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2001 Chevy Camaro Z28 & 1987 Buick Turbo T- Got-R-Done

Rick Jensen Mar 1, 2007
0703gmhtp_01_z 2001_chevy_camaro_z28 Front_view 2/1

It's mid-November and winter is closing in on us yet again. In most years around this time, there's a feeling of regret at not getting enough done while the track surface is still warm. But this year is different; not only did the GMHTP staff get a ton done this season, but for the first year in a long time, I was finally able to set aside a decent amount of time to work on my own vehicles-and in the process, get the ball rolling for some solid personal tech that is finding its way to these pages.

I purchased a 2001 Z28 hardtop this spring. It was a strange mix of rough and mint, as the previous owner had removed and discarded some of the original car in a bid to build a racer, only to change his mind, put it back together, and sell it. For many potential buyers this one was a pass: mismatched steering wheel and dash, originally a six-speed but he swapped in a slipping auto trans, swapped wiring harness, etc. To me, this puppy had less than 40,000 miles and a new paint job, and most importantly, was a factory 1SC stripper, perfect for road course, drag race, and daily driver duty. Its potential was huge and it's a rare one, so I snapped it up knowing damn well how much work lay ahead of me.

Right off the bat the 4L60E was too sick to handle full-throttle upshifts, so a decision was made to swap a T56 back in. I spent a ton of time researching and compiling parts, somehow talked Chris Werner into not only using his lift for the week but also using his labor, and we got to work. Needless to say, this was a colossal pain in the ass, and the car fought us nearly every step of the way. But the first time I was able to run it up to redline and bang my own gears, it was all worth it-look for the swap story soon. I thrashed to get it to the point where it was ready to test at E-Town, and got baseline quarter-mile, braking, and road-course numbers. I've got big plans for this Z involving handling, drag racing, and product comparisons, so keep an eye out for it.

Moving on to my other ride: ever since I moved to the East Coast five years ago, my '87 Turbo-T Buick had been in a state of decline. Almost every aspect of it needed serious work-but the engine just kept going, and it still ran low 12s, so it was hard to justify making it a full-out project. That lasted until 2004 when, at nearly 160,000 miles, oil started showing up in the coolant and I dropped it off at my storage garage for an extended stay.

To be honest with you, I'd lost a little interest in the car because it was in such bad shape, and the amount of work needed to bring it back was staggering. This wasn't just changing a few cool speed parts out and voila! In addition to the necessary engine work, it would involve wiring, sanding, painting, and replacing lots of necessary yet wholly un-sexy components, like the headlight dimmer clicker on the steering column... yawn. And at the time, I had exactly no free time to devote to the Buford.

But I couldn't let it gather dust forever, so I came up with a game plan, got a bunch of companies on board who were willing to help me with the project, towed it down to Ron's Custom Auto in Kenilworth, New Jersey, and got to work. And now, after nearly two years and many man-hours of labor, I'm happy to say that I was able to get it all back together and track-tested before E-Town closed for the season. This was a colossal undertaking that I had tons of help with, but I'm pleased to say that the T is back. It's definitely not finished by any stretch-there are still things that need tweaking, the interior is shot, it's in dire need of paint, and I have to get a new set of street rims to end the relentless ball-breaking around the office-but it's close. And lemme tell you, I've never been more psyched about this car. It feels like I've replaced as much as I could without doing a frame-off resto (though I'm sure it's nowhere near as thorough as it feels), and I'm starting to see night-and-day differences in the way it drives. It's strange to think that these cars are 20 years old now, but you can tell when you drive them back-to-back with a newer car. That's why you have to put so much work into them to keep them street-worthy. I'm starting to realize how owners of '60s and '70s musclecars feel.

The worst time for me-when I felt the lowest and least connected to my cars and this hobby-was when the Buick was in storage, before I owned the Camaro. There's nothing worse than owning a cool car and knowing that you don't have the time or a place to work on it. Simply put, it made me feel like less of a car guy. Thankfully, I'm happy to say, those days are over. I've got a boatload of tech headed your way-hope you like it. The snow will be flying soon, and even though I won't be racing for a few months, I have a feeling that this sense of accomplishment is going to tide me over until spring comes.

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