It's been 23 years and counting, and still, Keith Smith has little-check that-no desire to sell his Z28. It may have gone through a truckload of parts and pieces over the years, but each broken piece tells a hard-fought story of defeat, which has been upgraded to perform better than the compromised parts that failed.
With a slight chuckle, Keith mentions, "this second-gen has gone through three engines, four transmissions, three rearends, and nine sets of wheels-give or take. That's quite an inventory of parts, but I suppose it's not as bad as it sounds when you spread that out over the number of years I've owned the car."
"I've wanted an early second-gen since I was a kid," remembers Keith. "My stepfather used to cut these cars up to use the bodies for his late-model dirt stockers. Since birth, racing has been in my blood, so naturally owning a fast car was going to happen."
With no official plans for the car early on, the build direction was dictated by budget and a lot of imagination. "I bought the car in 1990 as a little 'fixer upper,'" Keith tells us. "But, no luck. The block was cracked and the car just turned out to be a real pile of crap."
With the help of a friend and the use of his body shop, Keith stripped the car down, did all the bodywork, and sprayed the DuPont Mariner Blue Metallic. By the late '90's, the car was looking good and Keith was taking it to car shows. Unfortunately, he wasn't much for parking his ass in a canvass-backed chair for hours on end, so he found alternative activities for the car-namely autocross and road racing.
Since birth, racing has been in my blood, so naturally owning a fast car was going to happen.
"It was around 2000 when I started racing the car, but at that time performance suspension parts weren't as available as they are today, especially for second-gens, so I started developing some of my own parts," informs Keith. "Unfortunately, soon after developing a suspension package for the car, a rod bearing failure sidelined it for about 2 1/2 years. Fortunately I was able to use that time to assemble a new engine, pick up a new trans, develop a few new suspension parts, and put together a new brake setup."
With some new suspension parts in hand and a few hundred more in his head, Keith decided to open a performance parts business: Custom Works Performance in Chico, California. Not just a performance parts developer and dealer, Keith's a hard-core proponent and participant in the current street-car racing phenomenon that has taken the muscle car market my storm in recent years.
In fact, we first saw Keith's early Camaro tearing up the tarmac at the American Street Car Series Run to the Coast in Irvine, California, at the old El Toro Marine Base back in 2011. What made us take notice of the car was that it was a hard-charger and it appeared to be something that any muscle car enthusiast could afford to own as well as race competitively.
"This car is most certainly not one of the higher end cars seen at these events, but it keeps up pretty good, and to be honest, I have never had more fun with it than I'm having now," Keith reports. "Thankfully, there are events put on by ASCS, Goodguys, and others that offer us venues to race, as I can't stand the thought of sitting at a car show and doing nothing. I also really dig taking it to open track days. It gives me the opportunity to test new parts I've developed, and to also hone in my driving skills."
Keeping with a conventional small-block, Keith wanted the car's streetability left in tact. "I kept the small-block for the simplicity aspect and went with the Holley EFI system for the modern sophistication and reliability of an LS engine," notes Keith. "I get 18 mpg on road trips. That's something I couldn't do with a carbureted engine. I just love the setup I have going now."
Speaking of which, Jim Putney handled the engine machine work while Keith took care of the assembly process. The block was bored .040 over and stroked 3.75 inches and capped with AFR 195 aluminum heads. Mahle 10.25:1-compression pistons swing from a set of Eagle 6-inch rods managed by an Eagle crankshaft. The hydraulic roller comes from Erson with a lift of .595/.595 and duration of 234/238 at .050. The lifters are from COMP.
The Custom Works carbon-fiber upper intake mates up to the modified Holley Stealth Ram intake, then joins forces with the HP EFI system for precise fuel delivery. A Canton Road Race 7-quart pan keeps the internals lubed and an AFCO aluminum radiator ensures coolness even when Keith heats up the wick on strenuous track days.
Titanium ceramic-coated Hooker Super Comp 1.75-inch headers dispose expelled fuel through a Pypes 3-inch exhaust system topped off with Pypes' Race Pro mufflers.
Purposely executed with a monochromatic stage, the shiny engine bits (AFCO Type II pump and brackets, billet pulleys) were treated to a dark-gray powdercoating, contributing to a ravening composition of mechanical mayhem. And with 545 hp and 530 lb-ft, this dog can back up its bark.
As with most track-influenced hot rods, a manual trans is the weapon of choice. A Tremec TKO 600 (five-speed) handles the abuse, while a Centerforce clutch ensures a smooth transition between gears. As of now a completely stock 12-bolt rearend houses 3.36 cogs and a limited slip, but an upgrade is on tap for the near future.
When road racing and autocross is your automotive recreation of choice, a stout suspension is an absolute must-have part of the equation. Starting up front, Keith armed his '71 with SPC adjustable upper A-arms and adapted a set of Custom Works lowers. AFCO T2 double-adjustable shocks and Custom Works coilover kit bring it all together and down 3 inches. As with the front, the rear is damped with AFCO double-adjustables and is cozied down 3 inches with Custom Works leaf springs. Delrin bushings in the shackles eliminate unwanted flex and adjustable rate sway bars front and rear offer additional tuning for diverse track situations.
Repeated hard braking is essential when it comes to slowing down a relatively portly hot rod and Keith's unorthodox concoction of whoa power includes a blend of Wilwood, Coleman, CNC, and EBC Blue Stuff pads and 13-inch plates. "It took several years and lots of parts to make this manual brake system work for track performance and comfortable street use," confirms Keith. "This system has been tweaked numerous times and now works amazingly well." Out back is a simpler approach featuring EBC Blue Stuff pads incorporated into a fourth-gen Camaro brake system with 12-inch rotors.
Gray powdercoated Vintage Wheel Works V40 18x9.5 rollers reside on all four corners and Nitto NT05 285/35-18 rubber provide Keith's Z with the necessary grip all the while complying with the stringent treadwear rules of many street car driving events (most sanctioning bodies mandate a 200 or greater treadwear rating).
The interior consists of a solid foundation of business-only attire. Beyond the leftover 1980's Alpine cassette deck and aftermarket shift light, the dash features only stock gauges. No exotic sound system or fancy one-off custom garments here. Corbeau A4 seats and NRG five-point racing harness are secured by a custom rollcage built by Keith and his pal Eddie Orpid. That was back in 1998. Additional race-inspiration comes from the MOMO steering wheel and Hurst black knob shifter.
With the aforementioned paintjob holding up well, Keith recently took aim at shaving weight from the F-body by designing his own carbon-fiber bumpers, then adapting a carbon-fiber hood and RS nose.
There's no doubt finer examples of early second-gens are commonplace, but if you are coming to race, it's best you not overlook Keith Smith and his '71. He fears no one and will take on any comers on any track. It's just the way it is when you've given your all to the same ride for the past 23 years.