The '93 Camaro Z/28: Why It Was the First Modern Muscle Car
These days high horsepower, high tech American muscle cars are commonplace from each of Detroit’s big three automakers—and with each coming year it seems like they are only getting faster and more powerful. But it hasn’t always been like this. If you go back to the end of the original muscle car era in the early 1970s, you’ll see that all of the great models from that time either disappeared from the market completely or took a major step backwards in performance thanks to the gas crunch, tougher emissions laws and high insurance rates.
For the remainder of the 1970s and well into the ‘80s, choked down, low-output versions of cars like the Camaro and Mustang delivered performance that's laughable by today’s standards. It wasn’t until electronic fuel injection and other tech improvements in the mid to late ‘80s that Detroit’s performance cars were able to climb back into the game. This is when we got the Ford Mustang with the groundbreaking 5.0 HO EFI engine that helped get things back on the right path.
If you want to look back at one car in particular that helped mark the true beginning of the modern muscle car era, the 1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 and Pontiac Trans Am/Firebird Formula are right there at the forefront of it all.
It All Started With the Engine
Debuting on an updated version of the F-body platform, the new ‘93 Z/28 and Trans Am introduced swoopy, wedge-shaped styling with quad headlights in the Camaro and pop up headlights on the Trans Am, but it’s what was under the hood that truly transformed them.
Continuing the tradition of handing down technology from the Corvette, the Trans Am and Z/28 came powered by a 275hp/325 lb-ft variant of GM’s LT1 small block V8 (which was significantly more powerful than the competition)—and the manual transmission option was the now-legendary T56 six-speed.
At the drag strip they could touch 60 miles per hour in the mid five second range and break into the 13s off the showroom floor. This wasn’t just enough to match the muscle cars of the ‘60s like the older Mustang 5.0 could. It was enough to handily beat most of them—and that’s before the road turned twisty.
With wide 245 section tire on 16-inch wheels, these cars handled extremely well for their time, and braking was aided by a robust four-wheel disc setup. Standard limited slip rear ends also helped put the power down.
The Power People Needed
With their aero-friendly profile and smart gearing, the cars were also able to get excellent fuel economy on the highway, with numbers that would put many of GM’s older economy cars to shame.
A couple years later there were special models offered like the Camaro SS and Pontiac Firehawk that were even more powerful—and if one were looking to pick up an early fourth gen F-body today those may be the ones to get.
It Wasn't Perfect
With that said, the fourth gen F-body certainly wasn’t a perfect car. It suffered from poor visibility, questionable ergonomics, cheap interior materials and poor overall build quality, which were some of the things that led to the platform’s demise in 2002.
However, if you are looking for a fun, affordable and historically important car to collect or tinker with, we say the early fourth gen F-body is a great candidate—and a car we could see rising in value soon.
Like the SN95 Mustang of the same era, nice examples of the early ‘90s Camaro and Trans Am have all but disappeared from the roads, and a clean specimen would certainly turn some heads today.
It’s easy to take high tech muscle car performance for granted these days, but the fourth gen Z/28, Trans Am and Firebird Formula take us back to the era when the modern muscle car came into its own.
Last but not least, we couldn’t do this story without also mentioning this awesome TV commercial for the 1996 Z/28 with a car-crazed kid recognizing the sound of its LT1 V8 from his bedroom window.
Quite a bit better and funner than those “real people” commercials Chevy uses today, but hey, that's just us.