The IROC-Z: Future Collector

Hard to believe I remember the day the IROC rolled into the show room floors. I was ready to trade in my 78 Pontiac Formula for the new style Camaro. The one inspired by racing. With its sleek lines and stance. Oh it ran chills down my spine. So how did the IROC-Z make a mark in collector history?

The IROC-Z Camaro was built in 1985 to celebrate the International Race of Champions. It first appeared as alternative to the Mustang SVR, with a V8 iron-block engine, lowered ride height, special decals, and an upgraded suspension from the regular Camaro, plus an altered front nose and fascia. And it shared some then-revolutionary fuel injection technology and tires with the Corvette, which only added to the allure.

Car and Driver called the IROC Camaro one of the best cars of the year for 1985: “The Camaro looks like a hundred-thousand-dollar car, and if we saw Camaros as seldom as we see Ferraris, we’d probably pay that for it.” Motor Trend called it precise, powerful, and a better-looking car than the Mustang.

IROC-Z Camaros are extremely recognizable by almost all Camaro and general car enthusiasts alike. Back in 1984, Chevrolet wanted to produce a Camaro that would closely mimic the Camaros that were being used to race in the IROC (International Racing of Championship) series. So in turn, Chevrolet would sign on to be the official sponsor of the racing series, giving them permission to use the name, which in turn spawned the birth of the IROC-Z. Starting in 1985, the new IROC-Z became available to the public and would be produced and available to the public up until 1990. This is when Chevrolet's licensing agreement with the IROC racing series would be up for renewal. Chevrolet had other plans for the future of the Camaro and decided not to renew sponsorship of the race series and dropped the IROC-Z from production.

There was even bigger news from GM for '85: Chevy's Tuned Port Injection (TPI) system debuted, and on the Camaro's 305 it rang out 215 hp; Ford's 302 output increased to 210. Ford added its own port fuel injection for '86, finally prompting Chevy mid-season to do what everyone had been waiting for: Install the Corvette's 230-hp, TPI engine into the IROC-Z28.

The 350 TPI wasn't totally new to Chevy. Introduced to the Corvette in 1985, the core of the system was the Bosch "hot-wire" mass airflow sensor that worked in conjunction with an electronic engine control module. In a nutshell, it measured air flowing into the throttle body, helping the computer determine how much fuel the injectors required. The "Tuned" part of TPI was the intake runner lengths, designed to take advantage of ram tuning to build extra mid-range torque, which proved superb for an era where extra horsepower was hard to come by.

What a lot of people don't know about the Camaro is that the Z-28 would be dropped from the production line-up for the years of '88, '89 and ‘90 the IROC-Z would be your only high performance option until Chevrolet halted its production and reintroduction the Z-28 in 1991. What mostly stood out about the IROC-Z is its 5.7/350 TPI motor, which was bigger than its sister motor -- the 5.0/305. The 350 TPI came with a four-speed 700R4 automatic transmission and could be ordered with a special suspension package better known as the 1LE package that included: 4 wheel disk brakes, a 3.42 posi rear end, an aluminum drive shaft, large 12" front rotors, aluminum calipers, engine oil cooler, larger anti-roll bars, gas tank baffles and there were also numerous spring rates available giving it a much more aggressive look by lowering it by .05 inches. The special Camaro would also get 16-inch rims, an upgrade from the smaller 15-inch rims, more aggressive body kit skirts, large IROC-Z decals on the doors and special trim.

Top speed on the five-speed manual version was 138 mph, with a respectable sprint time of 7.5 seconds for initial models. Power on the IROC-Z topped out at 215 horsepower, depending on the exact model, performance package, and year. (A 190- or 155-hp engine was also available.) You could choose yours in yellow, blue metallic, black, silver metallic or, naturally, red.

Although throughout the years there were different options released from the factory like t-tops, 5-speed transmission and other trim options, the most common option are mentioned above. It also should be noted, that even though 5.7/350 is the most common and sought after IROC-Z, if you are looking to buy a '85, you should know that you can find them with 5.7/350 motors, but they will not be original, because in '85 they only came available with the smaller 5.0/305 motors.

Although the IROC-Z was produced in a time when power was not a priority and the horsepower and torque numbers it boasted back in the mid-to-late '80s would get laughed off the race track with today's technology putting it to shame. The reason why the IROC-Z is a collector car and will stay a collector car is not because of its power outputs but because of its limited production and the reasons Chevrolet put it into production in the first place.

If you're searching for an IROC-Z, you must be careful for there are a lot imposters out there. A lot of the exterior IROC-Z options such as the vented hood, front spiller and ground effect options where available for order on regular Camaro's and Z28 as well. So check the VIN numbers and do some research on the Internet so you don't get screwed. If you already own one, I would suggest saving it and passing it on to someone in your family, because in time they will be just as valuable as a '69 Camaro SS.

So let’s take a look at these future collectors through the years:

1985 - Total Production: 21,177 The IROC (International Race Of Champions) began using the Camaro as the official vehicle. To commemorate this, Chevy made an IROC model for the Camaro. The IROC-Z was option B4Z on the option sheet and could only be ordered with the Z28 option package. The ride height was lower than a standard Z28, and featured performance-calibrated front struts and springs, Bilstein rear shocks and 16 inch aluminum wheels with Goodyear Eagle 245/50/16 tires. This new performance icon boasted skidpad numbers within the range of .90 g. The top offering under the hood was the brand new TPI 305 which boasted 215 horsepower and 275 ft/lbs of torque. This was the most powerful 305 automatic ever offered in the IROC. The 190 horsepower HO 4bbl 305 and the standard output 155 horse LG4 were the other available motors.

The IROC also came with a redesigned front fascia with a more rounded appearance and a deeper chin spoiler with lower ground effects. The new fake hood louvers were introduced on the Z28 and IROC. The IROC was available in Yellow, Bright Blue Metallic, Black, Silver Metallic and Red.

1986 - Total Production: 49,585 In 1986, the IROC received slightly different engine packages. The 86 IROC is the armpit of the entire run. The 305 block in 1986 now had a one piece rear main seal. The TPI 305 was the lucky recipient of the LG4 camshaft, and the result was a drop of 25 horses and almost a half second longer run to 60mph. Chevrolet did allow 50 IROCs out the door with the 220hp L98 350. Beware when somebody sells an 86 as a stock 350. CHECK THE VIN for accuracy. Chevy also let an undisclosed number of these cars out with the T5 five speed transmission as part of the 1LE racing option that also included air conditioning delete, radio delete, as well as the deletion of all power accessories. The 1LE option was not available with T-tops, but did come with specially calibrated springs, shocks and sway bars.

Visually, not too much changed on the 86 IROC. The government mandated 3rd brake light found its way to the top of the rear hatch near the roof line. Curiously, rear window louvers became a factory option this year. Some of the 86 IROCS came with the new 140mph speedometer. 86 was also the first year for the base coat/clear coat paint system as standard equipment.

1987 - Total Production: 38,889 1987 brought about only minor changes to the IROC. The motors now had the new centerbolt style heads and manifolds had a revised bolt hole angle to accomodate the different heads. The motors also made the switch to hydraulic roller camshafts. This gave a 3.5% increase in gas milage, and an extra 5 horsepower. The TPI 350 was now widely available, but only with the 700R4 automatic. Visually, the 87 is identical to the 86 model, except that the third brake light moved from up on the rear hatch, to down in the rear spoiler.

1988 - Total Production: 27,811 1988 brought about some welcome changes in the horsepower department, as well as a somewhat revised exterior scheme. The Z28 was discontinued, and the IROC was now its own model. For the first time in the history of the camaro, no carburated camaros were available. All motors offered fuel injection of some sort. The base IROC motor had the TBI injection that was very similar to what was found on the trucks. A new camshaft finally found its way into the 305 TPI and boosted horsepower to 195 horse in the auto, and a stout 220 horse when backed with the T5. The 350 also got a small horsepower boost to 225 horse. All of the V8s starting in 88 had "guided rocker arms" that featured a stamped-in lip on each side of the pad that contacts the valve stem. The exterior of the IROCs received a mild update for 88. The most noticeable difference is that the wheels have been slightly changed. Instead of one line through the center of each spoke, there were now two lines, and the center area was a little different. Here's an interesting tidbit: for the first time, the 16" wheel was an option on the IROC. The car came standard with a 15" version. Along with that, the IROC-Z decal was a little smaller and moved to the rear of the door instead of the front. The stripe along the ground effects line now had the black line above the silver. The silver Z-28 badges on the exterior have been replaced with orange IROC-Z logos.

1989 - Total Production: 24,007 1989 brought about some nice horsepower increases. The TPI 305 5 speed jumped to 230 horse if the dual catalytic converters were ordered, and with dual cats, the L98 350 jumped to 240 horse, with a staggering 345 ft/lbs of torque! The TPI systems changed slightly. For the first time, the 9th cold start injector was no longer used. Visually, nothing changed from the 1988 model.

1990 - Total Production: 5,517 This is the first year the 1LE high performance option became widely known. The 1LE featured 4 wheel disk brakes, a 3.42 posi rear end, an aluminum drive shaft, large 12" front rotors, aluminum calipers, engine oil cooler, larger anti-roll bars and gas tank baffles. There were also numerous spring rates available. The package could only be ordered without air conditioning or fog lamps. 1990 also marked the year the the TPI systems changed from the Mass airflow system to the Speed density system. These differences are explained in the TPI tech section. The Speed density system allowed an extra 5 horsepower from the 350, upping the ante to 245. Visually, the exterior of the 1990 IROCs once again did not change, but looking through the windows will show that they now had a driver side air bag as well as revised instrument cluster.

If you’re thinking of buying one and don’t want to wait for an auction, start looking online. You can find them as cheap as $3,000 or as expensive as $30,000 (or more). Most lie in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.

The main thing to look for, if you want a real investment piece, and besides the customary low-miles/regular maintenance criteria, is the option package. GM had offered generous upgrades at the time (manual and higher horsepower versions, for instance), so the more of those that a No. 1-rated IROC Z Camaro has, the better for resale value purposes.

“If you want the very, very best, there are very few,” These cars from the ’80s are becoming more and more desirable, so if it’s just unbelievably pristine, a collector’s dream of an example, that’s going to sell for big bucks.”

Michigan and New York have the highest population of vintage Camaros at large. Start scouring auctions around there first. Based on the guidelines enforced by the Classic Car Club of America (essentially stating that a car is a classic after being on the market for 30 years), the original IROC-Z is in. And my favorite the 1988 is set to become a classic car this year. Receiving this designation instantly gives the car more value. The price of the car doesn’t necessarily appreciate, but the depreciation rate also stays steady at a minuscule level. If you find a classic car with low mileage, it’s like hitting the lottery.

Despite Chevrolet re-releasing a number of previously retired vehicles, including the SS, COPO, ZL1, and, coincidentally, the Z-28, it doesn’t appear that the IROC-Z will be making its triumphant return anytime soon. After all, the stock car race that it was based on came to an end in 2006, making the name relatively irrelevant. However, as Jonathan Welsh of The Wall Street Journal notes, a re-released or update versions of the IROC-Z could generate “pangs of nostalgia” for those Generation-X car lovers.

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