One good turn deserves another, the saying goes. So if slipping a slick LS1 powerplant into the engine bay of a second-gen Camaro is a good idea, why not do the same to a third-gen? Except for a few installation details, all it takes is a quick look at Jim Brink's '79 and the car it inspired, Josh Kunkel's '89, to make a Camaro fan wanna take a turn at creating a trans-generational Camaro concoction of his own. Long story short, both of these hybrid F-bodies deliver the goods: the classic looks of eras past and the power and drivability of a modern powertrain.
Jim wasn't really looking to build another car. He had just finished a '67 Nova complete with a Heidt's frontend, minitubs out back, and sundry goodies in between. He was looking for another project and came across a '79 Camaro, an Arizona car that had ended up in Fargo, North Dakota. He intended to flip the car, looking for a quick grand or so. Once the old second-gen was up on jackstands, however, Jim began to rethink his plan. "It was perfect underneath," he recalls. By the time Jim headed out for the '03 Power Tour, he was looking for ideas for his own F-body build.
The die was cast back home in Minnesota when he came across a wrecked '02 Camaro. "I thought it would be something unique," he told us, "something that people would look at and say, 'Oh, cool.'" In typical Minnesota style, the powertrain transplant project lasted from September 2003 to June 2004, finishing just in time for the first car show of the spring.
So what did it take to make the LS1/4L60E combo fit? "I had to move the transmission crossmember back one set of boltholes," Jim reports. "I relocated the front brake line to the front of the crossmember for oil pan clearance, and I used Street and Performance motor mount plates to adapt the stock motor mounts to the LS1 block. It was that easy." And since Jim eliminated the A/C compressor, meaning the K-member could remain uncut, we bet it was just that easy.
In the meantime, Jim's partner in crime, Darla, had introduced her husband to a fellow gearhead, one Roger Kunkel. Roger raced a Super Stock '69 Nova back in the day and had recently returned to the musclecar arena when he bought his 15-year-old son, Josh, an '89 Camaro RS. Perhaps "musclecar" wasn't the right label for the car at the time, given that the third-gen was powered by an anemic 2.8L six. When the two families came together at the '04 Car Craft Summer Nationals, the joke, Roger recalls, was that "Josh had his hood down ... We had to do something about that V-6."
"I told them to just find a V-8 car and get all the stuff from it," recalls Jim. "But Josh decided an LS1 was hot, especially after I took him for a ride in my car." The seed planted, another Minnesota winter would be spent swapping engines. Roger, proving to be an intrepid Internet detective, quickly found another deceased donor car, an '02 SS that had been in a high-speed rollover. The original six-cylinder lump was consigned to oblivion, and after Josh spent three weeks cleaning the rolled-over LS mill with a toothbrush, father and son were ready to perform the transplant.
The motor and transmission mounts were bought as a kit from Spohn, but don't think for a minute that this swap was easy. "When we tackled it the first time," Josh recalls, "we had the engine hanging on a hoist for an hour and a half before we found the angle to get it in. You can just fit your little finger between the oil pan and the K-member." And of course Jim was on hand for the installation, helping the Kunkels as he had throughout. His take on the difference between the two engine bays? "I've got so much more room than the third-gen. It's really tight and narrow in there."