By on August 21, 2018

The year is 1982. You’re a lover of domestic sports cars, but also suffer from a distinct lack of funding in this era of American Malaise. Three updated, base model, fuel sipping rides are in your purview — all of them with four-cylinder engines.

Which one do you take home?

Today’s Buy/Drive/Burn trio was suggested a long time ago by commenter JohnTaurus, who was inspired by the Dodge Challenger Rare Ride. Thank him for these glorious choices.

Chevrolet Camaro

Brand new for the 1982 model year, the third generation Camaro was the new hotness. Fuel injection, four-speed automatics, and four-cylinder engines — all yours! Today’s Camaro was assembled in the city of Norwood, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Initial offerings included three trim levels: Sport Coupe, Berlinetta, and Z28. Our choice is, of course, the base model. Power for the Sport Coupe came from the 2.5-liter Iron Duke inline-four, like you’d find in a contemporary and fine Chevy Celebrity. All 90 horsepowers traveled to the hubcapped rear wheels via the four-speed manual transmission.

Ford Mustang

The Mustang was all new for 1979, in its third generation. It was at that point the Mustang moved to the now-famous Fox body platform. Offering more choice than Chevrolet, the Mustang was available in coupe, liftback, or convertible formats. We’ve selected the liftback version today. The base model gained an actual trim name for the ’82 model year — L. It accompanied the GL, GLX, LX, and GT trims (GT shown above). Like the Camaro, cylinder count ranged between four and eight. The engine of relevance here was the 2.3-liter unit shared with the Pinto, sending 88 Pinto horses through the four-speed manual.

Dodge Challenger

Dodge’s sporty Challenger was only in its second generation. The first generation bowed out after 1974, leaving a gap in the Challenger lineage until 1978. At that point Chrysler conducted a badging exercise with the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda, and birthed the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Sapporo. Only one bodystyle was available: the pillarless coupe seen above. Chrysler’s coupe offered two different four-cylinder engines, limited to the larger one after a cosmetic refresh for 1981. The 2.6-liter “Hemi” inline-four utilized the latest NVH technology developed by Mitsubishi. Topping our trio, the Challenger offered 105 horsepower tethered to a five-speed manual (also the most gears).

Three sporty two-doors, their cylinder counts kept low in the pursuit of value and economy. Which goes home to the tri-level?

[Images: GM, Ford, Chrysler]

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78 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: American Malaise Sports Cars of 1982...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Buy… None (I’m not THAT stupid)
    Drive… Mustang, because it’s slightly better then the Camaro
    Burn… Camaro, if it isn’t already burning on the way to the junkyard
    Challenger? It’s a Mitsubishi and doesn’t really belong here

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      “It’s a Mitsubishi and doesn’t really belong here.” Agreed, Lie2Me.

      In fairness to Corey, there’s no perfect option for the third car in this B.D.B. The Firebird and Capri were fundamentally similar to their corporate siblings, and Mopar didn’t really have a home-grown RWD pony car at the time. That said, I’d have offered up the L-body Charger rather than the captive import Challenger. I’m not sure of the production numbers, but in my experience they were a much more common sight than were the Mitsu-Challengers.

      • 0 avatar

        “I’d have offered up the L-body Charger. . .” I’m with you for all the reasons you stated F. The base model with the 2.2L would fit with the two other options here. Similar power and looks generally. Since it’s not here I’d choose the following based on appearance only: Burn the Challenger, toss up between the other two with the Camaro having a edge for me. Side note: I owned an 84 Shelby Charger and if that was in the mix choice I’d buy it in 82 also.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    My burn choice is so easy – destroy the Iron Duke Camaro immediately. My best friend at the time got one as a graduation present, and he was so pumped to have it (he had been tooling around in his dad’s yellow Volvo 240). Then he decided to drag race me in my Rabbit, which turned out to be Webster’s definition of a narcissistic injury. Pathetically bad car.

    Drive the Mustang.

    Buy the Mitsu.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I have to agree. Camaro must burn. Mustang is cool name and it looks like Mustang – drive it. In daily life get the Mitsu-Dodge and enjoy more gears, horses and cool looks.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I’m with Mike.

      The Challenger sounds like a legitimately decently engineered and fun car to drive and hang onto. I might have to replace the valve guides/seals to cut down on the blue smoke at some point, still worth it.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        you’re thinking of the 6G72 V6 (3.0 liter.) that one had junk valve guides. the Astron 4-cylinder tended to blow *black* smoke as the choke would go out of whack and the feedback system stopped working, good luck getting it to run decent when cold.

        oh, and it was noisy as all getout.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Burn: Camaro. When that new bodystyle of Camaro was released it was considered ‘cutting edge’ and quite the ‘looker’. Too bad about that engine and weight.
    Buy: The Mustang. When the 3rd generation was released, many of the original images were ‘staged’ to emphasize some sort of resemblance between the ‘Stang and the Mercedes sports coupe(s). Compare the rear view to that of a 560SL for example. Recommend as the buy only because ‘Fox’ and therefore someone will be willing to buy it from you.
    Drive: The Mitsu, sorry Dodge. Knew a number of people who owned these and they were all quite pleased with both their performance, and their relative ‘refinement’.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Herpes, herpes, and herpes.

    The Dodge Herpes has a five speed. I don’t think I have *ever* seen one of these on the road. Buy that one, its oral herpes and you can live with it.

    Drive the Chevy because it was the best looking at the time but made you look like true white trash as it aged.

    Fox bodies look pathetic. Burn the Ford. It’s genital herpes.

    • 0 avatar
      paxman356

      That Dodge did have a 5 speed, and the most HP in the group. I owned a Sapporo, the Chrysler version of it, and it was a pretty solid vehicle. Until it rusted itself into a fine powder, that is.

  • avatar
    DM335

    In 1982, Mustang did not offer a convertible from the factory and the L model was only available as a 2-door notchback.

    Lie2me has it right in my opinion.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    The four-cylinder versions of the above cars were infinitely better than the six-cylinder versions because the sixes were tied to the tall gearing of the V8 transmissions, letting the fours run away from the sixes until they got up into their power bands.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      A good friend of mine had the 4-banger Mustang back in the day. I’ll never forget taking a road trip with him and hitting a long uphill highway climb. He had to floor it for what seemed like forever, just to maintain his speed. It was truly pathetic. It was the most gutless car I’ve ever experienced.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        And yet I took a four-cylinder Escort up I-70 out of Denver towards Vail multiple times, passing even V8 drivers all the way. Knowing how to drive them is critical and your friend clearly didn’t know how to drive it.

        • 0 avatar

          The escort was likely much lighter, with a more efficient transmission (RWD saps more power vs FWD). Depending on the year, it may have 120 or more HP, vs the 88 in this Mustang. I had a Topaz 3 spd auto with the 88hp engine, it was very slow.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Even an automatic can be made to perform better, up to a point. In ’82, 4-speed sticks were common, 5-speeds getting there. on the other hand, 3-speed automatics were common but you could, on occasion, find a 4-speed and that made quite the difference.

        • 0 avatar
          White Shadow

          Nah, any moron can floor it. The car was simply underpowered, especially with passengers and their gear. Besides, passing V8 cars doesn’t prove a thing when they are just maintaining speed.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    Buy- Mustang. the 2.3 was anemic but can always be upgraded.

    Drive- Camaro. just don’t take the freeway with that Iron Duke slug (the only 0-60 times I could find for such a car were in the 20 second range.)

    Burn- Challenger. That horrid Mikuni carburetor will soon go out of whack (if it isn’t already) and be nearly impossible to get running right again. Worse than a feedback Quadrajet.

    • 0 avatar
      Funky D

      We has that same 2.6 Hemi in a K-car and while it was reasonably peppy, the carburetor was a source of constant grief.

    • 0 avatar
      Blackcloud_9

      Exactly! I had a 81 Dodge Colt – read Mitsu Mirage. The thing was laid up for two months waiting for a new carburetor to be shipped – apparently by clipper ship – from Japan. My mechanic wouldn’t even ATTEMPT a rebuild

    • 0 avatar
      paxman356

      I had an ’83 Sapporo for a year (88-89) and had no problems with the engine. It did wind up selling it because there was rust on the frame. If I won the lottery, I’d probably go looking for one to add to my collection.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      My initial reaction was burn them all. That’s not how the game is played, so I’m going to agree with JimZ. That’s the least painful option.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Buy the Mustang, and sell it for top dollar. Drive the Camaro. The Iron Duke with a four speed stick was just a fun driver. A little bit of modern suspension work, with some nice tires. I’d even keep “Dog Dishes”

    Burn the Mopar

  • avatar
    NoID

    Buy: Challenger. This thing SCREAMS malaise, and I love malaise

    Drive: Camaro, to see how underwhelming it is compared to my old 1984 Monte Carlo SS, which itself was fairly disappointing for a 5.0 V8

    Burn: Mustang, because of it’s guilt-by-association relation to it’s exploding Pinto cousin.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    Funny. If you look at the previous article, QOTD it appears that it is the same “actor” driving the Camaro as driving the Oldsmobile.

    Burn all three by the way but I’d go with the Dodge as I know the other two suck. No replacement for displacement don’t you know.

  • avatar

    The biggest problem with these cars is that there were still a few beat but still on the road first gen, pre smog, performance cars running around. Your brand new Z28 IROC was totally embarrassed by a rusted Mopar or Ford sedan with an exhaust leak but still packing a four barrel. The kid who had the 442 with bondo fenders (gonna get it Earl Schibed any day now >>) was your sworn enemy….

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      To your point, speedlaw, an uncle of mine purchased a C2 Corvette in the early ’80s. It certainly wasn’t “beat,” but it was a little tired and needed some TLC. He did separate restorations, first mechanical and later cosmetic. Don’t quote me, but I believe the engine was an “IL” code 427. In 1966 showroom stock condition, it was a *very* fast car by 1980s standards.

  • avatar
    Funky D

    BURN
    THEM
    ALL!

    Use your money on a pre-1974 Chevrolet anything SS or Trans AM SD.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    Buy—the Challenger. This car had the best build quality, rode and handled very solidly and was very reliable (for me). Over the years, I bought and sold ~ 7 Challengers and twin Plymouth Sapporos. I never had a problem with the Mikuni carbs, though I did hear stories.
    Drive–the Mustang. Not great, but better than the Mustang II which preceded.
    Burn—the Camaro 4 cylinder had no reason to live.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    The only winning move is not to play.

    I’m a child of that era and I honestly don’t ever remember seeing a Mitsubishi “Challenger”. But it would have to be the only one I would buy, just based on hp and the 5-speed.

    Drive: The Mustang. I’ve driven the 4-cyl Mustang and wasn’t a bad little package for the era. Not fast but a good commuter car, provided you don’t mind a little RWD action in the winter months.

    The Camaro? Burn it with hellfire. One of the mullet-jock types in HS had one of these, t-tops included and it always screamed “poser-mobile” to me.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Same here… I don’t remember the Challenger at all.

      I owned the inline 6 with auto of the Mustang choice (GLX) and can tell you the 4 banger with the manual transmission was quicker. A friend had that version and we raced, well calling it a “race” is misleading, it was more like seeing which car was further behind after some time had passed. Those Camaro’s were terrible, unless you had the “cool” IROC edition. OK even that car was pathetic.

    • 0 avatar
      Funky

      I also don’t remember the Challenger. And, hearing that two others don’t remember it makes me feel much better because I thought it was just me.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        I remember it only as the Plymouth Sapporo. I don’t remember it as RWD, I just knew it wasn’t anything worth a closer look.

        If I’d seen it with Challenger emblems, I would’ve laughed my A$$ off!

  • avatar
    MBella

    It looks like I’m in the minority, but buy the Camaro. Let’s face it, if you buy any of these they are getting an engine swap. An LS in one of these would make a decently fun car in a straight line and I always liked the styling of these. Maybe I secretly yearn for a mullet and gold chains.

    Drive the Challenger. Light and decently fun, and hopefully the owner took my advice above and swapped in a turbo 4G63 from a DSM.

    Burn the Mustang. They are still crazy common, and can be easily replaced.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Buy the Camaro. It’s very slow but it’s also the only one with fuel injection, the Iron Duke is pretty tough, and I’m at least used to working on 80s GM products. Being the first-year on a new generation scares me but I’m hoping that this base version would hold up okay.

    Drive the Dodge. It seems interesting.

    Burn the Mustang.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Is there a fourth option to just say no to all of them? Actually, I’d probably buy the Mitsu, only because my first car was a 1978 Plymouth Arrow GT and I loved that thing (and was envious of my best friend’s 1979 Fire Arrow). Drive the Mustang, only once, and likely on a straight and level road. Burn the Camaro, though in certain trims, I strangely kind of liked it.

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    Buy the Mustang (and the Camaro); drive both. Burn that piece of garbage from Japan. Fox bodied Mustangs are now commanding premium money; I like the style of the Camaro even though the inside is horrific (somethings never change with new Shamaros); but if I could have both Mustang and Camaro with V-8, it would be fun. There is nothing worth spit about that Japanese car – there rarely ever is.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    ok this is a hard one, but here goes

    Drive The one time forgot, so that is the Mitsu, it is the least offensive and w a stick better than the other choices and hopefully less people will want to race you.

    Buy The Chevy , why cause by the rules I gotta buy something.

    Burn the Mustang L , it is a sad sad cousin you want to avoid at family BBQ’s.

  • avatar

    Burn them all.

    Or buy the ‘Stang, put a 5.0/T-5 in it and sell it.

  • avatar
    ernest

    Back when they were new (yes, I am that old), Chevy forced dealers to take a certain number of 4 cyl’s to get 305’s. In spite of that, I don’t recall more than a handful of 4 bangers coming through the store. They were dogs- even at a time when almost everything was. On the Ford side, the 4 cyl Mustang was the most popular model.

    The Challenger was an outlier, but a lot better driver than many remember. Too bad it was a Mitsubishi… didn’t last.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Burn the Dodge; 80’s Mitsu motors were garbage

    Buy: Fox body FTW, nice thing is just about every part from the later models bolt right up. Making your 1982 look like a 1992 pretty much on requires a junk yard donor.

    Drive: Camaro

    Honest question: Why way the 82′ Supra omitted from the question? I believe it sold a lot more than the Challenger. Was it a domestic only thing, if so I get it, even though it was a mitsu rebadge.

    So: B/D/B Camaro, Mustang, Supra

    Buy: Supra way better car than the other two.

    drive: Mustang.

    Burn: Camaro.

    There fixed it.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Oops, just noticed the American Malaise part. Ok, scratch the Supra…too bad. In H.S a buddy had one, it was a lot of fun and reasonably quick for the time. It ended up bent around a telephone pole down the shore. He was fine, all that matters…

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Still see third gens and fox bodies regularly…even early ones. Haven’t seen one of those Mitsubishi $#itboxes since the Reagan administration. So…

    Buy Camaro. Engine swap is easy. Don’t think I could make it as good of a driver as the Mustang so…
    Drive Mustang. They reproduce everything for these including the stuff to keep it on the road. Sky is the limit with mods and one could actually make it into a competent by today’s standards driver.
    No need to burn the Dodge…it rusted away decades ago.

  • avatar

    The big difference is that US cars actually had at least 80% US content back then. Today you would be hard pressed to find any American car with 50% US content. 35 years ago nobody could have imagined the US having a auto parts trade deficit with Mexico. Right now the auto industry is going through the “despair-era”, which started in the great recession of 08. That said there were some truly awful cars built in the malaise era. The worst of these cars was probably the Pontiac 100 that took 30 seconds to hit 60mph. Below is a link to a retro motor week test from 1982 of the Pontiac 100. It is not pretty.

    • 0 avatar

      Here is the link.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      “Today you would be hard pressed to find any American car with 50% US content.”

      What a load of crap. Are you really “hard pressed” to find a Jeep Cherokee, Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Volt, Ford Explorer, Ford F-150 or Chevrolet Corvette? All have very high domestic content, greater than 50% by far.

      Btw, its a Pontiac 1000, not 100. Now, go make some more broad, untrue, and generally BS statements.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Yeah, literally the best selling vehicle in the world (F Series) also has one of the higest US parts contents. Hell I am in deep blue Washington State now and they are everywhere. Hard to find indeed

        • 0 avatar
          MoparRocker74

          I wouldn’t call WA state ‘deep blue’ any more than Oregon. Seattle, Olympia, Portland, Eugene…yup absolutely. Those cities hold the rest of these states hostage with truly awful policies.

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      “The big difference is that US cars actually had at least 80% US content back then.”

      You mean things like the Ford LTD/Crown Victoria/Lincoln Town Car that were were almost 100% Canadian content and assembled in Canada? Those sorts of US cars?

  • avatar
    doublechili

    I had an ’81 Mitsu “Challenger” and actually liked it. Re: comments about the model’s problems, it was very reliable the whole time I owned it, and I knew the buyer a bit and when I saw him on occasion he would give me glowing reports. So I can vouch for well over 100,000 miles of reliability. Guess I got a good one.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    One of the most shocking times I’ve come across a car and had no clue what it was involved a Challenger of this generation. I was looking for parts for the Land Ark at Leon’s Junkyard just south of Culpeper, VA back in about 2010. It was brown and sitting under a pine tree and was thus covered in years of pine needles. I had no clue what it was, I couldn’t even hazard a guess. As far as I can tell, that was the first time I’d ever seen one.

    Buy: Challenger
    Drive: Mustang
    Burn: Camaro

    Though I would rather no do any of it.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    The Challenger was the best driver of these three, but here in salt country, it would have to be junked for structural rust about the time the Mustang was developing a little cancer in the deck lid and the Camaro’s Iron Duke would need its valve cover bolts snugged down for the first time.

    An Iron Duke Fiero runs 0-60 in 11-12 sec; an Iron Duke S-10 runs 0-60 in ~15 sec. How could an Iron Duke Camaro possibly take 20 sec?

    Edit: why not a Charger 2.2? Wrong wheel drive?

    • 0 avatar
      MoparRocker74

      Ill bet a million spacebucks the Camaro is heavier. And agreed, the Charger 2.2 may be wrong wheel drive but at least its not a warmed over Japanese substitute. See below…

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    Buy–Mustang. Easily upgraded, the 4 eye variants are the best looking Fox Mustangs, they’re actually decently screwed together and they’re worth money now.

    Drive–Mitsubishi. That is NOT a Challenger, badges be damned. But its probably the most fun and enjoyable of all of these to drive since the 4 banger is the top motor in the car, not just a loss leader like the others.

    Burn–Camaro. Terrible build quality and the iron duke has no business in anything besides a base S-10 pickup.

    The REAL answer for Buy/Drive would be an ’82 Charger/Turismo. A better placeholder than the Mitsubishi, and these are easily upgraded with turbos to become real firebreathers.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    It’s irrelevant to this discussion, but try to find any four-cylinder third-gen F-bodies or Mitsubishi Challengers now. Four-cylinder 1980s Mustangs are slightly more plentiful.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: Mustang- The 2.3 Lima was improved over its Pinto/Bobcat and Capri era and is an easy upgrade. The Fox platform was coming into its own with handling packages and TRX wheels.

    Drive: Camaro-This all-new F-body is a cut above the bloated 70-81 version with better handling and improved space efficiency. The Iron Duke has fuel injection and can get out of its own way.

    Burn: Challenger- The awful Mikuni carburetor plus it’s rustprone doors and undercarriage are issues. Though the interior furnishings are nice with the roof console.

    Honorable mention Celica ST

  • avatar
    FWD Donuts

    Was living in LA when the new F-bodies came out in late 1981. Went over to the local Chevy store — big crowd of folks turned out to gawk at the cars on display. Even more at the Pontiac dealer. In their time, they were fascinating designs.

  • avatar

    None of the above. I’ll take an AMC Spirit GT – sure, it’s the same Iron Duke as that Camaro, but it weighs 500 pounds less and is available with a 5-speed.

  • avatar
    Funky

    Drive; Mustang.
    Buy; Camaro. I had and missed an opportunity to purchase this car (four cylinder version) and still regret it.
    Burn; I don’t know that I’d burn any as I don’t hold any malice toward any of these vehicles.

    For some reason I have absolutely no recollection of the Dodge/Mitsubishi Challenger. This really bothers me. But I have no recollection whatsoever of this car. I recall visiting the local Dodge dealership during that timeframe. But, nope, I cannot remember this car.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Buy the Camaro. I thought they looked cool and the Iron Duke in my Grand Am was good to me.

    Drive the Mustang. Maybe I’d end up preferring it to the Camaro.

    Burn the Challenger. It’s interesting, but I don’t want to get rear-ended in something with no headrests.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Would it have killed GM to throw in windshield visor tint. Check the Z28 above. I remember having to look at the edge of the headliner cardboard and some clips.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I spent many hours in Camaros and Mustangs and even with a 4 cyl engine, I would drive the Camaro, buy the Mustand and burn the Challenger, which is just…shame on Chrysler for using the name for that tin can.

    But who in their right mind would buy either of them with the 4? Even with the V6, they were sad.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    A “Pillarless coupe” is called a “hardtop”.

    Leaders of the B&B should familiarize themselves with automotive terminology.

  • avatar
    road_pizza

    Buy the Mustang, drive the Challenger, and burn that Mulletmobile.

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