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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

GM-80: The front-wheel-drive Camaro that wasn't

The 1980s were a time of turmoil in Detroit. Uncertainty about gas prices began to drive design decisions, as did cost-cutting, which necessary in order for the Big Three to compete with the Japanese automakers suddenly gaining traction in the American market.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/gm-80-the-front-wheel-drive-camaro-that-wasnt/
106 REPLIES 106
1210qtrton
Intermediate Driver

I'm not sure I would qualify the Probe as bad/failure/should have never happen, or however it was framed at the beginning. It lived for two generations and kicked the Mustang fans in the butt to either put up or shut up about their beloved item. In the end, the rise of the SUV and fall of the coupe market did it in.
GForce
Pit Crew

I worked at a dealership that sold new Fords and Hondas in the early 90's. I remember another salesman and myself arguing over the 24v V-6 Probe and 16V L-4 Prelude. We ran them against each other and I came away convinced, Ford fans did good saving the Mustang. Leave the fwd sports cars to Honda. The Prelude was in another class and much faster.
Tim
Technician

I agree. My memory of the Probe was that it was a pretty good car overall. I think the issue wasn't that it wasn't a good car, just that it wasn't what a Mustang should be. It's hard to imagine the Camaro become a front-driver in the '80s for the same reason. It surely would have felt anemic due to its size or had undesirable torque steer and front wheel spin if it actually had enough power to motivate its weight.
PurelyPMD
Detailer

Wasn't the Probe built by Mazda and sister to the MX6? I'm not sure I would credit Ford with that vehicle at all other than designing some emblems for it.
hyperv6
Racer

Yes it was a Mazda Ford joint venture. It was built in Flatrock MI on the same line as the Mazda. 

Not a bad car but not a memorable car. Few left today. 

1210qtrton
Intermediate Driver

sorry, I forgot to say that this was an otherwise interesting story, I had no idea GM has that plan in the works.
TG
Technician

I think an FWD camaro would have put the fork in GM
Maybe most people buy the lame boring middle of the road cars, but they dream of the tire-smoking hotrods up until they pull out the pen
Waterboy1KHY80
Detailer

Never so happy to see a Stupid idea die in all my life. third gen Camaros are far better in my opinion than the F-body's before. I am talking engineering here, they weigh nearly 500 lbs lighter, and have far superior handling and chassis / suspension setups. Additionally, these had GM's most aggressively sloped windshields ever. If it weren't for the 80's complete lack of power, these cars would have been animals.
V8_ICEman
Intermediate Driver

I agree who had two 3rd-Gens ('83 Z28 L69, '87 Trans Am LB9/WS6). I never owned a 2nd-gen but drove several that my friends had, all late 2G model Z28s and TA's. They were sloppy handling and unless modded, slow as a Buick Regal.

When I got my Z28, the handling was phenomenal like it was on rails compared to anything else I had driven ever - it was like a whole new world for cornering. My TA had the WS6 option which was similar to the IROC-Z suspension and felt even better, although I couldn't tell you if the 16" 245/50 wider and lower profile tires made up a significant chunk of that improvement.
espo70
Advanced Driver

I also had two thirdgens, an 85 Trans Am, and a 90 Formula. The 85 was a non-WS6 car, but handled way better than the second gen 79 Formula I owned prior. The 90 Formula was in a totally different class with the WS6 suspension. It wasn't just the 245 tires, it was the sway bars, springs, shocks..the whole package. That car, even out handled the 4th gen 97 Formula that came later.
hyperv6
Racer

Here is the 1990 Fiero and the 4th Gen Camaro. You can see some of the styling that Schinella carried overHere is the 1990 Fiero and the 4th Gen Camaro. You can see some of the styling that Schinella carried overI have been well versed in the GM 80 based on the Fiero program that was involved in this.

This story is pretty close to what really went on. The photos are not good of what the production car would have been like.

The Fiero was out in the plant with full expectations to have the GM 80 to pick up the slack when sales settled to 30 k as expected. They really over sold the Fiero the first couple years as few 2 seat cars could survive selling six figures as only so many folks can live with a small two seater.

The Fox Mustang sales were just so strong there was no way Ford would replace it with a Mazda. GM engineers did not like the 80 and it was no accident it was not the car it could have been. Many made sure it would fail.

But the cancelation of the 80 did give Chevy the excuse to kill the Fiero as they were worried about dropping Vette sales and a difficult business case got the C5 that did get canceled once.

What is interesting is that the 1990 Fiero GT that Chevy feared did come back as the 4th Gen F body. John Schinella spoke at a meeting I was at and told how he used the Fiero design for the new F body. He said it was too good to throw away. Even the dash face was reused in the F body nearly intact from the Fiero.

There also was a AWD GTO show car based on the 80. It was not bad looking. It was only shown once then vanished. It is reported hidden at the tech center but no one can confirm it.

Note some things did carry over to the 4th Gen as it did have the composite fenders and doors and halo.

There is more to this yet. They did play with a V8 in these but tested in a Beretta with AWD. It was transverse mounted.

hyperv6
Racer

This was the 89 GTO show car. It was shown once then vanished with the GM 80 program. Note the roof looks black but it was see through as was the c pillars on the 1990 Fiero.This was the 89 GTO show car. It was shown once then vanished with the GM 80 program. Note the roof looks black but it was see through as was the c pillars on the 1990 Fiero.

This was also an AWD car too. I think it may have had a V8.

 

It was photoed at GM and shown years later at a Eyes on Design. It is reported to still be at the GM tech center but no one can confirm. It has not been seen in over 30 years. 

 

The car had the same wheels the AWD Beretta mule V8 AWD had. That car was sold at Barrett Jackson years ago. 

There were a ton of drawings and a number of clay models as you see in the story. There are more more shown here. 

It was a good thing that Ford did not kill the Fox Mustang it gave life to the RWD F body. 

Things in the early 80’s got so bad that the plan was to kill the V8 Chevy. The Corvette team went as far as building a Citation with two V6 engines to test for a possible twin engine Corvette if the V8/died. The Citation escaped GM and is in Florida. It sounds good with 12 cylinders and around 500 hp. The rear was set up like a Fiero. 

hyperv6
Racer

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This was more the Production version of the GM 80. These were just base models of what was planned and the closest photos of what might have been. 

 

TG
Technician

it has a striking, and perhaps not coincidental, similarity to the aurora (the real V8 one)

superduty
Pit Crew

Ahh, the Roger Smith era. How one man could damage a corporation as much as he did. In some respects, GM is still paying for it.
hyperv6
Racer

Sadly the trouble started before Roger. He was just the gasoline that accelerated it. 

I am a die hard GM fan but their management for decades was flawed. But to be fair most automakers management were train wrecks. 

BMD4800
Gearhead

True.
But as you said, he was the gasoline.

GM knocked it out in 77 with the redesigned B/C-bodies, and 78 with the A/G-bodies. The X was bad, the FWD A-bodies were rushed and not great at first (or ever), the GM10 was horrendously bad for the first 10 years, about the only positive was the full-sized BOP FWD cars in 85.

Rather than continuously update the B and G bodies, which sold well, they let them languish with some cosmetics and a couple notable performance versions. They had relevant products that were profitable and had a low cost to update. They could have run the G bodies to 1990, if not longer had they paired an updated B and G body design. But, they didn’t and here we are.
hyperv6
Racer

Well you need to get the many factors involved to understand what happened then. 

GM was not just going broke in 08. They were going broke backs in the early 80’s. 

GM went to the corporate engines and platforms.. yes these were good cars but most of them started to lose what they really were and just became styling exercises. 

The 350 Chevy in a Olds was a slap to the true olds guys. The dropping of the Pontiac V8 in the early 80’s was the last true Pontiac to some.

 

Most never knew but Pontiac was set to shut down in the 80’s. The Bonnie was replaced with a Lemans as a Bonnie. Evinces were gone etc. 

 

What saved Pontiac was the Trans Am in 83 and Fiero in 84. Both brought many to Pontiac showrooms and they bought a lot of Grand Ams. 

At the same time Olds was losing sales and they moved the Cutlass Supreme to FWD and named two other lame FWD cars Cutlass. It went from bad to worse from there. 

GM was spending billions on the move to FWD and tried to save money on things like development cost like on the TH200 that had major failure rates. 

things only got worse from there as money was spent on most vehicles that just brought no return. 

Then GM had Union deals where it was less of a loss to build the cars and sell at major discounts vs stopping production then paying worked most of their pay to sit at home. 

it was just a mess and a number of people had their hands in this. 

Most of us outside though everything was fine but internally they were as great of a mess as Chrysler and Ford as all three had major management or money issues. 

The real mess was when they brought in Nabisco people to market the cars. One of which was a fraud and really lied his way into the job. How do you not catch this? 

The greatest issue with the diesels was the lack of development. These engine ran fine if you ran them hard. But they made them standard in some models and the average older owner just putted around town where every gasket blew out and it leaked. 

Then many would get the engine washed then the injector pump would freeze up. It had tolerances that if cold water hit it while hot would kill it.

 

They never even put a hand pump on the pump to prime filters or the engine. You had to crank it till it fired. That was just cheap. 

Rider79
Technician

I have long heard the opposite: the Olds diesel was fine if you ran it easy-to-moderately, but was not designed to - nor able to - be run hard frequently, or for prolonged periods.
V8_ICEman
Intermediate Driver

Which diesel(s) are you referring to? There were three of them, a 5.7L V8 and two 4.3L V6s. My father had that disastrous 350 V8 in a '79 Cutlass Supreme Sedan and it spent more time at the dealer than in our garage. That was when it didn't break down on him/us on three separate road trip occasions, one of which ruined a Disney World vacation.

Little did he know at the time it was a terrible design, taking top end engine part designs from the gasoline 350 it made to keep the bolt patterns the same. I do believe the V6 ones had their own original head design/bolt patterns and were much better in reliability, but by then in the early 1980s people had soured on any car-related American diesel (those who didn't sour on a diesel bought a VW or Mercedes).
TG
Technician

Diesels in general are far too costly to repair unless you are running 80,000 pounds 150,000 miles a year. Beyond that, the fuel savings do not offset one injector pump replacement or set of injectors

BMD4800
Gearhead

Stop buying cheap diesel fuel.
It’s too dry and scores up the injector pump.
hyperv6
Racer

Based on my customers back in the day the guys on the road running highway did well. The 350 around town with the elderly couple and few highway miles was a total mess. Leaks and injector pump issues.

The Diesel in America was not popular like Europe. The Olds and Power Stroke did more damage than anything from the Diesel gaining popularity.
BMD4800
Gearhead

Diesel was VERY popular in the ag belt.

PowerStroke? You mean the 6.0 and 6.4? True.

However, the 7.3 IDI and DI power strokes are solid, reliable engines.

The GM 6.2 and 6.5 would have been more accurate in this bad reputation camp.
JK
Intermediate Driver

Not Nabisco but P&G.

Ron Z. even got a big severance amount to leave after he was found out to have "embellished" his resume.
hyperv6
Racer

Thank you I could not recall his name.  I do recalled he lied about his background. 

BMD4800
Gearhead

Is it any different now? Their market share is laughable and it is largely because of their product portfolio.
BMD4800
Gearhead

I have family and friends that were involved.

There were groups that wanted to keep building the proven, quality products, but were overruled.

The Deere diesel is one of the best examples.

Failing to foster brand identity through encouraging brand engineering was by far the most detrimental (and on going) GM Paradigm.
BMD4800
Gearhead

His lightweight diesel demand was an epic failure and missed opportunity.

The Moron demanded an IFS in the new GMT400 trucks and wanted a lightweight powerful diesel. Deere had several engines, but they were too heavy and Deere wouldn’t make a lightweight engine just for GM. GM went with the 6.2 Detroit, and while better than the Oldsmobile 350 diesel, it was still sub-par. GMT400s debuted as 88s, Dodge had Cummins Diesels in 89. That single move crushed GM. Ford and Dodge were considered work trucks, GM trucks were considered city trucks. Look at sales, those two have slowly chipped away at GM, especially in the 3/4 and 1 ton market.

So many good, quality products that sold well, were allowed to languish with little updating, then canceled to save costs under Roger and the arrogant hubris of GM. The Japanese philosophy: take a good design and consistently make it better; GM doesn’t follow. They take a good design, clean sheet a replacement that takes years to be updated and considered decent, only to be left to age out while they focus on the new hotness.

They have been in a market decline for over 40 years and this is precisely why.
JK
Intermediate Driver

Ford has a history of being far worse on running a car until it stops selling.
BMD4800
Gearhead

Ford refuses to improve designs, allowing them to wither and die.

GM will improve it until it is perfect, then kill it and roll out a dumpster fire.

They were successful in 1977 and 1978, then again in 1982, but the missteps and failures added up to now, where trucks and performance coupes are their sole proficiencies.
hyperv6
Racer

Fords issue often is their cars were built to a price. This often left them with nagging issues. 

My T Bird was a good example. Nice car and cheap to buy. Head gasket issues, paint issues, suspension issues, sagging doors, etc. 

 

GM cuts cost on development often running out of money by the time they got inside. The engines and suspensions worked but the interiors fell apart or stopped working. 

raj131
New Driver

The GM80 program was very real. I was design engineer for Pontiac Motors working on this concept 1984 to 1985 roughly. This was part of the reorganizing by GM into CPC and BOC Divisions. The Camaro and Firebird not only projected to be lightweight and a multiple vehicle platform there was also a very unique engine and drivetrain being developed. Hitchiner Manufacturing was involved in casting the engine in several lightweight pieces with very thin walls and easily assembled. The vehicle was cancelled due to many factors but was worth the challenge to achieve the desired goal.
BMD4800
Gearhead

A FWD pony car was a “desired goal”?

I’d call that an unfortunate design concession.
hyperv6
Racer

I call it poor management and marketing. The people running the show had no clue who their performance customers were. They were more focused on saving money vs just making the right products.

This is what killed Pontiac as the Engineers really ran Pontiac for the most but GM never knew what to do with them. They broke rules and did things against the Cooperate rules often. They also stepped on Chevys toes.

As John Schinella stated Chevy sold more cars and Chevy got more say on the product at GM. Pontiac fought that for years.

The real truth was these cars were to be intended to be FWD in base form but the performance models likely would have gotten AWD at some point. They were looking at the AWD Chrysler Mitsubishi cars as inspiration. Might have worked today but not back then.
BMD4800
Gearhead

Oh, come on. The AWD diamond star cars were small, light, and powerful.

Even a Beretta was significantly heavier and slower.

The beretta…where the steering rack acted on the struts…

The FoxBody Mustang set the market. THAT was the formula and tons of guys grew up to buy F150s, Explorers, etc.

Garbage cars, garbage sales,
Lost legacies.
NHO
Intermediate Driver

GM's problems back then stemmed from too many engineers with too many ideas at too many divisions and it bit them in the behind. Seems nobody could get on the same page.
hyperv6
Racer

Actually that is kind of right. 

GM really had too much of everything. Too many models, divisions, too many in management and more. The divisions worked against each other vs working together. Management then did not know what to do with divisions like Pontiac that were driven by engineering and broken rules. 

Bob Lutz book bean counters vs car guys outlines how suppliers could sell a bearing to each division under a different part number at a different price making a big profit at GMs expense. 

GM did not have too many engineers but management did not know what to do with them and get them working as one company vs many superset division's. 

GM did by far have the most advanced engineers but when they broke rules like the 455 SD they punished them. Or when they developed new technologies they forced them into production before they were ready. Case in point the 8-6-4 Cadillac. It failed then and today we now have the computers to make it work right. 

The whole deal is GM in the late 60’s till Mary showed up did not have a strong leader that was willing to make cuts or changes that were needed. It is not a popular thing but someone needed to do it. 

Just look at Pontiac at what they were in the 60’s to what they ended up being in 2007. It was a sad decline. 

Imagine if Delorean moved to the lead of GM. He did make some mistakes but he got many good things to happen because he was willing to make decisions and not run from change. 

BMD4800
Gearhead

What is her goal? Seriously.

More profit from a declining market?

Mary hasn’t lead the charge with a market resurgence, commanding leadership, or product innovation leap.
She brings platitudes, politics, and profit. This pleases the shareholders, not the customers, and market share bares this out.
SirGalahad
Pit Crew

Currently we have seen more withdrawal from markets (Europe, Australia, India) and in the home market a willingness to kill models if they are not profitable.

Instead, they should be researching why the profits aren't there. Build a car with some energy, some passion. And then there is decisions made like killing the Cruze that baffles. A plant that produced an entry level car that was re-styled in 2016 and ended in 2019.

A company that is trying too hard to go in a different direction with new powertrains. I do not see any mainstream automaker currently making any inroads on the new powertrains in that limited market. We shall see if the risk if the risk has any reward.
Snailish
Instructor

If I had to guess, Mary's goal is to streamline GM to a profitable, lean asset that easily merges into another asset.

Someone like Honda doesn't have a ton of product lineup overlap with what GM does and sells well.

This theoretical GM/Honda would then just sell the 16 vehicles in every market they serve. In North America the full-size trucks would be Chevy still (and this is really the only market they likely offer them) Colorado might be a Honda badge in some markets where that spec would sell but presently Honda is the stronger or only presence.

Sure you'd consolidate the dealer network in some places, but we are already in an age of North American super dealerships doing that to themselves.
hyperv6
Racer

Goodyear tire 30 years ago diversified into tires, Aerospace, Oil Pipelines, Food prep material, Belts hoses and 2 dozen other markets. They got spread thin and a cooperate raider came in and tried to buy them out.

They bought back the stock and were in very bad shape. Their products were crap and they had little money to develop new products just for tires their core business.

They sold off most of their other lines and got back to making tires only. They took their income and poured it into new tire development and came out with new and much improved lines.
As time passed they went to grow globally again with tires with the purchase of Dunlop and just recently Cooper tire to add to the other brands they have. They are entering tire markets again they had left and are moving back to what they once were.

GM is doing much the same. With the market going EV they decided early on to commit to it and try to take the lead in tech in that segment. This will let them not only have advanced product but also sell tech to others that can't afford to do it alone. Honda was the first to work with GM and GM will build their coming CUV model in Springhill soon.

GM knows this is not an over night thing but it has helped stock as people trade on futures not present.

The automakers for a long time fought EV but it just got to the point they could see they can make this work in about 20 years. Note GM has not announce the last ICE yet so they will play both games and focus on core products to make them strong again.

Mary made the cuts many feared to make for decades. Many of these changes should have been done long ago as the Sloan plan was no longer viable. Add to it miss management of the company and it was the perfect storm.

Ford and Chrysler also had they won miss management issues over the years too and are still paying for them. Fords greater issue was they had major issues every time a Ford ran the company other than Edsel.
hyperv6
Racer

I would highly recommend everyone read each of Bob Luz books on each company he worked for. Lots to learn there.

Also the Delorean book on a Clear Day you Can see GM.

Much of what he wrote about in the 70's is what killed GM in 08.
BMD4800
Gearhead

I have.

Maximum Bob was like a broken clock.
BMD4800
Gearhead

GM/Honda?

Oh, you’re serious.

Tell me, do you watch the sunrise or sunset over the ocean in your state?

hyperv6
Racer

The goal is to take a step back and get to the core product. GM for too long tried to fit a car to every niche and every market.

They got spread thin and the product started to reflect the shortages of money and time spend on development.

Most MFGs today have 2-3 divisions and the vehicles paying the bills are Truck and CUV models today.

As for the future and Politics. Well they have to be played to survive. Even now in the performance segment I have had a Governor and House of Rep members at my desk dealing with laws and regulations in my industry.

Yes Stock Holders are important as you can not live with stock at $10 a share long unless you are Ford where the family owns 51% of the company.

The move to EV is coming #1 it will be the only way to meet future numbers and regulations around the world. #2 if a company takes the lead here they can be a tech company much like the phone and computer companies. There could be a day coming the automakers may design the cars and independent companies will assemble the cars. Profits once development cost are recouped could easily be higher.

As the auto industry was going as it was it was not sustainable. Most of the companies were hurting and this will become the great reset.

One of the only reasons some of the automakers survive today is that they had a large growing market in China. If that had not happened many of the automakers would have folded by now.

They don't like being there due to the rules but it was a matter of survival.

Customers adapt and today they adapt more than ever. They just want safe, affordable, utility and reliable transportation. Most treat and think of a car as just another appliance. Don't believe that just look at any parking lot with thousands of nearly identical CUV models.
SirGalahad
Pit Crew

There is no company out there that will take the risk of assembling a car that they did not design, build and market in mass quantities. There are few companies like Magna-Steyr and Valmet that perform limited runs but how would a contract look like to produce a full-size pick-up? If one company designs a dud why would another company want to be on the hook for making whatever the market demand is?

There is a reason that stamping, assembly, paint and body are inside an automotive corporation. No one wants to assume that huge amount of capital and the risk.
hyperv6
Racer

Well Foxxconn just bought the Lordstown plant and plan to take on new EV products for other mfgs, also there is a plan for a Foxconn car. Some think Apple may be one of their customer cars.  

 

Hyundai already was in talks with Apple and started to talk publicly so the talks stopped. 

 

The electronic industry is looking to enter the EV car market. Most design their products but few assemble the products. The Apple Phones and Computers are a perfect example. 

 

GM will be assembling two EV CUV models for Honda. While the vehicles are using the similar drive system the rest of the vehicle is designed by Honda and will be built to their spec. It is not a badge job like the past. 

 

The idea is this most of these tech companies make nothing they design and other assemble and that is a trend that has already started with the Foxconn purchase as they are not going to build phones here. 

 

The old ways of operating are being looked at and things never considered before are coming into play. Will it work? Time will tell. 

 

Sony is another Electronic firm that is looking to bring a car to market but they will not assemble it. 

 

Keep in mind even with some of the things like panel stamping is in house much is made outside. Truck frames are not made in house as are axles even some dash assemblies and other large parts of the car come in already assembled by outside vendors. Seats. tire and wheels etc. 

 

In fact in some cases bodies are supplied buy outside companies. Ferrari and others use outside mfg. Even Fisher Body was an outside company till GM bought it. 

 

 

SirGalahad
Pit Crew

You need to be clear that this is all conjecture (Foxconn and Apple), it is not happening. It is like saying battery cars can charge and discharge at the same rate as gasoline. This is not true.

GM will assemble a vehicle for Honda built to GM specs. Honda will be responsible for the exterior (body panels), interior and some driving characteristics. GM is providing all the engineering, the platform, the drivetrain. It is a badge job, underneath the Honda badge you will find the platform of a GM vehicle.

Fisher Body was absorbed by General Motors in 1919 by William Durant and was dissolved by General Motors in 1984. Bodies for mass produced vehciles and their stampings are ONLY provided by the OEMs. You need to understand the automotive industry.