record as a STAR Certified Mercedes-Benz Technician, as well as a MULTIPLE IROC and F-body owner, the Third Generation Camaro was a great looking car (unless it was not taken care of, like the RS the editor displayed above) and they were fairly reliable. I fix many brand new Mercedes with problems big and small. The bottom line is ALL CARS break. If they didnt, dealerships wouldnt have a Service Department. The plain and simple truth is the small block Chevrolet is hard to beat. It’s compact (more so than the new Over Head Cam designed engines), it can make plenty of power and I have personally seen many with well over 150,000 miles that are still running good.

    His facts are also wrong on the EFI for the Camaro as the first year was 1985 when Tuned Port Injection was offered and the HP figure is 215. Far more than most cars of the time. The Camaro was also an awesome handling car – named best handling car in 1984 by Motor Trend IIRC.
    The G92 and 1LE cars could run low 14’s to high 13’s in the quarter with 0-60 times in the 5 second range. Extremely fast for the times considering the EPA was mandating tons of restrictions.

    Mercedes at the time was not doing much in the Performance segment. The cars they made back then were simply not directed for the same market.

    Bottom line, the Author has motives here based off of minimal experience and unless you can fix cars and follow the facts without fail as a way of life… You really shouldnt be spreading false claims under the impression of being an “expert”. I seriously doubt he can change more than tires and oil.

  • avatar

    In May of 1990, I purchased a new 91 RS Camaro. The car was my daily driver for 25 years and nearly 400,000 miles. The 170 hp 305 TBI V8 & 700R4 automatic transmission were perfectly reliable and never gave any trouble. My RS was well maintained and typically got 30 to 34 mpg on highway trips. Friends doughted until they ride along and saw the results first hand and confirmed with GPS. Over the years, I lost count of how many condescending Honda & Toyota drivers disparaged my white RS, only to have their ‘superior’ car have engine or transmission failure between 200,000 and 250,000 miles. They would glare in disbelief at the RS and its 300,000+ mile drive line.

    Often the care of the driver, determines the reliability of the car as much as the manufacturer.

    The white RS would prove to be the BEST car I owned and far more reliable than my 2006 Honda Accord.

    Last year, the RS was treated to a full frame off restoration. The Camaro isn’t a daily driver anymore but its my favorite car.

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