Destiny - 1988 Chevy Camaro IROC-Z
Article and photography by Richard Butschi
The basic story line is the same – boy meets car, boy falls in love with car, boy can’t afford car, boy worships car from afar. But it does have a happy ending, with some interesting circumstances along the way. Jim Hamblin Jr., of CR SW, was raised around cars with his dad running Jim’s Tune-Up for decades. In ‘87, young Jim fell in love with the “20th Anniversary Commemorative Edition” IROC Camaro convertible - the first “ragtop” since ‘69. IROC stands for International Race of Champions, where big name racers from Nascar, Formula 1 and the Indy series competed in identical stock sports cars at various tracks. The first IROC race was held in 1974 and the series folded in 2006.
Hamblin made a vow to himself in 1990 that he would one day own such a car, but with the stipulations that it must be an ‘88 (the year he graduated from high school), with black exterior and gray cloth interior. It had to be a fully-loaded convertible with less than 10,000 miles on it and a thin blue body stripe surrounding the car. He also knew that these special edition cars were pretty rare, (3761 units produced) so making a list of specific wants was somewhat of a “fail-safe” measure. If he couldn’t find exactly what he wanted then he would be content driving his very nice, low-mileage, show-winning ‘87 Z28 Camaro. He admits now that he actually “settled” for the Z28, figuring that the IROC-Z was “unattainable”. In June of ‘91, he was in the Z28, cruising 1st Avenue, near 8th St. SE when lightning struck. There on the corner of Pat McGrath’s dealership, sat what appeared to be the car of his dreams, complete with blue stripe. Hamblin was very cautious about approaching the black beauty and even waited until the dealership closed at 8:00 so he wouldn’t be bothered with a salesman. Everything seemed to check out on his mental list - it even had fog lamps, but he took down the VIN that night, and later got the RPOs to see if it was really loaded. Sure enough, everything checked out. The purchase took place in June of ‘91, and after 6 hours of negotiating, Jim got the deal he wanted.
The IROC-Z was introduced in ‘85 as an option package of the Z28. It had upgraded suspension, lowered ride height, Delco-Bilstein shocks, an optional TPI (tuned port injection) system adapted from the Corvette, and 16” “gatorback” unidirectional tires, with new aluminum wheels with different “offsets” for front and rear. The optional TPI 305 cid. engine made 195 hp with the automatic transmission. A 350 small block was offered starting in ‘87. Hamblin’s Camaro was originally purchased in Dyersville, with the owner taking good care of it. It has never been driven in snow or rain, and now has 24,000 miles on the odometer.
Hamblin took his Camaro on the road in ‘92, trailering it to St. Louis for the National Camaro Club Show, where outstanding Camaros are scrutinized on a 1,000 point system in various classes. He didn’t enter, but just observed the process. He found that he could probably compete with the top cars in the “trailered factory original” class - the toughest class overall. In Detroit the next year, he took 5th place with 880 points. Shortcomings occurred in the engine compartment and undercarriage. In ‘94, again at Detroit, he placed 3rd with 929 points. Some deductions were for a small carpet stain and his floor mats. He hauled the Camaro all the way to Orlando in ‘95, scoring 972 points but falling short of the top spot in 2nd place. Cars were classified as bronze, silver, gold or diamond, according to points earned. Four more points, 976, would have placed him in the Diamond class and got him on the cover of the club’s magazine. After checking with a judge, he discovered that the top car, scoring 993 points, had never been started, never driven, nor even been dealer-prepped. It was rolled out of the trailer and pushed to its parking spot. It couldn’t be beat. Hamblin thought later of coming back to make the Diamond ranking, but the show folded before his destiny was fulfilled.