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2002 Chevy Camaro SS - Look Sharp

This Sleek Black Camaro SS Flies Under The Radar But Packs A Surprising Punch

Peter Bodensteiner Jan 1, 2009

Let's face it, Camaro owners: some elitist auto aficionados don't look favorably on us F-body drivers. Some might ask where your mullet went, demand to know how many pairs of jorts you own, or ask how things are down at the trailer park. While the tempting comeback to said Eurotrash might involve comments toward his coke habit, money-grubbing trophy wife, or massive debt to drive something slower than your ride, actions speak louder than words.


Original owner Jason Debler of CamaroZ28.com ordered this 2002 Camaro SS and threw the whole SLP catalog at it, along with a well-planned suspension overhaul. Current owner Mark Meltzer built upon this solid foundation, adding about 120 all-motor horsepower. ----->

So consider this Camaro a salvo in the fight against such prejudice. Mark Meltzer's sleek 2002 Camaro SS is all black, and it's all business. It's like a sharply tailored dark suit. Red C5 Corvette Z06 brake calipers provide the barest flash of color-like a classy pocket square peeking out of a breast pocket.

Don't be fooled by the buttoned-down appearance. Just as James Bond conceals an array of deadly weapons beneath his flawless Savile Row threads, this Chevy's shiny sheetmetal hides a collection of performance goodies that is sure to secure an advantage against almost any opponent.

Key among the secret weapons at Meltzer's disposal is the Camaro's engine. It has propelled this car to an 11-second quarter-mile time, but it's not supercharged, turbocharged, or boosted with a shot of nitrous. Open the hood of the car dubbed "Phantom SS," and you'll see a few performance goodies lurking in the immaculate engine bay, but nothing that looks like your mom's hair dryer.

"I'm a naturally aspirated kind of guy," Meltzer says. Pull his file and you see the evidence that backs up this statement: a key milestone of his automotive past is a 1996 Callaway SuperNatural Grand Sport Corvette, from back in the days when Callaway specialized in all N/A tuning, all the time.

"It's easy to throw a supercharger or turbo on a car and get some quick power," Meltzer admits, "but to me, when you build a motor up you get a more satisfying feel than if you have to add something extraneous to it.

"This car doesn't need Viagra," Meltzer quips when folks ask when he's going to add a little boost.

The engine at the heart of this stealthy Camaro is built around a forged bottom end and a not-too-crazy 10.5:1 compression ratio.

"I wasn't looking for a 500- or 600-hp car," Meltzer says, "I just wanted it to be nice and strong, about 420 or 425."

Meltzer discussed these goals with F-Body Central, near Baltimore. Based on these targets, Thunder Racing out of Louisiana was commissioned to build the engine with advice provided by Patrick Guerra of Guerra Motorsports. Meltzer told him he wanted a wide powerband and a somewhat lopey idle. Guerra spec'd out the camshaft and also offered some direction for modifying the heads.

Comp custom-ground a 223/227, .637/.640-lift cam. The heads started as Precision Race Components "Terminator" series 200cc units, which were then ported and equipped with double valvesprings. Other underhood mods include an SLP Blackwing air induction lid and smooth intake bellows, a ported FAST intake manifold, a Nick Williams 90mm MAF sensor housing, 30 lb/hr injectors, underdrive pulleys, and a Meziere electric water pump.

In March, Meltzer had the car calibrated by hired gun Jeremy Formato, who had traveled to Pennsylvania to tune cars in the area. According to Meltzer, the additional tuning made a great power package simply phenomenal. Formato was able to get about 20 additional horsepower out of the car, bringing it up to 454 at the wheels. Formato smoothed out the lumpy idle (without losing the characteristic sound), straightened out the air-fuel ratio trace, and raised the rev limit from about 6,200 rpm to 6,800.

"I tell you, 600 rpm doesn't sound like a lot, but it makes a big difference," Meltzer says. "The car really pulls a lot stronger now. (Jeremy) spent more than three hours on the dyno with the car. The guy is a fanatic; everything has to be perfect."

Formato was sure to tune the car with its electrically activated QTP electric exhaust cutout (yet another stealthy feature of the car) both open and closed. Exhaust exits the LS1 through stainless steel QTP long-tube headers; the cutout is placed after the passenger-side header. Meltzer can activate the cutout with a switch hidden in the ashtray. He finds that a flip of the switch and a couple revs is all it takes to shoo away most wannabe stoplight challengers. Meltzer describes the sound as, "an opera that easily outplays the Monsoon stereo."

Meltzer has always been more of a track-day guy than a drag racer. He did take the Camaro to a Pennsylvania dragstrip, however, and came home with an 11.9-second timeslip at 119 mph. Not bad for street radials, little drag racing experience, and, Meltzer says, a greasy track.

"With a good track and decent drag tires," he says, "I wouldn't be surprised if I could get down to 11.5, or even a little quicker with some practice."

This Camaro is no slouch in the handling department, either. Having logged many miles at some of the Northeast's best road courses in his Grand Sport Corvette, Meltzer says the Camaro compares favorably. There are a host of aftermarket products to thank for this, and the setup is unchanged from what the car's original owner and Camaro "disciple," Jason Debler, put on the car. These include DMS progressive-rate springs, Bilstein shocks, BMR control arms and welded subframe connectors, and 1LE sway bars front and rear. The only thing Meltzer has changed underneath the car was swapping in a Strange 12-bolt rearend with 4.11 gears.

Debler first gave this car the "Phantom SS" name, and Meltzer has stayed true to these roots while taking the theme several steps further. This is one classy Camaro that represents the Bowtie Nation with a maximum of fast and a minimum of flash.



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