Chevrolet will soon debut the sixth-generation Camaro at the New York International Auto Show and as a result, is reflecting on the exterior styling of the five model generations that preceded it. To analyze the styling of the third-generation model, Chevy called upon current executive director of Chevrolet global car design and former owner of a third-gen Camaro 1LE racecar, John Cafaro.
Cafaro says the third-generation Camaro, which appeared dramatically more modern than the second-gen car, “will always be a cultural symbol of the 1980s because its design epitomized the era’s high-tech cultural trends.” He also noted the Camaro “grew into more of a serious sports car,” in moving to the third-gen model, with a chassis “designed for a new level of function.”
The first and second generations of the Camaro were quite clearly inspired by European grand touring cars, however the third car was “a uniquely American design with a form developed for function,” Cafaro says. It had a sporty and distinctly American front end which was deemed as being too aggressive by some employees within GM, and rectangular taillights which were representative of high-tech ambience of the time period.
This “high tech ambience” was present in multiple spots on the third-gen Camaro, not just in its multi-colored tail lamps. The rectangular front headlights were meant to further enhance its modern appearance, while a hatchback tailgate, offered for the first time on a Camaro, was “de rigueur in the 1980s,” Cafaro says. The third-gen Z/28, which was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1982, appeared even more modern thanks to an aerodynamics kit inspired by Formula 1 racecars.
“Perhaps more than any other generation, the third-generation Camaro was a car of its time,” Cafaro explains. “You can see that influence in every detail of the car, from the aerodynamic details of the exterior, such as the ground effects on the Z28, to the introduction of digital instruments on the interior.”