Car Feature 1994 Chevrolet Camaro Z28It's safe to say Port Huron, Michigan, is not at the top of one's mind when enthusiasts think of high-performance hot spots. It's a small, quiet city of about 33,000 residents, located about an hour northeast of Detroit. Its claims to fame include being the boyhood home of Thomas Edison and, as a border city with Ontario, Canada, holding up the American half of the Blue Water Bridge crossing between the two countries.
Port Huron's proximity to Detroit keeps it in the shadow most of the time, but its place in the greater reach of that metropolitan area has always benefited its car enthusiasts, who don't have to travel too far to take advantage of the Motor City area's tuning shops. There's lots of homegrown hot rods in Port Huron, too, contributing to a vibrant community of--and we must say this diplomatically--late-night performance recreation enthusiasts.
One of those enthusiasts is Bob Bailey and his recreational tool of choice is a teal 1994 Z28 that ought to be running in the 9s by the time you reading this. Most of those passes will be done at historic Ubly Dragway, in Michigan's rural "Thumb" area (the state looks like a mitten, and the Thumb area is the eastern section that looks like, well, the thumb part of a mitten). Then again, some of the passes will not be made at the strip. We should probably just leave it at that.
"There's a lot of racing in Port Huron," says Bailey. "It's not like Detroit, but there's about 60 or 70 cars that typically gather when the weather is good. There are some pretty quick cars around here, too." Bailey's fourth-gen F-car is a comparatively rare sight these days; it's still running LT1 power--and lots of it. With the 250 shot from the blue bottle in the hatch, he figures the Gen II small-block is putting about 550 horses to the tires.
"I planned to modify the car when I bought it in 2006, but not to the extent it is now," he says. "I was just looking for some more power with small cubes--355 inches--and a small shot of nitrous." Yeah, we've heard that scenario before. And so have countless girlfriends and wives who've made due with a malfunctioning washer or dishwasher in order to support the porting job on a set of heads.
Of course, one wife's money pit is another husband's worthy investment. With Bailey's project, he invested in the original LT1 engine and had it punched out to 383 cubic inches. That's also including having the cylinder block converted to four-bolt mains, with Eagle billet steel caps and ARP fasteners. He also had the block and new caps align-honed before dropping in an Eagle ESP forged crankshaft, Eagle H-beam forged rods, and Diamond nitrous pistons (with Hellfire rings). All of the reciprocating parts were balanced, with Phil McLain at Superior Engines doing the short-block assembly chores.
A roller camshaft from Comp Cams delivers 0.589/0.598-inch lift and actuates the valves in a set of AFR LT4 cylinder heads. These 23-degree heads have big, CNC-ported intake runners and large, 2.08-inch intake valves and 1.60-inch exhaust valves. They're good for more than 300 cfm of airflow at 0.700-inch lift. On the top-side of the heads are Comp Cams' 1.6-ratio Pro-Mag lightweight roller rockers. Capping the engine is a GM LT4 intake manifold that Bailey says he found as an open-box item at a Chevy dealership.
"The parts guy there let me have it for only a couple of hundred dollars," he says. "If you can find them anymore, they're going for, like, $800 on eBay, so I was really lucky with that purchase."
By the way, if all the LS engines of the past decade have clouded your memory, the LT4 was an enhanced version of the LT1 that was offered in the 1996 Corvette Grand Sport and Collector Edition models. Rated at 330 horsepower--30 more than the Corvette's LT1--it had higher compression, higher-flowing raised-runner heads, larger valves, revised pistons with positive-twist top rings, higher-capacity fuel injectors, and a camshaft with higher lift and a tighter lobe separation angle. Its distinctive, red-powdercoated intake manifold made the LT4 instantly identifiable.
With Bailey's combination, the LT4 intake is the mixing point for a custom, direct-port nitrous system. It employs EFI injector nozzles, Cold Fusion Nitrous solenoids, and a custom-built distribution block. A stand-alone fuel system is used with the nitrous system, employing a fabricated two-gallon, aluminum fuel cell under the hood, along with a Holley Blue fuel pump and regulator. Other fuel system details include 44-pound ACCEL injectors and a Walbro 255-lph in-tank fuel pump. The custom nitrous system was designed and built by Roy Cole, who runs Wiretec EDM, Inc.
"He did a great job with it," says Bailey. "It works perfectly and there's no worry about having enough fuel during a pass."
The bottle-fed LT1's torque is funneled through a built Turbo 400, featuring JW Performance internals and a trans brake, along with a 9-inch Coan torque converter that delivers a 5,500-rpm stall speed. A four-inch-diameter steel driveshaft connects to--wow--the stock 7.625-inch rear axle. Not exactly renowned for being indestructible, Bailey has nonetheless made the 10-bolt work, even with slicks. He's upgraded it with an Auburn differential, Moser 28-spline axles, and a DTS cover.
To help transfer the Camaro's power to the pavement, Granatelli suspension parts were added, including a Panhard bar and lower control arms (with relocation brackets). Also part of the strip-oriented setup is a set of Strange 10-way-adjustable rear shocks and softer V-6 model springs that help the car squat more easily at launch. At the front suspension, it's pretty much stock hardware. Bailey also shored-up the T-Top chassis' strength with a BMR transmission crossmember, tunnel brace, and Edelbrock subframe connectors.
The car rides on 15-inch Greg Weld wheels, measuring 15x3.5 inches in the front and 15x8 inches in the rear. With the front runner-style tires and Mickey Thompson slicks at the rear, the Camaro has the stance of a serious street/strip car--an aesthetic reinforced by the unpainted fiberglass hood. It just looks like it's ready for a race, whether sitting in the staging lane, at a streetlight, or at a drive-thru pick-up window. The car still wears its factory teal paint and it has held up remarkably well during the past 15 years.
The interior is all-business, too, with a four-point rollbar, Jazz racing seats, and the elimination of the rear seat. The A-pillar pods, along with a console-mounted nitrous pressure gauge and system activation switch are dead giveaways, too, and do little to dissuade, say, the Port Huron police that Bailey's F-body simply has a hole in the muffler and that the black stuff on the rear fenders is asphalt picked up from a road patch site and not tire residue.
As much as this F-car exemplifies modern GM performance, we couldn't help feeling nostalgic during our photo shoot. The LT1 Camaro Z28s unquestionably paved the way for the LS revolution, and the beady-eye stare from their quad, sealed-beam lamps looked much more serious than the aero headlamps of the 1998-2002 models. When Bob Bailey arms the nitrous system and cleans off those rear slicks, there's no doubt that his LT1-powered F-car is serious. Ask anyone in Port Huron.