Show me a car lover and I'll show you someone who wishes they still had their first car. That first car is almost never perfect, but the attachment formed during those first few years behind the wheel tends to outweigh any faults. Unlike many, Jeremy Snyder didn't let an accident, breakdown, or a change in finances get in the way of keeping his first car, a 1986 IROC-Z Camaro. No, he still has that car 13 years later, and doesn't figure he'll let go of it anytime soon.
Turn the calendar back to 1997. Sixteen-year-old Snyder and his dad, the owner of a heavily modified Monte Carlo SS, decided to look for a G-body for young Jeremy, figuring a Camaro was out of the question because of insurance costs. But then it appeared-Jeremy saw an ad for a salvage-title Camaro with only 32,000 miles located across the state in Dayton, Ohio. The price was right-$1,200-but it had front-end damage from rear-ending a van and wasn't drivable. The Snyders got the car home and went to work. They replaced the hood, fenders, nose, and radiator core support. They sanded and prepped the car, and Dad shot it with three coats of flame-red metallic paint (he must have liked the project, because the senior Snyder subsequently went on to an eight-year career as a body man). Purchased in February, the car was on the road by the spring.
As Snyder progressed from high school to college and then to an engineering career, the car went with him, serving as a spring-through-fall daily driver while beater cars took the brunt of winter. Along the way he learned how to work on the car (he admits he had done little more with cars than changing oil and other basic jobs before acquiring the Camaro) and set about modifying it. He added L98 heads to the stock 305, ported the intake and exhaust, and he upgraded the stock 700-R4 with a shift kit and a converter. He recorded 13-second passes with, "that awesome little motor," Snyder says, and eventually switched to a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed.
He also used the car to explore drag racing, open track days, and autocross. Cone chasing led Jeremy to the 383 stroker that appears under the hood today. A fellow autocrosser, a C4 Corvette owner, had a Lingenfelter Performance Engineering engine in storage and wanted to sell it. The engine had been run in the Corvette for nearly a decade, but after a freshening it was down on power, smoking, and pushing the dipstick tube out. "The owner of the engine didn't know what was wrong with it, but the price was right," Snyder said. He decided to take a chance on it, hoping that the engine's reputed low-rpm torque would reappear after a rebuild.
Snyder discovered that the intake manifold gaskets were leaking, the windage tray was broken, and low compression in the #7 cylinder was traced to a broken ring. On the upside, the block had been ground of all casting flash, the connecting rods were shot peened and deburred, all the oil passages were ported, and the interior of the block was coated with oil-shedding epoxy. "I didn't want to change things too much," Snyder said, "but a lot of things were done wrong. The valvesprings were running into the rocker arms, and I had to replace the valveguides. I went through everything to make sure the clearances were right. I honed the block myself, selected the correct compression-height pistons, and selected the other parts myself, and did the valve job myself," Snyder said. The only job hired out was the balancing of the rotating assembly.
Back in the car, the engine makes prodigious torque down low. "It doesn't do anything weird until you start squeezing the pedal," Snyder says, at which point it "pulls alarmingly hard, from low rpm in any gear. The car drives away from you if you're not careful." While dry roads are easy enough to handle, wet roads, particularly oily city streets, present a challenge. The car has done the Power Tour twice, though, and adheres to Snyder's stated goal for the car, to be "100-percent usable 99 percent of the time."
Aside from performing the engine rebuild, Snyder fabricated his own subframe connectors and the complete true-dual exhaust system, save the headers and mufflers. "My reasoning is that I'm a cheapskate," Snyder says by way of explaining his DIY approach. "I have time, and my time doesn't cost money. I had the material and a welder, so why buy the parts?" This attitude was also carried to the Panhard bar-Jeremy salvaged the stock piece by welding it up into a "boxed" style, and inserting polyurethane bushings. Meanwhile the lower control arms, caster/camber plates, and torque arm were outsourced.
The task of tuning the PROM computer, however, stayed in-house. Starting with a base tune and a wideband O2 sensor, he dialed in the car on the street and has yet to put it on the rollers of a dynamometer. Undoubtedly, Snyder's engineering background has helped him take a systems approach while building the car, avoiding the temptation to simply bolt on the coolest new parts. "My engineering education, plus being older and wiser, definitely have shaped what I've done with the car," Snyder says.
These days the rear axle of the car is the focus of Snyder's efforts. The car originally had a 3.23 open-diff rearend and drum brakes. Snyder swapped in a rearend from an LS1 Trans Am and added disc brakes, but with more than 100,000 miles on the car now, the Torsen diff is worn out. "If I were drag racing I'd have put a 9-inch in it a long time ago, but it's not a good choice for what I want to do," Snyder says. Rather than installing a heavier solid axle, he is taking the unconventional route of adding a Corvette independent rear suspension with a Dana 44 diff-most certainly not a bolt-in affair, and a task that is testing his fabrication skills. "I want the car to handle better for autocross and open track days," Snyder says. "I have only about $1,500 in the Dana 44 and will have the power-holding capacity that I need. It doesn't add weight, and it is strong enough for less money."
The six-point rollcage and safety harnesses bound for the car indicate that it is going to take a turn toward more performance driving and less street driving. Backing that up is the fact that Snyder now has a 1991 Trans Am into which he has transplanted the A/C, stereo, and other comfort items from the Camaro. "I don't want to make it any more of a dedicated race car [than that]," Snyder says, adding that he plans to continue to just have fun with it. "I'm probably keeping it forever."