The cars we loved.
Everybody loves a winner or wants to look like one. That’s sort of the story behind the Chevrolet Camaro’s RS designation. The first Rally Sport models appeared in 1967, the inaugural year of the Camaro. Chevy’s response to the wildly popular Mustang offered as many options as its rival pony car over at Ford. With the right model to start with, the RS package was once the icing on the cake of a well optioned Camaro. Back then it was simply an appearance package usually marked by stripes and other sporty bits that were performance oriented in spirit, but added more style in reality. Any Camaro could be ordered with the RS package and as a result the full range of powertrain options could reside under the hood of a RS Camaro. In some years the RS package was absent, but late in the Camaro’s third generation, the RS moniker became its own distinct model, replacing the base Camaro Sport Coupe.
The year was 1989 and after a long absence the RS package reappeared as the new base Camaro. By that time the F body was considered long in the tooth, but still managed to make incremental improvements in handling and ergonomics. Choosing a RS had become something of a performance penalty, as its two engine options were limited to a 2.8 L V6 with a very sad 135hp or an optional 5.0 V8 with all of 170hp. To add insult to injury, the engines in the RS models had an old-fashioned throttle body fuel injection (TBI) as opposed to the more modern Tuned Port Injection (TPI) found in the IROC and Z28. Smaller more nimble cars like the Eclipse and Probe matched the RS models power and surpassed it in some performance measures. For a car known for its stop light sprints, the 0 to 60 time of 8.7 seconds was less than stellar with the V8. The V6 was just plain embarrassing at 10.4. The 5 speed manual made the V8 somewhat rewarding, but with the 4 speed automatic either engine was a penalty box. The V6 would get an upgrade to 3.1L in 1990 for a gain of only 5 hp.
To their credit the 89-92 RS models had much of the style once associated with the Z28, without the performance. Even after all those years, it was still a beautiful design (except for the silly high wing spoiler option). That was not all bad because Chevrolet had figured out that most people wanted the look of a Z28 or IROC, but not all the high insurance rates, not to mention expensive Gatorback tires and gas guzzling V8s. Sales of the RS were probably good mostly for that reason alone. Wheels from previous Z28’s were resurrected and painted to match the car’s body color to create a modern appearance. In fact many Z28 visual components were recycled and altered slightly to give the RS its own look.
The creative use of the parts bin paid off. At one point as many as 79,000 units went out the door in 1991. At less than $16k for the hardtop and 18k for the convertible, the Camaro RS represented a great value to those wanting a rear wheel drive pony car in a market that had all but gone to front wheel drive. The only other RWD alternatives in the Camaro’s price range was the base Firebird and the Ford Mustang LX. All of them were long overdue for makeovers and neither were as cool looking as the Z28 inspired RS cars (with the possible exception of some Firebirds).
While there were changes to the 3rd generation Camaro in its last four years, they were incremental and quite frankly should have been implemented much earlier in the car’s development cycle. In 1990, all Camaros got a new theft deterrent system called VATS/Passkey along with an airbag. The interior received some rounded edges in an attempt to modernize the cabin that still looked much as it did in 1982. More dramatic was the changes to the exterior in 91’ with Z28 like ground effects. In preparation for the end of the 3rd generation F body production, Chevrolet made a few important changes. New production methods were implemented in an attempt to improve build quality, a gesture that foreshadowed the move of production from the Van Nuys (California) to Oshawa (Ontario Canada) factory.
Chevy had done just about all they could to the Camaro by the 1992 model year. Even as tired as it was, the Camaro was still popular. Sales of the RS were still high with a healthy 60,000 units being sold. To mark the occasion, all Camaros got special 25th anniversary badging. The RS model would not make another appearance until 2001. Like RS models of the past, it featured special ground effects, various Z28 parts and the trademark rally stripes. After the Camaro’s absence from the market for nearly a decade, it returned in 2010 with another RS option. This time the new model in keeping with its 1967 inspiration, offered the RS package as an enhancement to LT and SS models.