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1998 Chevy Camaro SS - Rolling The Dice

F-Body Lifer Gambles With Nitrous, Turbo, And High-Compression Combo

Peter Bodensteiner Jul 1, 2009
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Tony Madia admits the engine in his '98 Camaro SS is living on borrowed time. The car is on its third engine in six years; its current setup combines 10.8:1 compression, an STS rear-mount turbo, and a 50hp nitrous shot, which may administer the coup de grace. But that doesn't worry Madia. He's used to fixing things, with more than 20 years of experience as a Mazda master mechanic.

"I'll probably just run it until something breaks and handle it when the time comes," he says, adding that he'd rather have the car available to drive than endure the downtime needed to optimize the current setup.

Through an Internet search in 2003, Madia found the car at a dealership in Boston, about four hours away from his home in Schenectady, N.Y. It wasn't the nicest SS he had found, but the others had already been personalized by their owners. Madia was looking for more of a blank slate. After two unsuccessful trips to the dealership (literally 16 hours of run-around), the dealer agreed to sell him the car, this time sending a driver to deliver it. Madia dropped the driver off at the bus station for a one-way ride back to Boston, and the car was his.

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The car had more than 50,000 miles on it and was in rough shape. Clearly, the previous owner had been young and enthusiastic, but misguided, at least judging by the APC windshield decal and extremely bald rear tires.

"It looked like somebody waxed it with steel wool," Tony noted, so he spent three days buffing out the white paint. He bought two new bumper covers and painted them to match. Meticulously applied SS stripes, carbon-fiber mirror covers, and clear indicator lamps complete the black-and-white exterior look. Billet SS and Camaro emblems were added, and a set of chrome ZR1 wheels were wrapped with new Goodyears, although Hoosier drag radials are on the rear of the car now. He painted the wheelwells with gloss black paint, as well as many of the undercar components, including the brake calipers, control arms, and springs. After blowing up the car's 10-bolt rear at the track, he added a Moser 12-bolt and buried it in clearcoat to preserve its pristine appearance.

Madia has owned F-bodies for a quarter-century, acquiring his first one (a 1978 Rally Sport) before he had a driver's license. This car marks his entry into the LS scene. He wanted a six-speed and T-tops, after owning a '94 Z28 hardtop with an automatic. He's also had a '70 Camaro, '72 R/S Z-28, '80 Z-28, '85 IROC, and an '87 TPI IROC.

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This car's original LS1 got a head and cam package, but during dyno tuning it developed a rod knock. That engine was yanked and replaced with a beefed-up motor, which also eventually met its demise on the dynamometer. "Too much nitrous on weak rods," Madia says of the 150hp shot that did the deed.

Would the third try be the charm? It looked that way, as Madia and Howard Tanner of Redline Motorsports in Schenectady installed a stock-displacement LS6 with a five-thousandths clean-up, Wiseco forged pistons, and Callies Compstar H-beam rods. Trick Flow heads were installed up top. Then, while attending the Performance Racing Industry trade show, the opportunity to purchase an STS rear-mount turbo kit presented itself, and the deal was too good to pass up. Before he knew it, Madia's credit card left his wallet and the 67mm Garrett turbo found its way into his Camaro.

This called for a turbo-specific cam. A custom-ground roller cam from Cam Motion was installed, featuring 228/222 duration, 0.595-inch lift on both sides, and a 116-degree centerline. The intake and exhaust paths also needed to accommodate the setup, so a 3-inch pipe was installed behind QTP long-tube headers and a Flowmaster collector. Up front, a Nick Williams 90mm throttle body and FAST LSX intake manifold deliver the air, while fuel flows from a Cam 255-lph pump with the assistance of a Kenne Bell Boost-a-Pump to 60 lb/hr Mototron injectors.

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The car was strapped to the dyno once again, fortunately without incident. Running with about 10 pounds of boost, the car recorded 586 rear-wheel horsepower at 5,450 rpm and 610 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm. It's a contrast to his early F-bodies, in that it is very much the turn-key performance car. He doesn't find himself battling check engine lights or dialing in carbs anymore. Madia says he loves the way the car drives easily around town and then pushes him back in the seat when the turbo spools up. It's his first turbocharged car; he says he'll go with twin turbos the next time around. "You get greedy," he says.

Madia's love of nitrous was not to be denied, though. A TNT 90mm Power Ring wet system underhood is equipped with a single, conservative, 50-hp stage ... for now. Madia admits that this is all a bit much for the 10.8:1 compression ratio built into the engine before the turbo came into play.

"The engine can handle the power component-wise, but it wasn't set up for a turbo," Madia says. "We had to take a big cam out and put in the turbo cam (when we installed the STS system)," he says.

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Beautiful candy blue nitrous bottles are displayed prominently under glass beneath the car's rear hatch. Madia keeps the bottles looking good by using a "beater" nitrous bottle when he heads to the track.

"The guys who fill nitrous bottles are not the most delicate," he says. The two blue bottles and the nearby gear that makes up part of the 600-watt stereo system (about 200 pounds of stuff altogether) are installed on a diamond-plate deck that can be removed all at once for action at the track. That's not to say the blue bottles are just for show. When they are in the car they are fully operational--Madia only gets them filled when he can be present to take care of them, though.

The blue theme continues forward to the rest of the interior, gracing the interior lighting and seat surfaces. Madia also "loaded the interior with every carbon-fiber piece I could get," including sill plates and a dash kit. Auto Meter boost, fuel pressure, and oil temp gauges line the A-pillar, while nitrous gauges appear in the center console.

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Madia believes that at the car's current power level, and with the Hoosiers out back, he should be able to run in the 10s at his local track--enough to get the car booted out. "I want the car to be as powerful as it can be, but I like to bring people with me, and I don't want it to be a drag car," he says. "I'll run that 10-second pass some day and they'll ask me to put it away, but as long as I have that timeslip I'll be good to go. I'll probably frame it."



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