As underappreciated cars go, it’s hard to find a more deserving nomination than Chevy’s half of GM’s third-generation F-car. Conceived during the performance doldrums of the 1970s and born in the high-tech early 1980s, the third-generation Camaro could have easily gone the way of the Mustang II only a few years earlier.
Instead, General Motors redesigned the car as a flag bearer for the brand. When it was introduced for 1982, the third-gen Camaro delivered futuristic styling that wowed even the most jaded auto critic. It also achieved something rare: It successfully succeeded the previous generation’s popular styling in a clean-break manner.
The low-slung body, with its steeply raked windshield and sleek hatchback, not only looked modern, it influenced automotive design for the remainder of the decade and even into the 1990s. The car’s aesthetically pleasing appearance was derived from restrained yet dramatic planes and angles, as well as a basic proportion that simply looked spot-on from any angle.
A strut-based front suspension, wide suspension tracks, and great brakes made the third-generation Z28 a standout handler, but with horsepower still a four-letter word to most of the public, its straight-line performance didn’t exactly measure up to its stealth-fighter styling. The top engine in 1982 was the 305-cube, 165-horsepower, fuel-injected Cross-Fire V-8. With its pair of throttle bodies mounted cross-ram-style atop the small-block, it looked impressive, but the engine became known for its finicky performance.
The Cross-Fire engine returned in 1983, but was upstaged later in the year by the simpler 5.0-liter H.O. engine. It featured a higher-lift camshaft, four-barrel carburetor, dual-snorkel air cleaner, lightweight flywheel, and even larger-diameter exhaust system. The H.O. was rated at 190 horsepower and could be had with a new five-speed manual transmission or the new 700-R4 four-speed automatic with a lock-up converter. The performance was a bit anemic, yes–but it was in line with the competition.
The 1982-83 Z28s were popular cars. Nearly 65,000 were sold in 1982, or about equal to the number of Zs sold in 1980 and 1981 combined. Sales were similar in 1983, slipping only slightly to about 62,500.
The third-gen Camaro’s launch coincided with its selection as the 1982 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car, and 6,360 were built with matching silver-and-blue paint schemes. Although some previous Indy pace car replicas were anything but subtle, the 1982 Camaro models were kind of bland and their comparatively large build quantity doesn’t make them particularly rare, even 27 years later.
It’s curious that nearly three decades after its launch, the 1982-83 Camaro hasn’t ignited a stronger collector following. No, the performance didn’t inspire, but the styling has more than stood the test of time. And for a generation who grew up with third-gen F-cars, one has to wonder what will be the catalyst that sparks collector interest in these great looking, great handling Z28s.
Number Built – 64,882 (1982), 62,650 (1983)
Construction – Unitized body and chassis
Engine – 305 cubic-inch V-8 4-barrel, 305 cubic-inch V-8 fuel injected
Power/Torque – 1982 4-barrel, 145 horsepower, 240 lb-ft torque, 1982-83 fuel injected, 165 horsepower, 240 lb-ft torque, 1983 H.O., 190 horsepower, 240 lb-ft torque
Transmission – TH200 three-speed auto, 700-R4 four-speed auto, four-speed manual, five-speed manual
Suspension front – MacPherson strut with coil springs
Suspension rear – Live axle with coil springs and torque arm
Brakes – Front disc/rear drum, optional front/rear disc
Length/width/height – 187.8/72.1/49.8 inches
Wheelbase – 101 inches
Weight – 3,400 lbs.
0-60/quarter mile – 6.7 seconds, 15.0 seconds at 93 mph (H.O.) (Car and Driver, June 1983)
Top speed – 134 mph (H.O.) (Car and Driver, June 1983)
MPG – 17 - 27 mpg
Design has worn well with time
Sharp handling traits
Your Gen-X car buddies will love it
Cultural impact evokes mullet connotations
Clean, original examples are hard to find
Mediocre build quality
Restoration parts are hard to find
Remanufactured alternator $75.79*
Brake discs and pads $60.79 (rotors, each); $17.16 (pads, set)*
Exhaust system $433.81**
Carpet kit $259**
*Based on information from Rockauto.com
**Based on information from Hawksthirdgenparts.com
WHAT TO PAY
1983 CHEVY CAMARO Z28
MSRP – $10,336
Low – $2,500
Average – $4,525
High – $6,475
*Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Corvette & Chevy magazines are sold.
Insurance cost is $102/year for a $4,525 1983 Chevy Camaro Z28. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance,
WHEN TO BUY
Grab one soon. Early third-gen F-cars aren’t getting any easier to find in good condition, but they haven’t made it onto collectors’ radar screens yet. Spend the time and the money to seek out the best example you can find and hold onto it for a while.