12.99/$1,299 Update – Divine Intervention by Dennis Pittsenbarger


Dear Dennis & Michael,

Thank you for taking the time to take on the Car Illustrated Magazine 12.99 Challenge.

We regret to inform you that your 1991 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 will not be finishing this pursuit. Though your qualifications are impressive, the selection process was highly competitive and the 3rd-Gen you have chosen has decided to move forward with a blown head gasket or cracked block. We thank you for your interest in Car Illustrated Magazine 12.99 Challenge and wish you all the best in your future endeavors.


The Car Gods…

This would have been the letter both Michael and myself would have received in the mail if there was such a division of the “Car Gods“ office space was real, but before I get into that let me tell you the whole story leading up to this week’s implosion.

It started off with a bang, we were happy and excited to take on the Cars Illustrated 12.99/$1,299 Challenge and you could see it in our video…




Follow this link to watch the video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ne2Bfy3VAyc


…and with all good intentions we set out to find parts, repair some obvious damage and get down and dirty on our quest for 12.99. But, that’s when things started to go downhill, and as you know it only gets rolling faster and faster as the momentum gets worse.

First we figured that it was a fuel delivery problem and had a 12-round Rocky and Apollo level fight with the T.P.I. system – along with the fuel pump, the tank and the giant hole the previous owner (a methed out tweaker) cut in the rear floor to access the tank and the pump. And, that again was only the beginning.


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CLICK ON THE LINK TO READ THE PREVIOUS STORY:  http://www.carsillustrated.com/while-the-cats-away-the-mice-will-play-by-dennis-pittsenbarger/


…and yes, it just kept getting better. We understood that it would be a fight. This was no easy task, and every dollar has to count. But, after thinking we had the fuel delivery problem licked, guess who decided to crash the party? Mr. Milkshake, and he brought all his little bastard friends to the yard as well.

No worries. Just sit back and assess the problem and how it can be fixed, right? And that’s just what Mike did while I was off to SEMA to host the SEMA Central Stage, SEMA Ignited, and take part in the SEMA banquet. Meanwhile, Mike tore the T.P.I. system down once again and found what was logically the problem … a bad intake gasket at the front water gallery. Problem fixed, right?


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CLICK THE LINK TO READ THE PREVIOUS STORY:  http://www.carsillustrated.com/while-the-cats-away-the-mice-will-play-by-dennis-pittsenbarger/


But again, we thought that there was hope that it was not something completely horrible and something that could be overcome with a simple repair. Again, we were wrong.

And, that leaves us here right where we did not want to be. Assessing the damage and wondering what do we do next?




First we had to look at where we are as far as the budget limit. Remember $1,299 does not go far, but here is the list:

1991 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 $450

Fuel Tank $50

Fuel System Cluster & Pump $25

Rear Clip/Sheetmetal $50

Rear End Kit – $10

Fuel Injectors $72.50

Intake Gaskets – Round One $20

Oil Filter – $3.75

Oil – $40

5 Gallons of Super Unleaded – $13.75

Used Drag Radials – $25

Used Tires – $50

Transmission Filter & Gasket – $20

Transmission Fluid – $15

Intake Gaskets – Round Two – $20

Various Intake Gaskets – $30

Various Cleaning Products – $20

Various Tools/Wheels/Pads – $30

TOTAL $925

Remaining BUDGET $374


In there lies the problem. There is no way to describe what happened over Thursday and Friday other than to get right down to it and tell the truth. The motor is junk. We did not want to believe it. Mike and I went against every basic instinct of repairs to fight, battle and generally hope our way into what could have been. After we had no other choice, we thought to ourselves that we could just run it dry. True drag cars do not run cooling systems, and we just figured that we could put it back together, trailer it down to the track, push it though tech and to the line, and see if we could hit that illusive 12.99. But, that was not the bottom line.

Even though Thursday was a re-assembly day and it spilled into Friday, I was still very optimistic that all we had to do was set this thing up to run dry, get a base run and then see what weight and power-adder (lots of nitrous) could push this 3rd-Gen into the high 12’s. Then, we started the final tuning.

See Pro-Tek is a business that is responsible for more than my collection of Camaros in the back of the shop. So, with Mike’s directions and mechanical “drive bys”, I did my best to wrap up the reassembly and lock down of the ‘91 Z28. We were looking for a maiden voyage into the parking lot to “spit some skids” as my friends down under would say. And, we honestly thought it was close.

Mike locked down the overall mechanical check-up of my usual watermelon carrying knucklehead-isums and grabbed the timing light. And, that’s when it started to go really bad. See I had only run the car while rotating some used oil though the motor to help clean out the water and any residuals floating around inside the crankcase. It seemed fine and sounded even better than expected. It did help that we separated the exhaust right behind the factory dual-cats. But, either way it was not smoking, not blowing any blue and generally was looking like we had maybe dodged a bullet. We even thought, at least for an instant, that we might have a chance at the 12.99 ET. Boy, were we wrong.

After setting up the timing mark and making sure that between that “internet experts” and the listed correct timing parameters, we started to give her the goose. And, sadly all we got was a rotten egg.

Once we put the L98 on its curve, it was slowly sinking in that we had a major problem. It might not be one that could be fixed. It was going to be one of those days where your heart sinks and the shop is filled with death smoke. Now before every “internet expert” tells us what we did wrong, we already know. We tried to build a drag car with blinders on. We know that it was a high risk option to think it was ONLY the intake gaskets. We KNOW that it was a gamble to see if it would run great sticking to the basics of fuel-spark and air. And, it was also obvious that we KNEW that it could blow up in our faces and before it did that at the track and/or out on the road leading to the track we might just need to pull the plug.



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But do we really need to?

It kills me to look at this car and think…is it over?



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Maybe a hail-mary to the junk yard for a long block? Maybe an argument to have inflation from 1987 to 2015 is part of it? No, we just plain and simple failed.

So with $374 dollars left and a junk motor, what would you do?

All of this is on the CarsIllustrated.com forum and both Mike and I are open for suggestions other than the usual internet warrior-armchair quarterback bullshit. But, at this point and after this end of week ripping of our souls out of our asses … that buys a lot of beer and whiskey.






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