These are dark days for fans of the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, because 2002 is the last year that these icons of American horsepower will be built. They’ll be gone, but not forgotten, especially by us here at MotorWeek. So let’s spin those rear tires up one more time and look back through the smoke at our first and last drives in these timeless pony cars.
Because our history with GM’s mighty F-bodies goes all the way back to 1982, when we first pitted a Chevrolet Camaro Z28 against a Ford Mustang GT. Back then, the Z28 was powered by a venerable 305 cubic-inch V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor that made 145 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. The gearbox was a 4-speed manual, naturally. That Z28 ran a best 1/4 mile time of 16.2-seconds at 79 miles-per-hour, a few tenths slower than the Mustang, but easily beat the Mustang in our race track handling test.
In the intervening years, GM engineers worked hard to make the Camaro and its Pontiac Firebird sibling world-beating performance cars. The results were machines that ranged from the 1985 Camaro IROC, which delivered 215 horses, and sprinted through the 1/4 mile in 14.7-seconds at 90 miles-per-hour, to the 1989 Pontiac Twentieth Anniversary Trans Am, which used a 245-horsepower turbocharged V6 to slam it to 60 in only 5.4 seconds.
In the Nineties, we continued to pilot a wide variety of F-bodies, ranging from the laid- back V6 powered Camaro Convertible, to the fearsome Firehawk, an extra-powerful limited- edition Firebird built by the tuning wizards at SLP. The 30th Anniversary Camaro was also built with the assistance of SLP, and pumped out a crushing 305 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque from its 5.7-liter Corvette-based V8.
Now, five years later, the F-Body Camaro/Firebird saga draws to a close, and GM is bidding them goodbye with the 35th Anniversary editions of the 2002 Chevrolet Camaro SS and Pontiac Trans Am.
The ‘02 Camaro SS is decked out in bright Rally Red paint with wide racy stripes and special badging, but in true Camaro tradition, the most memorable parts are under the hood. With forced air induction, the 5.7-liter LS1 V8 pumps out 325 horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque.
The Collector Edition Pontiac Trans Am matches its cousin with a flashy yellow finish and contrasting black graphics. Like the Camaro, the Ram Air equipped Trans Am Collector Edition is powered by GM’s potent 5.7-liter LS1 pushrod V8 with the same 325 horsepower, but 10 more pound-feet of torque, for a total of 350. Transmission choices for both cars remain a 6-speed manual, or 4-speed automatic.
On our final trip to the track, the manually-equipped Camaro ran a best 0 to 60 time of 5.2 seconds, and finished the 1/4 mile in 13.5 seconds at 108 miles-per-hour. But the slightly torquier automatic Trans Am ran an almost identical 0 to 60 time of 5.1 seconds, and finished the 1/4 mile in 13.5 seconds at 107 miles-per-hour. Still seriously fast after all these years!
As younger buyers flock to hopped-up front-drivers, the demand for Camaro and Firebird has dropped to the point that GM can no longer afford to keep them as they are. But, if you’d like to keep one, warm up that checkbook. Our fully-equipped 35th Anniversary Chevy Camaro SS costs a fairly steep $32,780. Its Pontiac Trans Am counterpart is even pricier, at $35,700. But, take note, lesser F-Body prices remain very affordable and start in the high teens.
So these fast and flashy 35th Anniversary models will be the last of their kind. A kind that will be sorely missed by fans of real American muscle, and by those of us who have spent so many years driving and enjoying them. Farewell to the Chevy Camaro and to the Pontiac Firebird. They came into our world with a bang, and now twenty years later, they go out with an even bigger one.
Engine: 5.7-Liter Ls1 Pushrod V8
Torque: 340 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.2 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.5 Seconds @ 108 MPH
EPA Mileage: 18 MPG City 25 MPG Highway