Turns out even that rubber is enough to contain the Z28. Whereas the real Indy 500 pace cars featured aluminum-block 350-cubic-inch engines, the best Camaro you could actually buy in 1982 had an emissions-choked 5.0-liter V-8 producing a tepid 165 hp. Making matters worse, the car weighed a piggish (for its time) 3400 pounds. Other flaws, including dubious paint matching and obvious interior cost cutting, are present and accounted for.
And yet, this is hardly an unpleasant vehicle. Free of the usual signs of hard living, the clean, even elegant shape stands the test of time. The car corners surprisingly well, with quick and precise recirculating-ball steering and good body control, even as we turn kick the back end loose. Although the Z28 requires about eight seconds to hit 60 mph, it makes all the right noises and shifts smoothly. The functional hood louvers provide a fun distraction as they open to feed the "cross-fire" intake.
Pleasant car, fatal flaw-and that's how the story ends, right? Not quite. To its credit, General Motors never stopped tweaking its weak hero, ridding the gremlins even as sales gradually slid. Allow Rhudy to present exhibit B, a pristine 1992 Z28 with fewer than 5000 miles on the clock. The car now belongs to GM's Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Michigan, but as the previous owner and a part-time Camaro specialist for Chevy, Rhudy retains visitation rights -- rights we happily abused.
This Z28 has sixteen-inch "Gatorback" Goodyear tires (also original), a beefier suspension, and more advanced fuel injection. But the interior hints at a more significant difference from the older car. No, not the goofy-looking air-bag-equipped steering wheel, but the lack of air-conditioning. Deleting A/C on a '92 Z28 generally meant the 1LE option, which suggested that the buyer wanted to kick some ass. One of 1356 such cars built between 1989 and 1992, this über-third-gen car features four-wheel disc brakes (the '82 has rear drums), a performance rear axle, stiffer dampers, a baffled fuel tank, an oil cooler, and an aluminum driveshaft-everything needed to go showroom-stock racing. Not surprisingly, the steering is heavier and more precise, and there's less body roll at the price of a harsher ride. No T-tops means fewer rattles (and leaks). The biggest difference, though, is in throttle response. By 1987, Chevy realized that its tatty mouse motor wouldn't cut it against Ford's revitalized "five oh," so it dropped in a slightly detuned Corvette V-8, standard practice to this day. In 1992, this 5.7-liter put out 245 hp and 345 lb-ft of torque, enough to hurtle the Camaro to 60 mph in less than six seconds. The four-speed automatic (no manual was offered with this engine) shifts into second gear so briskly that the back end breaks loose.