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1990 Chevrolet Camaro - Doin’ The Panhandle Boogie

One Man’s Take on the Perfect Project Car

Ro McGonegal Mar 21, 2011
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I was more into boats and women than hot rodding, says Terry TJ McAnally. That all changed when Robbie Nelson came home with a ’90 IROC-Z hardtop five-speeda sweet-looking car. Spinning the tires and cutting donuts became an every afternoon occurrence. What do you suppose happened next? TJ no longer lost his wits over boats but the women stayed. TJ was hooked on hot rods and completely enthralled with the third-gen F-body.

chp 01  1990 Chevrolet Camaro 2/14

Although he dug the street scene, his proclivity hinged on racing down flat stretches of sanctioned asphalt. He built the car accordingly, but juked the engine and drivetrain with enough flexibility to drive it streetwise when the weather was good. He lives in Pensacola, Florida, at the end of the Panhandle hard by the Gulf of Mexico and the Alabama state line with Jennifer Owsley and Reese E. Boy, a chocolate Labrador. Without children to care for, he was able to build the ’88 IROC for about $30,000 during a seven-year hump. He omitted some of the nonessentials, but kept a factory audio system punctuated by a 6x9 Pioneer four-way speaker in the stock receptacle.

TJ minimized cost by doing most of the work himself and with a loyal legion of helpers, including Matt and Jamie Nowling, Larry Green, Brandon Raines, Dan Carnley, Randy Jernigan, Rob Jones, Jason Hanson, the folks at Speed Unlimited, Brad Baxter and the XXX Motorsports roller dyno, Jason at the GM parts counter, Jimmy Barnes at Fighter’s Garage, Ms. Jennifer, and his parents, Peggy and Willie Joe. Lots of help, lots of encouragement, lots of heart, and there was more. AutoZone counterman and third-gen F-body owner Angel Figueroa offered him tricks, tips, and the proper literature for the transformation of a 207,000-mile beater. If it hadn’t been for Fig, I’d have probably gone this far anyway, but I’m glad I could make a good friend out of it in the end.

Prior to the current LS engine swap, TJ had coped with several stroker little-blocks, the last one was a 385-incher that went 7.56 at 92 on 275 drag radials in the Emerald Coast Dragway eighth-mile in nearby Holt. That was nowhere near enough for our man. He pulled a 6.0L from a ’04 2500HD Silverado and had his way with it. He knew that the right manipulations would render a powerful and durable module that could be crazy tweaked without complication. This initial effort made 383 hp and 418 lb-ft of torque at the wheels. Dragstrip times were in the 7.3s at almost 94 mph.

From the outset, TJ’s engine mantra was on nuts. He replaced the Corvette exhaust manifolds with 13/4-inch Stainless Work long tubes, upped the converter stall speed to 4,400, and put 4.30s in the 9-inch. The reward: 6.901 seconds at 99.78 mph. He could squeeze no more from the package. He thought stroker crank. He thought bigger pistons. The 364-incher became a 408 via a 4.030 bore and a 4.00-inch stroke. It clips the eighth in 6.23 with a speed of nearly 110. My first trip to the quarter-mile didn’t land me single-digit elapsed times, what with the elevation and weather conditions, but the car was able to manage a 10-flat pass at 134. He realized that the top end speed was to the point of being gear-limited and demonstrably fuel-starved. There’s still more to come in this department.

TJ prepared the chassis minimally. In keeping with Quick Street stock suspension rule, the Camaro holds a PA Racing K-member and tubular upper control arms jazzed by a Strange coilover kit for a Fox Mustang. Spohn strut braces were already in the mix. Since no other manufacturer offered an adjustable rear shock Santhuff did but it was out of TJ’s financial reach, I swapped in Strange Fox-body stuff with the original coil springs. He replaced other major rear suspension components with aftermarket pieces and the car does not have mini-tubs but rather a poignant ball-peen massage in the rear wheelwells. TJ scienced-out a tire/wheel combo with width and backspacing that fits beneath the fender and has room at the top for the tire to grow big. In 2008, TJ installed an eight-point chrome-moly rollcage to firm up the sinew he’d already infused with the chassis.

When he isn’t out dusting off local asphalt or cruising the Burger King, he’s running heads-up at Emerald Coast. Last season, he took a win, went three semifinal rounds, and one zing for quickest qualifying time. Somewhere in between, he inserted a complete dashboard from a ’02 Camaro SS. The first time you see it, your wig flips. And when it settles back down, you’re doin’ the Panhandle Boogie all night long.

Now a confirmed LS addict, TJ had Clint Holmes at 9 Mile Machine bore and hone the LQ4 cylinder block. He left the rotating assembly with Jessie Holmes Performance in Pensacola. TJ then hauled it back to his nest to install the Eagle 4340 crankshaft and companion H-beam connecting rods. ARP main and head studs secure the MLS head gaskets and Clevite bearings. The flat-top lightweight JE pistons are circled by JE Pro ring sets, and the combustion chambers in the Trick Flow CNC heads (as received, but decks are milled 0.030 inch) now displace 64 cc's for a static compression ratio of 11.7:1. The intake runner volume is 235 cc. He installed the 2.08/1.60 valves with TFS valvesprings and hardware to work with Manley pushrods and pedestal-mount Yella Terra 1.7:1 roller rocker arms. A COMP hydraulic roller nudges the valves with 247/255 duration at 0.050 inch and a lift of 0.623 inch on both. A COMP double-roller timing chain connects it to the crankshaft. Down below, TJ held things up with a ported LS6 oil pump and combined it with an F-body oil pan. Then, he welded AN fittings into each rocker cover and ran braided hose to a catch can positioned beneath the driver-side headlight bucket. Jesse Coulter built stainless steel headers with 17/8-inch primaries and custom 3-inch collectors, and fed them into a single 4-inch Dynomax muffler as per the factory configuration. Dave Braswell did him a custom 4150 Holley ("flawless," TJ says) that is supplied by an Aeromotive pump. The induction manifold is an out-of-the-box single-plane Edelbrock Super Victor. Keeping the heads temperate are a Meziere coolant pump and an F-body radiator fitted with dual electric fans. On the chassis dyno, the Panhandle Pirate blew a corrected 510 hp at 7,100 rpm and 464 lb-ft of twist at 6,800 rpm--on pump gas. The hopped-up Turbo 350 transmission lasted 80 passes. TJ swapped it for a serious PTC Powerglide (stock gear set, 1.76:1 low) outfitted with five-tenths of a second delay transbrake and an 8-inch Yank billet torque converter with a 5,000-stall speed. It gets stinking hot in Florida in the summer, so TJ circulates the ATF through a big Perma-Cool core blessed with an exterior fan. He got hinky and disguised a B&M QuickSilver shifter as a T56 manual. Grunt arches rearward via a Strange 3-inch diameter chrome-moly prop shaft connected to a Moser 9-inch carrying Richmond 4.22:1 cogs in an aluminum chunk and a lightweight Strange spool sprouting 35-spline axleshafts.

Skinnies and slicks rule. On the narrow end, TJ posted M/T 28x7.50 Sportsman fronts on 15x3.5 Weld Magnum Drag 2.0 hoops. On the business end, the car twists 275/60 street radials on 8.25-inch- wide Magnums. Sexy Aerospace 11.75- inch diameter vented rotors and two- piston calipers reside at both ends of the Camaro. This setup is completely viable for street driving and was designed as such.

The Camaro rides on a PA Racing K-member and upper control arms, and a Strange front coilover (150 pounds) kit that was meant for a Fox Mustang conversion. To fit the strut, TJ simply had the spindles turned down to accept it. Spohn strut braces were already in the car and so they remain. He also retained the stock antisway bar. The steering system was replaced with a Wilwood manual Pinto rack-and-pinion, shedding frontend weight and gaining accuracy from a Race Craft bumpsteer kit. The Moser 9-inch housing is bracketed by an adjustable torque arm, aluminum control arms, Panhard rod, and Suspension Techniques 1-inch antisway bar. Stock coil springs and Strange Fox shocks form the rear suspension. Weighing in at 3,300 pounds, the Camaro's short times are consistent in the 1.3-second range.

Though not readily apparent at first glance, every interior panel except the rear sails and the hatch trim has been swapped for custom-made stuff. Carpeting is new. The Kirkey Pro Street Drag aluminum buckets were covered in Air Knit black that Kirkey custom made for the application. The big deal inside is the dashboard, lifted complete from a '02 Camaro. TJ put it down with a matching console, and ebony leather door panels and steering wheel. He snugs in with a Stroud cam-lock five-point harness, a welcome complement to the airbag-equipped steering wheel. A PLX wideband, Raptor shift light, and Auto Meter transmission fluid temp gauge were tucked out of sight in the center A/C ducts. Water temp, oil pressure, speedometer, volt, and fuel are monitored via the functional fourth-gen instrument cluster. The MSD 6010 ignition box is also out of sight and away from heat secured to the backside of the glovebox.

One of the first things TJ did to his captive was to have AA Paint and Body in Pensacola change the exterior from IROC Black to '03 Ford CX Dark Shadow Gray. TJ says, "The metallic in the paint makes it come alive in the sun's rays, while at night it looks downright wet. It had been tapped in the front before I bought it, so it needed a little work on the radiator support to make the hood, fenders, and bumper happy." He went further: "Welding up the holes from the '88 model metal track rubber trim door molding, to the clean look of the '90-92 trim that was painted to match the car are the only body modifications other than a shaved antenna hole on the passenger-side fender." A GM SS hood protects that snorting chunk of aluminum quivering beneath.



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