High School Heart Throb
Just What Every Senior Needs – A $20,000 Ride to School
by Paul Zazarine
MUSCLE CAR REVIEW, MAY 1987
We had one rich kid in our high school. Since his family could easily have sent him to a private institution, I never understood why he was in the public school system. As befitting a child born to wealth, he had the best of everything – the best clothes, plenty of money for dates (and plenty of dates) and he drove a new car. So when the new Camaros were introduced in February of 1970, the rich kid dragged daddy to Ourisman Chevrolet and picked out a brand spanking new Z/28.
That was the year the Camaro was redesigned, and the Z/28 received as standard equipment the Corvette’s LT-1 350 cubic inch engine, which was advertised at 360 horsepower. When the rich kid drove that Z/28 into the student parking lot the next morning, it created a stir worth the $4000 it cost daddy to keep the rich kid happy and off his back. Visually, the Z/28 was a killer, with European inspired curves, bold stripes, spoilers and a genuine sportscar instrument panel. The rich kid looked good in his high dollar ride, while the rest of us seniors bemoaned how unfair life was as we slogged around in rusted-out Chevys and VWs.
Now it’s a generation later, with new fashions, new fads and new ideas. And for the first time in a long time, there are performance cars that kids can dream of owning. Cars such as the 1987 IROC, which still creates pandemonium in high school parking lots just like the LT-1 Z/28 of 17 years ago. And just like that 1970 Z/28, the hot ticket for today’s IROC is the ‘Vette engine. But instead of LT-1, the code word now is L98. For the unindoctrinated, that’s the 5.7 liter (350 cubic inch) tuned port injection Corvette engine which finally is available for the IROC.
Chevrolet was forced to make compromises so this package could come to market, and while the 350 IROC is a vast improvement over the 305 engine, after driving the L98, we can’t help but think with 350 cubes on tap there would be more substance here. For L98 engines slated for installation in F cars, an iron cylinder head is employed as opposed to the Corvette’s aluminum head, and the Camaro’s more restrictive exhaust manifolds and pipes are required. Consequently, the 350 only rates a 220 horsepower rating, as opposed to 245 hp in the ‘Vette.
The L98 receives some improvements for 1987, like the use of hydraulic roller valve lifters to reduce engine friction and pick up one to five horsepower. To ensure proper orientation of the roller lifters to the camshaft lobes, Chevy engineers added a lifter guide, guide retainer and a camshaft thrust plate. The lifter guide prevents the lifter from rotating and skewing off the camshaft axis. The thrust plate absorbs thrust loads from the cam, and also “locates” the cam, ensuring that the lifters are correctly centered on the cam lobes. Like most 1987 Chevy V-8s, the F-car L98 receives a new cylinder head with a revised combustion chamber design for more efficient flame propagation.
All of these improvements are to increase engine efficiency and fuel economy. However, after putting nearly a thousand miles on our test IROC and calculating the fuel mileage, we assume Chevrolet had to crank out more gas sipping Chevettes to balance their CAFE requirements. We’d suggest you thank the next Chevette owner you see; because of him there are L98 IROCs for sale. The IROC is most definitely a musclecar, if just by virtue of its ability to swig unleaded premium to the tune of 13.9 mpg on combined freeway and city driving, with a stint at the dragstrip thrown in for good measure.
The only transmission available is a four-speed automatic with overdrive, and that’s tied to the one rear axle offered, a 3.27:1 ratio. The combination works together as well as any we’ve driven. The transmission shifts with authority, there’s no lag in downshifts, and in overdrive the 350 putters along at 1750 RPM at 55 mph. When the call to action is sounded, the IROC gathers up the ponies in a furious rush that comes on steady and strong. The IROC is not a beast; it doesn’t bludgeon the road. Without doubt, it is a powerful automobile with lots of muscle. It’s not the fastest new car we’ve tested, but it would dust off plenty of old, big block musclecars.
Cornering in the IROC can be an interesting experience. With 57% of the weight on the front, the Camaro likes to track with some extra toe in the throttle, but uneven surfaces instantly point up the IROC’s rear end skittishness. Under almost all driving conditions, however, the IROC’s suspension is drum tight. It’s a competent setup, as evidenced by the fact the only necessary modification done to the IROC’s suspension to accept the Corvette mill was a caster adjustment to the MacPherson struts.
The L98 cranks out 320 lbs.-ft. of torque, and with the front end weight bias, that’s more than enough to break the rear loose when dropping down a gear and powering out of a turn. We discovered this trait one night while chasing down a country two lane, hot on the heels of a 1987 Mustang GT five-speed being driven by the editor of our sister publication, Mustang Monthly. The road took a hard 90 degree left, straightened for 100 yards and then broke right into another 90 degree turn. Going into the left, the Mustang pulled away from the Camaro. Down the straight, the IROC regained lost ground. Upon entering the right hander, we dropped the IROC into second and stayed right on the Mustang’s tail. At the apex of the turn the Mustang again pulled away, and as we powered out, so did the IROC’s rear, swinging around in an attempt to swap ends. We developed a healthy respect for the L98’s torque after that.
Don’t get us wrong. The IROC is one of the best handling cars we’ve ever driven, but it does have it’s limitations. There’s no limitations to the IROC’s superb four-wheel disc brakes, however. Stops are sure and straight with no lockup, especially in panic stops from high speeds. In the event some joker in front of you on the interstate decides to lock up his brakes at 60 mph, it’s reassuring to know you have a fighting chance of not ending up in his back seat.
We have nothing but praise for the interior and driver ergonomics of the IROC. You don’t get into the IROC as much as you put it on, and it feels and looks good. It’s comfortable and reasonably quiet, with well layed out instrumentation that’s clear to read. The front seats are fully contoured, very comfortable, and with power seat adjustment and tilt wheel, anyone can find the right driving position. The rear seat is actually two separate units that fold down individually, and provide no leg or headroom for anyone larger than Kermit the Frog.
We were really disappointed with the Delco-Bose sound system. The left front speaker in our test car was blown, and the rear speakers located in the rear cargo floor sounded muffled. The large dash pad, with its extreme overhang, drew criticism from some MCR staffers. That didn’t bother us nearly as much as the sun’s reflection off the pad onto the windshield. The glare was more than aggravating, it was downright dangerous.
The fit and finish of our test car was top notch. The Bright Red IROC wore a paint job that looked about three miles deep. We haven’t inspected any others to see if this is typical of assembly line work, but if so, the General is making progress in quality control. Few cars are as stimulating to look at as the IROC-Z. The lines are statuesque, and the slope of the hood is downright sensuous. The IROC styling package, which includes the aerodynamic nose, incorporates a set of fog lamps and a scoop that feeds cold air to a Y-shaped plenum located at the top of the core support ducted directly into the intake manifold.
Every American male over the age of 35 should have the opportunity to drive the 350 IROC for at least a day. One turn behind the wheel is better than the fountain of youth, because every time we strapped on the IROC we became 18 years old again, shed 75 pounds and regained all our hair. And that’s worth the price of admission right there.
There are still rich kids in high school nowadays, and their parents still buy them cars to keep them quiet, although it takes a little more pocket change to buy a 1987 IROC-Z. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the rich kid from my high school days, but somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t driving something boring, like a Peugeot. Maybe there is justice in this world.
1987 CHEVROLET CAMARO IROC-Z L98
Overall length- 192.0″
Overall width- 72.8″
Advertised weight- 3490 lbs.
Passenger capacity- 4
Base price- $12,675
Price as tested- $19,749
Front- MacPherson strut, coil spring, lower control arms, anti-sway bar
Rear- Coil springs, live axle, torque arms with Panhard rod, gas shocks and anti-sway bar
Steering- Recirculating ball
Brakes- Power assisted 10.5″ vented disc front and rear
Wheels- 16 x 8″ cast alloy
Tires- Goodyear Eagle VR50, P245/50VR/16
Type- V-8, ohv
Bore and stroke- 101.6 x 88.4 mm
Displacement- 5.7 liters (350 cubic inches)
Compression ratio- 9.0:1
Advertised horsepower- 220 @ 4200 RPM
Calculated peak horsepower 219.48 hp
Advertised torque 320 @ 3200 RPM
Calculated peak rear axle torque- 222.8 lbs.-ft.
Induction type- Tuned port injection, with cold air induction and aluminum intake manifold with tuned runners
Transmission- Four-speed automatic
4th – 0.70
3rd – 1.00
2nd – 1.63
1st – 3.06
Rear axle ratio
PERFORMANCE (two aboard)
0-30- 2.54 sec.
0-45- 4.54 sec.
0-60- 7.09 sec.
0-90- 15.06 sec.
1/4 mile @ mph
14.88 @ 92.87
30-0- 31 ft.
45-0- 57 ft.
60-0- 124 ft.
Peak braking G from 60-0