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How Chevrolet Performance Turns a Body-In-White Camaro into a COPO

How to build a COPO Camaro in 100,000 easy steps: It’s all in the details for Chevrolet Performance’s COPO Camaro

Justin Cesler Dec 18, 2015
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Let’s play a little game called “how long did it take you to complete your last project?” And not, how long did it take you to finally install that camshaft you ordered last month? We mean how long from start to finish? If your answer is “too many days to count,” you can have a seat over to the left, where you’ll find about 98 percent of us. If you’re in the 1-to-2 year category, nice work, go grab a cold beverage. Under a year? Well, you’re one motivated builder, great job! Did you say you built 69 full-on race cars every year for the last three years and counting? Because if you said that, then you must be from Chevrolet Performance, and you might want to add that you did all that while also building all of the engines, drivetrains, chassis, and interiors. Oh, and you did it by resurrecting a hallowed nameplate and shaking up the ranks of NHRA racing all along the way. Of course, and you might also want to mention that those almost impossible to get once-in-a-lifetime rides also comes with a choice of engines, transmissions, and paint schemes, all handbuilt and delivered directly to your racer’s doors.

That said, if you didn’t answer all of that, you might still be interested in just how Chevrolet Performance puts together the COPO Camaro. And if you’re into that, you’re going to love this. Fun fact … Did you know that every COPO Camaro comes with COPO specific window regulators that feature lighter wiring harnesses and special door grommets to connect everything? How about the special pedals, which eliminate the stock drive-by-wire controls in favor of a traditional throttle body. Or, how about those side view mirrors … go ahead and look; you’ll finally notice they’ve been missing this whole time.

The truth is, the closer you look the more you’ll see on the COPO Camaro. The carpet should have a bunch of holes in it for the factory seats but it doesn’t. The switches in the dash should fit like typical race car parts but they actually appear to be molded into the old radio face. The rear suspension. Did it always come like that or did they convert the entire chassis over to a solid axle without so much as a hint of the conversion? Wait, did every Camaro come with wheelie bars and the proper cutouts for them in the rear fascia? Where did that awesome cowl hood come from? What about the innovative Weld wheels developed for maximum performance at minimal weight? You’ll find all that and much, much more in a COPO Camaro and we’re happy to share just a fraction of the build process with you here in Camaro Now. So read on and see how the Chevrolet Performance COPO team does it and then consider trying to do that same operation at scale. It’s quite impressive!

Copo Camaro Shop Tour 02 Body 2/32

Every Chevrolet Performance COPO Camaro enters the COPO factory as a “body-in-white” roller, although they may show up in different colors based on the customer’s order. These bodies, which are pulled from the regular Camaro assembly line, are the perfect starting point for the build, but require significant modification to earn the COPO name.

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After carefully inspecting, documenting, and cleaning each body-in-white, COPO technicians begin the process of protecting the existing factory paint.

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Each Camaro will be cut, welded, modified, and assembled by trained technicians to ensure a high-quality fit and finish at the end of the line, but they don’t want to repaint each Camaro if they already start with a great finish.

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Each stage of assembly takes place at an individual station, which begins at one end of the COPO factory and finishes at another. Here, you can see the initial fabrication stations, where the cutting, spot drilling, welding, and rollcage assembly is completed.

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Inside and out, the Camaro chassis is cut and modified to remove any excess weight. This includes removal of hundreds of spot welds, brackets, panels, and interior pieces.

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Where factory components could be reused, they are saved, but anything not deemed necessary for straight-line domination is gone.

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For Factory Eliminator competition, the COPO relies on a traditional solid axle four-link rear suspension system, which requires new brackets to be welded to the factory chassis. These rear suspension brackets are laser cut in batches to exacting tolerances and are installed using a precision jig. That means that every COPO leaves the factory exactly the same, with everything in the correct place, as verified by technicians along the line.

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Here is a good example of the Panhard bar mount, which is located using an OEM IRS mounting location. This, along with the COPO specific jigs, verifies that each Panhard is mounted in the correct spot each and every time. Something that both buyer number 1 and buyer 69 will surely appreciate.

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A before and after look at the passenger-side floorboard gives you a good idea at the amount of modification required to install the custom fit rollcage and subframe connectors.

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Note the cut in the factory seat mount, which is then welded directly to the subframe connector for additional rigidity.

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As you would expect, the rollcage tubing is also laser cut and CNC bent in batches, and while each bar is finished for a perfect fit in the car, this precision also cuts down on the time required for each chassis to be completed. Of course, every ’cage is NHRA inspected and certified before leaving the facility.

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Here you can see the rear main hoop, front hoop, rear X, and rear down bars in place. Every weld is done by hand at the factory and inspected by both the COPO team and the NHRA prior to delivery. Note the laser cut rear down bar covers. A nice touch to cover the factory rear seat area.

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If you’ve seen some of the welds in the tech lines at your local track, you know these are top notch, but that’s what you would expect from a builder like Chevrolet Performance.

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Depending on the customer’s personal preference and the engine combination they select, the COPO ships with either an automatic three-speed transmission or a manual four-speed box. Either way, the floor is modified to accommodate the correct shifter assembly.

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Out back, each COPO leaves the factory with a complete Strange 9-inch solid axle. These axle assemblies are set up out of the chassis and the centersection, brakes, and brackets are all preassembled prior to installation. Note the 4.88 tag on the rear, which signifies the ring-and-pinion ratio for this particular drivetrain combination.

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The Strange axle assembly looks right at home underneath the chassis, and you can hardly tell that this was once home to an independently suspended street style rearend. Note the all-black finish, which is applied to the entire underbody after the fabrication stage of the build is completed.

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Remember our Panhard bracket mount from earlier? Here you can see the completed part, which is welded, painted, and bolted together for a complete OEM fit and finish.

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Strange adjustable shocks control the motion on the COPO and they play a critical role in getting the car hooked up and gone on the starting line. Chassis tuning and suspension setup is something that the COPO team takes seriously, and something that each racer will have to fine-tune as they get to know their car.

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Literally every nut and bolt on the COPO is torqued to spec, marked, double checked, and inspected prior to delivery. These paint marks, which are color-coded depending on the application, let both the builders and the racers know if a bolt is loose or has moved.

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That same attention to detail can be found all throughout the process. Take for example this station, which stacks driveshafts, steering racks, pedal packs, and shifter kits. Each piece is assembled, installed, and checked in a so-clean-you-can-eat-off-of-it environment. We can only wish our home garages were this nice.

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Here is another little fixture we would love to have. It was built to hold the entire front subframe in place, which allows the builders to preassemble a majority of the engine bay without touching the car. Everything from the engine, radiator, long-tube headers, and front drive can be done before lowering the body in place.

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Speaking of engines, that’s something you’ll find the Chevrolet Performance team does quite well. From the naturally aspirated 427s to the supercharged 350s, there is a combination for virtually every competitive NHRA class. Of course, only you can decide which engine is right for you.

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Engine, meet cradle. Cradle, engine. This Chevrolet Performance 427 is destined for big things, but take a look at all of the little things here. Notice the installed steering rack, the transmission, coils and plug wires, even the solid engine mounts, and the installed front drive kit. The cooling assembly is next, along with the exhaust, and in it goes!

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And just like that, the COPO has a heart. Well, one of several hearts actually.

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Did you know you can even order one COPO with all of the engines and Chevrolet Performance will install one, serial number the others, and send you home with the entire factory in tow? I bet if we all – and I mean all of us – pooled our cash together, we still might come up short on that bill.

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From the underside, the engine bay is all business. American Racing long-tube headers flow into, uh, mufflers, which don’t stick around long after the collector. The Moroso pan is race day ready, as is the ACDelco filter and ATI transmission.

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Of course, you can’t go to any racetrack without fuel and fire, so it’s time to drop the complete fuel system in place along with all of the necessary wiring.

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Fuel is easy thanks to a simple in-tank Aeromotive Eliminator system, and wiring is easy too, thanks to preassembled and ready-to-run COPO specific harnesses.

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Inside you would hardly know that this was a lightweight race ready car thanks to the OE fit and finish. Believe it or not, almost every detail in here is COPO specific, including the carpet kit, which is specially delivered to the factory without any additional cuts that aren’t needed for the sparse interior. Obviously, the radio detail and gauge cluster are also COPO specific, nice touches to keep the driver focused on the task at hand.

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Finally, after each COPO is assembled, it’s time for the team to check over the entire vehicle top to bottom. Everything from the paintjob to the tire pressure is perfected before the COPO is ready for delivery, and only then can it be taken home with the new owner.

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If you’re one of those lucky 69, we envy you. Just make sure you send us pictures!

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