V-6s ousted straight sixes as standard power for the 1980 Camaro, when an interim 267-cid V-8 option joined the 305 and 350 engines. Sales held up well, all things considered: 152,000 for 1980, a bit more than 126,000 for '81.
A smaller Camaro was a foregone conclusion by then, and it duly arrived for 1982 on a trim 101-inch wheelbase. Though retaining the traditional format, the third generation was nearly 10 inches shorter, three inches narrower, and almost 300 pounds lighter, yet looked terrific.
Chevy design chief Jerry Palmer precisely tailored styling to the smaller package: chiseled yet obviously aerodynamic. A new liftup rear hatch provided luggage access, and its compound-curve backlight was said to be the largest, most-complex piece of car glasswork ever. Beneath the swoopy new body was a more-modern all-coil suspension with front struts, and rear disc brakes were optionally available to complement the standard front discs.
The Rally Sport temporarily departed as the base '82 sport coupe became the first Camaro with a standard four, the aged 90-bhp "Iron Duke." A 2.8 V-6 was standard for Berlinetta.
As ever, the hunky Z28 got the most attention. It packed only 305 V-8s: a four-barrel 150-bhp unit or a 165-bhp version with "Cross Fire" twin-throttle-body electronic fuel injection, as on that year's Corvette. Four-speed manual gearbox was standard except on the 165-bhp 228, where it was three-speed automatic only (optional elsewhere). The base Camaro could be ordered with V-6, Berlinetta with the carbureted 305.
Once again, Chevy scored big with a smaller car, the new Camaro garnering 50,000 more model-year sales than its '81 predecessor. By 1984, it was up past a quarter-million.
But 1985-86 production plunged to some 185,000, the '87 tally was 50,000 units below that, and 1988 volume was under 100,000. New competition from all quarters contributed to the decline, but so did indifferent assembly and persistent mechanical troubles.
Nonetheless, the third-generation Camaro -- Z28 especially -- was very much in the ponycar spirit of the '60s. Changes through 1992 were evolutionary but well timed. For example, a T-bar roof option appeared for '83, when the Z28 switched to a fuel-saving four-speed automatic and other engines became available with a five-speed manual option.
The Cross-Fire V-8 disappointed, so a high-output 190-bhp carbureted engine replaced it for '84. That year's Berlinetta acquired a gimmicky dash with hard-to-read electronic digital/graphic instruments and spacey minor controls; thankfully, these didn't last long.
Providing genuine excitement for 1985 was a hot new IROC-Z performance package for Z28, honoring the Camaros used in the revived International Race of Champions "top gun" driver's contests. The H.O. V-8 was exclusive to the IROC and available with a five-speed manual transmission, now standard for all Camaros. More-efficient "Tuned Port Injection" (TPI) yielded a new 215-bhp option for Z28s.
IROC hunkered down on 16X8 five-spoke aluminum wheels wearing meaty Goodyear Eagle performance tires, came with its own handling suspension and high-effort power steering, and looked ready to race with its full-perimeter lower-body "skirts."
Chevy again turned up the wick for '87. The IROC got the TPI V-8 and could be ordered with the 350 Corvette engine packing 225 bhp (delayed from a promised mid-'86 debut). Z28 returned with standard four-barrel 305. The underpowered four was gone and Berlinetta reverted to being an LT.
But the real treat was the first Camaro convertible in 18 years. A mid-'87 arrival, it was quite a head-turner in IROC trim, but could be had in other lines, too. They were crafted "out of house" to Chevy specs, making these "semi-factory" models, but hardly anyone cared when blasting top-down on a winding two-lane.
Then suddenly, the Z28 vanished -- a big surprise -- though the 1988 sport coupe was much the same thing save a standard V-6. The LT disappeared too. Minor tweaking added five horses to all three V-8s, though you lost 25 on the injected 305 when teamed with automatic. Base prices had risen some $2000-$3000 in five years, a rather modest increase, really. The ragtop IROC was the costliest '88 Camaro with a starting tariff around 18-grand.
The hallowed RS designation returned for 1989 on a V-6 coupe marketed the previous season only in California. It looked a lot like the IROC, but had its own suspension tuning and equipment mix. The RS also came as a convertible with a standard V-8. The IROC itself could now be had with 16-inch wheels and new Z-rated tires certified safe for sustained speeds above 149 mph. Production hit nearly 111,000 for the model year in a modest sales recovery, though there was no particular reason for it.
For more on Chevrolet cars, old and new, see:
- Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
- Chevrolet Used Car Reviews and Prices