Ford Mustang GT vs Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z - Road & Track, October 1986
JT Feb 28 2007 - 7:13pm
Ford Mustang GT vs Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
Road & Track, October 1986
The black Camaro was a distant speck as it came off the wall-of-death banking at Ohio's Transportation Research Center. Its size grew with the approaching whoosh of air; this wasn't a car driving past so much as an aircraft buzzing our small group. The whoosh became WHOOSH as the Camaro approached as fast as something in Col Kadafi's worst nightmare, then disappeared. Only the timing lights in front of us could testify that the Camaro was ever there, its appearance was so brief. The result: 149.20 mph. Only a few minutes before, the 1987 Mustang GT had recorded 148.10 mph. The musclecars have grown up.
We were at TRC for the first component of our comparison: The Chevrolet Camaro IROC, with a new-for-1987 350-cu-in. V-8 borrowed from the Corvette, vs the Mustang with its more powerful than ever 302 and revised bodywork. Top speed was the first test and the closeness of the results would persist through tests of acceleration, handling and subjective evaluations. These two have been polished by 20 years of competition between them on city streets and race tracks of every size and shape.
Despite the similarity of results, the Mustang and Camaro achieve their performance in markedly different ways. The current Mustang has grown up in size and scale. Its history started in 1965 when it began the class known as ponycars. It grew several times until it was replaced by the Pinto-based Mustang II in 1974, which then was replaced by the compact current Mustang in 1979. Since then the Mustang has had power and suspension added; the car has become an overachiever.
For 1987 this version has undergone its most complete revision, with new bodywork front and rear. The flush headlights and below-bumper air intake are purposeful and clean. Though the louvered taillight covers are, for many people, on the wrong side of stunning. A new interior replaces the blocky-looking assembly of the past with the same sort of rounded, smooth-molded shapes found on most newer Fords.
Most important of all, of course, is the 225 bhp at 4400 rpm from the well honed 5.0-liter. To add 225 bhp this year, Ford has reverted to the pre-1986 cylinder heads that allow for better air-flow but less turbulence. Our test car had the 5-speed manual transmission. A 4-speed automatic is available if one is willing to sacrifice 5 bhp consumed in the automatic's more restrictive exhaust. Much larger front discs (10.9- versus 10.1-in. diameter) from the Continental add stopping power. The chassis was been subtly modified with a higher roll center, more caster and different camber settings at the modified MacPherson struts. The live axle in back on trailing and angled upper arms is unchanged this year with four shocks still holding things more or less in place.
The Camaro, which began two years after the first Mustang, has remained, if you will, a full-size ponycar, despite its slight reduction in bulk when it was restyled in 1982 for the third time. It is longer, lower and wider than the Mustang and 220 lb heavier. All of this is noticeable.
For 1987 Chevy (and Pontiac with the Firebird Trans Am) will finally, and officially, install the Corvette's 5.7-liter V-8, but with updated cast iron cylinder heads and roller valve lifters. The only available transmission is the 4-speed automatic, also shared with the Corvette. With the Camaro's lovely sounding but more restrictive exhaust, the engine produces 220 bhp at 4200 rpm and a mighty 320 lb-ft at 3200 rpm. To take this increased torque, a Borg-Warner rear axle (with a 3.27:1 the only available ratio) is installed, along with the disc brakes that attach to the ends of this axle. No changes were made to the IROC-Z's modified MacPherson strut front suspension, except for an increase in caster, or the rear suspension's collection of lower trailing arms, torque arm and Panhard rod.
Acceleration results were as predictable as a sunrise. If, instead of comparing the Ford and Chevy, we had tested either two Mustangs or two Camaros, we would have gotten results no closer. Up to 90 mph the Mustang pulls out only the slightest advantage because of its lower weight. This disappears by 100 mph as the Camaro gains an aerodynamic advantage of the tiniest proportions. Mustang and Camaro drivers will be able to spend entire days making runs at a dragstrip without determining a clear winner, which should make for lots of happy drag racers and spectators.
There is a clear difference in technique, however, because of the Camaro's automatic transmission and the Mustang's 5-speed. Basically, the Camaro doesn't need technique. Just stand on it. The Mustang, of course, gives the driver a choice of 5-speed or automatic, and it's great fun to play with the round, black knob between the seats, though getting off the line right requires the right combination of clutch slipping, tire slipping and throttle mashing.
With the test gear still hooked up, the brakes were exercised. Here, the Camaro gained some ground. It has larger tires and a better proportioning of braking force, which provided slightly shorter stopping distances. The Mustang locked the rear brakes at the initiation of braking and then locked the fronts as the car slowed to a stop. This might also prove that four disc brakes are better than two discs and two drums.
Our handling tests were reminiscent of Galileo's gravity experiments. You remember Galileo. By throwing a couple of different-weight chunks from some predecessor of the Empire State Building, he proved that an aluminum cylinder head and a cast iron cylinder head would both fall at the same rate. He would have loved the 700-ft slalom in which the fat-tired, stiffy sprung Camaro went through the cones at almost the same speed as the smaller, more loosely suspended Mustang. It was a match of the Mustang's superior steering precision vs the Camaro's tighter chassis. The 0.3-mph difference borders on insignificant.
But on a tighter than usual 150-ft skidpad the Camaro's larger tires helped it around at a higher lateral acceleration, 0.85 to 0.80. The Camaro's front suspension geometry may also be less troubled by the tight radius.
A sound test added numbers to what we all knew. The Mustang is quieter at most cruising speeds but makes more noise at wide-open throttle. If there were a number for sound quality, the Camaro would win hands down. The Chevy V-8 is tuned to produce that particularly American burble emitted by every V-8 that was ever given a set of dual pipes and glass packs. It's wonderful. At more than 125 mph, though, the side windows of the Camaro are sucked out, increasing its noise level. The Mustang remains tight all the way up.
Imagine that. A hundred and forty-eight miles in an hour. That's a Ferrari speed. And, it's the slower of the two by--once again--the smallest of margins. As impressive is the stability of both cars at those speeds. While our mighty Engineering Editor was whistling around the 7.5-mile bowl every 3.0 minutes, he was able casually to push the button of the 2-way radio and tell us the water temperature was normal, as was the oil pressure. On the back straight he had occasion to play groundhog-evasion at about 145 mph. The groundhog lost. The rpm on the Camaro, he said, was 4500 in the corners, rising to 4600 by the timing lights. The Ford was geared taller with the 5-speed and was running only 4200 rpm in 5th gear.
Now for a stroy. As it happened, our prototype Mustang GT (one of only two in existence) was manned by Product Development Engineer Arch Cothran when it arrived at TRC. After the 148-mph lap, Cothran calmy said, "It'll go faster in 4th." Now here was a man with confidence in his product. The message was duly relayed to our driver, who has something of a penchant for the big numbers himself. Rpm was climbing in 4th, he said from the far side of the track, hitting 5800, then more. The needle was somewhere very close to the 5900-rpm redline, he said, when the funny noises began. That was the end of that engine that had been through many hard miles of magazine and Ford testing. It died 100 yards short of the groundhog. A tie, almost.
Our testing was completed at Ford's Romeo proving ground north of Detroit with a fresh engine. No more problems. It was here that we got to romp along Woodward Avenue in a hulking IROC Camaro amd a gleaming streak of a Mustang GT. On the frost bulges of Michigan's back roads, the Mustang, we discovered, provided a noticeably better ride. The Mustang also was the better commuter car of the two, with its more useful back seat and slightly taller posture. Its seats fit a wider range of drivers, though it lacked the Camaro's electric adjustment. On Ford's handling course, the Camaro was more enjoyable to drive. It's more stable under braking and those King Kong Goodyears have more traction. The Mustang is more skittish, but handles big dips better, especially the kind that bottom the Camaro's front end.
Throughout several days of testing our people kept asking one another which car was better. It was easy to hop into one and just know it was the grandest car on the road. The Mustang did this with its nimble, fighter-like response and sudden bursts of acceleration. In convenience and utility the Mustang offers advantages. The Camaro was equally satisfying with its unflappable handling, its soul-stirring throb and its styling that remains a work of art. To sit in the Camaro and look out past the purposeful dash, over one of the most sensuously curved hoods in existence, is a treat.
Forced to make a choice, our trio picked the Camaro when cost was no object but had fits of sensibility, not to say a split decision, when the Chevy's higher price was considered. The decision wasn't easy; the cars are as close in appeal as they are in performance. So, when it comes to the fastest 4-place cars built in America, you pretty much get what you pay for. but in either case, you get a lot.
Source: Road & Track, October 1986
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