By Martin Banks
American automakers produce as many pony cars as they can sell. For Chevy in the 1980s, that meant six-figure production numbers. These “F body” Camaros are just now coming of age on the collector’s market, but with so many made, they’re not all special. An IROC or Z-28 car makes a nice prize, but how about a Player’s Challenge factory-built racecar?
What is the Player’s Challenge, you ask? It’s a one-make race series for which Chevy built around 100 factory racecars per year. Many retired racecars wind up in junk heaps, but fourteen Player’s Challenge Camaros just hit the market in pristine condition, and they all belong to one owner!
What Is a Player’s Challenge Camaro?
In the hair-band-heavy 1980s, showroom stock auto racing let race fans see cars go wheel-to-wheel for the glory that they could “walk into the dealership and buy.” This style of racing hasn’t faded entirely, but when these special Camaros were conceived in 1986, the Player’s Challenge was a Canadian race series that featured both the Camaro and its twin, the Pontiac Firebird, each in race-spec.
To make a Player’s Challenge Camaro, Chevy started with a 5.0-liter IROC-Z/28 car with the air conditioning removed and a tweaked gear set for better acceleration. But that was just the beginning.
These factory hot rods also received uprated brakes, high-performance shocks, an aluminum driveshaft and a baffled fuel tank to help combat starvation when the cars were flung into long corners. It was one of the earliest examples of the 1LE handling package that modern Camaro buyers can opt for if they value responsive handling over their back health.
Hypothetically, anyone could purchase a 1LE Camaro. However, as with many of the most fabled Chevy performance cars, you had to know how to unlock the high-performance option by selecting the right combination of option codes on your buy sheet. Only those in-the-know would understand that this special 1LE suspension package would only become available if they elected to have the G92 performance rear end and C41 A/C delete.
So, yes, anyone could walk into their local Chevy dealer and buy one. They just had to know the “cheat code” built into the option sheet.
A Brace of Canadian Muscle
Of the roughly 1,500 Player’s Challenge cars built, the Canadian-spec cars could be said to be the most special. They received an additional R7U option code during production from 1989 to 1992. To keep the competition fair, these cars all got sealed-block 305-CI V8 engines. A sealed block means the engine has special markings on it to ensure it isn’t tinkered with, ensuring that every driver gets the same performance from their car.
However, while the competition was even, R7U cars were said to output more than the factory-rated 230hp of the standard Z/28 Camaro thanks to ECU tuning.
In a recent Autotrader listing, the owner of one clean Player’s Special car states that they have 13 more available for sale. Each has seen limited use and no track miles. The cars were spares but were never used in the race series.
Based on the $40k+ price tag of the car that’s listed, one clever collector is cashing in on the wise decision to stash these back when they were fresh from the factory. Can it be that the F body’s moment in the sun has finally arrived? Love it or hate it, you have to appreciate the muscle car nostalgia these obscure Camaros offer.