1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z Classic Review Feb 26, 2016 by Cedric (Driver Weekly)

The Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z first appeared in 1985 as an option for the Z28, and this muscle car has become a popular classic car with a spot on any collector’s list of dream vehicles. When it first arrived, the IROC-Z was a Camaro built for the racetrack. It was a Camaro that looked like it could compete with the Corvette—and drove like one as well—but maintained the gutsy attitude of a real muscle car. After 30 years on the market, the first models of the IROC-Z are officially classic cars. 

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The International Race of Champions (IROC)

Although Chevrolet didn't introduce the Camaro IROC-Z until 1985, its origins begin a full decade earlier with the International Race of Champions. The International Race of Champions, also known as IROC, started up in 1974 as an annual all-star competition of top drivers organized by Roger Penske, Les Richter, and Michael Phelps. A small field of racing champions were invited to compete from NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One, and even drag racing and World of Outlaws. To make the race a true test of skill, organizers would prepare identical stock cars using a team of dedicated mechanics. In 1974, the first season featured the Porsche Carerra RSR as the universal competition vehicle. Penske soon realized that maintaining Porsches for racing was too expensive. He reached out to General Motors in 1975 and the series switched to the Chevrolet Camaro for their stock car. The race took a four-year break starting in 1980, meaning the Camaro was out of the spotlight. When it returned, the organizers decided that the new Camaro Z/28 should be the official competition vehicle. Chevrolet wanted to create a special Camaro model to celebrate the competition based on the third-generation Camaro launched in 1982. In 1985, Chevrolet entered into a licensing agreement with the racing series and obtained the right to use the IROC name on production models, and a new legend was born. They created the 1985 IROC-Z/28. 

The First IROC-Z

The first production Camaro IROC-Z was an options package for the Camaro Z/28, but with enhanced handling and performance. It was an invigorating option for the third-generation Chevrolet Camaro. While reviewers and buyers were excited for the refreshed appearance—long and angular in a way that honored but did not copy the first generation—performance still felt lacking. This muscle car was still spinning its wheels without going anywhere fast after years of rot during the Malaise Era. That all changed in 1985 when, for the first time since the early 1970s, buyers could own a Camaro that churned out over 200 horsepower. Best of all, you didn’t even need a racing license to own or drive it.

The ’85 IROC-Z had a 305 cubic-inch LB9 V8 engine with Tuned Port Injection. Eight cylinders cranked out 215 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. The LB9 was only available on the Z28 and the IROC-Z with the automatic transmission, while drivers that wanted a manual transmission had to order the L69 with 190 horsepower. At the time, the LB9 model was among the fastest automobiles ever built. It still managed to get 15 or 16 mpg in the city with emissions equipment. Best of all, the small-block engine is one of the most durable engines ever built by Chevrolet, refined over years of thrashing on the race track and on the street. Today you can maintain or rebuild the LB9 on a reasonable budget.

The Full Package

When the Camaro IROC-Z was first available, it cost $659 more than the original Z/28. The IROC-Z had a lowered ride height with special Delco-Bilstein shocks. The upgraded suspension was paired with larger diameter sway bars and a steering and frame brace known as the “wonder bar.” The “wonder bar” helped o maintain proper steering geometry given the cornering loads that the car’s tires could generate. That’s because the Camaro received Goodyear Eagle VR50 Gatorback 245/50/VR16 unidirectional tires, similar to the Corvette, with 16’ inch wheels. The racing wheels were designed with a different front and rear offsets. The race-ready vehicle looked lean and mean and let everyone know it with halogen fog lights, aluminum five-spoke wheels, unique paint and graphics packages, and a more rounded fascia complete with chin spoiler. The original IROC-Z was available in red, black, silver metallic, bright blue metallic, and yellow.

With racing glory and these specifications, it should be no surprise that the IROC-Z was considered a top pick by buyers and reviewers right from the start. There were only 2,497 units of the IROC-Z built in 1985. It earned numerous awards and, at the end of the year, the IROC-Z made the “Ten Best List” from Car and Driver in 1985.

Later Models

The Camaro IROC-Z was sold from 1985 to 1990 when Dodge replaced Chevrolet as the sponsor for the International Race of Champions. It was in production for just five years. During that time, the IROC-Z was a top-of-the-line option for buyers interested in a prestige Camaro. There were a few different engines offered and some minor interior updates, along with a change to the wheel configuration. By 1987, the IROC-Z also received the 350 cubic-inch L98 engine with 245 horsepower to boost performance. That same year, buyers could finally order the 305cid and 350cid TPI with a manual transmission. By the 1988 model year, the Z/28 version was discontinued leaving just the IROC-Z as the performance model and the base coupe.

The IROC-Z was officially discontinued in 1990 but is still extremely popular today. In total, there were only 166,976 IROC-Zs built over five years. If you consider the vehicles lost in accidents, stolen and sold for ports, or left to rust, you don’t have many IROC-Z left intact. You can still find these models in the hands of enthusiastic owners, including the classic original version, and later models with slight improvements to performance. These racing-inspired muscle cars are fast becoming one of the best collector’s cars from the 1980s.

Article updated 25 July 2017.

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