The Grand Scheme -- Feature -- GM High Tech Performance

Al Shapiro's 11-Second Grand Camino

Dave Alderman Mar 6, 2006 0 Comment(s)

In the landscape of the 21st century it seems every time you turn around someone is scheming something, whether ill- or well-intentioned. Even in the small niche of modifying late model cars, you will find plenty of both varieties. However, in its purest form, a scheme (not a scam) is the blueprint for a bold conquest into the unknown, and a true exercise in skill and knowledge. Such a plan was hatched many years ago when Floridian Al Shapiro chose to convert a 1984 El Camino into what he labeled the "Grand Camino"--an intercooled Grand National hybrid.

"I fell in love with this '87 Grand National with 42,000 original miles that went 11.29 in the quarter-mile, which was for sale. The guy was asking $15,500 and there was no way I was able to afford it at that time. Instead, I found a 1984 Choo Choo El Camino and purchased it for $2,400, and I purchased an engine and transmission [from a Grand National] for $1,500. I thought that I could do a little at a time, rebuild the engine and tranny, repaint the car, it would be complete for under $10,000, and I'd have something a little different." The idea for transplanting the turbo 3.8-liter mill into an El Camino spawned from a comment a friend made about remedying the power deficiency in Al's Jeep. The LC2's light weight, power and efficiency was deemed better suited, or more easily transplanted, however, in another GM G-body--the El Camino. "Everything just bolted right in." In fact the only fabrication required was the exhaust system, which had to be lengthened to accommodate the longer body. The transformation, though, would not be complete without the GN front end and hood, which did require quite a bit of finessing. "I had no idea I would be grafting fenders."

In order to match the GN hood and front end to the El Camino body, a hybrid set of fenders was created for proper alignment with the foreign components and the original body lines. Since the frame rails were quite a bit shorter, new bumper struts and supports had to be created in addition to repositioning and re-welding the hood. With the customized GN grill and header panel also thrown into the fray, the stripped body was towed over to Doc's Custom and Collision in Lehigh Acres, Florida, for three coats of DuPont ChromaSystem black and five coats of clear.

With the exterior conversion fully complete, the interior was feeling lonely and unappreciated. So Al gave it a GN facelift as well, swapping out as much of the moldings as he could for the GN pieces, and the El Camino-specific pieces were dyed to match the others. The complete GN dashboard bolted right in, and since he would be using the GN wiring harness, too, there were no headaches there. However, instead of using the factory gauges, Al went with Cyberdyne digital gauges in the dash, which would match several others on the A-pillar and center console. The seats and door panels were about as easy to transpose as the dashboard, Al said, but the center console did require some modifications and fabrication for the mounting brackets.

The heart of the Grand Camino was transplanted with few complications after some thorough machining and fortification. Align-honed billet center caps and a high volume oil pump from Bowling Green Customs were added to the stock iron block in preparation for tire-shredding torque. The stock crank and stroke was maintained in the 3.8-liter powerplant, along with the stock LC2 rods. The bore, however, was taken .030 over by a local machine shop and the stock hypereutectic aluminum pistons were traded for GSCA Club-forged pistons with Teflon coating on the skirts and ceramic on the tops. This tried-and-true formula is again tested by Champion GN1-ported aluminum heads with 1.90 intake and 1.60 exhaust valves, not to mention a PTE 61 turbo and 21 psi of boost. Scorpion aluminum 1.65 ratio rocker arms bring to life the Ruggles (Reed) camshaft's .470/.459-inch valve lift with 210/205 degrees of duration.

After Al assembled the long-block himself with the know-how acquired as a former Buick service technician, the intake and fuel system were buttoned up before installation. Al ported the stock intake and added an RJC power plate and .75-inch spacer under the doghouse. A Jay Jackson 62mm throttle body was used to inhale pressurized air direct from a Bowling Green Customs stretch stock location intercooler. Lucas 42.5-lb/hr injectors and a Red Armstrong Double Pumper were needed to keep up with the turbo's increased volume and 21 pounds of boost. Al tuned a stock GN computer for use with an LT1 MAF and pump gas, which is supplemented by methanol with Razor's GN Alky Control kit to prevent detonation, for use in the Grand Camino. The stock GN ignition was used with GM Type II individual coils and Magnecor spark plug wires. ATR got the nod for a set of stainless turbo headers, 3-inch downpipe, and 2.5-inch exhaust. Country Club Exhaust in Cape Coral, Florida, lengthened the tailpipes to accommodate the longer body, placing the tips just behind the rear tires.

The 200-4R was sent out to Mike Kurtz at Century Transmission for a full rebuild as work began on the rest of the drivetrain. The 7.5-inch El Camino 10-bolt was simply not going to cut it with the amount of power the aluminum-headed, turbo motor was capable of, so it was traded for an 8.5-inch GN rear. An LPW girdle and axle braces secure a 3.73-ratio ring-and-pinion with an Auburn posi distributing power amongst Moser 31-spline axles. The stock steel driveshaft had to be shortened to fit the new rear and tranny, which was mated to a non-lockup 9-inch, 3500-stall converter.

Restoring and strengthening the chassis required a bit of custom work, however, the universality of the G-body architecture still made things fairly simple. The front sway bar was removed to try and put some air under a set of skinnies at the dragstrip, as Metco upper and lower control arms plant the rear. QA1 adjustable shocks were used at all four corners with clipped stock front springs and variable rate rear springs slamming the Grand Camino two inches closer to earth. An ATR rear sway bar and Air Lift airbags (set to 5 psi driver, 18 psi passenger side) keep the lengthy G-body under control during hard launches on Nitto drag radials. However, on Al's only visit to the dragstrip he used a set of Mickey Thompson slicks to go 11.42 at 118 mph with a 1.62 60-foot time.After seven years and more money than Al would like to count, a simple plan seems to have turned into a grand scheme. With no hope of ever going back, the continued investment in the Grand Camino should soon include a FAST controlled Stage 2 motor with a front mount intercooler and PTQ 67 turbo. As out of hand as this project has become, Al's intentions are to keep this hybrid theory-turned-reality on the road, and although he was not successful in saving money, he never fails to draw surprise everywhere he goes for such a unique ride.

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The transplanted LC2 features Champion aluminum heads, forged pistons, a PTE 61 turbo, and a stretched stock location intercooler. This combo so far has powered a few mid 11-second passes with 21 psi of boost on pump gas with methanol injection.

To handle the jet-like torque of the hopped up LC2, the Grand Camino also received a GN 8.5-inch, 10-bolt rear with 3.73 gears and Moser 31-spline axles. Nitto 275/50/15 drag radials mounted on light weight Centerline Convo Pro 15x8.5-inch rims were just about the most rubber Al could stuff in the El Camino's limited wheelwells. However, despite Metco control arms the turbo mill seems to overpower the tires at will. Mickey Thompson stickies might soon be the rubber of choice.

Perhaps the most challenging part of the entire build was grafting the front half of the GN fenders onto the El Camino's so as to align with both the GN front bumper and hood as well as the rest of the car. Some fabrication was required to get the bumper properly supported as well and for the hood to be positioned correctly. After smoothing out the body and receiving a slick paint job from Doc's Custom and Collision in Lehigh Acres, Florida, with the help of friend Roger Fezel who works at Doc's, it all seems worth it.

"I hope you have a lot of room in your trunk because I am going to put my bike in it." The Grand Camino is the real definition of sport utility.

Cyberdyne digital gauges line the transplanted GN A-pillar, center console and dashboard. GN seats, a Scanmaster, and an Innovative Turbo boost controller also helped to transform the Choo Choo El Camino's docile interior into a high-performance work of art.

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