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Editorial: 4th-Gen Bolt-On Thrash/Bash Part One

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So some of you might follow along with me as I hap-hazzardly make my way through the automotive world attempting to make good content, and at the same time build some junk for myself to beat on…even if my good intentions are there, something ALWAYS gets in the way – say, like an old guy bashing into my 1995 Z28 Camaro and it subsequently spending over two months in the body shop along with yours truly spending two and sometimes three afternoons in a doctors office mending my twisted neck and back…but the car is fixed (well, at least to the insurance company) and I’m on the mend and just could not pass up getting started on updating some small stuff on the convertible.

Now when this started, it was with the heart of what makes Cars Illustrated so great – go fast on no cash – and even though some of the parts on this wave of bolt-ons were donated, most were paid for straight out of my pocket, but regardless lets go.

The story behind the car…

I bought this 1995 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 convertible as a replacement for the 1990 Ford Bronco I sold to a friend back east and the reasons I picked this particular car was easy – it was a garage queen that the previous owner was more impressed with his loud stereo and car show trophies than what his time slip read, plus according to him it was “bone stock”other than the K&N cold air, headers and his “I installed it myself ” “True-Duals” exhaust – okay, it did sound pretty good, but it was the kookiest set up I’ve even seen. I added the JMS wheels and M&H drag radials and it is what you see here.

So what to do?

I thought to myself what would a guy with no real budget do to put a little pep in the step of a LT1 powered 4th-Gen? Well, it could start with some exhaust/track-cutouts, some ignition, a new flywheel/clutch and put what power the car has now on the ground and just for the sake of it a “poor mans cam swap” better known as some 1.6 rockers and new pushrods…along with some other little goodies like a shift light and cleaning kit of the air filter, I figured we could squeeze somewhere between 15-20 hp out of it and make it hook hard coming out of the hole – at the same time I asked the public to “place your bets” and got some interesting guesses, most of which were in the same ballpark – it ran a 14.387 at 96.48mph in stock trim and I had hopes of getting to 13.5 at close to 100mph…okay I had delusions of getting deep into the 13s, maybe even a 12.99?

Starting with the “fun” task of yanking the motor out of a 4th-gen, now I’ve already had my conversations about how much “fun” it is to swap out a engine on a 3rd-Gen, but this was downright silly – I’ve read all the articles, seen all the videos, but I’ve never done it myself, so it was a bit of a eye opener – not to mention easy…I know, I know it’s the cradle and this and that, but if you think about it, it’s actually pretty smart if you’re taking on anything worth while in one of these cars, let alone replacing the engine with another – its the way to go, well it’s the ONLY way to go….now speaking on general maintenance, the 4th-gen Camaro would arguably make the top-10 of messed up spaces to swap plugs or say the cap and rotor.

HUGE monster thanks to Scott and Frank Pettit from S&J Automotive for the use of the lift, tools and manpower to start (and hopefully finish) this little project. Lets make a tally – other than a few thing like getting it up on the rack and cutting the exhaust out, we started at 7pm on Friday night, three guys with a lift, full cradle out, rear suspension out and home watching the news by 11pm – not bad for being in zero rush and bullshitting (and drinking a few beers) along the way…

The next morning brought on a wave of cleaning and preparations for the formentioned upgrades – soaking, scrubbing, brushing and a little pressurized water helped lift 125,000 miles of junk and residue off the Z28s power train, but remember how I told you it was the previous owners “show car” – well, apparently he never had the engine shown or glad-handed the judges because this thing was not all that “show-car’ under the hood…to me it looked as it always looked, like a nicely waxed daily…enough about that, lets press on.

We had a “plan” from the get go – remove power train and suspension, clean and prep, rear suspension and then engine upgrades and stuff the cradle back up there, weld up some exhaust and rip out of the shop Sunday night…well, what I did not know is that Scott and Frank had already factored what always happens….shit goes south and lucky for me that meant there was no rush, but there was a few hurdles to over come and here they are…I got the wrong sub-frame connectors so that will hold up finishing the BMR Drag-Pack Level 2 until they can send me the right ones. Also on this list, having the new flywheel from Fidanza spin-balanced to the factory counter weight, that goes out to the machine shop 1st thing Monday morning…now these two things are not the biggest hurdles or better said “mysteries” while pulling the little black convertible apart…

Remember, it was just going to be some ignition parts from MSD, fresh headers from Hedman, K&N Cold filter rub-a-dub, tweak the fuel pressure regulator, toss some E3 plugs in it, you know little stuff to make what I got run better, but here is where it gets good.

See, when we brought the cradle down Friday night we never expected to see what we did once we got to really peek at whats under the hood. 1st off, lets give you another little reference..I have not put enough miles on the car to even change the oil..so I never bothered to really peek and prod under the hood other than to check the oil level and make sure it’s got water in it the one and only time I ripped it up the track for a couple of runs – figured, send it and if it breaks, it’s LS swap time. But it’s what we started to see that made us all scratch our heads and wonder what it going on here.

Here are the things that make you go hmmmm..

First clue…once the muck came off the water pump it had the lettering Meziere Enterprises – yep, that’s a $250 lt1 water pump

Second clue…getting a look behind the (I am not kidding) once black with junk and oil spatter and now bright red – yep, thats the MSD Pro-Billet LT1 Distributor…hmm, a $500 distributor on a “Stock” LT1

Third clue…ARP bolts in the heads, bell housing and headers, hmm…interesting, yes the best and not cheap.

No more messing around, lets pull a valve cover and see what going on around here…and this is what we found.

 

There is NOTHING stock about LT1 heads that have been outfitted with screw in studs, guide plates and full roller rockers – all supplied by COMP to someone who once owned this car and led me to some detective work and a little long term memory. See a week before grandpa slammed into me I was driving the car home, and a guy in a white delivery van pulled up next to me at a stop light and yelled “hey, you buy that car from Tony” – “yes I replied” as he responded again with “that car was fast, I ran 11’s in it” …as the light turned green and my BULLSHIT detector was on full-tilt I looked back and thought, wait maybe he was telling the truth?…but I could not break out of the 14s let alone think 11s? So I caulked it up to either the car had a completely different motor in it or this guy was a crackhead yelling at me at the local four-way stop…until I pulled that valve cover. But what was the deal? I also called the “car show” owner and got a little more info…something told me he mentioned something about a cam when I bought it, but the test-drive butt-acceleromitor and exhaust note told me what I had thought form the start – stock with some headers..until I got him back on the phone. Apparently someone did swap out the cam…for a SMALLER ONE. For reasons of drivability? Maybe it was “too loud and scary” for whomever made this choice it’s not one I’m going to let sit…so 1st thing in the morning I’m ordering the new COMP 503/LT1 cam, headed to balance the flywheel and see just what this thing is capable of…maybe it did run 11’s? Maybe I will too?

With that, it’s been a long weekend and I need to get to bed…oh who am I kidding, I’m thinking that for once in my life I finally did not get the short end of the stick and hit a LT1-Yahtzee.

More coming soon…but it’s almost midnight and Monday morning is gonna be here soon.

-the Janitor

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