Seldom does a new car arrive on the market more keenly anticipated than the new Chevrolet Camaro. Its predecessor, the second-series Camaro introduced in 1970, was an act that would be tough to follow: "astonishingly beautiful" styling (to quote our 1970 test), good enough to go 11 years with only minor changes; handling and roadability that set new standards for U.S. cars back then, and a combination of driving feel, instrumentation, and seating position that appealed even to diehard enthusiasts of European cars.
(From the June 1982 issue of Road & Track)
During that 11-year span, though, a lot happened. Gasoline prices quadrupled, sending the entire spectrum of car sizes downward and leaving the compact-in-1970 Camaro very large by today's standards. European cars, thanks in part to their head start in adapting to expensive fuel, made inroads into American buying habits and tastes that would have been impossible to predict in 1970. And the inexorable march of engineering progress raised standards of ride and handling—if not performance!—by leaps and bounds. The time had come for a new Camaro, and if it were to be a timely one, it would have to be more compact, lighter, more efficient, and perhaps even a bit more European in character.
Meanwhile, over at Ford, the Mustang—after all, the car that kicked off this whole sporty-coupe phenomenon in America—had undergone two major character changes during the second- series Camaro's lifespan, becoming lighter and smaller than the Chevrolet product. But it had also developed a rather anemic personality, one little altered by either an abortive attempt at turbocharging its basic 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine or the various V-8s with which it could be ordered.
It made sense for Ford to give the Mustang a transfusion of power for 1982. For one thing, the new Camaro was coming, and it could be expected to be a formidable competitor for the sporty Ford. For another, Ford planners perceived that Americans might be ready for a bit of fresh emphasis on performance after a lot of lean years at the mercy of strict emission regulations and fuel-economy pressures. So enter the Mustang GT 5.0. in which the familiar 5-liter (actually 4.9. or 302 cu-in.) Ford V8 makes a return engagement in a form similar to one of the company's marine applications. Last year, the largest Mustang engine was the 4.2-liter V8, mated exclusively to an automatic transmission: that combination continues, and the new 5-liter is available only with Ford's 4-speed manual gearbox.
The Competitors: Something New, Something Old
For our first full road test of Chevrolet's new baby, it was natural to turn to the Z28, the sportiest version. Because the Camaro's engine and transmission options don't offer a single version directly comparable to the Mustang GT powertrain, we drove two Z28s to bracket the Mustang. The first, and the one represented in our data panel, had the manual 4-speed gearbox and the most powerful engine available with it, a 4-barrel-carbureted 5-liter unit of 145 hp. This is the standard combination in the $9700 Z28, as are power-assisted steering, fat P215/65R-15 tires on 7-inch-wide rims, and the Camaro's sportiest suspension calibration. Additionally, the test car had a limited-slip differential, heavy-duty engine cooling, the custom cloth interior with "Conteur" driver's seat, an AM/FM-stereo cassette system with Delco's Extended Range speakers, air conditioning, tilt wheel, cruise control and a minor host of other items to bring its sticker price up to a still moderate-for-1982 $12,694.
Because you can't get the star Camaro engine, the Cross-Fire fuel injected 5-liter V8 of 165 hp, with manual transmission we also sampled that engine with its mandatory automatic transmission in our second Z28 test car, which was equipped pretty much like the first except that it also had the optional 4-wheel-disc brakes. Its price: $13.635.
The "something new" of the not-so-new Mustang (it's been around in its current form since the 1979 model year) is its 4.9-liter V8, whose new camshaft, larger-but-still-2-barrel carburetor and low-restriction exhaust system and air cleaner help it up to 157 hp, 17 more than it generated when it was last available in 1979. The 4-speed gearbox that goes with it is essentially a 3-speed overdrive: three widely spaced ratios leading up to a 3rd gear that's already long-legged, a 0.70:1 4th that's "so tall it gives you a nosebleed," to quote one of our test drivers. Also included in the GT 5.0 ($8965 base) are a limited-slip differential, power assisted steering, and an appropriately firm handling package with anti-tramp bars bolted to the live rear axle to keep it from becoming as live as it has been in earlier high performance Mustangs. Cast alloy wheels, front and rear spoil ers. halogen headlights (high and low beams) and foglights. dual aerodynamic mirrors, a center console, full instrumentation and low-back reclining seats complete the package.
The test car had Ford's TR performance suspension, which adds $105 and substitutes 390 x 150-mm (approximately 15 x 6-in.) forged alloy wheels with the Michelin TRX 190/65HR-390 tires that fit them for the standard GT combination, specially tailored spring/shock rates and anti-roll bars. Other options on the Mustang test car included air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo radio with premium amplification, a T-bar roof with removable glass panels, and various minor options for a total price of $12,722.
Performance: The Mustang 's the Muscle Car
With the newly tuned 5-liter V8, Ford has led the U.S. industry in restoring exhilarating engine performance to the list of options. Starting with a 12-hp advantage over the manually shifted Camaro and 270-lb less curb weight, the Mustang 5.0 overcomes the handicap of its ultra-wide gearing to log in some impressive (at least for the Eighties) acceleration times: 0-60 in 8.0 seconds, 0-100 mph in 25 seconds flat, and the standing quarter-mile in just 16.3. By contrast, the heavier, lower-power Z28 needed 9.7 sec to reach 60 mph, 30.0 to reach 100, and 17.5 to cover the quarter-mile despite its more tightly packed four speeds. With longer gearing—4th in the Camaro is about equivalent to 3rd in the Mustang—it probably could take advantage of its undoubtedly superior aerodynamics, but as it is, the Z28 reaches its redline of 5000 rpm at 115 mph. The Mustang, with no redline at all on its tachometer revs happily to 6000 rpm in 1st and 2nd, reaching 118 mph in either 3rd or 4th.
In more normal driving, the carbureted Ford and Chevy V8s are nearly equal. Both have that smooth, quiet, relaxed sound that helped endear American V8s to millions over the years, augmented by exhaust systems that purr pleasantly in their respective Ford and Chevy tones. Both have good drivability once warm, though both (especially the Ford) want to stall a few times after a cold start. And both, because of their 15-to-16-mpg thirst and small tanks, suffer frequent fuel stops. Here the Camaro was slightly ahead, but in this form it is only about 250 lb lighter than its predecessor and therefore no efficiency wonder. Fact is, it did only 1.5 mpg better than our 1970 Camaro test car, which had automatic transmission.
The Z28's available fuel-injected engine shifts the balance somewhat. It is markedly more powerful (an additional 20 hp) and responsive than the carbureted one, so much so that even with its automatic transmission it gives better acceleration times: 0-60 in 9.0 sec, the quarter mile in 16.8 sec and 81.0 mph, and 0-100 in 28.0. We hadn't driven this test car long enough at presstime to report on its fuel economy, but the EPA city figure is 1mpg below that for the manual-shift carburetor engine. Identified by "Cross-Fire Injection" badges inside and out, the FI engine also entertains its driver in the Woodward Avenue tradition by flaps at the rear of the hood's air scoop that open up at wide throttle openings. Step on it, and up they pop to feed cooler outside air to the engine.
For two 4-speed manuals, the Camaro and Mustang gearboxes couldn't be much more different. We have mentioned the gearing differences; the result is that in the Mustang you seldom get into 4th, in the Camaro you use it frequently and even wish for a 5th gear at highway speed. The Mustang has the better shift linkage; though slightly vague, it is easy to row around, whereas the Camaro's is more precise but requires real moxie to manipulate. A further drawback of the Camaro's linkage is that the 1-2 and 3-4 gates are a bit too close together; wider separation would make gear selections more certain. The manual-shift Z28's differential sang loudly on deceleration in the 45-35-mph range.
Handling: Something New Wins Out
Starting point here is a reminder that, although the Camaro is a newly engineered car, it is still traditionally American, an updating of the familiar Camaro concept. So it, like the Mustang, has a live rear axle, and is not at its best on rough road surfaces. Still, it is markedly better than its predecessor. Whereas the old Z28 would bounce sideways at the mere hint of a bump while cornering, it takes a rougher stretch of pavement to upset the new one's poise. This is not to imply that the Z28, most stiffly sprung of the Camaro variations, is a supple road leech in the sense of the best independently suspended cars. But with its wide tires and new chassis componentry it can sustain so much cornering force—an impressive 0.82 g's on the skidpad—that there's sufficient reserve for even the occasional bump or patch in the road. In any case, it truly shines on a winding country road, encouraging brisk driving and remaining impressively neutral. On the track, where it's safe to explore a car's limits, we found the live rear axle's advantages over most independent rear suspensions: smooth tuck-in, rather than trickiness, when you back off the gas in a hard corner. In the slalom test, too, the Z28 showed its competence with a respectable speed (58.6 mph) and excellent controllability.
All this is enhanced by the Z28's quick, precise (14.0:1 overall) steering and its reasonable level of power assist. The new chassis thus adds up to exhilarating handling on smooth, dry roads and, reasonable behavior on not-so-smooth, dry surfaces. In the Z28, however, these capabilities are achieved at the expense of riding comfort; this is a classically sporty, hard-riding car. Those who want fine handling but can forgo the Z28's ultimate skidpad performance for more riding comfort might be best advised to opt for a Camaro Berlinetta with the F41 suspension package.
Though it doesn't ride nearly as hard as the Z28, the Mustang GT runs a poor second in the handling department—and its deficiencies don't seem to be related to its softer ride. Despite the anti-tramp bars, which achieve their effect by bumping their rubber cushioned ends against the axle control arms when the axle tries to "wind up" under heavy acceleration or braking, the Mustang's rear axle remains the car's least controlled aspect. On sharp uphill bends, for instance, merely applying the amount of power necessary to keep going causes its inside rear wheel, being dragged along by the limited-slip differential, to patter and chirp. If more power is applied, the rear end breaks loose easily. In the wet, this comment applies to nearly any curve.
Steering is not a Mustang forte either; its power-assisted rack-and-pinion gear is slow and devoid of feel. Couple this with the Mustang's body roll, a skidpad figure (0.736g) that's merely in the "good sedan" range and you have a car that recalls the characteristics of yesteryear's pony/muscle cars. To be fair to the Mustang, however, most of our drivers were so impressed with its power that they still found it quite entertaining to drive.
In hard braking, the Mustang's anti-tramp bars do their work well, keeping the rear axle stable and helping to give the driver good control over the car. But the relatively narrow TRX tires don't deliver nearly as much stopping power to the pavement as the Camaro's fat Goodyears, so the Mustang took about 30 feet farther than the Camaro to stop from both 60 and 80 mph. But it was difficult to keep the Z28 with standard brakes under control in those simulated emergency stops, so badly did its rear axle hop up and down. Later, when we took the all-disc Z28 to the track, we found an entirely different braking picture: a stable rear axle, thanks to the automatic transmission, and 14 feet less stopping distance from 80 mph.
Esthetics and Comfort, Subjective and Objective
In these times of depressed auto sales, ever more uniform designs, and engineering that often seems more influenced by government regulations than by what people actually want, it was utterly refreshing to experience the excitement generated by the new Camaro (and Firebird, for that matter). Aside from the many looks and questions it generated, a measure of the car's drawing power was the sheer volume of notes written in our test cars' logbooks; a veritable battle of opinions ensued in their pages. Is the new Camaro really progressive? Is it high-tech? Is it tasteful? Does its performance live up to the promise of its shape? R&T staff members were sharply divided in some of their reactions to the new Chevy.
In esthetic matters, readers can easily draw their own conclusions by looking for themselves; suffice it to say that nearly all staff members find the new F-car lines pleasing and exciting. Comparing Z28 to Mustang GT, the GM product is certainly cleaner, sleeker, and aerodynamically slicker; visual "tricks" are confined to a fake NACA duct (functional with the fuel-injected engine) on the hood and add-on rocker panels that give the Z28 a heavier, huskier look than other Camaros. The Mustang's parallel is a big hood bulge, partly justified by its engine's air cleaner.
Both are hatchback 2+2s, with roomy front and occasional rear seating: the Mustang has a deeper cargo compartment at the rear and considerably more storage space than the Camaro with the rear seatback upright or folded, even when the latter's two lockable stowage compartments are included, as they are in our data panel. Functionally, their cockpits are not so disparate, but esthetically they are worlds apart.
To Chevrolet's credit, most of the points we have criticized in the past have been corrected. All Camaros, for instance, now have adjustable front-seat backrests. Our test cars, with their tasteful and durable-looking custom cloth upholstery, had the optional Conteur (Chevrolet's spelling) driver's seat, which not only looks different from the front passenger's seat but is a new high point in American-car seating. With its adjustable lumbar support it can be made extremely firm, and its variable side bolsters allow one to tailor its cushion's and backrest's lateral support. The old foot parking brake is gone, replaced by a proper console lever. And a steering-column stalk now does all those things one came to admire about imported cars' controls: perhaps a function or two too many, in fact, as Chevrolet has crowded directionals, wiper/washer, high beam and cruise control onto a single stalk instead of spreading them out over two.
Esthetics aside once more—the stark look of its glovebox-less dash was controversial among staff members—the Camaro's instrument panel gets a mixture of mostly raves and one boo. Its instrumentation is extensive, businesslike, and for the most part legible, but Chevrolet's answer to the U.S. speedometer regulation, a dual-face dial with diametral needles pointing to a mph and a km/h scale, turned out to be a distraction. Perhaps now that the regulation—which limited markings to 85 mph or 140 km/h, required both metric and English units and called for special marking at 55 mph—has been rescinded. Chevrolet will reconsider the matter. We'd prefer a round dial indicating the car's performance capability (European Camaros have a 240- km/h face) and calibrated conventionally in mph and km/h.
The Camaro's huge hinged rear window, termed by Chevrolet the most complex piece of automotive glass ever, may be the reason our test cars were rather hot inside in mild, sunny weather. A more powerful air-conditioning system had to be developed because of it, and we found ourselves using it more often than the ventilation mode, which itself delivers plenty of air. At any rate, the big window provides plenty of vision directly rearward, but the view to the right rear is restricted by the thick roof quarter. Remote-controlled electric outside mirrors-helped, but we found their control (similar to that of the Datsun 200SX) very difficult to use at night because one has to look at it to operate it. Around the mirrors, whose mounting posts form the front door-glass guides, was the Camaro's worst visible workmanship; here the rubber was quite sloppy. Otherwise, the Z28 showed some progress relative to earlier Camaros and in comparison to medium-price U.S. cars in general. Our Mustang had the optional Recaro seats, whose backrests adjust smoothly by knurled wheels (but please, before buckling up. for the belts run across the wheels) and whose cushions provided very firm bottom support, too firm for some drivers. These seats don't have as many adjustments as the Camaro's Conteur, but they do provide the good lateral support one expects from Recaros during hard driving. Like the test Z28s. the Mustang also had a tilt steering wheel, but its adjustment notches are so coarse some drivers couldn't find a satisfactory angle.
The view forward from the Mustang driver's seat is dominated by the big hood bulge, which some drivers will like as a visual manifestation of the ample power under it; to the right rear, vision for maneuvering is limited much as in the Camaro by a wide roof panel and, in this case, the right head restraint. Ford, too, has adopted steering-column stalks for many driving functions: Here they are divided between two stalks, rather than stuffed onto one as in the Z28. but the horn is activated by a push on one of the stalks, a less satisfactory solution than the Camaro's more logical steering-wheel horn. In the instrument department, the Mustang has nothing new to offer: clearly labeled gauges, to be sure, but "the same old dash painted flat black," as one tester observed.
Our Mustang didn't benefit as much as we expected from Ford's recent emphasis on assembly quality. Wires dangled loose under its instrument panel, wind leaks were far noisier than the Camaro's, and its body rattled and squeaked a good deal more than that of the Camaro, not surprising remembering its T-bar roof design.
Summary: Is There A Clear Winner?
Despite close similarity in dimensions, seating package, and price, the Z28 and Mustang GT 5.0 differ markedly in personality. The Mustang might be characterized as gutsy but unsophisticated. A woodsman, with a big axe. In comparison, the Camaro—even with its hard suspension and Armstrong shift linkage—is almost sweet and refined. It's a contrast that is by no means new to the Camaro/Mustang comparison. Back in 1970, when the present Camaro's predecessor was a new model, it was much the same with the Camaro sporting new chassis refinement and 5.7 liters of V-8 at the most, the Mustang beefier but cruder engineering with up to 7 liters of power.
For 1982 we have once again a super-stylish new Camaro, featuring a newly refined chassis if not European sophistication, pitted against a now somewhat dated Mustang with a chassis that's hard-put to handle its engine's generous torque. A Camaro that offers a choice between moderate power with a manual transmission and somewhat-better power only with an automatic. A Mustang that specializes in good, old-fashioned straight-line performance against a Camaro that revels in curves.
Both, to be sure, are still essentially traditional American cars. Chevrolet has not revolutionized the Camaro, but merely updated it. The Mustang, after going through two metamorphoses in the last decade, remains very traditional, especially in its V8 form, though we look forward to driving the 1983 version from Ford's Special Vehicles Operation, fitted with a turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter 4-cylinder, a 5-speed manual gearbox, 4- wheel disc brakes, 16-inch wheels and tires, modified 1983 Lincoln suspension components, and improved aerodynamics and instrumentation. Quite an impressive sounding package. As for current offerings, they're relatively heavy and thirsty for the performance they offer. The Camaro Z28 and Mustang GT 5.0, however, are meant to be enjoyed, and they do not cost an arm and a leg. The judgment of which is the more enjoyable ultimately rests with the prospective buyer and his or her personal taste. If brute performance is a top priority, then the Mustang GT 5.0 gets the nod. If a more balanced palette of qualities at the sacrifice of seat- compressing acceleration is desired, the Camaro Z28 is the choice.