1984 had some milestones that many won’t soon forget. One of the most successful Summer Olympics was held in Los Angeles that year, along with the release of the first Apple Macintosh (mac) personal computer. The mac is still around today in different forms and and is selling better than ever and since then Apple has transformed into one of the largest companies in the world. However one 1984 milestone that performance car fans will never forget, is 1984 was a year in which the Camaro Z28 trounced its arch rival the Mustang GT. This long standing competition has at times been more fierce than the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics rivalry. Even today the Mustang and Camaro rivalry is still red hot, with the two now posting average horsepower numbers which are the highest in the their long history. On the Internet, no car forum board topic will commence a heated discussion like mentioning this rivalry. In analyzing this war, there is no clear cut winner over the years, both cars have given each other good competition for most model years. Some model years the Mustang was the victor, other years it was the Camaro. However one thing both Mustang and Camaro fans can agree on, is the competition has been good for both cars by forcing both Ford and Chevrolet to not rest on their laurels and to continually improve both performance and handling. However the rivalry at times has had hiatus periods such as the 2003-2009 model years when a Camaro model was absent from Chevrolet’s new car lineup. Another time was 1974-1981 which was a period when Ford virtually walked away from performance. The 115-118 horsepower 4.2 liter (255 CID) V8 1980-1981 Mustang (which was the performance option for those two years) was the absolute performance abyss for the Mustang barring 1974 when the Mustang didn’t even have a V8 option. Chevrolet was also culpable from 1975-1977, which were years when the Z28 option was absent from the Camaro lineup (a Camaro Rally Sport was as good as it got). Chevrolet put Camaro performance back on track for 1978 with the return of the Z28. To Chevy’s credit it kept a 350 CID V8 on the Z28 option list until 1981 – so things at Chevy were reasonably good.
Then suddenly out of nowhere Ford awoke from its slumber and released a revived Mustang GT with a 157 horsepower 2-bbl 5.0 liter (302 CID) H.O. V8 and a mandatory SROD 4-speed manual transmission which was nearly as fast as the heavier 200 horsepower 1982 Chevrolet Corvette. There was no denying the Mustang was back in the battle with a vengeance. 1982 should have been the Camaro’s big year, after-all it was the release of the much anticipated new third generation GM F-body platform (which it shared with the Firebird). For 1982, the Camaro had shed some pounds and had some of the best looking body styling ever to grace a pony car along the best handling and steering avaiable up to that date. It was modern, muscular, and yet very aerodynamic – when it was released it made the 1982 Mustang which had not had a refresh since 1979 look like day old bread. However a standard 145 horsepower LG4 5.0 liter (305 CID) V8 even when equipped with an optional 4-speed manual transmission was no match for the new 5.0 liter H.O. Mustang GT. The 1982 Z28 had an optional 165 horsepower (LU5) Cross-Fire Injection 5.0 liter (305 CID) V8 which produced 8 horsepower more than the Mustang GT. However with the Z28 being a few hundred pounds heavier the Mustang GT and with the Z28’s LU5 not having a manual transmission option, the battle of 1982 victory went to the Mustang GT. Where 1982 Mustang GT buyers received the short end of the stick, was when they wanted an automatic transmission and a 120 horsepower 4.2 liter 2-bbl V8 was the only engine available. Among automatic transmission buyers the Camaro Z28 won hands down for 1982.
As previously mentioned the LU5 Camaro Z28 by 1982 standards was a hot performance car, but the 5.0 liter Mustang GT had the slight performance advantage. For 1983, horsepower for the LU5 Z28 was bumped up to 175, but there still was no manual transmission option available for the LU5. While the Mustang’s 5.0 liter H.O. obtained a 4-bbl carb for 1983 which increased horsepower to 175 (and the anemic 4.2 liter V8 was gone). On paper, the battle of 1983 looked like a draw, but in reality the lighter Mustang GT had the slight performance advantage and it appeared it would win again. However late in the 1983 model year, Chevrolet added the 190 horsepower L69 4-bbl 5.0 liter H.O. V8 to the Z28 option list. Now it was the Mustang GT that was in retreat – the victory for 1983 went to the L69 Z28. Motor Trend magazine (June 1983) pitted the 5.0 liter H.O. equipped 1983 Mustang GT against the L69 equipped 1983 Camaro Z28. The Camaro Z28 obtained a 7.41 second 0-60 mph time versus the GT’s 7.43 – winning only by a slight hair. However at the 1/4 mile run was a different story with the Z28 making that run in 15.55 seconds at 90.5 mph versus the GT’s 16.06 seconds at 87.5 mph which was an easy victory for the Z28. The Z28’s superior 16.16-lb per horsepower ratio was better than the Mustang GT’s 16.96. And when you throw in the fact that the Z28 had superior aerodynamics and a 3.73 rear axle ratio versus the GT’s 3.27, it’s easy to see the Z28 was the acceleration king in this battle. Not to mention the Z28’s superior handling with a .88 g skidpad number that put to shame the GT’s .77 g. Stopping distance superiority also went to the Z28 which made the 60-0 mph stop in 136 feet versus the Mustang’s 156 feet. The only downside to the 1983 L69 Z28 was only 3,223 (out of 62,650 Z28s) were produced since it was a late model year offering, and all of which were equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission.
This is where 1984 came into the picture, for many performance buyers in 1983 the L69 Z28 may have slipped under their radar screens however for 1984 it was an entirely different story. With the L69 5.0 liter H.O. V8 carrying over with the same 190 horsepower and 240-lb feet of torque ratings and the GT’s 4-bbl 5.0 liter H.O. also unchanged with 175 horsepower and 245-lb feet of torque ratings, 1984 would be another year of a Camaro victory over the Mustang. However the news got better, unlike the GT which for 1984 could only be ordered with a 165 horsepower CFI (TBI fuel injection system) 5.0 liter H.O. V8 when the automatic transmission option was selected, the L69 was now available in both a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission. The result was Z28 sales skyrocketed with 100,899 sold for 1984 – 52% of which were L69 equipped Z28s (52,457 to be exact). There was no denying the fact that back in 1984 the Camaro Z28 was the performance king for 1984. And if the Z28 was not your cup of tea the L69 was also optional on the Z28’s F-body platform brother, the Trans Am and standard on the Monte Carlo SS. Interesting to note, the 5-speed L69 equipped 1984 Z28 came standard with a 3.73 rear axle whereas the automatic was standard with a 3.42 rear axle (the 3.73 rear axle could be ordered with the automatic when the G92 option was selected on the order sheet).
To those not familiar with the 1980s, it was a comeback period for the American muscle car. Horsepower finally began to climb again after years of shrinking engine displacement during the 1970s. David Campion is one of those familiar with this era. He came of age when popular car oriented TV shows like The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider were on primetime. To many who fall in love with a particular car, it’s not something that is planned – it just happens. For Campion the moment that would forever change the course of his life and make him a life-long Camaro fan, was when he was 15 and saw the 1982 Camaro Z28 "Chasing Shadows" TV commercial. And as fate would have it, shortly after seeing the commercial, Campion would have an opportunity to ride in a brand new white 1982 Z28 equipped with the 4-speed manual/LG4 combo, when a fellow parishioner of his church took him for a ride in his new car. These are the type of events that are life changing to an adolescent gearhead, Campion knew from that moment he would one day own a white Z28 just like it. However this is not just a simple story of a kid who grew up and purchased the car he always wanted, because in this case that’s exactly what happened. No, there’s a lot more to this story, for on that fateful day of the 1982 Z28 ride, he took pictures with an Kodak Instamatic camera of that 1982 Z28. This has led to a whole other quest, the picture taking and documenting of every third generation Camaro Campion has come into contact with starting in 1986. A quest which has yielded as you can imagine a massive collection of third generation Camaro data and pictures – a registry of 1,037 third generation Camaros.
Fast forward to 2012, Campion is now the owner a mint conditioned white 1984 Camaro Z28 which is almost an exact carbon copy of the white Z28 1982 he rode in 30 years ago. The only difference is Campion’s Z28 is equipped with the L69 5.0 liter H.O. V8/automatic transmission combo. For 1984 the LU5 5.0 liter V8 was no longer an option, there was just the 150 horsepower base LG4 5.0 liter V8 and the 190 horsepower L69. Campion was lucky enough to find back in 1997 his Z28. The downside was that the find wasn’t perfect. At the time it was a 115,000 mile car that was showing some age. First hurdle was the engine was missing most of the factory emissions controls. A local Chevrolet dealership brought the L69 engine back to factory condition which included the installation of all necessary emissions equipment and a brand new original spec L69 750 cfm Quadrajet 4-bbl carburetor. When everything under the hood was restored back to original factory condition, the dealership service advisor called Campion and told him to pick up the car before it was test driven again. Apparently some of the dealership mechanics had taken a liking to the L69 powered Z28 and were taking turns driving his car. And who could blame them, they were the experts and they certainly knew a fun car when they saw it.
The L69 was based upon the 1982-1983 LU5 performance architecture which included a thicker wall small-block 305 CID V8 (not shared with the LG4), performance heads, and a L83 Corvette performance camshaft. The problem with the LU5 was that the intake manifold was the weak link in the chain, it was choked due to emissions (flow rate was a meager 475 cfm). Chevrolet could have replaced the LU5’s restrictive intake with a free-flow unit. However the decision was instead made to just replace the LU5’s Cross-Fire Injection induction system with a 4-bbl carburetor and a free-flow aluminum (4-bbl) intake manifold which was the birth of the L69. This was good news for performance fans since the LU5 though providing good performance for its day unfortunately was a very difficult system to modify to increase performance. The L69 was much easier to modify, it was a throwback to the classic muscle car era. There was a high-performance V8 with a 4-bbl on top. Even though the 4-bbl and other engine functions with the L69 were now computer controlled, yet some of the same easy to apply old hot rodding techniques applied when it came to pulling more horses out of the engine. Though Campion has kept his L69 stock, he has added one aftermarket item (taking a page out of the old muscle car era performance notebook) – a high-performance ZZ4 intake manifold. A friend of Campion’s installed the ZZ4 intake along with a new timing chain and a new fuel pump. The end result was a substantial performance boast. Campion also had the 700R4 (4-speed) automatic transmission professionally rebuilt at 125,000 miles.
The LU5 had a high 9.5:1 compression ratio – this was back in an era when most gas stations didn’t sell higher than 91 octane unleaded gasoline. Unfortunately the LU5 was lacking a computer controlled knock sensor to retard ignition if high octane fuel was not used. With the LU5 if you forgot to fill up with 91 octane or if you happened to get a cheap blend of 91 octane, the engine would knock and ping. This was not good for the life of engine or the driver’s ego when onlookers could hear the chorus of engine pings or knocks from under the hood. Chevrolet when it released the L69 added a knock sensor so that this would not be an issue. It was a much needed addition since the L69 had the same high for that time, 9.5:1 compression ratio.
Interesting to note the 1983-1986 L69 found in the Z28 (and also the 1985-1986 L69 found in the Camaro Iroc-Z) was offered with a dual snorkel air cleaner. This was clearly Chevrolet engine engineers paying homage to the original muscle car era. This engine setup with dual tube like ducts that fed cool air into each snorkel looked every bit as stunning as the similar setup found on the legendary 390 horsepower 1968 Hurst Olds 455. And in case the dual snorkel setup was not enough to impress all onlookers, Chevrolet included a decorative "5.0 Liter H.O." decal on the round air cleaner. The later TPI setup was also an art form, however it looked back in the day like something taken right out of the Back to the Future movie, whereas the L69 was old school at its best. After the (Z28/Iroc-Z) L69 was retired, never again would an American performance V8 look like a classic era muscle car engine.
The 1984 Z28 came standard with a set of 15×7 inch silver aluminum wheels which were among the best looking wheels found on a car during this era. Back then a set of sticky P215-65R15 Goodyear Eagle GT tires were standard. They may seem thin by today’s standards however these tires mixed with the Z28’s top handling suspension package equated .84 to .88g on the skidpad – very impressive numbers even by today’s standards. The 1984 Camaro Z28 L69 was named by Car and Driver magazine (May 1984) the "Best Handling American Car". Car and Driver pitted the Z28 against the best American made 1984 model year performance cars including the new 1984 Chevrolet Corvette. Car and Driver declared the Z28 "a winner by a mile". And the smart Z28 buyers in 1984 paid a mere $179 for the (J65) power four-wheel disc brakes option, which yielded impressive stopping power. Campion’s Z28 handles like new, he replaced with factory spec parts most of the his Z28’s suspension parts including both the front and rear springs.
Chevrolet did it right with the 1984 L69, with a standard factory dual resonator/dual outlet (after the single catalytic converter) exhaust system which had deep rumble reminiscent of original muscle car era. This early third generation F-body factory performance exhaust system was termed by Motor Trend (January 1982) as being "tough as nails".
There’s no denying the L69 brought in many buyers into the Z28 camp for 1984. However it was the Z28’s fine styling that created a whole horde of new Camaro fans including Campion during this era. GM designers gave the third generation (1982-1992) F-bodies an European flair. The styling of the early third generation Camaro Z28 was absolute brilliance. Where the Firebird/Trans Am went for the elegant Ferrari 308 type look (with a low wedge front end with pop-up headlights) a far bigger jump away from its burly predecessor than the Camaro. The Camaro had a boxier front end with exposed quad rectangular headlights – an overall very modern look that paid homage to its muscle car roots. The Camaro Z28 which had lower body air dams and a rear spoiler gave the vibe of a serious muscle car. And the icing on the cake was black accents (in places around the headlights and on the twin hood scoops). Chevrolet could have also used black for the color of the Z28’s lower air dams however this would have emulated the Trans Am (and the Ferrari 308 for that matter). Instead it wisely chose silver as the lower air dam color color for the Z28. Above all lower air dams was a wide decal stripe available in a few different colors. These extra touches gave the Z28 its own unique color scheme which was a real winner.
Campion restored his Z28 exterior where it today looks like it did when it first rolled off the dealer lot back in the day. However Campion went one step further by affixing a "John Smith" Chevrolet dealership decal to the bumper of his Z28. It was his way of honoring his local Chevrolet dealership in Smyrna, Georgia where he spent so much time during his younger years looking at new Camaros. And Campion’s sums it up this way "if I was able to buy a 1984 (L69) H.O. Z28 new this is where I would have bought it." However as perfect as his Z28 restoration turned out, there’s one downside any owner who has an absolutely pristine car after a full restoration can attest to – the fear of driving it due to it being so perfect. And most would feel the same way after replacing the front fenders, front fascia, and rear fascia with NOS parts like Campion did. However Campion has found a happy medium by retiring his car from daily duty and reserving it for nice weather weekend driving only, where it will remain in pristine condition for many years to come yet still be enjoyed on the picturesque Georgia roads.
The exterior styling of the early third generation Z28 has aged well, still looking very modern even today. The same can be said of the interior which was so far ahead of its time even three decades later it still looks modern. However it was not just a pretty face – the gauges were all functional and easy to read and the console was perfectly placed and well laid out. For the Z28 there were a few different trim levels of seating surfaces from standard vinyl to cloth, and even a cloth Lear Siegler seating option. Campion’s Z28 was ordered with the attractive two-tone (60C) sand grey custom cloth which blend nicely with the black dash, console, and other interior trim pieces. The seating position on the Z28 was much lower than the Mustang GT, which hindered visibility a little in comparison however the position was more in line with the sports car image of the Z28. Campion summarizes the whole feel behind the steering wheel by stating the "driving position is perfect, it’s like Chevrolet designed this car for me". And anyone who has owned a third generation GM F-body with T-tops can attest to how water leaks can be a problem when seals get old or they sometimes will squeak. Not to mention how they can turn the interior cabin into a sauna on a hot and sunny day. Campion doesn’t have to worry about these issues since his Z28 doesn’t have T-tops – this also gives his Z28 a tighter feeling in hairpin turn type handling situations since the roof doesn’t flex like most T-top equipped cars.
There’s no doubt that L69 Z28 prices will continue to climb in the near future as more collectors and hobbyists focus on these special muscle cars of the 1980s. Campion’s advice to anyone looking to purchase a L69 Z28 is "do your homework" and be sure to verify the eighth VIN digit ("7" for 1983 and "G" for 1984-1986) to make sure a L69 Z28/Iroc-Z is the real McCoy. Before purchasing one, Campion also recommends checking for rust on the floorpans, hatchback channels, and around the T-tops. Even though he replaced a lot of parts on his Z28, he was wise enough to accumulate early-third generation Z28 parts starting in 1988 when he worked for GM. He also procured all the NOS stripes and decals/plaques and even a new set of coveted P215-65R15 Goodyear Eagle GT tires (the standard L69 Z28 tire option for 1984) before his car’s restoration. Almost 20 years later the task is easier since reasonably priced exact reproduction decals are now available from Phoenix Graphix. And recently Goodyear has released new exact reproduction (P215-65R15) Goodyear Eagle GT tires. Even though his Z28’s restoration process was not easy, Campion is quick to point out that he is grateful to all who helped make the restoration happen and thanks his family and friends who have supported and encouraged him over the years in his quest. However his best advice he has to those future L69 Z28 owners is to "have fun with it, these cars are a blast to drive".
You don’t have to convince Campion how special the 1984 L69 Z28 is. He knows it every time he looks at his car. And if he should happen to forget a hardly subtle reminder occurs every time he drives his car. The old saying which states "you can never go home again", is usually true, however in this case it doesn’t apply. David Campion can go home again back to the 1980s like Marty McFly, any time he wishes. In Campion’s case the time machine is not a DeLorean, but a beautiful white 1984 Z28 that just rolled off the new car lot of John Smith Chevrolet.
Special thanks to David Campion who provided the pictures and information used in this article of his beautiful mint conditioned 1984 Camaro Z28 L69.
Written contents in this article – © 2012 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved