If my name looks familiar, it's because you have seen it popping up in PHR over the last few months. I'm the new guy around here; not new to hot rodding or scraping up my knuckles on a motor, but new to the magazine world. Before this gig I had a regular nine-to-five job and I would wrench on my cars, go to shows and races, and read magazines as time allowed. One day I was on pro-touring.com and saw a post by Johnny Hunkins about an opening at PHR for a tech editor, so I rolled the dice and was fortunate enough to hit a seven on the open. Part of my pitch on what I know about cars in general and the g-Machine segment in particular was my current project car. I guess you could say it was the most important part of my resume. After all, anyone can talk the talk, and my Camaro showed that I could walk a bit as well.
Having been a moderator on LS1tech.com for several years, I was well-versed in the amazing LS1 engine. My last car was a '00 SS Camaro and, while I loved the drivetrain, I missed the old iron of a classic musclecar. Two years ago, I picked up what I thought was a pretty nice yellow big-blocked Camaro. It had a few goodies on it and was what we call a "ten-footer." On closer inspection, we eventually found a host of issues including some body-filler-over-rust and a poorly machined block. This is when I got the idea to redo the classic Camaro into a melding of my two favorite things: modern performance and vintage iron.
The first thing to do was to completely strip down the body and survey the rust damage. For this, I took the '69 down to the Body Palace in Huntington Beach, California, where an entire new Goodmark roof was grafted on in place of the bondo-smeared original one. Other small body issues were fixed and prepped for the Subaru WRX Blue Pearl paint. At this time I also decided I wanted a nicer engine bay so the car then went to Hot Rods and Custom Stuff in Escondido, California, where a new firewall was fabricated and welded into place by its excellent fabrication and body shop. To keep a heritage feel to the car I went with classic Z28 stripes done in a very modern Nissan Silverstone PPG paint found on the new 350Zs.
Then I turned my attention to the suspension. I wanted the car to handle well and have a killer stance. To drop the back I went with a set of Detroit Speed 2-inch drop rear leaf springs with poly bushings. In order to get the front down to the right level, I turned to Global West and installed the whole enchilada, including tubular upper and lower A-arms and a QA1 coilover suspension. Tying the car together and getting it stiffened up are Global West subframe connectors and a set of Detroit Speed solid frame bushings. This combination really made a huge difference in how the car felt when pushing through curves. Competition Engineering Slide-a-link tracking bars keep wheel hop out of the equation. Because I wanted it to look good, I had the guys at Embee Performance Coatings in Santa Ana, California, powder paint the subframe, trans crossmember, radiator support, and every bracket I could get my hands on. Great brakes equal faster lap times, so the binders were as important as the drivetrain. Keeping it simple, I went with non-power brakes for better feel and a cleaner engine bay. Wilwood provided its huge six-piston front brake package and four-piston rear kit with a rear adjustable proportioning valve. Sure, the manual brakes take a little more effort to use, but to me that's part of the fun. The rolling stock consists of polished "fat-lip" Budnik Gasser D wheels in 18x8 front and 18x9 rear. Finally, for tires I went with Nitto 555 Extremes in 245/35ZR18 front and 275/35ZR18 rears.
To motivate the car through the curves, I went with a motor I knew well, the Gen III LS1. Not only would the LS1 make great power, but it would also be a snap to tune and would get great mileage to boot. An added bonus would be the weight savings off the frontend of the car, which does wonders for handling. Starting with a '00 Camaro LS1 engine from a salvage yard, I worked with the guys at Don Lee Auto in Rancho Cucamonga, California, to bring the junkyard find back to life. The motor was disassembled, cold-tanked, and then the entire assembly was balanced and blueprinted. All the stock internals were used but were beefed up a bit by using ARP rod bolts and a Katech timing chain. A set of ported and polished stage-II heads was installed with 2.02-inch intake and 1.57-inch exhaust valves that are controlled by a 224/224, .563/.563-inch lift 112-degree LSA cam from Thunder Racing. Factory rocker arms were used with COMP Cams hardened pushrods and Crane dual springs. To feed air to the potent aluminum mill, a custom air intake feeds an MTI billet throttle body that is mated to a ZO6 intake. All the exhaust gasses generated are expelled through a set of ceramic-coated Speed and Performance headers into a custom stainless exhaust fabricated by the Muffler Man in Placentia, California. To get the right exhaust note, a pair of polished Magnaflow mufflers provides the only music I needed in the car. The combination worked together to dyno a respectable 380 rear-wheel horsepower and 365 lb-ft of torque.
Horsepower from the mighty aluminum V-8 is sent through a slightly modified 4L60E transmission with a Yank 3,400-rpm stall converter. From there it spins though a 3.5-inch aluminum driveshaft from Inland Empire Driveshaft in Ontario, California. Getting it to the asphalt is a beefed up GM 10-bolt rearend with Strange axels, an Auburn posi, and 3.73 gears. The job of keeping the engine and transmission running cool goes to a custom aluminum crossflow radiator from Alumarad in Tempe, Arizona, a Meziere electric water pump, and a pair of SPAL electric fans. Feeding the engine a steady diet of fuel is a Holley high-volume fuel pump mounted in a stainless gas tank from Rock Valley.
Moving to the inside of the car, I wanted the interior to be updated, yet simple. Luxuries are few and include a factory tilt column and power windows from Electric Life. The front heated and cooled Recaro seats provide comfort for long drives and lateral support in the curves. Westminster Auto Upholstery in Anaheim, California, did the rest of the interior in matching fabric. They also fabricated the section that ties the dash into the Fourth-Generation Camaro center console. The smoothed and filled dash features a gauge cluster by Covans Dash with Autometer Pro Comp gauges. One other cool feature of the car is a manu-matic shifting system from Twist Machine and TCI that allows me to either drive the car in standard automatic mode or, with a flip of the switch, bang though the gears using the billet paddle shifters.
I learned a ton building this car and it was my formal introduction to the g-Machine and Pro Touring movement. Also, in some way it led to me sitting here at PHR and writing this story. As for what's next, well, let's just say that this car has only served to open my eyes to what is possible and that I am already hot on the trail of my next project car.