IROC And I

My recent drive of the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 got me all nostalgic for a certain other Z/28, the one that defined my early driving years. When the state of Maine granted me a driver’s license at age fifteen, it seemed perfectly obvious that my first car should be a 140-mph wedge of 5.0-liter Tuned Port Injection Camaro. In retrospect: what were my parents thinking?

To give my adolescent self some credit, the IROC-Z and I covered the equivalent of a trip around the earth with neither an accident nor a speeding ticket. However, I did occasionally exercise bad judgment regarding velocity, considering the car had no airbags or ABS or stability control. I’m pretty sure the IROC was the type of car built to star in gruesome driver’s ed videos with names like Wheels of Carnage and The Reaper Stole Your T-Tops.

My desire to drive everywhere at 140 mph was tempered by a vigorous local police presence consisting of town cops, county cops, and state troopers, all of whom pulled me over on a regular basis. I got pulled over while following a cop, because the last time he’d eyeballed my car in the town parking lot he noted that the tires were bald. (I’d since replaced them.) I got pulled over for tinted windows. I got pulled over when the ass end crabbed sideways as I hit second gear on a wet road. I got pulled over on foot as I was walking away from the IROC in the school parking lot (a warning for speeding, that one). I got pulled over by cops who knew I had a vanity plate but couldn’t figure out what it meant. When I explained that “3MTA3” reads “Eat Me” in your rearview mirror, they didn’t think it was as funny as I did.

Among its many adventures, the IROC delivered me on my first solo interstate road trip, becoming the lone F-body to wheel into the lot at the New England Young Writers’ Conference. On my way back to Maine from Middlebury College, listening to Beck’s Mellow Gold in the Clarion tape deck, I averaged 83 mph by tailing a 4.0-liter Jeep Cherokee that cruised at more than 100 mph through most of Vermont. I was probably too confident in the giant Fuzzbuster on the dash.

I drove the IROC in a homecoming parade, where I did burnouts and got away with it thanks to the strange diplomatic immunity of parades. I drove it to prom, twice. I drove it in the snow, once—the Goodyear Gatorbacks were so useless that the camber of the road caused me to slide onto the shoulder at 15 mph on a flat straightaway. The first flake became the annual signal to cancel the insurance for the next five months.

The IROC made a trip or two on a flatbed, but it was always for some dumb accessory like an alternator. The important pieces—engine, transmission, rear end—were indestructible. They must’ve been to survive three years of my abuse. But by the time the Chevy turned over 125,000 miles, it was time to cash in my chips.

With a prospective buyer riding shotgun, I demonstrated the 5.0’s remaining vitality by gunning it to 85 mph. Then I dove down an off-ramp and braked to a stop, a maneuver that promptly caused smoke to begin pouring from the front rotors. If the IROC wrote an autobiography, it’d be called, All Go and No Whoa: My Life With 215 Horsepower and Rear Drums.

It never occurred to me not to beat the hell out of my car in front of a buyer. But my IROC-shopper instincts proved correct. That gentleman was so impressed that he bought the car at its full $2995 asking price. Maybe he figured that if it could survive me, it could survive anything. He handed over an envelope of cash and headed down the road, never to be seen again.

The IROC was eight years old when I got my hands on it. Eight years is a good age for a first car, well depreciated but still sort of contemporary. Thirteen years from now, my son will get his license, which means we might be looking at cars from the 2019 model year. What will they look like? By 2019, a Camaro RS—the model that we designated “Really Slow” in the IROC’s heyday—will probably have 350 hp and do 0 to 60 mph in five seconds flat.

That’s too much car, I’m afraid. Which is why I’m going to reflash his ECU with the “1985 IROC” tune. Trust me, it’s more than enough.

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