By the late 1980s, most of the GM fleet was front-wheel drive, and the Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird would have been next as evidenced by an early development project called the GM-80.
Automakers in the late 1980s were eager to take advantage of the transition to new technologies, and a notable example was Ford’s attempt to offer a Mustang with front-wheel drive. Dubbed the ST-16, the project pissed off longtime Ford fans and was eventually scrapped – although it will live like the Ford Probe.
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During development, the idea of making a third-generation Camaro/Firebird with front-wheel drive rather than rear-wheel drive was floated but soon shelved. When engineers started working on the fourth generation, the idea for FWD came back. Under the codename GM80, General Motors developed a front-wheel drive platform that it hoped would support the upcoming Camaro/Firebird.
In keeping with the Camaro’s muscle car aspect, the GM80 should be powered by something gritty. The days of big horsepower V8s were thought to be over, due to tighter emissions regulations that caused most engines to suffocate, so something else had to be used.
GM planned to use a 3.4-liter “quadruple” V6, which in testing was capable of pumping out 285 horsepower. However, the brand did not have a transmission that could handle that kind of power, so they had to lower it to 200 hp. The figure was still higher than the 185-horsepower V8 that was found in the 1986 Camaro, but with less torque.
In order to restore performance, the GM80 was to be lighter than all previous Camaro/Firebird generations thanks to plastic panels that would bolt to a sheet-metal frame, Fiero-style. The plates will be cheaper to manufacture and also provide better corrosion resistance than regular steel.
In the end, it wasn’t internal rejection of the front-wheel drive platform that killed the project, but data testing. The GM80 failed to meet its weight targets and performed poorly in crash tests, and development costs for the plastic body panels mean the final vehicle will be much more affordable than previously thought. The project was suspended in the summer of 1985 and eventually canceled in October of the following year.
The project wasn’t in vain, but the 3.4-liter V6 “Twin Dual Cam” V6 will make its way onto GM N-Body vehicles like the Pontiac Grand Prix and Chevrolet Beretta, and the GM80 styling will pretty much make it into production. In the fourth generation of the Camaro and Firebird.