The Camaro IROC-Z Was A Champion In Its Own Right40
SS. Z/28. ZL1. COPO. There’s certainly no shortage of famous special-edition acronyms to point to when talking history of the Chevrolet Camaro. However, when it comes to the ‘80s-era third-generation model, one acronym in particular stands out from the rest—IROC-Z. Named from racing and equipped with all the right gear to back it, the original Camaro IROC-Z was relatively short-lived, but deserving of recognition and praise all the same.
The story of the Camaro IROC-Z starts in 1974, when Roger Penske, Mike Phelps and Les Richter got together to create the International Race of Champions. Presented as a sort of auto-racing all-star game, the International Race of Champions pitted some of the top racing drivers (typically U.S.-based, despite the name) against one another in equally prepped stock cars as a means of showing off driver talent without politics or performance deficiencies getting in the way.
Originally, the International Race of Champions used the Porsche Carrera RSR as the standard competition vehicle, but by 1975, a switch was made to the Chevrolet Camaro.
The race was held annually until 1980, but was put on hold for 1981, 1982, and 1983. By the time 1984 rolled around, the International Race of Champions was ready to kick back into action, and the Camaro was once again sought as the spec racer for the competition. Event organizers wanted to use the latest Z28 model, but Chevrolet upped the ante with a brand-new special edition with even more performance than that of the Z28.
As a hat-tip to the race that spawned it, the new go-faster model was dubbed the Camaro IROC-Z. Customers could get their own Camaro IROC-Z as an optional package upgrade over the standard Z28, adding a number of chassis and handling improvements. Highlights included new Delco-Bilstein shocks, thicker sway bars, a lower ride height and a new steering brace, otherwise known as a “wonder bar.”
Outside, the Camaro IROC-Z made its presence known with uniquely styled decals and new 16-inch aluminum wheels, while under the hood, customers could opt into the Tuned Port Injection system plucked from the Chevrolet Corvette. Peak output from the 5.0L small-block V8 was rated at 215 horsepower, although a 5.7L V8 was also made available starting in 1987, with output ranging from 225 to 240 horsepower, depending on the model year.
When it hit the market, the Camaro IROC-Z was hailed by critics for its quick pace, solid handling and gorgeous styling. However, sales weren’t particularly stellar, with just 2,497 units sold in its inaugural year. After a few minor changes between model years, the Camaro IROC-Z was discontinued following the 1990 model year. Chevy declined to renew its contract with the International Race of Champions, and the competition ended up folding in 2006.
More recently, we covered GM’s decision to abandon a trademark filing for the IROC-Z name, lending further evidence that a next-gen Camaro IROC-Z was never under consideration. Nevertheless, for some Bow Tie fans, the original Camaro IROC-Z remains a true classic.
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I owned one, and got smoked by every 5.0L mustang I went up against. Even with a 350 tpi and some mods they were still slow and heavy. Good looking car, and a nice cruiser though. Lock up them T tops.
Funny….I had an 87 with the TPI 350 that was bone stock and there wasn’t a stock 5.0 that could touch it.
Not on the street, the drag strip, or on Saturday SCCA races…
The 700R4 would light second gear up every time under moderate, or full throttle acceleration….
“Light up second gear under moderate acceleration” …….LOL
Don’t know what to tell you Caddy Matt…but it certainly would…
That is because the Mustang 5.0 was lighter and the rear end gears were different, that is the only reason.
I have an original 87 IROC-Z, convertible I am restoring. Love that car
I bought my 88 IROC-Z in Dec 1988 and put 240,000 miles on it before I sold it to a mechanic in 2002. It never had an engine or transmission problem and I regret selling it. I loved its performance and design.
Matt, I just found a 24,000 mile, ’85 IROC with 5.0 TPI and 700R4. On test drive just to see how fast it was ( or wasn’t), it chirped the tires on the 1-2 shift. Will do it every time. Your right, it’s not fast, but it’s a great driving car. 3rd gen Camaro’s are becoming the next classic.
Chirp yes !! But Lord Vader said “light up tires every time under moderate acceleration” …..no way. Maybe in the rain or with a manual tranny.
Let Me clarify: Under increasing throttle input, it would leave 2’ of tires marks on the 1-2 shift, (“Moderate” = half throttle) and longer at WOT.
And forget about driving it hard in the wet….
One caveat though.
I did tweak the detent cable one notch on the tight side…made a big difference…
It didn’t spin tires because of an abundance of power. These cars were stiffer than anything else on the road and had almost ZERO weight transfer. The super stiff suspension made it handle awesome for its time but as far as traction in a straight like…nope! Besides the Mustang 5.0 being lighter and faster, it essentially had a factory “four-link” rear suspension and would put 2-3 car lengths on an IROC off the line. Anyone that says they never lost to a 5.0 in their Z must have only raced automatic 5.0’s. The aod trans was a good bit slower than the 5-speed.
Caddy Matt I’m willing to bet you had a 305 TPI. A 350 TPI IROC would beat a 5.0 mustang 10 times out of 10, and if you took it to the turns the Mustang had no chance. The only 305 IROC that would out perform the 5.0 Mustang was the 1LE IROC. I’ve owned one and it is true. My friend had a 350 IROC that had no trouble with the Mustangs.
Whomever said the 350 version would beat the 5.0 Mustang is dreaming. I smoked every 5.7
IROC I went up against. Even my brother with a bunch of work into his couldn’t come close to my bone stock 5.0 5spd. Sorry but that’s the truth. Now the mid 90’s Camaros were a different story. But the 80’s Camaros were all show and no go. Sorry.
Sure wish it was September of ‘87, Tom…tough to beat a close drag race…
Throttle management on the launch was paramount…at least for my car…
And I’m not saying that I won every drag race (Never had a GT beat the Z in SCCA street stock), but you were ill informed if you believed everything you read in the “Hot Rod’s” or “Motor Trend’s” of the day in the comparisons of the two…
Fair enough. I can only speak of my experience. Street raced around 8 and 2 at the track. Handled all of them easily. My biggest problem was traction with the 5 speed. Most races were dead even till about 30 mph then when I hit 2nd I was gone and kept putting distance between us. Maybe I was a better driver than I gave myself credit for. But I always looked at those 5.7’s as subpar to my car as far as quickness. I actually loved the look of the Camaros. And they handled way better. It was a much more polished car. But the Mustang was just brute force. Point it straight and go. Nobody could touch it. I smoked many Vettes too. Pre 89 vettes of course but still fun watching the shocked look on their faces. The late 80’s and early 90’s were a great time to be alive. With the second wave of muscle cars and the horsepower wars. And I was there and had one of the baddest cars on the planet at the time. Of course today the average SUV would smoke both of us lol.
Thomas you are correct. I bought three 5.0L mustangs after my sled 28 and all of them were faster. Way more fun to drive also. And my Roc WAS a 350 tpi.
I had an 89 5.7 IROC-Z, never raced a single Mustang or any other car with it. However in those days Montana didn’t have a speed limit and there were low spots on the Interstate that I never touched the ground. Loved the looks, build quality wasn’t great, but it had long legs. Funny how I was impressed at the time by the 250 hp of the IROC (I am sure I told everyone how much hp it had), my ZL1 is almost 3 times as powerful but I think the IROC still looked better.
Why do mustang drivers never get no sleep??
Because they can’t catch a Z
To whom it may concern: I’ve owned two Iroc Z’s.. kept it stock and never lost a mustang. If an Iroc owner lost to a mustang the driver of the Iroc couldn’t drive. And that’s real talk!
LMAO. Hard to believe this is true. Mustang guy must’ve not of known you were racing. Just look at all the road tests at the time. Camaro NEVER beat the 5.0. Even the 5.7 got its ass handed to them by almost a full second in the quarter mile. Put down the crack pipe.
Thomas. Let’s Race.. Do you have a mustang? Put up or shut up!!! I’ll meet you anywhere.. anytime bro!
I already raced you guys back in the 80’s. Won every time. Did you not read my original post?
If i remember chevy had to put the 5.7 in the camaro because they were tired of watching fords blue oval disappear over the horizon it helped .
But the fox body 5.0 was still the better drag racer.
Had the 305 HO version. Read lots of car craft and Chevy high performance magazines. Stock bottom end, stock heads, cam , etc. Changed the throttle body to an RPM performer intake, 650 Holley ddp carb, shift kit, curved distributor, corvette stall, car ran 13.80’s. Nit many mustangs could beat that car on the street. Would hook in a mud puddle. They all thought I was lying that it was a 305 . Ran 12.50’s with a 75 shot of nitrous. . ?
Both are cool cars but the fact is the reason you can put car seats in a camaro and you cant in the mustang is because dudes cant have kids with other dudes. So if you want to haul some ass get a chevy and if you want to screw some ass get a ford
Lots of variables here when comparing these cars stock for stock. 5.0 with a slush box was a dog, Mustang boys were running 15.8 all day with AOD. Stick and low gears and it was a different story.
Then you had TBI 305 and 2.73s, TPI 305/3.23s, and the real fun was the 350 with 3.42s or 3.45s. I loved the 700R4 in my GTA, S10 converter got me a 2300 stall, and it would break the a$$ end loose going to 2nd with anything more than half throttle. Tons of torque, out of steam after 4500 RPM and waiting for the upshift. Fun cars, but none of the 5.0s/Z28s/TAs were speed demons. The LT1 brought performance out of the dark ages and the LS1 was the beginning of a legend. Ford finally caught up with the Coyote, and the arrow is looking up. Can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves in the next 5 years!
Ive owned several Camaros, and schooled many a mustang with all of them. Two 5.0 cars and one 5.7 car. I will say apples to apples the 80’s cars compared, mustang is a cookie cutter turd that can go fast in a straight line, but will end up with a scared or dead white knuckle punk in the corners. Proved it time and time again. Only thing that passed mine was not built in this country……lol
Hey everyone ok I own a 1992 25th Anniversary Camaro 45000 km on it. I raced many Mustangs in the day I wion some land lost some. The problem is you never really knew who was bone stock and who was not. I seriously think these cars are underrated. I took mine to the track I did a 13.5 quarter mile. Road track only gave it a 14.0 at best. Im not sure why I was so fast all I had done to the car was a an exhaust 3 inch system. Split fire spark plugs and high flow air filter.
I can’t believe the “fanboy comments” of the Chevy guys…I’ve owned my share of both cars and the IROC was a fun car but would NOT run with the Fox body mustang of the same year. The IROC could handle and did look great but it was underpowered for the weight and had terrible traction issues, as weight transfer upon launching was almost nonexistent. The Mustang was lighter and had a better suspension for straight line performance. Both cars were great in their own right but straight line, the 5.0 Mustang was much faster. Hell, all you had to do on the Mustang was bump the timing on it and you’d gain literally a half-second in the 1/4 mile. What I’m looking for is a super clean IROC-Z roller to restore and do an LSA or LS9 swap.