The third-gen Camaro, introduced for the 1982 model year, was a quantum leap for GM’s venerable F-body (shared with the Pontiac Firebird). The Chevrolet Camaro has always been about big improvements in performance, styling, and handling with each redesign. Out of the box in 1967, the Camaro was a solid competitor for the Mustang and Barracuda with its slippery aero styling and short deck/long nose profile. The Camaro’s first major redesign in 1970 sent the ball out of the park with an exciting new demeanor and wider track. The car really rocked.
The Camaro has always out-handled its ponycar competition because it was originally designed from the bones out with a monoleaf rear suspension and conventional coil-between-the-arms front suspension bolted to an innovative bolt-on subframe you could do nearly anything with. The Camaro was all new from the inside out—not a rehash of another corporate platform. What made the Camaro better than the Mustang, Barracuda, and Javelin from a driveability standpoint was primarily its suspension and handling, along with a broader selection of engines and drivelines.
First- and second-gen Camaros were page-turners to be sure. However, when Chevrolet brought the third-gen to showrooms in the fall of 1981 it was a head-turner. It outlooked and outperformed everything in its class. It was a corner cutter with its wider track, MacPherson strut suspension, three-link rear suspension, 5.0L high-performance V-8, and a choice of four-speed or overdrive automatic. It was simply a better ponycar in every category.
For a company like Detroit Speed Inc., there is always a better way to do what Motown did in the first place with these vintage muscle cars. The Camaro has always been in Detroit Speed’s crosshairs—always looking for ways to make the driving experience better in both classic and late-models.
It is challenging to see third-gen Camaros as classics, yet that is exactly what they are today. The oldest third-gen Camaros are 35 years old, which means they’re ready for serious performance upgrades.
We’re tackling a third-gen Camaro at Detroit Speed Inc. for a complete suspension upgrade package. We’re going to show you what it is and how to install it in your home garage. For this installment, we begin with the front end on the road to great handling. In Part 2, the final installment in this series, we will tackle the rear suspension with more Detroit Speed upgrades.
1. Detroit Speed Inc.’s third-gen Camaro platform is good to go as a complete restoration build ensues. We’re ready to bolt on a complete Detroit Speed front suspension system, which will bring this third-gen Camaro’s handling into the 21st century. This is the sway bar bracket assembly, which is bolted to the subframe.
2. The Detroit Speed/JRi Front Strut Kit is a high-performance aluminum strut with “Detroit Tuned” valving for ride and handling control. This kit is a direct bolt-on assembly that includes the Detroit Speed Caster/Camber Plate Kit. There’s also an adjustable aluminum spindle bracket that allows independent tuning of strut travel in relation to vehicle ride height. The top spindle mount uses removable inserts allowing wheel camber to be adjusted in 1/16-inch increments and is available in single- or double-adjustable derivatives.
3. The Detroit Speed tubular lower control arm is installed next. Be sure the Delrin bushings have been properly lubricated. Failure to use the lube will make installation virtually impossible and these rock-hard bushings will be noisy.
4. Insert the 0-degree camber slug into the recessed oval slot in the top hole on the inside of the strut bracket. Other camber slugs included in the kit are intended for track use and can be used for more aggressive camber settings. You are then free to make finite adjustments to the camber and caster settings using the Detroit Speed Speed-LIGN technology at the top strut mounts. Detroit Speed advises torqueing the strut bolts to 150 ft-lb.
5. The Caster/Camber plate stud bracket is positioned in the strut tower as shown.
6. Here’s a close-up of the caster/camber adjustment in the strut mount. This star adjuster is located at all adjustment points to secure and lock in the settings, which makes adjustment simple at the track and on the alignment rack.
7. The caster/camber plate is installed next on top of the strut tower. The beauty of this plate is it features Detroit Speed’s Speed-LIGN technology that allows consistent and precise movements without concern for unwanted movement after the adjustment is locked in. Camber and caster can be adjusted independently of one another allowing an increased adjustment range over the factory caster/camber plate. On top is an aviation-grade monoball at the strut rod attachment for smooth, precise articulation throughout suspension travel. There are two points of adjustment. One is the monoball (strut mount, white arrows) giving you that freedom. The other is the plate (red arrow), which offers significant caster/camber adjustment.
8. The spacer is positioned on the strut rod as shown here prior to installation. Place the 0.875-inch OD x 0.630-inch ID x 1.00-inch L shaft spacer over the top of the shaft of the Detroit Speed/JRi strut rod. Next, place the 0.750-inch OD x 0.630-inch ID x 0.740-inch L monoball bushing over the top of the strut.
9. The adjustable Detroit Speed/JRi strut is installed next as shown by slipping it into the fully adjustable caster/camber plate on top. The strut and spindle are secured to the lower control arm once the coil spring has been installed.
10. This locknut and spacer secure the strut rod at the caster/camber plate. At this point just snug the locknut to the spacer; do not torque it down.
11. You will need to hold the strut rod underneath like this when the locknut is torqued on top.
12. The locknut is torqued to 50 ft-lb while someone holds onto the strut rod with a wrench underneath as shown in the previous image.
13. The coil spring and top mount install like this: with the alignment dowel/pin going into the hole at the spring pocket shown here.
14. The front coil spring seats into the pocket and mount above. This pin goes into the hole above.
15. The coil spring and control arm are located and secured next. Note the front weight jack kit inside the spring. This kit allows independent front corner height adjustment as well as front corner weight tuning. It can be adjusted with a 1/2-inch ratchet extension from the bottom side of the lower control arm and articulates on an aircraft-grade monoball to provide smooth, precise articulation through suspension travel. This corner weight system offers more inner tire clearance compared to a traditional coilover system. The included Detroit Speed coil spring has a 950 lb/in spring rate.
16. The installed lower control arm, strut, and spring look sharp and will outperform the original equipment by a wide margin. We’re ready to move on to the steering linkage.
17. The idler arm is installed in this conventional worm-and-sector steering system. Don’t forget to install all the cotter pins once the castle nuts are tight.
18. Steering is provided via a typical worm-and-sector Saginaw-style power box with a crisp steering ratio.
19. Next, the sway bar is installed and given an initial, static adjustment.
20. From there, the fully adjustable endlinks are assembled and tightened. This is an adjustment you make on the road and on the track. Drive, adjust, and road test; repeat as necessary.
21. What a difference Detroit Speed makes via their vastly improved suspension technology, which far surpasses anything we had in the 1980s.
22. The Detroit Speed front suspension system upgrade for third-gen Camaros features tubular lower control arms. Detroit Speed takes great pride in designing, developing, machining, and fabricating these components with durability in mind. These control arms are shipped complete with lower ball joints; steering stops; and greaseable, super-tough Delrin bushings.
23. A closer look at the control arm illustrates what you’re getting for your money. The beauty of these arms and their Delrin bushings is they don’t give. They hold alignment and suspension geometry once the adjustment is set. And this is what you want on a challenging road course, autocross, or the toughest mountain twisties.
Photos by Alex Stivaletti