Curbside Classic: 1983 Camaro Berlinetta – The Last One Of Its Kind Left With Its Original 14″ Wheels?

Stare at this picture for a minute or so, and you’re going to swear someone put some undersized wheels and tires from a Toyota Tercel on this Camaro. We’ve become so used to cars having such large wheels, that our sense of proportions have become…changed. And we’ve become used to all the remaining F-Bodies on the streets sport big wheels. Which all explains why I stopped to shoot this Camaro, as it’s not the kind of car that would normally get me to do that. I just couldn’t take my eyes off its tiny wheels and tires, and smile as I shot.

Well, that and the fact that it brought back memories of one almost identical to it that I had as a rental car once.

I had forgotten that these Camaros still came with 14″ wheels, except for the Z28. But I had to walk across the street to convince myself I wasn’t seeing things, and to see the exact tire size: P205/70R14. Which is what it wore as it rolled off the factory floor. And that’s only by virtue of it being a Berlinetta, which was the high-end “touring car” version. The base Sports Coupe made do with narrower (6″) steel wheels and 195/75R14s.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting this is some kind of GM Deadly Sin like the truly undersized tires put on American cars in the 1960s. It’s just to point out how far we’ve come, considering the standard 18″ wheels on a base 2017 Camaro, and optional 19 and 20 inchers.

Let’s just say there’s plenty of daylight between the tops of these mini-donuts and the fender lips.

I somehow ended up with a Camaro very much like this on a business trip to Dallas. I was not expecting to be thrilled by it, and I was not let down. I will try to restrain myself for a change, and keep it objective, as I already vented my spleen on these on a Deadly Sin CC. And I got it out of my system, and I rather appreciate seeing one on the street in such original condition.

Obviously, the interior was a huge contrast from my Mercedes 300E; realistically, the quality of the materials were pretty much on polar ends of the spectrum. The Camaro had lots of nasty black plastic that I guess someone thought had a sort of spacey-80s look that looked cool in a properly-lit and shot ad photo, but in real life, close-up, it looked and felt really cheap and cheesy. And the panels on the various plastic pieces didn’t all fit quite right. It was more liek something one might expect in something like a Bricklin, or kit car. But maybe I’m starting to exaggerate already again.

Needless to say, this one is as nice of condition interior of one of these I’ve seen…forever. I have to assume this Camaro was bought by someone on the very old spectrum of Camaro buyer demographics, and ended up sitting in a garage a lot. And now a grandson or grand-nephew is driving it. There’s just no other explanation.

The Berlinetta (and my rental) came with the 2.8 L 60° V6 that was rated at a 112 hp. Let’s look on the bright side (for a change); at least it didn’t come with the 90 hp Iron Duke 2.5 L four, which was the standard engine in the Sports Coupe. Teamed with the three-speed THM automatic, the V6 was not exactly a fast car (see how positive I’m staying?).  Tip in, as with all GM cars of the era, was pretty good, a combination of engines tuned for good low-speed torque and a throttle linkage that opened the two-barrel carb’s throttle plates disproportionately fast in the first part of the pedal’s travel.

But once past 30 or 35, acceleration became increasingly leisurely despite the V6’s roarty exhaust. It’s as might be expected, given the very poor power-to-weight ratio (27lbs/hp).  That’s substantially worse than a 1967 Camaro six (23lbs/hp). And the torque was even disproportionately worse, due to the significantly smaller displacement. At least the automatic now had all of three gears.

At freeway speeds, the V6 Camaro rental felt strained at anything above a relaxed 55-65 mph cruise, again the polar opposite of my 300E, loped along effortlessly at 110 and was willing to sprint to 140, despite having almost the same size engines.  And then there were the brakes, and the ride, and the…  OK; I realize this is a futile comparison, and the difference was of course accentuated given that I was stepping out of a tall, roomy sedan and into a low sporty car. But that just goes to show that appearances are of course deceiving, as have so many six cylinder pony cars over the years.

Opening the rear hatch to stow my luggage was a revelation, of the wrong kind: It was surprisingly small and shallow, thanks to the Camaro’s big live rear axle and fuel tank. That’s one thing that would have been undoubtedly improved if GM had made the FWD GM-80 cars to replace these. Space utilization just wasn’t.

No, I was not happy behind the wheel of that Camaro those few days in Dallas. Given the huge popularity of Suburbans and pickups in Texas already back then, sitting so low in it, and with its mediocre visibility, was something of a glimpse into the future, and not a good one.

But all that’s in the far past; except of course the part about tall CUVs and pickups. I’ve long needed to see this vintage Camaro in some positive light, and seeing it sitting there, on its original little wheels and with so much gap between the tires and fender openings, brought a big smile to my face. Which given the nasty weather and my history with these cars was no mean feat. Who would have thought that me, of all people, could find an F-Body Camaro to be so therapeutic?