It's no secret that I'm a car nut. I'm a downright “petrol-sexual.” Specifically, a GM freak, and if I was stranded on an island with only one car, it would be a first-gen Camaro. I've had my second one now for a little over 10 years, and after the last rebuild, the editor of Camaro Performers magazine gave me the opportunity to have it honored within its pages.
I have to admit it's a bit odd to write your own feature after having written tons for others. I mean, if I'm writing about someone else's car I can use all the superlatives I want and no one bats an eye. Yet, I fear that I'll come across as conceited and arrogant if I talk the same way about my own ride.
Nick Licata, editor of this here mag, tells me, “Dude (he's always calling me 'Dude'), just write about the car and why you built it, that's all ya gotta do.” He always makes it sound so easy to pull off.
I can tell you that my infatuation with Camaros started way back in high school. My buddy Dalen Robillard and his brothers had purchased a '69 SS in pieces. Over the years they put it back together and one day they showed up to school with it sporting brand-spanking-new Kelly Green paint, a four-speed Muncie, and a big-block 454. It was the kind of motor where you can watch the gas gauge needle drop as you mash the gas pedal. That thing was bitchin. We had so many good times in that car. Dalen even let me drive it once. And despite cooking the clutch a bit, he forgave me.
From that point on I've loved Camaros. I've had this particular one since I was 21 and ended up building the car through graduate school, using most of my student loans to finance the build. In 2005, the car was pretty much done. It featured a warmly built small-block 355 with 445 hp and a T56 tranny, fancy TTII wheels, and some flashy blue paint. But all of that was just a dress rehearsal. In 2011, I was able to build the car it had always meant to be. Tom Fuehrer, a buddy from down the street and an avid SCCA racer, convinced me to try road racing. With that goal in mind it was pretty easy to determine the path that the car needed to take.
I have to admit that I still get super “jelly” when I see the big players out on the track, Mark Stielow and Mary Pozzi to name a couple. So, when I was given the chance to build the car of my dreams, I knew exactly what it had to include: an LS motor, a six-speed, mini-tubs, an uncompromising suspension, and a killer stance.
The motor part was an easy pick. I talked with the fellas at Mast Motorsports and they set me up with an LS3 with a 4.070 bore and a 4.000-inch stroke that came out to 416 cubic inches. It pumped out a solid 600 horsepower and 525 lb-ft of torque with the stock intake and a 90mm DBW throttle body. Mast slapped on a set of their proprietary CNC heads and a custom-ground camshaft.
Fuel delivery comes by way of a slick little (think big) aluminum gas tank from Rick's Tanks. It has a total of three fuel pickups—one on each side and one in the middle so that no matter how hard the cornering, the motor will never be starved for fuel.
I went with the strongest six-speed I could find: the Tranzilla. It's a Tremec T56 Magnum that's modified by Rockland Standard Gear. It can handle up to 1,200 hp and 1,000 lb-ft of torque. To transfer the power, I went with a RAM clutch, pressure plate, and aluminum flywheel.
With the engine and trans sorted, I needed to find a solid platform for my new combo to rest on. In went a Speed Tech Performance full front frame, complete with tubular upper and lower control arms, a massive front sway bar, a rack-and-pinion system, and then tied in a set of RideTech coilovers.
The rear suspension is also a Speed Tech piece. I picked up a torque arm/Panhard bar and their rear coilover conversion setup with matching RideTech triple-adjustable shocks. I also went with a Bear Performance 9-inch rearend with 3.89 posi gears and a Strange centersection.
The engine breathes through a set of milled finish Stainless Works headers. The rest of the exhaust is a mishmash of mandrel-bent 2 ½-inch stainless tubing from Stainless Works with an X-pipe and a pair of custom 10x4-inch mufflers that dump right in front of the rear tires, ala old-school Trans-Am style.
I had always liked the look of the Baer 6P calipers, and I knew they were stout, so I opted for the 14-inch rotor combination at all four corners. To fit those massive brakes inside a sweet wheel and tire combination, I called Forgeline for a set of GX3 wheels.
I had never done a mini-tub installation before, let alone any cutting of my car, so that first cut was a doozy! After all was said and done, that 335/30-R18 KDW rubber wrapped around an 18x12, 7.5-inch backspaced wheel fit like a glove. KDWs (275/35-R18) up front wrap the 18x9 wheel with 6.5 inches of backspacing.
Keeping it all cool is an AutoRad radiator and dual fan system. The radiator is massive and requires its own core support, but it's all aluminum and actually cleans up the engine bay a bit. To keep the driver cool under fire, a Kwik Performance A/C relocation kit helps keep the A/C pump off the frame.
The interior is all business with few frills. Tom Fuehrer set up a four-point rollbar that fits really tight to the inner mini-tubs, and with the rear windows rolled up, it's virtually hidden. I tied in a pair of Corbeau Legacy seats and a simple, black rear seat delete custom made by Nate Shaw of One Guys Garage. While the five-point harness keeps my butt in place, the dash is treated to a Stack 8130 gauge cluster. I rewired the entire car with an 18-circuit American Autowire kit. Beyond that, the interior has a CD player and four speakers for some tunes.
The exterior is a fairly subtle affair. The stock front bumper was removed in favor of one from a '69. The car has been sprayed with '99 Kia Cobalt Blue and got an aluminum cowl hood sprayed to match the car with some custom painted stripes to match the wheels by Mike Bighley of Bighley Auto Body in North St. Paul, Minnesota.
A little glam never hurt anyone and when it comes to safety, I'm all in. So when I saw how bright LED brake lights could be, and how good the billet bezels from Eddie Motorsports matched the car's motif, I jumped on them. Everything else is fairly stock.
It's fair to assume I opened up a Camaro Performers mag and cherry picked the coolest stuff to throw at this car. All I can say is that it's a blast to drive and handles so much better than it did after my first rebuild. The LS motor is ultra-reliable, gets killer gas mileage, and has upped my enjoyment well beyond my expectations.
Having never built a car to this level before, I've learned a lot of valuable information. First and foremost, things need to go in the right order. For example, I couldn't order a rearend until I fit my wheels. I couldn't fit my wheels until I figured out what size wheel and tire combination to go with and so on. I started the teardown a little over a year ago, and while it seemed like a big project, plinking away at it an hour or two a night makes the job a lot less daunting. I had to just go for it and put my fears aside knowing that no matter what mistakes I might make, it could all be fixed.
I even wrote a book called Blue Hour that chronicles the build, as well as how to make LS swaps in Camaros a lot less confusing. Look for it on bookshelves sometime in 2013.
And if you are wondering about the name Blue Hour. It's that time every morning and evening right before sunup and sundown when everything is cast in twilight blue hue. You could say that Blue Hour has just started the next chapter of its evolution as the sun waxes ever upward and the engine hums along.