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Rust or Lust: 4th Generation Chevy Camaro

Posted in Camaro, Cars, Chevrolet, Design, Fast Cars, GM, History, Horsepower, Maintenance, Materials, Mechanics, muscle cars, Rust or Lust by Alex Kierstein | July 24th, 2009 | 10 Responses |

It’s that time again. Rust or Lust is back, and while we approved of the refined SC300 last week, this week we’re looking at a totally different animal – the last of the F-body Camaros. Better crank up the AC/DC and bust out your muscle shirt, because we’re taking a quick trip down the Highway to Hell.

The Car: 1993 – 2002 Chevy Camaro

93 front

For those that don’t know, the venerable F-body platform debuted in 1967. It was used exclusively for only two cars: the Chevy Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird. Refined and updated, it was produced all the way until 2002, when it underpinning all the 4th generation cars – including our subject today, the 1993 – 2002 Chevy Camaro. The 1993 version was an updated version of the previous car, as all previous generations had been revisions too. Think of the F-body as an experiment in evolution, having crawled out of the Detroit ooze in ’67 and changing with the times ever since.

<i>LT1 V8.</i>

LT1 V8.

As anybody will tell you, the big news with any Camaro is the engine. You might think of the Camaro as merely a rolling platform for the engine it’s designed to accommodate. Since the General’s pushrod smallblocks are universally regarded as excellent ways to move a vehicle to extralegal speeds, it’s no surprise that the ’93 Camaro debuted with the new LT1 V8 (which had appeared in the Corvette one year earlier). This 5.7 L lump made a healthy 275 HP and 325 ft-lbs of torque, which in the early nineties was a pretty big deal. Of course, many were offered with the anemic 160 horse V6, but we’re not interested in that. We’re more interested in the fact that you could get a Borg-Warner 6-speed cog-swapper right off the bat. You could also get your choice of roof configurations – coupe, convertible (starting in ’94), or T-top.

98 front

The LT1 was the most powerful motor offered in a Camaro since 1970, after which emissions restrictions strangled the crap out of the former pony car. At under $17,000 new, it offered a lot of Corvette-level engine at bargain-basement prices. So when the ’93 V8 models debuted, let’s just say that lots of long male hair was waving in the wind as backroads everywhere were filled with the acrid scent of tire-smoke. When the 305 HP SS version (produced by non-GM contractor SLP Engineering, at first) was a welcome upgrade. Furthermore, in ’97, you could pick up one of the rarest modern Camaros ever made – the Z28 SS, which produced 330 HP out of its Corvette-sourced LT4 engine. Only 106 were made. The engine upgrade march went on as the ’98 non-SS cars received the new LS-1 engine making 305 HP dead stock. This was the first all-aluminum Camaro engine since the insanely rare and expensive ’69 ZL-1. After ’98, the SS cars produced 320 HP.

2002 convertible rear

And then, the upgrades stopped. Sales plummeted, revenue fell, and GM couldn’t devote the resources to redesign or upgrade thing with such low numbers. The Canadian plant that built all F-bodies shut its doors in August of 2002, and the Camaro and related Firebird were no more. But that didn’t keep a rabid fanbase and an enthusiastic aftermarket away. It’s still one of the cheapest ways to go fast there is.

Of course, let us not forget all of the niggling quirks that tend to saddle these cars. They were crude vehicles, with uncomfortable interiors, questionable ergonomics, and problematic build quality. You could hardly see out of the things, and with a short wheelbase and a live-axle rear end, they weren’t the best handlers in the world. Although the suspension can be sorted out with aftermarket tweaks, it’s never going to be a S2000.

Verdict: Draw

<i>Crushed between "Rust" or "Lust" ...</i>

We’ve never had a draw on Rust or Lust before, so we’re as baffled as you as to what to make of it. The pros of this car are obvious – it’s a dirt cheap way to go very fast. Parts are easy to come by, and any bow-tie lovin’ aftermarket entity will sell you anything you want. How fast do you want to spend (to paraphrase Matthew Crawford)? PS – there was also a cop version!

cop camaro

But also, would you want to? Camaros are saddled with some class stigma – just like the a Corvette or a Ferrari. You don’t become a synonym for “mullet inside” for no reason whatsoever. Plus, with a car like this, there aren’t simply any “used cars.” You get two flavors of used Camaros – driven raw and put away bleeding, or waxed four times a day and driven only on leap Sundays. One is suicide, the other is going to cost you an arm and a checkbook (but will pay dividends in on-demand burnouts). Choose wisely.

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10 Responses

  1. Mad_Science says:

    When that later-style nose came out, I thought it was a joke at first. So ugly.

    I believe that’s coupled with the LS1 engines, correct?

    Such is the Faustian bargain with Camaros: the faster they get, the uglier they get.

    In general, I laugh at them everywhere except stoplights, at which point I do my best to just stare straight ahead, lest I be reminded how not-fast my WRX is.

  2. Alex Kierstein says:

    Hahaha … I like the idea of a Faustian bargain – you get terrible handling, atrocious build quality, and eye-watering aesthetics … all for a smallblock shove in the back.

    But honestly, where I’m torn is that you get so much pony-car for the money. Some folks simply crave the pit-of-the-stomach feeling of torquey acceleration. As you admit with the WRX, if you just want to blow someone off the line, it’s hard to beat an F-body with some mods. I don’t think I’d personally ever get an F-body car, but if I just wanted a weekend amateur dragger, this would be the ticket.

  3. HorrorrX says:

    I remember riding in my Mom’s IROC-Z Camaro as a kid, and man was it fun. The car literally vibrated with the power of the engine. I have good memories of that car, love it or hate it.

    But that was a previous model and I’m not a kid anymore. I’ve ridden in the V8 and the V6 versions and I think I’ll have to agree that the stigma on this one makes it a RUST. While the ability to go fast for cheap is alluring, The quality of the build (engine excluded) and the image which the vehicle projects would steer me away from this one. Part of owning a car is the perceived image of the vehicle- especially when you’re talking about muscle cars. Maybe Chevy will be successful at rebooting the Camaro’s image with the new model.

  4. College Professor says:

    I’m a 63-year-old college professor with my second fourth-generation F body Camaro. I don’t even own a wife-beater T-shirt; I do have most of my hair, but not in a mullett. One of the previous posters talked about the image a car projects, what it says about the owner. What my current Camaro (V-6, I know; but the Y87 and F41 packages), and “removable roof panels,” aka T–tops, this car says I don’t care about Porsche; I don’t care about Lexus SC300 etc.; I certainly don’t care about restored MGB’s and Austin-Healeys. Of course, I do teach in Indiana.

  5. Chevrolet Camaros, circa 1993-2002 are decent muscle machines and extremely affordable at auctions. With a V8, they’re probably too much, save for the boyracers amongst us. With a V6, and suitable suspension options, they’re just right.

    The only drawback is the flooring on the passenger side.

    The engineers never were able to figure out a way to deal effectively with the catalytic converter; hence, that bump in the flooring.

    One has to wonder how many Camaros of that vintage were traded in, when the Significant Other got tired of putting her legs over a bump in the floor. It also explains why you generally see a single person in these cars. It might also explain why they’re so affordable.

  6. Jim Pauciello says:

    I own a formula firebird (like a V6 no option with the LT1&6speed) with the 1le and im so impressed its stupid. with the right mods it handles like a dream, its not like the wrx i once had but, who cars when u can powerslide around 40+ with no effort what so ever! i cant belive they dont down tune them more for half the kids my age(19) wreck them. when i first bought the car i just couldnt grasp that you can buy a car off the showroom floor like this. for staters i have full longtube hedders an ext and rigged freeflowing stock intake it puts 378hp to the wheels! not 250 or so what i was thinking rated at 275 or whatnot. yeah people complain about the interior so go buy your porsch i bought my car for 1500 ill have more fun for 65000 or somethin less. Great car for what it is!!!

  7. camaro from aruba says:

    used to own a v6…now a v8….boy…with proper tuning…11 sec is very cheap to build…

  8. […] cars they have pumped out over the past few decades. Corsica, Beretta, Lumina, Cavalier, even the previous Camaro are all in this nebulous anonymous automotive category. We can only imagine how much more positive […]

  9. Ali says:

    What a interesting review. Pretty biased I’m sensing too. Lol. I have one of these 4th gens now and even before I did,I always saw it as just a “sports car” by the looks simply. Not a “muscle car” or “pony car” or even “redneck mobile”. Just a sports car. That in essence is what it is. To 98% of the people on the planet the term “Camaro” stands for a muscle car that rivals the Mustang. In fact I’m 19 almost 20,a college student,musician and I don’t think I’m a “redneck” by any means.

    However for the other 2% being left behind in the dust and rear wheel smoke,empty stereotypes without any reason; of course are needed.