Car FeatureNot Long Ago, In A Land not far away, horsepower was nearly extinct in our beloved performance vehicles. But with the help of Lotus, the General sought to bring the exhilaration of rapid acceleration back to the automobile. Thus the Corvette ZR-1 was created for the 1990 model year using the familiar C4 chassis and the LT5, one of the most technologically advanced engines of its time. While this marvel of engineering only graced the General's flagship sports car from 1990 to 1995, its affect was to usher in a new era of high-performance production cars.
There was no better way to make a mark on the 1991 SEMA show than with an LT5 shoehorned into an unfamiliar chassis, so John Moss (former Director of Special Projects at GM) procured the all-aluminum 350-cid, 32-valve, dual-overhead-cam motor produced by the Mercury Marine plant in Oklahoma.
Given its sex appeal and obvious relation to the Corvette, the Camaro was the natural choice for an LT5 transplant. So Moss tapped into a cache of development cars at the Milford plant, which are typically scrapped after many miles of rough existence. The 1988 chassis chosen required extensive work for it to be worthy of the SEMA show and the national scrutiny that follows. North American Operations facilities in Warren, Michigan, straightened out the abused body and gave it some fresh paint, including the custom Atari Purple and Neon Green graphics. Seventeen-inch Speedline wheels, remarkably similar to the Firehawk wheels of the same era, were also painted neon green to match and then wrapped in Goodyear GSC rubber. 1LE options were also necessary upgrades, such as the 12-inch, two-piston PBR front brakes-not to mention upgraded control arm bushings, sway bars, springs, and shocks.
GM Powertrain, which had a hand in developing the 375-horse, high-revving motor, was also helpful in making the retrofitted powerplant and computer work in its new home. Wheel-to-Wheel Powertrain, which GM had used for many projects and testing, put the Camaro on one of its lifts and prepared the chassis for 370 lb-ft of torque. Among many necessary reinforcements, a 9-inch rear most assuredly replaced the factory nine-bolt. When combined with the Corvette's quick-shifting German ZF trans to replace the problematic T-5, the Camaro had a rock-solid drivetrain. A custom exhaust system was fabricated to mate to the LT5's exhaust manifolds and catalytic converters, transmitting one of the sweetest sounding factory V-8s ever made (to our ears).
After making its round-robin tour of car shows starting in the fall of 1990, GM's LT5 Camaro was buried in a warehouse full of rare gems where it remained until 2000. Scott Settlemire, manager of Chevy shows and exhibits, dusted off the old girl for the Camaro Legends Tour and has since placed it in GM's Heritage Collection.