Showcasing an engine the flashy way

1985 Chevrolet Camaro GTZ Show CarThe early to mid-1980s were an interesting time-period for performance cars. Although there was a growing consumer interest in evermore powerful engines, some industry executives were no doubt still reeling behind the scenes from having recently been caught off-guard on the efficiency front.

Before it was imagined that today’s levels of efficiency could peacefully coexist with eight cylinders, Chevrolet decided to test the waters to gauge public reaction to a new tactic they were considering for future Camaro performance models.



I could’ve had a V8
Years earlier, auto companies had responded to tightening emissions standards and sharp spikes in gas prices relatively quickly by introducing less bulky cars and smaller engines designed to fit the somewhat unfamiliar demands. Thankfully, although having suffered immensely during the period, performance models were not completely abandoned.

With nary a glimmer of the technological advances we enjoy today, that allow modern six (and some four) cylinder motors to deliver former V-8 levels of power, engineers were still exploring the old reductionist’s tactic as a means of attaining stringent requirements for future vehicle motivation. This did not exclude the sports-minded models.

So what were manufacturers’ plans for their performance models? While not all plans were made public, some were. In fact, very public.

Image car number five
Before immersing ourselves in GTZ specifics, it might interest you to know that that particular show car was the fifth of Chevy’s so-called image cars that were based on the third generation Camaro.

Image Car 1 - 1982 Kelly American ChallengeThe first was a race car designed for the Kelly American Challenge in 1982. It was fashioned at the Chevrolet III studio, the same studio responsible for the Camaro’s third generation design. The overall car retained the factory Camaro look but featured flared fenders, as shown in this black and white photo to the left.

1982 Chevrolet Camaro PPG Indy Car frontAfter the Kelly Camaro, the Chevrolet III studio was again tapped for the next high-image version of the car: the pace car for the PPG/CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams sponsored by PPG Industries, formerly Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company) World Indy Car series, in late 1982.

1982 Chevrolet Camaro PPG Indy Car rearJerry Palmer, chief designer at Chevrolet III studio, could have been influenced by paternal bias (but not far off the mark) when he opined, “It was the best looking of the cars [represented there] by Chrysler, Ford, and AMC.” He continued, explaining, “We […] did a great job because we didn’t distort the heritage of the base car; we enhanced it.”

If you’ve peeked ahead, or already know what the Camaro GTZ looks like, its lineage by this point is becoming apparent. For instance, the body-side ground effects have been raised (although no scoops were incorporated yet), the head and front parking lights have been made flush (although the parking lamps do not wrap into the air intake), the door handles are flush with the panel, and the tail lights stretch across the car’s full width.

Less noticeable is the difference in hoodline heights whereas this car’s V-8 engine did not allow for a reduction in that respect.

Unique to the PPG Indy car are the integrated rear spoiler and cross-laced wheels. The pace car’s faux hood scoops were unchanged from the production model’s. According to information from the time, any aerodynamic benefits gained from the PPG Indy car’s modifications were negated by the ungainly (by today’s standards) roof-mounted safety lights.

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