1991 Chevrolet Camaro

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$916–$13,476
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Expert Reviews

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By 

Orlando Sentinel

When Chevy rolled out the original Z28 in 1967, you could sum it up in three words: shake rattle and roll.

You still can.

The current Camaro (and its Pontiac sibling, the Firebird) is one of the oldest production cars on the market. The third generation of the Camaro, a design that dates back to the late 1970s, is still being built to 1970s standards - thus falling shy of the exacting specifications of most of today's cars.

Camaro lovers wouldn't have it any other way.

More than 3 million Camaros have been sold since 1967, and the car is one of Chevy's consistent best sellers.

Through the 1980s, General Motors has done a good job keeping the Camaro in vogue by changing trim details, colors and adding at least some high-tech items like fuel injection and a driver's side airbag.

But the Camaro's appearance hasn't changed much. And that's good because the Camaro is a great-looking car that proves quality styling survives time.

The Z28 is a crude muscle car that isn't built to impress with finesse. It's a loud, boisterous brute whose primary mission is to fend off Ford Mustangs and - with old-fashioned American muscle - squash the latest four-cylinder imported gnats buzzing around stoplights.

If you want the smoothness of an Acura Integra or Nissan Maxima, look elsewhere.

The Z28 was born a muscle car, and that's what it still is. It's one of a dying breed of cars being replaced by machines like the new Dodge Stealth, Nissan 300ZX and Toyota Supra.

If you crave the raw power of a throbbing V-8, rear-wheel-drive car with a long hood and a short tail, time is running out. GM is bringing out a new Camaro/Firebird in 1993. Based on spy photos, we know it will look radically different from the current breed, and with the government expected to increase CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, don't be surprised if a V-8 isn't offered in the next-generation Camaro.

ENGINE, PERFORMANCE

The test car came with Chevy's 5.7-liter, 350-cubic-inch, fuel-injected V-8 and four-speed automatic transmission. A five-speed manual gearbox is optional. With 245 horsepower on tap, the Z28's performance is not for the timid.

Driving conservatively will keep all four tires stuck to the road. Put a little extra pressure on the gas pedal, and the powerful V-8 easily produces enough torque (345 pounds-feet at 3,200 rpm) to break the fat, 16-inch radial tires loose. Several automotive magazines tested the Z28 and clocked 0 to 60 mph figures of around 6.5 seconds. The top speed is better than 140 mph. That's serious performance for a car that weighs in at 3,319 pounds.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Z28 at 16 miles per gallon city; 24 highway. If you drive the car enthusiastically, expect 15 mpg city; 22 highway. That's the mileage I got using the air conditioner. In combined city/highway driving, the Z28 averaged 19 mpg using regular unleaded. That's a far cry from the bad old days of the mid-'60s when muscle cars routinely got 10 mpg or less.

STEERING, HANDLING, BRAKING

The Z28 is one of those cars that requires the driver to learn how to master its suspension system. Because the engine develops so much torque and horsepower, an inexperienced driver could have trouble. The rear end can break loose with little provocation.

The suspension system is unrelentingly firm. A speed bump shakes the whole car. However, the Z28 is a very capable cornering machine. The stiff suspension prevents body roll, which allows for excellent handling maneuvers - as long as the driver uses the gas pedal cautiously. The power-assisted recirculating ball-type steering system is unusually tight.

The power disc/drum brakes in the test car were competent and nothing more. Oddly enough, the slower Camaro RS, offers four-wheel disc brakes. Anti-lock brakes are not offered.

FIT, FINISH, CONTROLS

This is the Cam ro's weak point. GM knows the car is full of shakes and rattles but is counting on the Camaro faithful to keep sales rolling until the new model comes out.

This is not to say the Z28 is going to fall apart. It's not - but the car doesn't benefit from the massive leap forward GM has made in the last decade in production technology and quality. In a perverse way, that characteristic enhances the Z28's macho appeal.

There is a good bit of cowl shake. The doors creak and trim pieces rattle as the engine winds up. The exhaust's growl more than cancels out the car's other unwholesome noises.

The test car did not come equipped with electric windows or door locks or cruise control. This is disappointing in a car that costs $18,000.

The cloth-covered buckets seats are not the best I've experienced, but they hold the driver in place well. The rear seats are a contortionist's dream. It's best to fold the rear seat backs forward and use the large hatchback area to carry parcels.


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