"It started as a car I was going to buy and just put a headgasket on and drive. Ended up doing a new engine, rear, and transmission after the T5 broke in third… Every possible thing that could go wrong has, but we have kept at it!" This is one third-gen that truly has it all, with lofty goals, tons of custom work, and a style that's almost impossible to beat. From 50 feet away, it should be obvious that Christopher Nieves has a nice '87 Camaro, but it's only as you get closer that you can really appreciate how much work has gone into building such a solid all around performer. "I would love to hit 200 mph in the mile, 700-rwhp with methanol injection, eventually run a 9-second quarter, and get smoked but have fun at VIR." Oh, that and "drive it more!"
For such an undertaking, Chris actually attempted to start with an already modified Camaro that he found online, and after owning seven other third-gens, he thought he had found a winner, but like all projects of this magnitude, he eventually ended up doing everything over again. "After looking at the paint we decided it needed a repaint and the car was stripped to do it." Once apart, it was game on, with Chris, his uncle C.E., and his uncle's son Coy, tearing into the car for over two years to make it right. The entire body of the car was redone by Shannon "Dentfix Racing" Young with Sherwin Ultra 7000 paint in IROC Blue, while the custom splitter, diffuser, side skirts, roof rails, and plexi-glass T-tops remained black. The look is certainly racy and wild for the street, but that's exactly what attracted Chris (and us) to the Camaro in the first place.
And while Chris originally intended to refresh the old engine, he eventually decided it would be best to just start fresh with new components of his choosing. Built by Dusty at Blazing High Performance in Durham, North Carolina, the 357 cubic-inch bullet started life as a seasoned 350 block, which was machined by Deep Creek Motors to a 4.050-in. bore to match a set of dished CP Pistons. Hung over Carillo 6-inch rods, the CPs do work around a 3.5-inch Eagle steel crankshaft, which is held in place by splayed billet main caps and quality bearings. The low compression 8.7:1 mill was topped with Air Flow Research 195cc aluminum cylinder heads and an extensively ported TPI intake manifold that was built with SLP runners, a Siamese plenum, and a GM base. Chris selected a solid roller Comp Cams camshaft for the engine with 230/236 degrees of duration at .050-inches, .552/.564 inches of lift, and a stout 110-degree lobe separation angle. If you're going to look this good and make big power, that's the type of camshaft you need.
Of course, the 357 wasn't going to sit in the engine bay all alone, and Chris planned his entire build around big boost. A cogged Vortech V7 YSi handles that, and with an ASP Fabricated cog system and custom piping throughout, the YSi makes some big numbers, pumping over 21 pounds of boost into the little 357 at full tilt. A large Spearco intercooler handles the cooling, while a TiAL 50mm blow-off valve discharges air under off-throttle conditions. Tuning this beast is a "community effort" according to Chris, using a Megasquirt II Extra EFI controller that's wired into the factory harness. With 80 lb/hr injectors, a boost referenced Aeromotive fuel system, an MSD Digital 6+ ignition box, and a 4-bar MAP sensor, tuning can be a handful, but with 652-rwhp and 712 lb-ft of torque hitting the tires, we've got a feeling that Chris is pretty close with the tune up. "As I have worked and built the car I want it to do it all, but be streetable! Fast street car, mile car, road race, and run fast quarter-mile times…"
To do it all, Chris had to spend a lot of time on the drivetrain and suspension of his third-gen, and he paid just as much attention here as he did to the engine. A '93 close ratio T56 replaced the factory (and broken) T5, which Chris installed with a Spec Stage 3 clutch and steel flywheel stuffed between the bellhousing. To make it all work with the stock pedals, Chris installed a new master and slave cylinder, along with custom stainless steel lines and a custom T56 crossmember. All the way out back, this monster runs a 9-inch rear that houses a 3.50:1 ring and pinion, 31-spline axles, and a Wavetrac differential. The suspension also received a complete makeover, with KYB adjustable shocks wrapped in Eibach springs on all four corners. Hard parts from BMR Suspension and Hotchkis were used to replace every bit of the underside, and everything rides on Energy Suspension bushings for a firm but comfortable ride. "The car drives very well and is super tight with the suspension setup that it has. Cruising is good with the T56 and 3.50 gears.”
And, after all that work, we're betting Chris loves the fact that he can just jump into the Sparco seats, strap himself into the G-Force harnesses, and drive this gorgeous '87 to any track or runway in the country and get down with the big dogs. When we asked Chris what he liked most, he told us "the uniqueness of it” and, love it or hate it, you can't disagree that this is a unique third-gen with a perfect blend of style, function, and performance. With over 650-rwhp on tap, Chris isn't afraid to throw down to prove it either…just make sure you can keep up before you think about grabbing a lane next to this IROC.
Car: 1987 Chevrolet Camaro
Owner: Christopher Nieves
Block: GM, 357cid
Compression ratio: 8.7:1
Heads: Air Flow Research 195cc, 2.020 intake, 1.600 exhaust valves
Cam: Comp Cams solid roller, 230/236 duration at .050, .552/.564 inches of lift, 110 LSA
Rocker arms: Comp Cams, 1.6-ratio
Pistons: CP Pistons, forged
Rings: CP Pistons
Crankshaft: Eagle, forged
Rods: Carillo, forged
Throttle body: Holley, 58mm
Fuel injectors: 80 lb/hr
Fuel pump: Aeromotive Eliminator, in-line
Ignition: MSD Digital 6, MSD Super Conductor 8.5mm wires, Autolite plugs
Engine Management: Megasquirt II Extra, tuned by Chris Nieves
Exhaust system: Hooker long-tube headers, custom 3-inch H-pipe, Flowmaster 40-series 3-inch mufflers
Transmission: Tremec T56
Clutch: Spec Stage 3
Driveshaft: 3-inch, aluminum
Front suspension: BMR Suspension K-member, upper and lower control arms, KYB struts, Eibach springs, Hotchkis sway bar
Rear suspension: Hotchkis lower control arms, sway bar, Panhard bar, subframe connectors, custom torque arm, KYB shocks, Eibach springs
Rear end: Moser 9-inch, 3.50 gear, Wavetrac differential, 31-spline axles
Brakes: Baer Track Plus, front and rear
Front wheels: Auto Art VY 19x8
Rear wheels: Auto Art VY 19x10
Front tires: Bridgestone Potenza RE050 275/35/19
Rear tires: Bridgestone Potenza RE050 295/35/19