Classic Spotlight: Camaro IROC-Z

Initially referred to as the “Camaro that thinks it’s a Corvette,” the IROC-Z Camaro was formally introduced in 1984. Since then, the muscle car has truly solidified it’s place in history.

Based on the guidelines put forth by the Classic Car Club of America, the first IROC-Z is set to become a classic this year (30 years on the market). Before you head down to your local Chevy dealership in Lexington, KY, take a look at the history of this unique, powerful Camaro…

The Humble Beginnings

Starting it 1974, the International Race of Champions (IROC) opted for the Porsche Carerra RSR as their standard, universal competition vehicle. A year later, the governing body decided to switch to the Chevrolet Camaro, but the race was effectively discontinued in 1980.

Four years later, the IROC was back, and the powers that be wanted the “new” Camaro Z/28 as their competition car. Chevy had a different idea, deciding to design a commemorative Camaro to celebrate the return of the IROC competition.

The result was the 1985 IROC-Z/28. The new car took the beloved attributes of a Z/28 and tuned them, creating a higher-performance/better-handling Camaro. This new vehicle wasn’t just for racecar drivers… a typical, commuting driver didn’t need to possess a Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) license to drive it.

How the IROC-Z Ultimately Beat Out the Original Z/28

It didn’t take long for the car to hit the market. If prospective car owners wanted to opt for the IROC-Z over the original Z/28, they’d have to throw down an extra $659. However, this upgrade meant bigger 16-inch wheels, 50-series tires, halogen fog lights, a lowered body (five inches lower than the Z/28), a special graphics/paint package… it was a pretty substantial upgrade. The vehicle also featured a redesigned, more ’rounded’ front fascia, as well as a chin spoiler with lower ground effects. It was available in five colors: yellow, bright blue metallic, black, silver metallic and red.

The car’s specs were top-of-the-line, as well. It offered skid pad numbers around .90g, an indication that the car had solid handling. Throw in the rear-wheel drive and the Tuned Port Injection 305 cubic-inch V-8 engine, capable of producing 215 horsepower (a number which some people claim is “underrated”) and 275 fts/lb of torque, and you’re looking at one of the most powerful automatics ever created (at the time, of course). Considering all those attributes, the IROC-Z’s 15-16 mpg in the city ended up being a pretty impressive number.

The 1985 model, which had 2,497 units produced, was a consensus ‘Rookie of the Year’ winner, and it was named to Car and Driver’s ‘Ten-Best List’ for 1985 (the car was awarded a number of additional accolades, including America’s ‘best-handling’ car). In that Car and Driver article, author David E. Davis Jr. said that despite the car’s “big and heavy” body, it still provides everything a customer could want… and more.

“There can be no denying that the IROC Z28 does get the job done,” Davis Jr. said. “It is very fast, and very good at all the things we expect sports coupes to do. In terms of price-performance ratios, it is probably a better buy than its stablemate the Corvette…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.”

The Years Following It’s Release

The car didn’t see many drastic changes during the years following it’s 1985 release. There was rotation of different engines (including the much-maligned LG4 camshaft), slightly updated interior designs (including the addition of the ‘new’ 140 mph speedometer), the inclusion of fuel injection, and a revised wheel configuration.

By 1988, the Z/28 had been discontinued, leaving only the base coupe and the IROC-Z. Two years later, following the lowest production of it’s multi-year run (35,048), the IROC-Z was discontinued. Chevrolet decided against renewing their contract with the International Race of Champions, and the Dodge Daytona soon took over their role.

The IROC’s Legacy

Despite the car being taken off the market in 1990, the car still has a dedicated following on message boards. In 2009, an untouched (only a miniscule 4.3 miles on the odometer) 1985 IROC was discovered in a truck trailer. The original owner intended to transform the car into a street rod, forgot about it, and the car ended up sitting for more than 25 years.

Despite an aging exterior that resembled more of a junkyard car than a former race car, the interior looked good as new, and the engine, power steering and transmission were still working. The Camaro-obsessed crew over at provided plenty of advice in regards to replacing the aging parts, and the car ultimately sold (again) in 2011 for $27,000!

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

Still, you can find used IROC-Zs all over the country, including the now ‘classic’ 1985 model. Prices for these pre-owned (presumably high-mileage) vehicles typically run in the low $10,000s, a slight discount from the 1985 Camaro’s $24,700 asking price.

If you’ve zeroed in on this particular car, there’s a couple of easy ways to distinguish the IROC from a regular Camaro. The VIN number can be an indication, as specific engines accompanied the IROC in certain years. That number wouldn’t definitively tell you what car you have on your hands, but it could at least give you a clue to what engine was in there.