FORD vs. CHEVY– OLD vs. NEW SHOOTOUT- Musclecar Review, March 1992


Musclecar Review (March 1992)

The rivaly is as old as the nameplates themselves. Older, in fact, because it goes beyond just comparing a Mustang to a Camaro. This is just as much as Ford versus Chevy battle as was comparing a ’57 Belair to a ’57 Fairlane.

Of course, Mustangs and Camaros have been compared to each other numerous times before, and to do so again would be redundant. Unless … we were to add a new element. new cars, to be specific.

Our venerable Camaros and Mustangs have long been viewed as top performers. But, just how well do they stack up against their new counterparts? That is exactly what we set out to determine, and along the way, we found a few surprises waiting for us.

The Events

Because all these cars were originally intended to be more than just quarter-mile terrorizers, we decided to capitalize on their SCCA Trans-Am heritage, and test their handling and braking capabilities as well.

Test one dealt with the cars’ abilities to negotiate a slalom course consisting of six cones, each spaced 50 feet from the next. This test indicated just how well the cars handled rapid directional changes, as well as how much effort the driver needed to exert to complete the maneuvers.

Next, we tested the brakes to judge each car’s ability to stop in a panic situation, as well as to give an idea how late braking could begin when entering a turn at high speed (such as in racing situations).

Test three consisted of laps around an impromptu 200-foot skid pad in a paved lot adjacent to the dragstrip. Skid pads test the outer limits of a car’s adhesion, and thus its ultimate road-holding ability.

Finally, test four was to run the cars down the 1320 to test the power that each car’s five-liter cranks out, as well as the chassis’ ability to transfer that power to the tarmac.

The Equalizers

It’s a well-known fact that one driver can out-drive another, in many cases. Thus, to do away with this problem, we enlisted the help of Mike Williams, a local racer. Mike, who began working as a tire-changing pit crew member for a stock car racing team at age 12, has always been into racing — including go carts, motorcycles and of course, cars. He is or has been a member of NHRA, IHRA, AHRA and a few other HRAs that we’d never heard of, and he’s restored several cars — of differing brands. In short, we felt Mike was a good way to eliminate the driver-variation aspect of the tests.

Another well-known fact is that tires have improved substantially over the past two decades. With that in mind, we contacted Goodyear to see if we could get each car on more equal footing, and they were more than happy to provide a new set of Eagles for each car.

Round One — The Slalom

Whether you’re trying to race around Sebring or Willow Springs or you’re just out on your favorite road for some thrills, the ability of your car to react to steering input in critical. What’s more, the car should not be such a bear to drive that it wears out its driver. Our slalom test would test both of these criteria.

The first car through the slalom was the 1969 Chevrolet Z/28 Camaro, owned by Armand Grassi, of Valrico, Florida. Armand’s Z is restored to near perfection and is shown often. This was to be its first set of real performance tests since the restoration was completed.

As with each of the other cars, Mike attempted to test the cars’ handling characteristics more than his own, so he entered cones at 30 miles per hour and attempted to maintain the speed while weaving in and out of the six cones.

The best run in the Z was a time of 6.82 seconds, which was good enough for first place — until the other three cars went and each beat that time. Despite a poor finish, Mike said it felt better through the cones than did the next car…

The 1970 Boss, which belongs to Dave Samuel of Orlando, Florida, went through the cones in only 6.45 seconds, for a secure lock on third place. Mike felt the Boss’ 4.10 gears really helped it regain speed that was scrubbed off while turning, since the engine was constantly well within its torque curve.

Second place in the slalom was taken by the 1991 5.0 LX Mustang that was just purchased by Lakeland, Florida’s Gerry Hill. The 5.84-second time was impressive, though Mike was not as impressed by the car’s feel through the cones. “It felt like the back end wanted to kick out no matter which way the turn was. It was an insecure feeling.” He added that “the situation probably would have worsened had the cones been closer.”

Powers of deduction will tell you that the slalom winner is the 1991 Camaro Z28 that belongs to Tampa, Florida’s Ruth Adams. The new Z’s time of 5.78 seconds edged out the new ‘Stang only slightly, but according to Mike, it was “much more secure feeling.”

Round One goes to the 1991 Chevrolet Camaro Z28.

Round Two — Braking

Good brakes are essential to any race car, especially Trans-Am series race cars, such as most of these cars were designed to be, because they allow drivers to race toward and into a corner, only slowing when absolutely necessary to navigate the corner safely.

After a run to heat the brakes, each car was accelerated to 60 mph and then the brakes were applied as hard as possible while trying not to lock up any of the wheels. The stopping distance was then measured. Obviously, the car with the shortest distance would “win” the test.

The loser of this test was, again, the 1969 Z belonging to Grassi. During its first pass, it stopped in 174 feet, but the right rear wheel locked up. A second pass pulled the Z down to zero in 184 feet without locking any wheels. “[The ’69 Z/28] was very hard to get a good feel from the pedal. It almost felt like there were no brakes,” said Mike, commenting on the car’s whoa-power.

A surprise finish was turned in by Ruth Adams’ 1991 Z28, as it could only muster a best stop of 155 feet. Mike’s initial thought was that the car was equipped with ABS (anti-lock braking system), though the ’91 Zs come with no such system. Brake fade didn’t seem to be a problem, though, as the stops got shorter with each pass! Perhaps had we kept testing the distances would have improved, but you only get one chance at stopping to avoid an accident, so we ended the Z’s test after three recorded stops.

Second place was garnered by the 1970 Boss, which stopped in a distance of 129 feet on its first attempt (132 on its second). “The brakes on [the Boss] worked well. They felt good,” Mike commented. “But they didn’t feel as secure as the new cars’.”

Out dark-horse winner (pun intended) was the 1991 Mustang LX, which stopped in a scant 126 feet without locking the wheels. A shorter stop of 107 feet was recorded by the ‘Stang but both front wheels locked, which would result in the car being incontrollable, hence our reason for a non-locking stop. Even though the Mustang stopped shortest, Mike felt that its brakes were the hardest to modulate once the pedal had been depressed. “Once [the tires] locked, there was no unlocking them,” he said, “but that could be since the car is so new and the shoes may not have fully seated yet.”

Round Two goes to the 1991 Ford Mustang LX.

Round Three — The Skidpad

The third part of our test dealt with a new parameter that held little relevance in 1969 and 1970: lateral acceleration. One reason for this was that quarter-mile times were the yardstick of performance in those days. Another was that tire technology of that era was only slightly more advanced than the rolling stock on Fred Flintstone’s Bedrock hauler. A third reason is that most car magazines didn’t have the means to actually measure a car’s ability to hold the road.

But enthusiasts now consider a car’s straight line acceleration curve to be just one aspect of its performance envelope, and modern technology has made it possible to inexpensively and accurately measure the G forces a vehicle can generate on a skid pad. Our tests were conducted using a device called the G Analyst, produced by Valentine Research in Cincinnati, Ohio.

With the G Analyst in hand, we retired to a suitably sized expanse of flat asphalt near the track. Each car was individually calibrated and driven around a 200-foot circle until lateral adhesion was lost. Clockwise and counterclockwise runs were averaged to give the following results:

As always, raw numbers don’t tell the whole story. Though Armand Grassi’s ’69 Z/28 turned in pretty much the same numbers as the other three cars (.80 G average), it was much harder to control than either the ’91 Z28 or the late-model Mustang. Mike attributes that to the car’s relatively soft suspension, in comparison to the firm underpinnings that both of the new cars rolled out of the factory on. Understeer made it difficult to hold a true line around the pad.

Things were pretty much the same for the Boss. Though its suspension wasn’t quite as mushy as the vintage Z/28’s (perhaps due to its factory rear anti-sway bar), it still didn’t track nearly as cleanly as the newer cars. As a result, the Boss’ two way average tied with the older Z/28’s. The .80 G number was perhaps more attributable to the new Goodyears it was rolling on than to suspension refinement.

That unrefined theme is still evident in the bloodlines of the ’91 Mustang in our test, too. Though much better handling and more predictable than either of the early cars, Gerry Hill’s LX was not as reassuring as the ’91 Z28. Mike attributed that to the LX’s shorter wheelbase and a greater tendency to oversteer. The scrubbed rear tires that the LX displayed after producing a two-way average of .825 G was evidence of the car’s “tail happiness.” That doesn’t make the car bad handling–it’s just more challenging for the driver.

Not surprisingly, the best G figures of the day were generated by the ’91 Z28. Its .84 G two-way average more than made up for the car’s lackluster quarter-mile performance. Best of all, Mike reported that the car didn’t even feel like it was working hard while out-performing the other cars on the skid pad. Undoubtedly, part of the reason for that was the larger, 16-inch wheels and rubber it sported. The car’s longer — and thus slower responding — wheelbase didn’t hurt either.

Round Four — The Quarter Mile

Quarter-mile performance shouldn’t be foreign to any of you (if it is, you’re reading the wrong magazine). The goal was to run each car against the Chrondeks, and the best time won. No supertuning, and no tricks such as were common back in the days when the vintage cars were new. The quarter times would show just how these cars perform when maintained by average owners, rather than the engineer-maintained press vehicles of the Sixties.

First out of the water box was Armand’s immaculate ’69 Z/28. The plan was to let Mike take one “familiarization” pass with each car then follow it up with a full-bore run. As things worked out, Mike’s first trip down the strip with the Z was not only the best run for that particular car, but it ended up being the best run of the day. The second run was chalked up to a mechanical failure. The culprit was a shifter mount that came loose after just one trip though the gears. The 15.66/95.94 time slip that the first pass produced, though far from the high-14 second performance attributed to stock Z/28s back in 1969, was still the most impressive of any of the four cars. The shifter woes were doubly frustrating for Mike, since he felt the car had the most powerful engine of the quartet. And, though we’ll never know for sure, Mike said that he expected to shave another five or six tenths from the Z/28’s shakedown run. Until the shifter turned into spaghetti, that is.

Dave Samuel’s equally immaculate, street-driven Boss 302 made its trip through the water box next to warm its Goodyear Eagle STs in hopes of turning in a Chevy-crushing ET. A 15.03 run from a year ago gave Dave reason enough to be confident of his Boss. Especially since he had swapped the 3.50:1 ring and pinion from that 15.03 run for a set of 4.11 gears. Unfortunately, a reliability problem once again reared it power-robbing head. The 16.18/89.64 that flashed up at the end of the initial run was the first indication something was amiss under the Boss’ hood. Mike’s report that the car just wouldn’t pull above 5800 rpm confirmed our suspicions, as did a backup run of 16.16/88.06. Though the Boss was crisp and clean under 5800 rpm, running it higher that that produced some sort of ignition breakdown that put a huge hole in the 302’s high-rpm power band.

The new muscle in our shootout came next and, as with the two vintage pony cars, both new ’91s had similar power teams: five-liter engines and four-speed automatic transmissions. Ruth Adams’ 1991 Z28 boasted the biggest rubber of any car in the shootout, and those monster 245/50ZR16 Eagle GS-Cs grabbed the VHT-soaked starting line with so much tenacity that Mike was unable to break the tires loose. Since manually shifting a modern computer-controlled automatic car like either of the late-model cars can confuse the computer and cause it to lean out the air-fuel mixture, Mike opted to leave both of them in “drive” during the drag strip testing.

The Z28’s transmission shifted flawlessly on both of its runs. The runs were consistent, if not exciting. Pass one produced a 15.96/86.46. Mike’s back-up pass yielded a 16.43/84.74, after the car’s temperature gauge edged somewhat higher. The primary problem with the Z28 was its portliness. One and a half tons is a lot of weight for a five-liter engine to lug around, especially when saddled with an automatic and 3.08 rear.

Gerry Hill’s brand-spanking-new ’91 LX Mustang was the final car to face the Christmas tree. Tight as a drum and still showroom fresh (Gerry had yet to make her first payment at the time of our shootout! Now that’s trusting.), Gerry’s pony, like the Z28, was equipped with a 3.08 rear, but 15-inch Gatorbacks were mounted on the Mustang for the test (16-inchers were originally on the car) and they proved to be no match for the 5.0’s low-end grunt. The first pass went up in smoke and resulted in a 15.71/89.28 mph. Thus alerted to the Mustang’s tendency to immolate the rear skins, Mike soft-pedaled his starting line technique for the second run but only produced a 15.70/88.75 — good enough for only second place.

And The Winner Is…

Going by the numbers, the overall winner is the 1991 Ford Mustang LX. It won in the braking test, but more importantly, it placed second in the other three events. However, when asked which car he preferred, Mike responded, “I’d take the [1991] Camaro over the [1991] Mustang. It felt much more secure, compared to the Mustang that tried to kick the back end out on every corner. It was just easier to drive.”

As for which vintage musclecar was the better performer, the figures say the Boss, but, interestingly enough, Mike, again, chose the Z/28. “The Boss was more responsive and tighter, but it felt heavier. The Z/28 steered easier and felt much lighter. With a few modifications the Z/28 would probably be the better handling car. The Boss was good, but the Z/28 felt more secure.”

Perhaps each of the cars wasn’t truly representative of others like it that had been tested before. Perhaps Mike had a bad run(s) in a certain car(s). Perhaps the performance gods just had it in for a particular car. Perhaps the planets weren’t in correct alignment for…Well, you get the point. These tests aren’t definitive. Any one of these cars, with minimal modifications, could sweep the entire set of tests. The old Z could get new springs, shocks and sway bars, as well as a good brake job and tune-up. The new Z could benefit from a set of high-performance intake runners and a good free-flowing exhaust system. The old Mustang could stand a tune-up and some work in the handling department, as could the new Mustang.

But since each of these cars could be and are driven on Saturday nights, and without any preparation time, the contest goes to the 1991 Ford Mustang LX. Long live the champion–until next time.

Car 1969 Chevrolet
Camaro Z/28
1970 Ford
Mustang Boss 302
1991 Cevrolet
Camaro Z28
1991 Ford
Mustang LX
$3,150 $3,720 $15,450 $13,750
Engine 302 cid (4.9L)
pushrod V-8
302 cid (4.9L)
pushrod V-8
305 cid (5.0L)
pushrod V-8
302 cid (4.9L)
pushrod V-8
Power 290hp@5800 rpm
290 lb-ft.@4200 rpm
290hp@5800 rpm
290 lb-ft.@4300 rpm
205hp@4200 rpm
285 lb-ft.@3200 rpm
225hp@4200 rpm
300 lb-ft.@3200 rpm
Carburetion Single 780cfm 4-bbl Holley; cold air induction Single 780cfm 4-bbl Holley; cold air induction Electronic sequential-port fuel injection Electronic sequential-port fuel injection
Transmission Muncie M22 close-ratio 4-speed TopLoader close-ratio 4-speed Turbo Hydramatic 700R4 4-speed auto AOD 4-speed
Differential 3.73:1
limited slip
limited slip
limited slip
limited slip
A-arms with coil springs/ A-arms with coil springs/
live axle with leaf springs
MacPherson strut/
live axle with coil springs
MacPherson strut/
live axle with coil springs
Power assist; 11.8″ vented disc/9.5″ finned drum Power assist; 11.3″ vented disc/10.9″ finned drum Power assist; 10.5″ vented disc/9.5″ finned drum Power assist; 10.8″ vented disc/9.0″ finned drum
3,400 lbs. 3,600 lbs. 3,400 lbs. 3,400 lbs.

Car Slalom Braking Skidpad 1/4-mile Total
1969 Chevrolet
Camaro Z/28
.800 (L)
.790 (R)
.795 (AV)
Points 25 25 502 100 200
1970 Ford
Mustang Boss 302
.800 (L)
.800 (R)
.800 (AV)
Points 50 75 502 25 200
1991 Chevrolet
Camaro Z28
.880 (L)
.800 (R)
.840 (AV)
Points 100 50 100 50 300
1991 Ford
Mustang LX
.850 (L)
.800 (R)
.825 (AV)
Points 75 100 75 75 325
1Indicates mechanical failure experienced
2Indicates tie; third place points awarded equally
3Indicates wheel lock-up; attempt disqualified

Tires & Wheels

Our consciences wouldn’t have allowed us to compare Sixties musclecars — with Sixties tire technology — to modern musclecars with their super-sticky, low-profile tires. They also wouldn’t allow us to test them with the original tires in light of the fact that we knew we would really chew these tires up. After explaining our dilemma to Goodyear, they put us at ease and shipped off a set of tires for each of the cars.

The vintage cars, to keep things equal, each received 225/60R15 Eagle STs on the factory wheels. Eagle STs are used by restorers since they capture the spirit of the old Polyglas raised white letter tires, but give the car the upgraded performance of a radial.

The ’91 Mustang was fitted with a set of Eagle VR “Gatorbacks.” The stock-replacement size 225/60VR15s were mounted on a spare set of aluminum LX wheels. If you don’t know about the racing-inspired tread design and compound of the Gatorbacks, you’ve been living under a rock, and should be ashamed of yourself.

The ’91 Z28 ended up with trick tires and wheels. Because the Musclecar Review technical department isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with parts for modern musclecars, we needed to scrounge up a set of 16×7 wheels to mount the steamroller 245/50ZR16 Eagle GS-Cs on. A call to American Racing Equipment, makers of the ever-popular Torque Thrust wheel, netted us a set of aluminum one-piece wheels that (sorry Chevy) looked buckets better than the stock Z28’s wheels. The GS-Cs, in case you didn’t catch the article about them in the January ’91 issue of MCR, is the newest generation of Goodyear’s high-performance tires. It’s directional, like the Gatorbacks used on the Mustang (as well as being the Z28’s stock rubber), but it’s also asymmetrical, meaning that left tires differ from right tires in their tread pattern. Overall, the tires are much quieter and grip much better in the wet and in the dry.

Source: Musclecar Review, March 1992