The Third-Generation F-Body: The Gateway to American Muscle

Ben Scheppmann, Staff Writer

The F-Body: the platform used to produce the iconic first-generation Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird all the way back to the late 60’s. This platform also gave us the ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ Firebird and Michael Knight’s classic car companion “K.I.T.T.,” also a Firebird. Today there is much love for the first, second, and fourth generations of these cars. However, outside of those interested in making their own “K.I.T.T.,” not many people have a love for the third-generation Firebirds or Camaros. Sad as this may be, this has opened the door for many young enthusiasts to enter the world of American muscle cars. 

Many of these cars can be found in decent, running condition for around two to three grand. These cars will run and drive, but they might have some cosmetic issues and a few mechanical problems, too. You can go even cheaper and still find running cars, but they’ll be even rougher around the edges. A good example can be bought for between four to six grand—these will be in good mechanical condition and good or great cosmetic condition. Now that the price is squared away, it’s time to discuss the pros and cons of the third-generation F-body.  

Firstly, these cars can be found relatively cheap today and support a large amount of modifications because the cut-off for emissions regulations is 1995/1996 (dependent on model of 1996 vehicle). What this means is that any third-generation F-body doesn’t have to meet any emissions regulations. This opens the door for modifications to the powertrain and exhaust system. Another bonus is the availability of parts as the Camaro and Firebird were essentially the same car, just re-skinned for their respective brands. Go to any junkyard and you are bound to find at least one or more of each and you can see for yourself a lot of the same components between them. Not only is it easy reusing old junk yard parts, but there is support online to get decals, rims, and other components easily enough. And since the third-generation F-body stopped production in 1992, any third-generation is a classic by definition, meaning you can get a sweet blue plate that reads “Classic” on it.  Another great component about them is the engine options that came for them. Let us look to the Firebird for example. Want the looks but just a tiny engine? Find a 1982-1985 Firebird that came with the inline 4 “Iron Duke” 150 cubic inch motor. Want one with a V6? You could get a V6 from 1982 to 1992, the full ten-year run of the third-generation Firebird. There was even a factory turbo-charged V6 in 1989 that you can find. Need to hear a V8 rumble? You could get one from 1982 to 1992 no problem in either 305 cubic inch or 350 cubic inch displacement (dependent on the year). You can get any engine that fits your fancy no problem. That covers just a few of the pros; now onto the cons. 

These cars are known as “rattle boxes” as some ill-fitted interior trim and other pieces may vibrate and rattle around as you drive. They are also increasing in age, as the oldest model is now 36 years old, so you will have to stay on top of maintenance and be ready for things to go wrong more frequently than on your sibling’s 2002 Toyota Corolla. Another con to owning one of these third-generation cars is that, while they may have computers and the ability to scan them if problems do occur, they use an outdated scanner. The common OBD2 scanner was adopted in 1996, four years after the end of the third-generation model. In many of them you’ll find an OBD1 port which has a different connector on them then the OBD2. Storage space in the rear is also very limited—you can haul the smaller basics, but it is not an easy task to stuff them up with all your school gear, for instance (I speak from experience). Lastly, even though they are seat four, you can truly only fit two people comfortably. 

It is worth noting however; that you do not buy one of these cars with the thought that it will run like a car from the mid 2000’s or be as reliable or economical. You buy one because you look at it and you like the style, the fact that you can get one for cheap and enjoy the taste of an American muscle car on a budget. The third generation is the starting point that welcomes the most enthusiasts and the most young people due to its availability and low cost. So, to anyone interested in muscle cars or sporty looking, vintage cars (anything of that sort), look into a third-generation Firebird or Camaro.  

red Trans Am
Trans Am
red camaro
blue firebird