1985: Chevy Camaro Berlinetta vs. Ford Mustang SVO

1985: Chevy Camaro Berlinetta vs. Ford Mustang SVO 1985: Chevy Camaro Berlinetta vs. Ford Mustang SVO
Archived Comparison

Pony-car fans have more to be excited about today than they’ve had in 40 years—not only are both the Mustang GT and Camaro SS above the 400-hp threshold, but there’s even a horsepower war raging between the V-6 editions. Next week, we’ll post comparison tests between both the current eights and the sixes, but for now, enjoy this series of past encounters between two of Detroit’s most storied cars.

Rumors swirl today about the possibility of a four-cylinder EcoBoost Mustang, but two generations of past Mustang have packed four bangers, including the SVO of 1984–1986. With upwards of 200 hp, the SVO produced comparable power to the Mustang V-8s of the day, but serious turbo lag made the experience quite a different one from that offered by the eight. While the SVO never stared down a Camaro mano a mano, the two met in this mondo eight-car pileup in 1985.

Think of this test as the answer to what to do when you're caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock is your enthusiasm for things automotive: the tingle you feel in your gut when a Ferrari whistles by. The hard place is what you face each morning as your dreams fide and your baby blues pop open: mortgage payments, career goals, and a couple of yelping rug rats to feed. We know it's hard to accept, but what you need in the garage these days is something practical.

Not to worry, bub. This is one of life's headaches that can be resolved happily. You can have it all—and without huge out­lays of cash. just listen closely to your friendly doctors at the Car and Driver auto­motive clinic.

Your prescription for over-the-road happiness comes from the amorphous market segment known as sports coupes. A sports coupe marries the élan and the inti­macy of a sports car to the practical attributes of a sedan—though the proportions of utility and gusto can vary widely. To us, "sports coupe" means a car that rolls off tile assembly line with racy sheetmetal, ex­citing mechanicals, two doors, and at least a vestigial back seat.

As definitions go, however, that one's got holes big enough to drive Mr. Davis's Suburban through. For one thing, it describes dozens of cars—large, small, ex­pensive, and otherwise. Second, it raises the knotty problem of distinguishing be­tween sports coupes and sports sedans. Is a car a coupe if your mother-in-law can squeeze into the back seat? Is it a sedan just because it isn't a fastback? You've got us.

Since sonic of these distinctions are so blurry they'll never be resolved, this is where we make two executive decisions. For the purposes of this test, we will focus on the best sports coupes you can buy for about $15,000—give or take a few grand. You can get sports coupes for less, but this kind of money will put you into some pretty impressive machinery. And cars that re­quire you to remortgage your house are definitely not in our program.

Parameter number two is that the cars in this test are all outfitted in the European tradition. In other words, no V-8s. As much as we love Z28s and Mustang GTs, this was not to be a test of the big thumpers. Sports coupes built anywhere in the world and sold here were eligible as long as they had fewer than eight cylinders.

Winnowing the vast array of candidates down to a manageable few was a matter of a simple staff vote supplemented by well-timed personal threats. When the snarling and the baring of canines finally subsided, eight contenders emerged—three from America, three from Japan, one from Ger­many, and one German-American hybrid.

We had already had first-hand experi­ence with seven of the contenders: the Audi Coupe GT, the Chrysler Laser XE the Ford Mustang SVO, the Merkur XR4Ti, the Mitsubishi Station ESI, the Nissan 300ZX two-plus-two, and the Toyota Supra. The eighth, a Chevrolet Camaro Berlinetta V-6, was added as the promoter's option because we suspected that this unknown quantity might have some hidden potential. Two cars that might well have made the cut, the Pontiac Firebird S/E V-6 and the Isuzu Impulse Turbo (seen elsewhere in this issue), were unfortunately not available at the time of this test.

The first step in coming to grips with this distinguished group was a thorough shake­down at the test track. Each contestant was put through the full spectrum of C/D accel­eration, braking, and handling tests by the tech department (see sidebar). The perfor­mance results are impressively close when you consider the great diversity of powers air layouts, engines, and suspen­sion designs. As you can see from the charts, these cats are plenty athletic enough to entertain a serious driver.

If you really want to separate the wheat from the chaff, though, you've got to hit the road. We did, and with a vengeance. Seven editors, one photographer, and one able-bodied assistant herded our eight test cars up and down the California coast for three long days. Our 700-mile excursion took us from L.A. to Carmel and back on even, conceivable type of road, from mountain switchbacks to straight-shot freeways. We're happy to report that everyone made it back safe and sound—sans speeding citations.

If only the cars had fared so well. We ex­perienced an annoying number of engine failures—more, in fact, than we'd seen in the past five years. The 300ZX expired sud­denly with a broken valve stem a few days after top-speed testing. Fortunately, it was replaced with a fresh two-plus-two a few hours before our road -drive. The Station ESI went into terminal rod knock just after the first leg of mountain-road thrashing and seized up moments later. Despite the heroic efforts of the Mitsubishi public-rela­tions department, the Station's replace­ment missed most of the hard-charging two-lane stuff.

Mechanical failures weren't the only sur­prises, as you'll see when you examine our voting results. Deciphering the numbers is easy. Each editor rated each car in eleven categories on a one-to-five scale. If, say, a car's handling was great, it earned a five. If it was bad, it got a one. And so on. Ties be­tween cars were allowed. (Two or more cars could each earn a five for handling, for instance.) The results represent the total number of votes each car earned in each category. The scores in the "overall rating" column—our bottom line—were awarded in the same fashion, rather than by averag­ing the scores in the individual categories.

So, without further ado, it's time to tell you what it was like out there and exactly how the King of the Sports Coupes came to earn its crown. The finishers, in reverse or­der, are: