Ad the late Rodney Dangerfield ever wanted a Chevy Camaro, he'd probably have grown a mullet and bought one built between 1982 and 1992. Neither as beloved as the classics of the 1960s and '70s-not to mention most Ford Mustangs of its day-nor as fast as its successors, third-generation Camaros have become a stereotype for low class and bad taste. And yet, this oft-disparaged Camaro is arguably the most dramatic and ambitious in the history of a car that has often been more about reacting and catching up. It's also the generation that enjoyed the most success vis-à-vis its archrival, outselling the Mustang in five of its eleven years on the market.
The third-gen Camaro arrived in 1982, two years late and a seeming millennium removed from its predecessor. Granted, it relied on the same basic combination of a live rear axle, rear-wheel drive, and available V-8 power. But it was also lighter and smaller and incorporated a relatively sophisticated strut-type front suspension into unibody construction. Even more significant was its exterior design. The traditional short-deck/long-hood styling disappeared in favor of a steeply raked front windshield and an all-glass rear hatch that offered real utility. It was a huge gamble for a risk-averse company, and it worked. Camaro sales shot up 50 percent in that first year, and technical editor Don Sherman, then writing for Car and Driver, deemed it "so gorgeous, grown men will blush."
Alas, after two to three decades, surviving third-gen Camaros are more likely to give you tetanus than a blood rush to the head. That's where Mike Rhudy comes in. The fifty-five-year-old contractor decided about fifteen years ago that it was time to start investing, and he specializes in one commodity: Camaros. He now maintains a rotating fleet of fifteen to twenty. "I knew the cars better than I did the stock market," he shrugs. When he learned of our search for an unmolested third-gen example, he happily loaded his 1100-mile, all-original 1982 Z28 Indy Edition (one of about 6000) onto a trailer and drove all the way to Michigan from Kansas.
We never cease to be amazed by how kindly owners take to our thrashing their pampered rides. Rhudy is no exception. "You can beat this one up-it ain't got enough horsepower for you to hurt it." He does, however, point out that the Z28 is running on its original Goodyear Eagle GT fifteen-inch tires.