Ask any Chevrolet Camaro expert when the lowest point in horsepower output for Camaro was, and the answer will usually come back as "1982". However this doesn’t in any way mean the 1982 Camaro Z28 (the top Camaro performance model for 1982) wasn’t a fun car to drive. After-all the 1982 Camaro Z28 received Motor Trend magazine’s coveted "Car of the Year" award, so there’s more here than meets the eye. It’s far too easy to look at the horsepower numbers and judge this Camaro by its cover without ever perusing its content.
For horsepower lovers the early-1980s was the pits. V8s with horsepower output on the average of 120 to 140 horsepower, 0-60 mph times that looked more like muscle car quarter-mile times, and quarter-mile times that seemed to rival cross-continent air travel times. Compared to today, those were dark days indeed. The Camaro Z28 was America’s budget 2+2 sports coupe. It wasn’t as sophisticated or as classy as the current Camaro Z28. Back in 1982, the Z28 was a muscle car the average Joe could afford. A Z28 could be equipped a laundry list of options however most Z28 buyers merely stuck to the basics carefully choosing the options they wanted on the order sheet. For those that wanted a more refined and upscale GM pony car, the Pontiac Trans Am was right down their alley. The Z28 was flashy and had ultra sleek looks but it’s generally spartan interior didn’t deviate from its main mission of being a performance car for the masses.
1981 had been the last year for the revered second generation Camaro. The second generation Camaro had become long in the tooth by 1981 after 12 model years on the same platform, however the brawn was still under the hood. For the 1981 model year the Z28 had two V8 engine choices – the 175 horsepower (and 275 lb-ft of torque) LM-1 4-bbl 5.7 liter (350 CID) and the 165 horsepower (and 245 lb-ft of torque) 4-bbl LG4 5.0 liter (305 CID). As a comparison the most powerful 1981 Ford Mustang engine was the 120 horsepower 2-bbl 4.2 liter V8.
When the all-new third generation Camaro Z28 was released, performance car fans were happy for the arrival of the new low and sleek Z28. Its handling and cornering manners were far superior to the 1981 Z28. The 1982 Z28 was better in every category over the 1981 except horsepower. The base engine for the 1982 Camaro Z28 was the 145 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque LG4 5.0 liter (305 CID) V8. On paper it was 20 horsepower less than the 1981 Z28’s LG4, Chevrolet never gave a reason for the power drop. Comparing the 1981 and 1982 LG4 V8s, both engines have identical parts and specs. The only difference was the dual resonator exhaust system on the 1981 Z28 was a little less restrictive than the one on the 1982 Z28. At most this accounted for about a 5 horsepower difference which should have put the LG4 equipped 1981 Z28 at around 150 horsepower. Ironically the LG4 equipped 1981 Trans Am with the same LG4 and dual resonator exhaust system as the 1981 Z28 was only rated at 150 horsepower. And all all other 1981 Camaros equipped with the LG4 had a 150 horsepower rating. So odds are the 1981 Z28’s LG4 was probably overrated in the horsepower department. And if you add to the equation that the 1982 Z28 was almost 500 lbs lighter in weight than the 1981 Z28, 145 horsepower looked a whole lot better than the specs on a piece of paper would have you believe.
The net result of the LG4 powered 1982 Z28 mated to the 4-speed manual transmission equated to an average 0-60 mph time of mid-9 seconds which back in 1982 was lightning quick. It would be the equivalent to about mid-5 seconds 0-60 mph today in 2015. The 4-speed LG4 came standard with a performance oriented 3.23 axle ratio. The other transmission available with the LG4 was the THM200C 3-speed automatic transmission which slowed the 0-60 mph run by a few 1/10s of a second mostly due to the less performance oriented and mandatory 2.73 rear axle ratio. By comparison the LU5 Cross-Fire fuel injected 5.0 liter (305 CID) V8 which was the high-performance motor option in the 1982 Z28 produced 165 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. The LU5 equipped Z28 was capable of mid-8 second 0-60 mph times. However if a buyer wanted the LU5, it could only be equipped with the THM200C 3-speed automatic.
The good news was the LG4 Z28 may not have had the brawn of its predecessors, but it sure had that traditional muscle car rumble. The Z28’s standard dual resonator exhaust system had what Motor Trend magazine referred to as a "tough as nails" sound. The sound alone certainly won its share of buyers. And it made even the most aware LG4 equipped Z28 owners easily forget they drove the lowest horsepower rated Z28 to be produced.
For 1983 all LG4 powered Camaros would gain a little horsepower and torque pushing the totals to 150 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque. Horsepower for the LG4 equipped Camaros would gradually increase to 165. 1987 would be its last year as a Camaro engine when it was replaced by the 170 horsepower L03 TBI 5.0 liter (305 CID) V8.
Another aspect of the LG4 powered 1982 Z28 that has been forgotten over time is that its peak 240 lb-ft of torque was available at a extremely low 2,000 rpm. The LU5 didn’t reach its peak 240 lb-ft of torque until 400 rpm higher. The LG4 felt very responsive off the line due to the availability of a good amount of torque from a standstill. The problem with the LG4 was its peak horsepower was reached at just 4,000 rpm and above that the engine quickly ran out of steam. The LU5 reached its peak horsepower at 4,200 rpm which was only marginally better. There was also a difference in block strength, the LG4 used the standard run of the mill Chevrolet 305 CID engine block while the LU5 used a fortified sturdier version of the 305. Part of the reason the LU5 used a fortified block was it used the Corvette’s high-performance L83 camshaft. The camshaft gave the LU5 a 9.5:1 compression ratio which back in 1982 was sky high. This mandated that the LU5 use high octane unleaded fuel while the LG4 could run at its best on cheaper standard octane fuel due to its much lower 8.6:1 compression ratio. It can’t be stressed enough, back in 1982 dollars gasoline was very expensive and high octane gas was super expensive, so for many buyers the LG4 was the perfect solution to the times. They didn’t have to give up V8 power and yet could still use cheaper low octane fuel.
Where the 1982 Camaro Z28 really shined was in the handling department. On the skidpad the Z28 was good for anywhere from .81 to .83 g which made it one of the best handling cars not only in America but the world at the time. The 1982 Porsche 928 which cost four times the average price of a 1982 Z28 obtained the same exact handling numbers. With the almost 500 lbs of dead weight gone for the 1982 Z28, a well tuned suspension which even included McPherson front struts, tight and responsive steering, and optional 4-wheel disc brakes the Z28 was a sheer blast to drive. Unlike the big horsepower Camaros from the golden era, the 1982 Z28 was so much more fun to drive on curvy roads – the 1982 Z28 even when equipped with the LG4 had become a world class touring car with great road manners. It was a car that had all the elements of past muscle cars – rear wheel drive, a 4-bbl carburetor, and a deep resonance V8 yet it now had the sleek styling and road holding of Europe’s finest. This was perhaps the reason why Chevrolet for 1982 did offer a LG4 powered Z28 variant for the European market called the "Z28E".
The LG4 may have had a 20 horsepower deficit in comparison to the LU5 but with the LU5 what you got from the factory was what you had to live with. There were no substantial aftermarket parts during the 1980s for the LU5 unless the fuel injection system was removed and replaced with a carburetor. With the LG4 a 4-bbl carburetor was already present, and with some very basic engine mods horsepower quickly shot up to 200, and with even more serious mods it was capable of even as high as 300 horsepower which back in 1982 was like having 700 horsepower in 2015.
Even though the 1982 Camaro Z28 wasn’t released until February 1982 – about 5 months behind most 1982 model year cars, 71,242 units (6360 of these were the Indy Pace Car Edition) were produced for the 1982 model year. And there’s no doubt that the LG4 was popular with 65% of Z28 buyers (46,569 to be exact) opting for the LG4.
Well it’s now back to the stark reality of 2015 where the 1982 Camaro Z28 is looked down upon by the current crop of performance car fans who can’t even imagine a time when a 145 horsepower V8 was something special – mostly because they didn’t come of age during the 1970s and 1980s. But that isn’t such a bad thing for good to mint conditioned 1982 Z28s are really cheap. $5,000 to $10,000 will buy you a very nice example. And the return on investment will yield much wealth. Not only will the 1982 Z28 increase in value in the coming years but you’ll have a sleek and attractive 2+2 sports coupe that will turn heads with its looks. However the real hidden value is it’s a "10" out of "10" on the fun factor scale – in many respects more fun than the new 2015 model year mega horsepower performance cars which are laden with computer gadgetry. My recommendation is to find a mint conditioned 1982 Z28 equipped with a LG4 and a 4-speed manual transmission along with the removable t-top roof panels (t-tops). Wait until a nice day then take the t-tops off and drive on the windiest road in your area. If this doesn’t put a smile on your face and make you feel like a kid on Christmas morning you’ll know you are no longer among the living. The LG4 Z28 proves the most important aspect of a performance car isn’t horsepower, it’s character. That’s one thing the LG4 Z28 has in abundance.
Written contents in this article – © 2015 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved