Home/News and Feature Articles/Special Features/ The Performance Car Chronicles/

In 1982, Ford let loose the performance genie with the release of the Mustang GT with 5.0 V8 power -- Their iconic ad simply stated -- The Boss is Back !

Suddenly - it was OK to talk about power, performance, handling . . . the dark ages were over!
1982 - 1992 Is That Performance I hear?

After nearly 10 years of so-called performance cars becoming nothing more than striped and graphic shadows of their former selves, the decade from 1982 to 1992 saw the rebirth of the performance car from Detroit and other manufacturers.  What happened was that the auto industry grabbed on to the innovations of the tech industry to utilize the micro processor to control engines. 

During the “dark ages”, auto manufacturers tried to comply with fuel emission and economy standards by a wide variety of mechanical devices – smog pumps, vacuum systems and “tamper-proof” carburetors.  By 1982, the auto industry was beginning to marry the micro processor and electronic fuel injection to meet and exceed the standards AND improving performance.

The fire is lit!  And the industry responds

The Ford Mustang of 1982 was an immediate hit and provided the incentive for Ford to continue development of the 5.0 liter HO engine. It made more horsepower EVERY year thereafter. From a HP rating of 157 HP in 1982 to 235 HP in 1993 when production of the Fox chassis car was discontinued.

The success of the Mustang – and in particular the 5.0 V8 – revived the aftermarket industry and a flurry of performance parts from heads, cams, exhaust and induction systems for the engine - to a host of suspension pieces available to upgrade these cars. This was similar to the effect the small block Chevy had on the aftermarket industry in the 60’s.

Chevrolet had been soldering on with their 350 cu.in. small block in the Corvette as the top performance option. This was a very detuned/emission controlled engine that was not the equal to a Mustang. However in 1982, GM introduced the third generation of the Camaro with the first of the fuel injection versions of the 305 small block.   This was to be the base for GM’s performance efforts. In 1987, the Camaro’s 350 in the IROC option was rated at 225 HP.

Pontiac’s popular Trans Am Firebird used GM corporate V8’s of 305 cu.in. in displacement after 1982. The 350 high output engine became available in 1987 with a horsepower rating of 210 HP.

Oldsmobile – even though the Cutlass was GM’s best selling mid-sized car during the late 70’s and 80’s it never regained the performance of the earlier cars, though their Hurst Olds of 1983-84 and subsequent 442s of 85-87 were on the right track. Unfortunately, they used a 305 CID version of their popular 350 that was stifled by an old-fashioned carburation induction system to only 180 HP.

Buick -- Buick had continued development of their V6 turbocharged engine (introduced in 1978) in the Grand National series of the mid-sized Regal.  The Grand National continued to increase in horsepower until 1987 when a special version called the GNX produced an (deliberately understated) 245 HP.

How they shook out in 1987 – The top of the heap for the 80’s

In 1987, a performance enthusiast could find the following cars at their local dealerships:

  • Ford Mustang – with the GT version 5.0 liter multiport Fuel injection motor E7TE heads and forged aluminum pistons with valve reliefs and a roller camshaft putting out 225 HP. All this hooked to a 5-speed stick shift trans.

  • Chevy Camaro IROC-Z with the new 350 (RPO code L98) cu. in tuned port fuel injected engine rated at 225 HP.

  • Pontiac Firebird – Available in the Firebird GTA the Chevrolet sourced 350 V8 [RPO L98] Brake horsepower: 210 @ 4000 rpm. Torque: 315 ft/lbs @ 3200 rpm. Hydraulic valve lifters. Induction: Tuned port fuel injection.

  • Buick -- The Grand National GNX was a beast – with the turbocharged V6 now rated at 245 HP, this was the top of the heap GM performance car.

What took place in 1987? The manufacturers (as in 1957) recognized that technology had finally caught up with the government mandated emission and fuel standards. This meant that engines - using computer controlled electronic fuel injection systems and turbochargers could (once again) become more powerful.

1987 confirmed that performance cars not only were far from dead, but they had risen for the grave and a new performance race was on.  Yes, Chrysler was notably absent in 1987, but they would soon return in full force as we entered the 21st Century. (Can you say Viper and Hemi?).

More importantly, the performance enthusiast would once again eagerly await (words not heard since the 60’s) the “next year” offerings of the major manufacturers. This renewed performance cycle has yet to end. Today, the enthusiast can choose from Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers that all have 400+ power plants. With options like supercharging, these engines can produce horsepower levels on street legal engines unheard of ever before. But it was in 1987 that we “turned the corner".

1992 - 2002 – was what that corner turning looked like.  Our Part 8 will tell all . . .

Camaro debuted its Gen 3 Camaro in 1982 -- keeping up with Mustang

Mustang GT continued to increase in performance.. compare this ad to the 1982 ad

This Camaro ad from 1984 shows the renewed emphasis on performance

By 1988 Pontiac's Firebird was being used as a performance icon.

The "bad boy" from Buick - the Regal Grand National bowed in 1984 and by 1988 it was a true muscle car.