The universe has a weird way of ending things on a poetic note. Richard Petty won his last NASCAR race, Ted Williams homered in his last at bat, and a pair of passionate hot rodders who run the most well-known school for young automotive machinist hopefuls handbuilt the last customer-assembled COPO LS7 engine at the COPO build center in Wixom, Michigan. Linda and Judson Massingill operate SAM, or what's better known as the School of Automotive Machinists (SAMRacing.com) in Houston, Texas. The school owns and races one COPO Camaro already, and when the opportunity came up to add another to their fleet for Linda to race in NHRA stock eliminator competition, they jumped at it. They also took the opportunity to enjoy a businessman's holiday and traveled to Michigan to assemble the actual LS7 427ci naturally aspirated engine that will power their car. What do engine builders do for fun? They build engines, of course!

When Ford launched the factory drag car Cobra Jet program in 2008 and Chrysler soon followed suit, everyone wondered when GM would jump in. The answer was 2012, and since then, COPO factory drag package Camaros have been locking horns with their late-model and classic competition primarily in stock and super stock competition along with specialty factory drag car shootouts. These cars land in the hands of racers. Racers like the crew from the School of Automotive Machinists.

When we asked Judson of SAM why they wanted to add a second COPO Camaro to their drag racing fleet his answer was stone simple: "Firstly, we had the opportunity to acquire a second car," Judson said. "But more importantly than that, we have seen what the drag racing landscape is looking like and how it is changing. Ford, GM, and Chrysler are putting lots of resources into factory style sportsman racing and that's where we want to be." Dr. Jamie Meyer of Chevrolet Performance echoed his sentiments: "Since the COPO program came online in 2012, we've seen the excitement and interest in these cars grow and grow." He continued, "We're excited to have the program continue in 2014 and get more COPO Camaros into the hands of capable sportsman teams like SAM."

The new addition to the fleet is one of the 40 percent of COPO Camaros sold with a stick shift in 2013. Meyer said that even Chevrolet Performance was surprised by that stat: "It is a significant cost to have the car equipped with the stick and it comes 100 percent race ready, not just in the car. We expected the take rate on the stick shift to be a smaller number, but we love to supply the racers with exactly what they need."

Judson tells PHR that this will be Linda's car and she will be the driver. "Years ago when this all got started I had a stick shift Camaro that she raced and was great with, so we expect her to have a lot of fun in this car." Anyone who knows this family's taste in power knows that they roll naturally aspirated and always have. This car will be no different as the power will be derived from an unboosted, unsprayed, unaided-by-anything-but-their-own-brainpower LS7 427ci engine. "We're naturally aspirated people," Judson said with a laugh. "The LS7 is an awesome engine, and we've gotten a lot of great information out of the car that we have been running which we'll apply to this car." It seems most agree, as 75 percent of COPO Camaros sold are equipped with the LS7 engine.

Lest anyone question Linda's skills behind the wheel or her ability, she's a true racer. Having gone 200 mph at the Texas Mile, made countless dragstrip laps, and been a hands-on part of the operation of the School of Automotive Machinists since it opened, Linda has the chops to get in this car and really make the LS7 sing. That is, of course, after it gets some of the touches to its engine that the first COPO on the SAM team has gotten.

"We made over 100 passes with the engine in our first COPO before touching anything on the motor," Judson said. "We tried different converters, shock setting, springs, etc., but other than pulling the valve covers off just to see what the hell was in there, we didn't touch anything." After a while, the cam got tweaked, the heads got a little CNC love, and the engine got tuned on the laptop. Those tweaks got the Camaro to a best of 9.34/141-mph in the quarter-mile.

While there have been some insane, heroic numbers thrown down by the supercharged combos available to COPO buyers, we're always intrigued by the racers running naturally aspirated and how they're making the big power and laying down the numbers that they are. To Judson, it's not a matter of whose name is on the engine but the engine itself. "I don't consider myself an 'LS person.' I am an 'air pump person,' but if we're putting things in context, the small-block Chevy is a six and the LS family of engines is a 10," Judson said. "Guys can run 9s on factory heads that were on a 2005 Tahoe, which is totally crazy but when we get to the square/rectangle-port stuff like the LS7...good grief. I know the aftermarket has to hate these heads because they are so, so good."

The LS7's greatness comes from those beautiful cylinder heads that sit atop the short-block and the 427 cubes of displacement it has. Chevrolet's C5R Corvette racing program served as a testbed for the concept that became the LS7 head. It finally came into production as a factory CNC-machined, rectangle-port monster with a 12-degree valve angle and huge 2.20-inch intake valves and 1.610-inch diameter exhaust valves. The valve angle was one of the biggest departures outside of the ports, as LS3 heads have a 15-degree valve angle. Factory stock LS7 heads have been shown to flow 370 cfm on the intake side. That is astronomical stuff for a factory-produced cylinder head. "The two things that are really impressive about the LS7 is that we're talking about an OEM production engine here with such capability as well as the fact that we live in a time where production engines come with a cylinder head with the potential that the LS7 has. You no longer throw factory heads in the trash if you are a hot rodder," GM's Dr. Meyer said.

But what about the situation we told you about in the opening to this story, the one about this being the last customer-built COPO engine ever? The handbuilt engine production line is being moved from where it is now in Wixom, Michigan, to the Corvette facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky. With that move comes the end of the option to build your own engine...for the time being. "They were kind of rolling up the carpet behind us," Judson said. "It is an incredible program, even for a guy like me who does this stuff for a living. To work on the engine with Linda and go through the entire process was really cool. From the level of technology that the builders have access to with their tools, specifically the 'torque wrench' that runs all of the fasteners down on the mains at the same time and does so to the perfect torque spec after it is scanned off of a sheet, to the level of analysis and testing done on the dyno after the engine is built, it was an amazing process to be a part of." The line is a pretty amazing mix of modern ultraefficient manufacturing tools and techniques, and good ol' gearhead know-how. "We think it says a lot for the whole experience if people like Linda and Judson were impressed because they quite literally do this for a living," Dr. Meyer added. Will the option to build your own COPO engine come back? The folks at GM wouldn't rule it out. Stay tuned!

SOURCE
Chevrolet Performance
800-450-4150
http://www.chevroletperformance.
com
School of Automotive Machinists
1911 Antoine
Houston
TX  77055
713-683-3817
http://www.samracing.com
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