Generation 3: 1982-1992
The third-generation Camaro design began in 1975 in Bill Porter's Advanced studio and Jerry Palmer's Chevrolet studio. It was seen at first as a front-drive sporty coupe spun off new compact X cars being developed for 1980, since that was industry direction.
But when Design Vice President Bill Mitchell retired, successor Irv Rybicki ordered a redirection. Among the engineering objectives were significantly reduced weight and improved fuel economy, plus true sports car handling.
It debuted late in 1981, and the Z-28 version graced the covers of nearly every auto magazine, paced the 1982 Indy 500 and was Motor Trend's car of the year for 1982. A 90-hp four-cylinder engine powered the base coupe, a 102-hp V-6 and a 145-hp V-8 were optional, and the Z-28 offered a new throttle-body injected V-8 rated at 165 hp.
Evolutionary styling and powertrain improvements kept the third-generation Camaro going for a decade.
Generation 4: 1993-2002
The most remarkable thing about the fourth-generation Camaro was that it happened at all. Approval was a long, hard struggle for Chevrolet General Manager Jim Perkins and everyone else who believed in it. Also remarkable: All of its exterior panels except hoods and rear quarters were plastic -- seven different composites in all. Compared to stamped steel, the advantages included lower tooling cost; more design freedom; dent-resistance; and quicker, cheaper styling changes. The disadvantages were slower part production, higher piece cost, and expanding body gaps as adjacent parts contract in cool temperatures.
The car's low, pointy nose and swoopy roofline brought challenges, including getting the hoodline down and the powertrain packaged beneath it. Another was fitting a proper Camaro face ("a sneering quarterback look with black under the eyes," as chief designer John Cafaro called it) onto the vertically narrow nose.
The fourth-generation Camaro debuted in standard and Z-28 coupe versions. It was longer, lower and wider but retained the 101.1-inch wheelbase. A 160-hp V-6 was standard while a 275-hp version of the Corvette's 5.7-liter V-8 powered the Z-28.
The convertible returned for '94, and a modest face-lift gave it a Ferrari-like face for '98. But sport coupe sales continued to slip as truck sales mushroomed, and despite Corvette-like performance and handling, the Camaro was outsold by archrival Mustang. The Camaro, along with its Pontiac Firebird sibling, was canceled after the 2002 model year. The press release announcing that decision said it was "on hiatus," implying a potential return.