So you’ve decided that you want an IROC, but now you don’t know what to look for, or how to determine sort of life this car has had to this point. Quite often, things are not what they may initially appear to be. The focus of this article is to help bring to light some of the more common situations that a buyer may face. By knowing what you are up against, you will be able to chose a car that is closer to what you had in mind, and a car that you can be happy with even after the thrill of having a new car wears off.
Is it really an IROC? Does it really have the 350?
When looking through classified ads, it quickly becomes apparent that a lot of the sellers are either not telling the truth, or they have been mis-informed about what they have. The best way to arm yourself against these people is to learn as much about the car in question as you possibly can. For instance, only 50 IROCS in 86 came with a 350 and it’s highly unlikely that any made it to the public, so if they tell you that the 86 you’re looking at has a stock 350, you should be VERY skeptical. Similarly, if anybody tries to sell you a car with a stock 350 and stock 5 speed, you can be sure that something is not what they say. Chevy never offered an IROC with a 350 5 speed combo. With the thirdgen F-bodies becoming more rare and more saught after as collectibles and restorable vehicles, there is always a rising possibility that this perfect IROC that you found may not be an IROC at all. Bolt on a new hood, new badges, and new wheels, and somebody’s RS just became an IROC. If that doesn’t bother you, then fine, but with so many perfectly good real IROCs out there, why settle for a fake? So, how do you determine if all of this stuff on the car is real? Simple. You check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and the RPO (Regular Production Option) codes. The VIN is on the lower driver side of the windshield and visable from the outside of the car. The RPO code list is in the center console on or underneath the lid. Between these two sets of numbers, you can determine exactly how your car was equipped when it left the factory. You can reference the RPO codes on the RPO code list on this site. These will tell you exactly what motor came with the car, as well as any other option available.
The car looks nice, but how do I really know what condition it is in?
Determining the exact condition of the car can be tricky, and sometimes you never really know until you remove various body parts, but you can make a very reasonable assumption on the overall condition after checking out a few things. Winter driving forces a lot of salty water all over a car, and as we all know, salty water causes steel to rust and rot at an extremely fast pace. You can put a bare piece of steel outside in the snow and rain, and if no salt is present, it will take years for the surface rust to develop into rot. It’s the salt that kills cars. When looking at a car, the condition of the exterior doesn’t necessarily mean that the car is good. Anybody can get a paint job. Paint jobs don’t fix all of the rust that may be underneath the car where it can effect the structural rigidity of the car. Get under the car and look for rust and rot. One very common spot is right inside the outer frame rails toward the front of the floor pan. The frame rails are right inside of the rocker panels where the floor pan meets the rocker panel. This area is prone to rust. Toward the front of the car, it is not uncommon to find rotten radiator mounts. It is also likely that on a car that has been driven winters to find that the entire drivetrain is covered in thick rust. Nuts and bolts are not clearly defined, and the fuel/brake lines are all thickly rusted. Even under the hood will have thickly rusted nuts and bolts. Often the strut bolts will have a thick rust on them. These are areas to check. What is not so important is a rusty exhaust. It is common for exhausts to rust very badly, even on cars that had not been driven in salt and adverse conditions. The heat and moisture that passes through the exhaust system does a real number on them. What you want to remember is that once a car has started to rot, it is virtually unstoppable unless you embark upon a complete restoration which involves an acid dip or extensive sand blasting and repair of the entire unibody structure, or similar drastic measures. If you plan to only use this car for a few years then move on, none of this will be important to you, and you should just insure that the car is in good enough condition to last for the duration of your ownership period. If you expect to own this car for a long period of time, it is important to wait until you find one without any of the rust mentioned above. Up north, this will be difficult unless you are willing to pay top dollar for a car, but you can find plenty of them down south.
What about previous body work or paint jobs?
An advertisement of a new paint job may not necessarily be a good thing. Why did this car need a paint job, and more importantly, was it done right? It’s a fact of life that paint does not last forever, and a new paint job can certainly make a car look a lot better, but it is important to make sure that the paint job wasn’t to get rid of massive amounts of rust. This stems back to the previous paragraph. The condition of the body does not tell the whole story. Make sure you get underneath the car. A car with poor body work is also something that you want to avoid. If there are spots on the car where the paint has large bubbles, this is an indication that rust is coming through underneath body filler. Sometimes this is bound to happen, but quite often it is a sign that the previous attempt to remove rust was not done correctly. Other signs of poor body work are sand scratches in the paint, mis-matched body panels, and improperly shaped body lines. Look down the doors. Is the sheet metal straight or wavey? Do the body shapes look natural? Is there overspray all over the inside of the wheel wells and on the exhaust? Is the paint chipped or peeling around the door handles and around the base of the mirrors? All of these things indicate poor body work and could cause serious problems in the future. Poor body work is bound to fall apart and not last long.
How many miles are too many miles?
There is no simple answer to this question. The life span of the drive train on these cars is totally dependent on how well it was taken care of, and how much hard driving was done. There are many IROC’s out there with over 200,000 miles on them that still run great. Others were not so fortunate. Since most people don’t keep accurate maintenance records, the best assurance that you will get will be what condition that it is in at present. Listen to the car run, and make sure that you take it for a good long test drive, including up some long, steep hills. Make sure it doesn’t hesitate, skip or bog down real bad. Make sure it shifts right. Any one problem may not be a big deal, but if such an abnormality does exist, you should be wondering why. If the owner took care of this car, he would have dealt with it as soon as the problem developed. Drive a lot of similar type cars so that you can get a feel for what it should feel like. Don’t take the salesperson’s word for it when he says that the steering is supposed to have that much play in it! If you drive a few IROCs and Trans Ams, you’ll quickly realize how they are supposed to drive. Don’t be afraid to find a parking lot and try some hard cornering. There is a difference between screwing around and evaluating a car. The best thing you can do is drive this car to a mechanic and have him look it over. It is worth the $50 or so dollars to make sure that you are getting a good car. He will be able to tell you a lot about the car, and whether or not it will last. If the sellar doesn’t want you to bring it to a mechanic, he’s obviously got something to hide. If you’re buying it from a dealer with a garage, don’t settle for him showing you on a lift. Bring it to a different mechanic anyway.
So you drove the car, and it seemed pretty good, but there seems to be a lot of little things wrong with the car. The washer fluid doesn’t work. one seat belt won’t latch. The fuel pressure gauge is broken, etc. Sometimes you can get paranoid with the little things. This is a USED car after all, but…. why did the owner let these little things add up? If he really took good car of the car, why would he let these things slide? Expect to find one or two things that don’t work, but if you start finding a lot of little things, it may be time to move on.
I bought the car, now what should I do?
After you decide that this is in fact the car that you want, it is a good idea to do a complete tune up on the car. Change all of the fluids from the radiator right through to the differential in the rear-end. Change the plugs, wires, cap and rotor, and all of the belts. Also change anything else that you or your mechanic think should be changed (provided that your mechanic isn’t just trying to take you for a ride, but that’s another story). Clean the carb/throttle body thoroughly and dump some carb/fuel injector cleaner into your gas tank. Check the timing. It’s these little things that the previous owner may have let slide if he knew that he was going to sell the car. Doing all of this will help get the motor into it’s best possible running condition and will help assure that as long as you take good care of it, it will take good care of you. But most of all, make sure that you enjoy your new car!!