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2000 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 - Red Rocket

Tom Kempf's Turbo Z28

Tony Whatley Jan 16, 2007

There is no other sound that commands more respect at the drag strip than that of a turbocharged beast. As soon as the impeller blades start turning, so do the heads in the grandstands. Turbos have been rudely kicked out of several organized racing classes, and in others they are strictly limited in size. The race officials force turbo-equipped cars to carry extra weight to slow them down, so that the nitrous and supercharged cars can have a fair chance. Even with the odds against them, you will usually find these forced-induction freaks collecting the payout checks at the end of race day.

Tom Kempf is never satisfied. As a 35-year-old engineering manager of an automotive OEM supplier, he tests and tweaks things to produce results. It is also in his nature to find the limits of things: destroy stuff, and rebuild it from a clean sheet approach. Kempf special ordered this 2000 Camaro Z28 from Rinke Chevrolet, with plans from day one to build it into a race car. He ordered the no-option "B4C" package, known for its light curb weight, hardtop roof, and bare-bones musclecar attitude. Tom didn't check off on any fancy options that could slow the car down. The results you see on these pages took six long years to arrive at. This could be considered Tom's latest and greatest combination, as he has had a series of successful setups in this particular Camaro.

The day Kempf picked this car up from the dealership, he drove it straight to a chassis dyno to get his baseline numbers. The car put down an anemic 286 rwhp, a little below average for an LS1-equipped F-body. Immediately, Kempf went the bolt-on modification path, and raced the car. Not being satisfied, he built a 382ci setup. He went racing some more. The Z28 continued to get quicker, and Kempf's wallet got lighter. Eventually, it ran 10s on motor with a 422ci stroker, but that wasn't good enough. Next at bat was a 414ci stroker, equipped with a bottle of nitrous. This Camaro ran three racing seasons in the 9-second zone, with a best of 9.20 at 150 mph on the bottle... but Tom wasn't satisfied.

Kempf assembled an impressive team of Gen III performers from his home state of Michigan. Stenod Performance, in Troy, Michigan, handled the chassis chores and fabrication work on the custom turbo system. Wheel to Wheel Powertrain, in Madison Heights, Michigan, designed and assembled the bulletproof 370ci Gen III engine. Together, this team built this Z into a 1,569hp Camaro that has gone a best of 8.08 at 176 mph, with a 1.29 60-ft--on drag radials!

The current 370ci engine isn't anything too exotic. It is however, a nice list of matched components from popular companies, assembled with precision by W2W. The engine block is the ever-popular LSX family 6.0L iron block, sourced from a late model GM pickup truck. It has been fortified with billet mains, and now has bronze lifter bores. Diamond Pistons provided the 8.5:1 CR slugs, which hammer a set of GRP aluminum rods. These rods ride on a set of Clevite bearings and spin the Callies billet crankshaft. Futral Motorsports spec'd out the solid roller camshaft and COMP Cams lifters. A Meziere electric water pump keeps the coolant circulating. Down below, an ARE dry-sump oiling system keeps the engine lubed. Induction duties are handled by a GM Performance Parts single-plane, carb-style intake manifold and 105mm Wilson throttle body. The forced induction flow is guided into the cylinders by a set of CNC ported heads by ET Performance. ARP head studs and copper head gaskets keep the combustion events inside the engine. Peeking through the nose of the car is the Precision 101mm turbo, set at 30 psi boost. The compressed air passes through a custom air-to-water intercooler system that rides shotgun in the passenger seat. The Stenod turbo header system uses 1-7/8-inch primaries and has a huge 5-inch downpipe. The combo chugs C16 race fuel through a set of Lucas 160 lb/hr injectors, supplied by an Aeromotive belt-driven pump. The engine is controlled by a Big Stuff 3 system, which fires off the spark signals to a set of OEM truck coil packs.

In order to run numbers like this 3,500-lb Z28 does, a stout drivetrain and suspension are required. Kempf selected a JW race-prepped TH400 transmission, and a 5,000-stall Neil Chance converter. A custom chrome moly driveshaft turns a set of 3.50 gears inside of the Stenod custom 9-inch-based rear end. Moser 35-spline axles spin the wheels out back. Stenod designed a custom coilover rear suspension setup, and Harlan Engineering designed the lightweight aluminum control arms and the anti-roll bar. An off-the-shelf Spohn torque arm keeps the rearend pointed in the right direction. Afco double-adjustable shocks are used front and rear. Up front, a Stenod custom chrome moly K-member, along with a Flaming River manual rack-and-pinion steering assembly are used. The Camaro rides on a set of Weld Alumastar wheels, which conceal a set of Aerospace drag brakes. Mickey Thompson Front Runners and 315/60R15 drag radials are the tires of choice. As you probably noticed by now, it doesn't appear that Kempf cuts any corners when it comes to his hot rod. Even the appearance is showcar worthy, with its shaved antenna, stretched rear quarter-panels, custom fabricated fiberglass hood, and a killer flame paint job by Jesse James at Stenod. The interior sports a custom racing seat by TB-America, and a removable Grant steering wheel. The 25.5 NHRA-spec rollcage was completed by Stenod for the new certification requirements.

When will Kempf be satisfied? When will this Camaro be considered complete? No one knows the answer to either of those questions, and judging by the long path of modifications he has gone through, our money is on the word "never."



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