1982 Chevrolet Camaro Z28As the Camaro rolls through the final year of its fifth generation, Chevrolet asked five designers who have contributed to the sporty car’s design over the years to reflect on the styling legacy that helped create an icon.

“While Camaro has evolved with cultural and design trends, it has consistently represented the approachable, attainable sports car with an emphasis on fun that’s evident in its styling,” said Ed Welburn, vice president of GM Global Design.” As a result, each generation of Camaro has evoked an emotional connection with enthusiasts – connections spanning 48 years, and five generations.”

In this edition John Cafaro, the head of Chevrolet Global Car Design, looks back fondly on the Third Generation models, one of which he formerly owned.

Camaro Third Generation – 1982-92 Design Analysis

John Cafaro, Executive Director, Chevrolet Global Car Design

Previously Owned: Third-Generation “1LE” Camaro Race CarĀ 

“The third-generation Camaro will always be a cultural symbol of the 1980s because its design epitomized the era’s high-tech cultural trends,” says Cafaro. “It also grew into a more serious sports car and, with that, its form was wrapped around a chassis system designed for a new level of function.”

To support that more performance-oriented mission an aggressive front end was designed to enhance downforce. And, for the first time, Camaro was offered as a hatchback – another automotive archetype of the 1980s.

“The third-generation Camaro represented a distinct breakaway from the previous generations, which were undeniably influenced by European grand touring cars,” said Cafaro. “This was a uniquely American design with a form developed for function – and its aggressive front-end styling was deemed almost too aggressive by some in the company.”

The third-generation Camaro was also the first high-volume American car to incorporate aero-enhancing, racing-inspired ground effects. Its large backlight, which comprised most of the hatchback, represented a technological achievement for automotive glass production because of its size and compound-curve sculpture.

Customers and the media responded immediately. Sales jumped 50 percent for 1982 and the Camaro Z/28 was named the 1982 Motor Trend Car of the Year.

“Perhaps more than any other generation, the third-generation Camaro was a car of its time,” said Cafaro. “You can see that influence in every detail of the car, from the aerodynamic details of the exterior, such as the ground effects on the Z/28, to the introduction of digital instrumentation on the interior.”

Cafaro’s third-generation Camaro design highlights focus on the 1982 Z/28:

  • Quad rectangular headlamps gave Camaro a contemporary appearance and were part of the aggressive front-end design
  • A hatchback was de rigueur in the 1980s and the Camaro’s large backlight of compound-curved glass was a technological achievement for its day
  • Ground effects on the Z/28 were inspired by Formula 1 race cars and represented the first production application for a mass-produced American car – kicking off a styling trend that would become an industry-wide staple of 1980s automotive design
  • Linear five-spoke wheels complemented the car’s angular proportion
  • A characteristic sharp body-side crease was part of Camaro’s DNA and neatly divided the upper and lower sections of the angular body
  • Large, multi-color taillights spanned the rear panel, adding to the high-tech ambience of the era.

In future blogs other famous Camaro designers will reflect on the model that they were most involved with. Kirk Bennion reminisces about the fourth-generation 1993-2002 models in the next installment.

By Jim Luikens

Original Post: Berger Blog, April 7, 2015