350 Camaro IROC (Corvette power puts more beast in the beauty)

Automobile Magazine, June 1986

 


There is nothing subtle about this Camaro IROC-Z.   The color grabs you-Bright Red, in Chevrolet brochure terminology (and we thank them for not calling it something like "hot lips red" or "Coney Island hot dog red").  There are as many shades of red as there are painters mixing colors, and when a red is right, it's magnificent.  This one is right without question.

The shape grabs you-one of the best from a U.S. car builder and arguably one of the best in the world.  The 1967-69 first series Camaros were good looking cars.  The 1970-1981 second series were even better; far more exciting and sensuous than the originals.  This third body, introduced for 1982, is sensational, and to Chevy's credit, it isn't gooped up with phony excrescences for the boy racers (other than the louvered-and fake-NACA ducts on the hood).

The interior, like the exterior, is tastefully restrained, and the tan carpeting and cloth upholstery look right-a nice compliment to the bright red exterior.

So this Camaro IROC-Z has excellent visual impact: a state of the art shape with good proportions and balance, finely blended lines, and marvelous surface development and detailing, all of which are GM trademarks.  No fan of high-performance machinery can look at it without itching to hop in and take a drive.

Which brings us to the first flaw in the concept.   Getting into the Camaro can be a problem, particularly if the car is parked on a slope and that massive door has to be opened uphill.  It's not only heavy, it's also big: four feet eight inches long and seven-plus inched thick.  And it never seems to close on the first try.

Things get better once you're inside.  After the seat is adjusted for reach and rake, and the adjustable steering wheel (up and down, but not in and out) has been set to your preference, the driving position is quite comfortable.  There is leg, head, hip, and shoulder room.  The back seat is something we'd rather not talk about.  It'll take kids and packages.  Adults, no way.

If by now you aren't' in the grip of this car, just sit in that form-fitting bucket seat, turn the key to start, and hear the throaty roar of the 5.7-liter V-8-the real news here-will probably get you.  It reminds us of the sound we used to try for in the old Ford hot rods when we went over to Smitty's or Porter's muffler shop in Los Angeles: we wanted rumble without lots of racket.

This year's option of the Corvette derived 350 "tuned port injection" engine puts this Camaro right at the front of America's hottest cars.  Inside the engine, is all Corvette.  The outside dress, though, is far from the standard IROC LB9 engine, so lifting the hood won't yield the clue to the car's performance.

The only transmission available in the IROC-Z L98 is a four speed automatic as used in the standard IROC-Z, but with the torque converter from the Corvette transmission and shift-point calibrations unique to this model.  The transmission's efficiency can be verified by the car's claimed 0 to 60 acceleration time of 6.2 seconds and its 14.5 second standing quarter mile elapsed time.

Blasting through some of the mountain canyons of Southern California, the big-engined Camaro was a real joy to drive, displayed the qualities we expect in a high-performance touring car.  Steering is quick and positive (recirculating ball, with power assisted 14:1 ratio and only two and a half turns lock-to-lock), and there is minimal body lean in curves, due to the low center of gravity, the wide stance of the wheels, and the anti-roll bars front and rear.  The feel is mostly neutral until the car is pushed really hard, when it begins to understeer (although there is sufficient power to get the car's rear end out if you prefer it that way).  You get a hearty sense of pavement "stickiness" thanks to the IROC-Z's chassis tuning and its Goodyear Eagle gatorback tires (P245/50VR-16).

Our experience with the car in the more varied driving climate of south-eastern Michigan didn't create the same feeling.  One of our editors called this Camaro "the world's second worst snow car.  It is exceeded in its inability to cope with slippery roads only by the BMW 635CSI.  It is best left in the garage when the roads are covered with snow and ice."  (In fairness, replacing the wide tires with proper mud-and-snows would make a big difference, as it does in the case of the BMW coupe).

We discovered that the chassis aplomb we liked so much on California's roads disappeared on Michigan's rougher, potholed, frost-heaved highways.   The ;live rear-axle setup is about as sophisticated as a live-axle setup can be, but the great appearance of the car and the engine-and-transmission combination cry out for a better way to get this power to the ground.

As another editor put it, "Go over a bump with the gas on and you get launched into the roof:.

The very tightness of the suspension that makes the IROC-Z so good on smooth roads is what makes it so bad on rough roads.  In years gone by, this philosophy of handling was accepted ("Lash 'er down tight enough and she'll handle real good.")  Today, the world is more complicated.

The IROC-Z L98 option carries certain restrictions, in addition to the $995 charge for the engine.  There are four mandatory options: positraction rear axle, $100; oil cooler, $110; four-wheel disc brakes, $179; and four speed automatic transmission, $465.

We could live with that, and with the two mandatory delete options, which at least save a considerable amount of money: no air conditioning is available because there isn't room for a larger radiator to handle the extra heat from the 350 engine, and no T-top is available (saving $750 and $846 respectively).

Driving the Camaro IROC-Z L98 can be a genuine love-hate experience.  It is one of the best looking cars on the road, and is tremendous fun to drive.

Those of us on the staff who are, ahem, a bit older than the others were taken back to our hot rod days, wishing we had been able to have a car this good.  It goes, it stops, it handles (at least on smooth roads), and its far more comfortable than any hot rod we ever owned.  Probably faster, too, if you want to get personal.

But the car is old fashioned and in some ways crude when compared to modern alternatives.  The space utilization is absurd-its one of the largest cars on the road relative to its passenger and cargo volume.  The chassis is dated and certainly not up to what the engineers and designers at General Motors could do if given approval.

It's time the Camaro and Firebird were downsized and given a 1980's rear suspension, and that a concerted effort was made to achieve performance and economy from the same powertrain package.  GM is capable of doing it-with a management commitment to that end.

 

Camaro IROC-Z L98

Price as tested $16,800 (estimated)

 

General:

Front engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe

2 + 2 passenger, 2-door steel body

 

Powertrain:

Independent front and live-axle rear suspension

Recirculating ball power steering

10.5-in front and rear disc brakes

P245/50VR-16 Goodyear Eagle VR tires

 

Measurements:

Wheelbase 101.0 in

Curb weight 3225 lb

Fuel capacity 15.8 gal