1999 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 - Red-Light Special

GMPP shoehorns a brand-new LS7 into one of its Camaro test cars, and we slaughter an innocent T56 in the pursuit of 11-second timeslips

Patrick Hill Dec 7, 2006 0 Comment(s)
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The GM Performance Parts LS7 Camaro dripped bad attitude from the first minute I saw it at Thomson Automotive. GMPP's Jamie Meyer and I had dropped by one August morning to do a photo shoot before we continued on to an LSX block presentation. We would be back to collect the Camaro later that day to head up to Milan, but I wanted to get a little seat time first.

Thomson Automotive has worked hand in hand with GM's engineers in the past to create cool hot rods that push the limit, and in early 2006, GMPP engineer Shawn Smith contacted Brian Thomson about doing a Camaro with a swapped-in LS7. Starting with a crate LS7 and an old GM Engineering F-body mule, this project came together in the spring months and was ready to roll by the Power Tour.

It was the first time I'd laid eyes on this 427-swap hardtop, and I was impressed: Though the flat black paint and black Z06 rims try to keep this puppy low-key, the exterior, replete with SS hood and rear spoiler and enhanced by the ballsy GMPP TEST VEHICLE graphics on the doors and rear LS7 badge, is about as understated as a kick to the jimmy.

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The same goes for the massive 427ci LS7 under the hood. Though it's far from the ill-tempered race motors that our carb-loving brethren run, there's something about an LS7's idle that stops you in your tracks. Definitely not rowdy, but only because something--in this case a MEFI-4b ECU--is trying like hell to hold it back. And this mill was also enhanced by a set of headers, which gave it an even more sinister tone. The 427 sat between the fenders like it belonged there, a tribute to Thomson Automotive's outstanding fabrication.

Drivetrain upgrades included a Strange S60 with 4.56 gears, a new driveshaft, and an aftermarket clutch. The Thomson crew had been going through clutches like crazy, and only hours earlier had bolted up a new Centerforce dual. I hopped in and was pleased to find a clutch pedal with very manageable pressure. The big crate engine was cracked off and allowed to warm up a bit, then I rolled out with Meyer riding shotgun. The LS7, not yet up to operating temperature, was ultra-responsive and didn't much care for the 25-mph speed limit. Immediately, I noticed a gear change issue with the T56--playing around with quick upshifts and heel and toe downshifts revealed that it was hanging up between gears. Once up to temp and on a two-block straight, I selected First, eased out the clutch until we were rolling, and punched it.

The LS7 exploded to life, screaming to rpm unheard of with its lesser LS siblings and shredding the 275mm Goodyear radials. The nose skated left, then right as I corrected, and finally settled down as I rolled off the gas, wide-eyed. Wow, that's sick! Later that afternoon, I made the hour-long trek up to Milan Dragway with Shawn Smith riding shotgun. Even without the front sway bar, this Camaro handled well at highway speeds, and though I fought the T56 all the way up to Sixth gear, once there the sounds and feels were like that of a near-stock F-body. Even with the 4.56s, revs were right around 2,500 at 70 mph according to the Racepak display. And even though we weren't using the A/C and had the windows down, the exhaust sound was dignified. My eyes slipped down and found a sweet digital wide-band O2 readout, mounted right ahead of the B&M shifter in the console--nice touch!

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Once at Milan the Camaro was teched, then I rolled over to the pits, where some of the Thomson Automotive crew--Brian, Lazlo, and Mike--were waiting. The plan was to get some solid street-tire runs, then swap over to a set of slicks. As the lanes had just opened, I made a beeline for the starting line.

In preparation for the run, I removed the floormat, adjusted the seat forward a bit, rolled the windows up, and threw on the Simpson. I did a small burnout and pulled up to stage, but the clutch pedal crashed and I ended up fouling. I kicked the pedal a couple times, it felt OK, so I launched anyway. Three difficult shifts later and a lame 15.24 at 111 flashed. The next time around, I repeated the burnout and was pleased to find that the clutch was fine. A soft 2,200-rpm launch netted a 2.15 60, and battling to Fourth gear rewarded me with a 13.58 at 111. Though I didn't want to wear the clutch out early, I headed back to the staging lanes for one last shot before parking it--I was just starting to settle down and some headway had to be made with the gearbox. Ten minutes later, I was scalding the hides in the burnout box, but a high 3,000-rpm launch on the radials blew the 60-ft: 2.34. The trans was smooth at first: I wasn't able to powershift, but the 1-2 and 2-3 weren't hanging up in Neutral as before. But when it came time to grab Fourth, the six-speed made it clear that attempting a quick shift would be dealt with severely. I missed the gear and coasted across the stripe, settling for a 12.80 at 102.


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