IROC n’ Roll (1982-1992)
Is it fair to compare the third generation Chevy Camaro to those awkward high school years? Sure, a few good decisions were made along the way. Otherwise it was a pivotal time baked in poor decision making and a few cringe-worthy moments.
A Generation of Firsts
On the upside, the third generation Chevy Camaro marked a series of firsts for the brand such as modern fuel injection, Turbo-Hydramatic 700R4 four-speed automatic transmissions, five speed manual transmissions, 15- or 16” wheels, a standard OHV 4-cylinder engine and hatchback bodies. It also was the first generation built without front subframes or leaf spring rear suspensions. Instead, the front end was held up with a modified MacPherson strut system. And the hind end relied on a long torque arm and coil springs.
Did we mention it was nearly 500 pounds lighter than the second-generation model? That should have been a guaranteed boost in performance. Too bad any semblance of power was left curbside. Part of the second and third generation emissions reduction nearly brought performance to a halt. Yet it did little to disrupt the long time, friendly feud between Ford and Chevy even though horsepower ratings were at an all time low of 90, 112 and 145. The Camaro paced the Indianapolis 500 again in 1982 and secured a Motor Trend “Car of the Year” the same year. Don’t ask us how. But Stella got her groove back with the return of the convertible option and damnation of its four-cylinder motor to an infinity of junkyard hell.
The real story lies in its great leap forward with the introduction of the 1985 IROC-Z, named after the International Race of Champions. “The IROC featured big 16” five-spoke wheels and unique graphics. Carburetor versions of the 5.0L small-block V8 were still available. But the big improvement came with the fitment of Tuned Port Injection (TPI), which was borrowed from the Corvette. Big engines returned to the Camaro for 1987 with the good old 350 (5.7L) V8 making its way into IROC-Zs as an option. Capped with the TPI system, the 5.7 was rated at a full 225 horsepower; it was the highest horsepower of any Camaro in 13 years and with vastly better driveability.
“While the TPI 5.7 came only with the four-speed automatic, the TPI 5.0L was finally available with the five-speed manual,” continued Edmunds. Chevy claimed the street-legal IROC-Z was fitted with a monster tuned-port, fuel-injected 5.0L V8 and shattered egos wherever it went. That’s kind of hard to do with 215 horsepower, but the styling was rockin’ for sure! The 1989 Camaro California IROC concept was a peek into the future, as the fourth generation Camaro adopted many of its design cues.