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."
"Tight" is a good way to describe both of these carefully crafted, transgenerational Camaro concoctions. "We're just so happy with how it turned out," Roger declares. Josh agrees and sees it as a bonus that the project got his father back into the game. Jim sounds a similar note: "It's a great car," he says. "I don't know what I'd change." With this pair, we'd say all the best changes have already been made.
All it took was a few well-chosen mods to put these Camaro cockpits into fighting shape. Jim latched onto a pair of '94 Dodge Laser front seats. Paul's Upholstery of Alexandria, Minnesota, recovered the buckets and the stock back seat in black ultra vinyl with cloth center inserts so they would resemble what the car came with in 1979. Jim installed a new headliner and Lecarra steering wheel, along with a Pioneer stereo and speaker system. Since Jim decided to do without A/C, dash pieces from a donor second-gen were installed where appropriate. Josh had even less work to do: His '89's seats and gray cloth upholstery are original; the dual-CD stereo with Kenwood front speakers, Sony Xplode rears, 10-inch subwoofer, and 250-watt Alpine amp not so much. Both builders opted for a full complement of Auto Meter Ultra Lite gauges. Jim modified his '79's stock gauge panel to accept the new dials, while Josh opted for a Covan's Classic panel ably wired up by his dad, Roger.
Both these F-bodies received heart transplants from '02 Camaros that were on their way to the wrecking yard. The LS1 found in the last fourth-gen Camaros came with LS6 intake manifolds and were rated at 310 hp along with 340 lb-ft of torque, both massive improvements over the '79's original 305 and the '89's 2.8L six-banger.
Both cars breathe through custom ducting capped with K&N filters. Jim's '79 exhales through Edelbrock TES headers with Flowmaster 2 1/2-inch dual pipes and mufflers. Josh's '89 uses the stock '02 Camaro manifolds, a Y-pipe fabbed up by Josh and his dad, and a 3-inch I-pipe running into a Flowmaster muffler with dual outlets.
Both setups use the stock serpentine beltdrive, though Jim eliminated the A/C compressor to avoid modifying his crossmember. Josh, on the other hand, kept all this accessories and notched his third-gen's crossmember to make it work.
A Griffin aluminum radiator with a Spal electric fan handles cooling duties in the '79, controlled by a Painless fan relay and temp control, while the '89 uses the radiator and fans from the '02, utilizing a custom upper mount. The '79 uses a TPIS engine wiring harness and computer programming; the '89 employs a custom engine wiring harness by Speartech Fuel Injection Systems, allowing the new ECM to reside in the factory '89 location.
Both Camaros required fuel system mods to run their late-model powerplants. The '79 still has a stock fuel tank and employs a Bosch external fuel pump with an '04 Corvette filter regulator. The '89's standard in-tank pump was replaced with a Holley 67-gph unit along with a Corvette pressure regulator. Out back, Thoennes Transmissions of Alexandria, Minnesota, rebuilt the 8.5-inch 10-bolt in Jim's '79 with 3.73:1 gears and an Eaton posi and connected the duo with a 2-inch-shorter custom driveshaft. The stock freeway-geared rear in Josh's '89 was ditched in favor of a straight-from-the-junkyard '88 Trans Am Borg Warner nine-bolt running 3.27:1 gears with a factory limited-slip.
Both cars use the '02 Camaro 4L60E tranny-Jim's '79 has a B&M cooler and a Shiftworks detent conversion to allow the stock shifter to work with the newer tranny, while the box in Josh's '89 is now backed by a Yank SS3600 converter. Why the higher stall speed? Josh and Roger added a cam from Minnesota neighbors TPIS into the mix (0.215 /0.220 degrees duration at 0.050, 0.559 /0.557-inch lift, 112-degree lobe separation) and were rewarded with a leap from 282 to 343 hp as measured on a Mustang dyno, necessitating the looser converter.
As you might expect, both our Camaro creators looked to improve braking along with the massive power transplant. Jim fitted his '79 with 13-inch C5 Corvette rotors and calipers up front and opted for '97 Camaro discs out back. The new binders are activated by a Master Power master cylinder and 8-inch dual diaphragm booster, while a Summit prop valve gets the balance right. Josh also wanted a braking upgrade, but dared to be different, picking up a set of Brembo four-piston front calipers from a Cadillac CTS-V. These mondo clamps are teamed with stock '89 Camaro PBR rear calipers modified to fit the transplanted TA 9-bolt rearend. It's all worked by an N.O.S. '89 Camaro master cylinder-four-wheel disc version, of course. As for rolling stock, our slick second-gen moves on American Eagle wheels, 17x8 front and 17x19.5 rear, clad in BFGoodrich KDWS rubber, P235/45ZR17 and P275/40ZR17. Our trick third-gen wears Centerline Dagger wheels, 18x8 front and 18x9.5 rear, outfitted with Nitto NT555 tires, P235/40ZR18 and P275/45ZR18, respectively. Both cars, we're told, stop and handle "great."
Once his '79 was completely disassembled, Jim took the front subframe in for powdercoating at Douglas Metal Finishing in Alexandria, Minnesota. Miscellaneous pieces were also treated to nickel-plating. Jim then resurrected his second-gen, starting with a front rebuild kit and urethane bushings from PST. He added QA1 coilvers and an Addco sway bar up front. Rear suspension duties are handled by Eaton Detroit leaf springs (1-inch lowering), stock shocks, and another Addco sway bar. Directional changes also happen much quicker, thanks to an AGR 16:1 steering box. Unlike its older cousin, the front K-member in Josh's third-gen had to be notched for A/C compressor clearance. Beyond that, this entrant has been built with straight line performance in mind. After rehabbing the '89's frontend with Moog components, Josh has added Hotchkis Sport lowering springs, Air Lift Drag Bags, and a Spohn Panhard bar.
"I'm in charge of taking paint off, not putting paint on," says Jim. Accordingly, he took his totally-blown-apart '79 down to bare metal-and plastic-before sending if off to Rob's Auto Body of Alexandria, Minnesota, for a luscious coat of DuPont Viper Red. The factory white paint on Josh's '89, on the other hand, is still in great shape and is augmented with black stripes laid on by Augusta Auto Body in St. Augusta, Minnesota, along with a set of "LS1" emblems in place of the old RS logos. The engine compartment, once relived of its V-6 lump, was stripped and sandblasted, had its seams resealed, and was then repainted before receiving its Gen III transplant.
Once its LS1 was reinvigorated by the TPIS cam-but before the new converter and several suspension upgrades-Josh urged his '89 to a 13.30 quarter at 106.20 mph. With the mods he's already made and a Spohn torque arm with a set of slicks planned, he sees mid to low 12s in his future, which sounds about right. As for Jim's '79, he hasn't been racing, but he does drive it, most lately from Minnesota to the Lincoln, Nebraska, stop of the Power Tour. "It runs like a champ and gets 22 mpg," he reports-which sounds right on as well.