I'll never forget the day I saw the first pictures of the '82 Camaro Z28 in a magazine. It was red with silver ground effects and was, to my hormone-infused brain, simply stunning.
I was a junior in college at the time. Reaganomics was starting to kick in and the nation was finally emerging from the double-digit inflation and oppressive recession that characterized the late '70s and '80s to that point.
These same hard times had a devastating effect on Detroit. The Big Three were reeling. The imports were gaining a stranglehold on the small car market and a pair of gas shortages left the market for bigger American cars in tatters. Thanks to such forgettable piles as the Mercury Monarch, the Chevy Vega and Plymouth Volare (simply the most recalled car in history), it was a miracle the Big Three were still in business.
But they soldiered on and three of GM's most successful nameplates were Camaro, Firebird and Corvette. Yes, they were shells of their former selves--the Corvette chassis dated back to the 1968 model year and the F-bodies were based on 1970 underpinnings--but they sold reasonably well and their tooling had been paid for when Richard Nixon was still in the White House. That made them profitable.
They were certainly long in the tooth at this point and the hope was that when the third-gen F-bodies came along they'd be a quantum leap better in every way. Then I saw the pictures--I believe they were in Car and Driver. Talk about a breath of fresh air. The '82 Z28 was simply beautiful, thoroughly modern in appearance, aggressive and bold, but graceful at the same time. It had race car-like grip in turns and the only thing missing was power.
Things did get better under the hood though. By the time the '90s rolled around, the Camaro had gotten lots more grunt, better handling and a subtle freshening of the styling. Gasoline was once again cheap and plentiful and thanks to high-powered computers and fuel injection, cars could be modified to the teeth and remain emissions compliant.
Ten years after the first '82 Camaro hit the streets, Chevy was readying its replacement, due out in 1993. It was rumored to be a real heavy hitter, with tons of power, improved suspension and futuristic styling. The gang at Bowtie Headquarters was proud of it, but it wanted to do something special to send the 3rd-gen car on its way. Ford had been successful with a series of special edition Mustangs--little more than paint and trim, it was able to attach a premium price that would move them in high volume.
Someone at Chevy came up with the idea of the Heritage/25th Anniversary Camaro. The police-spec B4C RS would pack a special L98 engine making 300 horsepower; a revised suspension would not only give it a softer ride, but improved handling. It would have a ZF 6-speed, just like its big brother, the Corvette. The front seats were modified to better hold their occupants. The design, development, validation, testing, and production tooling for these goodies would be handled by Detroit specialty house TDM. To make it special, there would be just 602 produced--the exact same number as Chevy had built of Z/28s in 1967.
Two prototypes were assembled (one of which you are looking at on these pages) and the $28,000 bombshell would be called the 25th Anniversary Collectors Edition Camaro (option code Z4F on the RS). The engine had a trick cam, a one-of-a-kind intake system, one-off tube headers, a 3-inch exhaust system and ported aluminum Corvette heads. Equipped with 245/50ZR16 Goodyears on "diamond spoke" wheels, the car ran 13.50s at 104 when tested at Raceway Park in Englishtown. It rode like a dream, yet handled like a true thoroughbred.
But it wasn't to be. When the car was scheduled to be introduced, the country was again in a recession and ponycars weren't exactly flying out of showrooms. It would cost too much to federalize all the hardware; ergo, the good stuff got cancelled. The only thing that made production was the Heritage edition tape stripes.
Another tragic tale for GM performance enthusiasts. This would have been the best all-around Camaro ever and may have generated a lot more enthusiasm for the '93-later cars. I guess we'll never know.
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