1985 CHEVROLET CAMARO – A BIG STEP FORWARD
The 3rd-generation Camaro had already been out for three years, and big changes were afoot. There was a new front facia, tail lights, spoilers and hood louvers for 1985 that, while not touching the basic body stampings, gave the car a smoother, more modern look. 1985 was also the first year for TPI (Tuned Port Injection), which practically kicked off the modern horsepower wars. And it was the first year for the IROC-Z package. Horsepower was up, handling was improving, and the interior got a much-needed update. The Camaro had been beating the Ford Mustang in sales ever since the introduction of the 3rd-gen Camaro in 1982, and this continued through the 1985 model year.
1985 CHEVROLET CAMARO – A REAL LOOKER
The looks of the 3rd-gen Camaro were totally different than the car it replaced. It was now lower, leaner and meaner-looking. But by 1985, the original looks of the 3rd-gen cars was looking a little stale. So, while leaving the sheetmetal alone, Chevy installed a whole new “nose cone”, new front spoiler, new side “ground effects”, new tail lights and rear facia. Suddenly, the Camaro looked cool again. It was also lighter than the 2nd-gen Camaro, by about 300 pounds lighter, and that helped handling, braking and acceleration.
1985 CHEVROLET CAMARO – Z28 OR IROC?
The IROC-Z package came out of Chevy’s participation in the IROC (International Race of Champions) series of racing, in which drivers drive identically-prepared cars, so that it becomes a test of driver rather than car (or how much money the team has to build the car). It was a brilliant idea and very popular at the time. Porsche had the honor of providing the cars for a number of years, but in 1985, the baton was passed to Chevrolet, so they prepared a special version of the Z28, which they named the Z28/IROC-Z. Lotsa letters there. As you can see from the picture above, there are both Z28 emblems (lower front fender) and IROC-Z decals (on the doors) on this 1985 model. For 1985 and 1986, the IROC-Z package was an option on all Z28s. So, you could have a 1985 or ’86 Z28 that wasn’t an IROC. But most seemed to be ordered with the IROC package, although I have seen a few plain Z28s in these years. Starting in 1987, the Z28 name was dropped altogether, and all high-performance Camaros were simply called IROC-Z through the 1990 model year, at which time the IROC series stopped using Camaros and started using Dodge Daytonas (no, not the big wing cars). Chevy lost the rights to use the IROC name, and so starting in 1991, they became Z28s again.
1985 CHEVROLET CAMARO IROC WHEELS
1985 was the first year that Chevy offered anything bigger than a 15-inch wheel on a Camaro. The IROC-Z package included these gorgeous 5-spoke 16-inch wheels with P245/50R16 Goodyear Eagle tires. The offset was different front to back. This was one of the earliest uses of larger-than-15″ wheels on a mass production car. Of course, this trend has continued into the ridiculous today. But at the time, the IROC wheel was impressive, in looks and performance.
1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z INTERIOR
1985 CHEVROLET CAMARO GETS NICER INSIDE
This car has the optional premium interior, which was ordered on most Z28s and IROCs. It was a fairly nice interior for the times, and gave the impression of being bigger inside than it really was. The broad, sweeping dash and flat floors probably helped this perception. These are very low cars, and difficult to get into and out of gracefully. You quickly develop a technique for doing so.
1985 CHEVROLET CAMARO – BACK SEAT BLUES
It’s always been this way. Cars like the Camaro have tiny back seats. These also happen to be very low to the ground, so you feel like you’re sitting in a hole. And you literally are. There is no conventional seat frame for the seat bottoms. They are simply upholstered foam pads that velcro right onto the floor. Cheap, simple and light, but they tend to push your knees up toward your chest. Not a place to be for a long trip.
1985 CHEVROLET CAMARO – NOT MUCH OF A HAULER
If you compare the histories of the Mustang and Camaro, you’ll see the different approaches each manufacturer took with their pony cars. Ford always managed to make the Mustang relatively practical and easy to live with. Fairly upright seating, not to low to the ground, and a real trunk. Chevy, looking to beat the top-selling Mustang, took a slightly different approach, leaning more heavily on performance at the expense of practicality. For instance, the Camaro was lower to the ground, and tended to scrape on everything, they were harder to climb in and out of, and the 3rd-gen Camaros had a horribly-shaped and -sized luggage compartment behind the back seats. As you can see, above and below, there was a deep well in the very back, and a very tall “hump” between it and the back seats. This was done so they could located the fuel tank above the rear axle, both for safety reasons (in a rear-ender) and for better weight distribution (to benefit handling). It made for a very oddly-shaped trunk area, and gas tank removal required the entire rear suspension to be taken out. But it probably was safer than the Mustang’s conventional gas tank sitting just in front of the back bumper, under their nice flat trunk floor.
In the above and below pictures, you can see that this car has a one-piece folding rear seatback (later models got split rear seatbacks), and the pull-out luggage cover (which is removable). To the right of the large well in the back is a compartment (shown below) for the space-saver spare tire and jack. On the other side is a small lockable compartment.
1985 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 IROC-Z ENGINES
5.0L Tuned Port Injection V-8
1985 CHEVROLET CAMARO – THE INTRODUCTION OF TPI
It’s hard to imagine now, in these days of electronic everything, that in the 1980s, the auto industry was still struggling to make fuel injection work. The faithful carburetor had ruled the automotive landscape for nearly a century, and was by now widely understood and fully developed. But, they had taken it just about as far as it could go. As the need for better fuel economy and cleaner emissions became increasingly vital, Chevy struggled for an answer, and hopefully one that would produce those results while still giving the driver the performance he craved. Several early attempts had been made with limited success. The most recent being the “Cross-Fire Injection” system (available in 1982-1984 Camaros and Corvettes. It was a throttle-body injected system with 2 throttle bodies arranged on an aluminum cross-ram intake manifold that gave it a very cool look. But it was fussy, hard to tune right, and didn’t make as much power as the top 4-barrel engine. It was just a stepping stone as Chevy engineers sorted things out and came to the conclusion that the answer was a computer-controlled sequential multi-port electronic fuel injection system. TPI was born.
1985 CHEVROLET CAMARO – TPI GREATNESS
Take a look at the performance landscape in 1985. Chrysler was down to front wheel-drivers. Buick’s top performance model, the Grand National, had a turbocharged V6. The Pontiac Firebird & Trans Am had become a mirror image of the Camaro, so had all the same engines. That left the Ford Mustang, the big dog on the block, who was making quite a name for itself with its much-vaunted 5.0 V8 making around 210hp, (the Camaro’s top engine only made 195hp). But in 1985, the Mustang GT 5.0 was still using a 4-barrel carburetor on its 5-speed models. The automatics got a passenger car-derived throttle body injection setup that was underpowered. So, when Chevy broke the scene with its bold, futuristic, and awesome-looking TPI V8, it was like a bolt of lightning! And not only did it look cool, it was actually fast, and made more power than the carbureted engines it replaced. Tons of sensors and actuators, all controlled by a very sophisticated EEC (Electronic Engine Control) system kept the engines running right all the time. Now you could have power and reasonable fuel economy, while not belching out noxious fumes. And this was just the beginning.
TPI SETS OFF NEW HORSEPOWER WARS!
The brilliance of this system allowed for so much adjustment and improvement, that as the system evolved, it also paved the way for the next generation of (now called) engine management systems, which arrived in 1993 as the 5.7L LT1 V8. But, the TPI (Tuned Port Injection) system was the first mass-produced, low-cost sequential multi-port fuel injection systems on a V8, and it really set the modern horsepower wars on track. Now it was possible to build fast cars that could still meet tight government restrictions. The race was on. In 1985, the magic number to get you into muscle car-territory was 200hp. Crazy huh? By the early 1990s, the number was now 300hp. By around 2000, it was possible to get 400hp cars that you could actually afford, and be able to drive them daily. Today, that number has grown to 500hp and is climbing fast. Who could have ever guessed?
1985 Chevrolet Camaro COOLING PROBLEMS
SECRET TO COOLING YOUR 1985 CHEVROLET CAMARO
All 3rd-gen Camaros and Firebirds are “bottom breathers”. This means that they don’t draw air from the front grille to cool the radiator. They draw air from under the car, where you don’t even see the opening (unless you lay on the ground). The hole in the front grille that you see channels air to the engine intake, none of that air goes to the radiator. As you drive, the air passes under the car, and some of it is caught by your “Air Diverter” under the nose of the car (see red arrow above), and pushed up into the radiator. This simple little 3-foot-wide piece of black ABS plastic makes or breaks your entire cooling system. Without it, air passes under the car and never gets near the radiator.
THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING CHIN SPOILER
While Chevy calls them Air Diverters, common parlance includes “Chin Spoiler” and “Air Dam”, among others. Over the years since these cars were built, many Chin Spoilers have come up missing. 3rd-gen Camaros are very low to the ground, and the chin spoilers were constantly hitting on driveways and speed bumps. Sometimes, they got knocked off and the owners never put them back on. Sometimes, owners got sick of the scraping and so removed them. I’ve even heard of people removing them to improve aerodynamics. Like the engineers in Detroit hadn’t thought of that one, right?
SYMPTOMS OF A MISSING CHIN SPOILER
If you have cooling problems on your 3rd-gen Camaro or Firebird, look under the nose of your car and see if the chin spoiler is still there. The above photo shows where to look (see red arrow). Without it, your radiator won’t get the air it needs to cool your engine. Your engine’s computer wants to keep the engine running at about 210 degrees and will kick the electric fans on and off to keep it right. Without the cool air your radiator needs, it will run hot all the time, and your fans will run constantly, but it still will barely stay cool. Then, when you hit the freeway, it gets even worse. Why is that? Shouldn’t all that moving air help the cooling? Actually, the opposite is true. The fast-moving air under the car creates a low pressure area in front of the radiator (it should be a high pressure area in front, pushing the air through the radiator). So now your electric fans are working hard to pull air through the radiator, but there isn’t any air to pull through, because it’s all being sucked out of the bottom of the car. If you’re not aware of this cycle, it can be very perplexing. So, if you have cooling problems, check that chin spoiler!
WORKING ON YOUR 1985 CHEVROLET CAMARO
Whenever working on your car, use the right tools for the right job, don’t take shortcuts, get a good repair manual and read it, and above all, observe basic safety. For instance, any time you jack your car up off the ground (other than perhaps an emergency roadside tire change), always use a good set of jack stands. And always be extra-careful around gasoline. Nothing is worth getting hurt over, not even cars. Use common sense and be careful out there.