Source: 2016 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.

The IROC Z Is Your Best Investment for a Classic Camaro

Thirty years after its birth, this special-edition Camaro is beating other muscle cars on the auction block.

You’re either a Camaro guy or a Mustang guy. General Motors or Ford.

Whichever your allegiance, though, investing in those old Camaro IROC-Zs may be a smart move. These mass-produced, special-edition versions of the Z28 Camaro Chevrolet, built from 1985 to 1990,  have seen huge gains over the past five years, with the best examples up 50 percent in value since 2011, according to car insurer Hagerty. Comparable Ford Mustang GTs have increased just 39 percent in value.


A 1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z. The car was offered as an option package on the Z28 model and came with upgraded suspension and tuning. 

Source: 2016 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.

That’s because most of those Camaro IROC-Zs were used as God intended—modified and drag-raced to death—and it’s rare to find an impeccable example, pristine in body, and with all component numbers matching. So when collectors do find such a car, they’re willing to pay as much for it as if it actually had been rare to start with.

In fact, that investor patience to wait for perfect examples of given models and then pay high premiums for them describes the current auction market at large.


The 1985 Camaro IROC-Z made Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list that year and won praise for its precision handling and tight, if "twitchy," suspension. 

Source: 2016 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.

According to analysts, deep appreciation for only the best—even when “the best” applies to once-ubiquitous cars—is stronger than ever. Strong recent sale prices for Porsche 912s, Datsun 240Zs, and Jeep Wagoneers echo this trend.

“The gap between the best and the rest continues to widen, and it’s still happening—that’s the surprising thing,” says Jonathan Klinger, a spokesman and analyst at Hagerty. “As time marches on, when you have these original examples that haven’t been beat up, people start to finally remember them, and it’s like, ‘Oh wow. They look like a modern classic.’ Those are the ones that are rising in value.”


The 1986 Camaro was the only year to see a center high-mounted brake light attached to the hatchback glass on base model Sport Coupes, Z28s, and IROC-Zs.

Source: 2016 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.

This 1990 Camaro IROC Z—in perfect condition in electric blue and with only 204 original miles—took $49,500 earlier this year. This one, an even more pristine example, took $59,400. When it made it debut, the car cost $11,719.

“With these types of cars, you’re working with a limited supply,” Klinger says. “And then you have a time factor: People don’t want to wait to have it brought up to par in the shop. That attitude reflects the whole market.”


In 1987, Chevy introduced a new convertible version of the Camaro.

Source: 2016 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.

Chevy v. Ford

The IROC-Z Camaro was built in 1985 to celebrate the International Race of Champions. It first appeared as alternative to the Mustang SVR, with a V8 iron-block engine, lowered ride height, special decals, and an upgraded suspension from the regular Camaro, plus an altered front nose and fascia. And it shared some then-revolutionary fuel injection technology and tires with the Corvette, which only added to the allure.

Car and Driver called the IROC Camaro one of the best cars of the year for 1985: “The Camaro looks like a hundred-thousand-dollar car, and if we saw Camaros as seldom as we see Ferraris, we’d probably pay that for it.” Motor Trend called it precise, powerful, and a better-looking car than the Mustang.


By 1988, Chevy dropped the base model of the Z28 Camaro and added new badging styles for the IROC Z versions. 

Source: 2016 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.

Gearheads loved them because even though they were heavier than other muscle cars (3,500 pounds compared with the ’Stang’s 3,160) they were “controllable” on the road, which meant the suspension and steering were sharp and precise. Top speed on the five-speed manual version was 138 mph, with a respectable sprint time of 7.5 seconds for initial models. Power on the IROC-Z topped out at 215 horsepower, depending on the exact model, performance package, and year. (A 190- or 155-hp engine was also available.) 

You could choose yours in yellow, blue metallic, black, silver metallic or, naturally, red.


The 1989 model year IROC Camaros added new performance packages and more power. 

Source: 2016 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.

Chevrolet made tens of thousands of them by 1990, and the Camaro IROC Z became so popular that there are Pinterest boards, and Tumblrs, and blogs devoted to it today, a quarter-century later.

Low Miles, Mint Condition

If you’re thinking of buying one and don’t want to wait for an auction, start looking online. You can find them as cheap as $3,000 or as expensive as $30,000 (or more). Most lie in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.

The main thing to look for, if you want a real investment piece, and besides the customary low-miles/regular maintenance criteria, is the option package. GM had offered generous upgrades at the time (manual and higher horsepower versions, for instance), so the more of those that a No. 1-rated IROC Z Camaro has, the better for resale value purposes.  


Chevrolet stopped making the IROC Z Camaros in 1990; it had decided not to renew the contract with the International Race of Champions.

Source: 2016 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.

“If you want the very, very best, there are very few,” Klinger said. “These cars from the ’80s are becoming more and more desirable, so if it’s just unbelievably pristine, a collector’s dream of an example, that’s going to sell for big bucks.”

Where to find them? Klinger said Michigan and New York have the highest population of vintage Camaros at large. Start scouring auctions around there first.  

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