Running a truly quick, high-power, Gen-5 Camaro SS that still sports the independent rear axle is challenging. As competent as the factory axle and suspension systems are with mild and midlevel performance upgrades, their limits quickly reveal themselves when serious torque is sent to the rear wheels.
At the last Camaro5 Fest, for example, we saw as many broken half-shafts in the pits as there were nachos and red Gatorade at the concession stand. One of the competitors at that event was Chris Kolibab, who did a masterful job at weaving his 900-rwhp 2012 45th Anniversary Camaro SS around the axle shrapnel to stand out among those trying to click off quick, clean and breakage-free ETs with an IRS.
In full disclosure, Kolibab's rear axle may be independently sprung, but it isn't exactly the same as when it left the Oshawa, Ontario assembly plant. It's a full-on, Driveshaft Shop-built 9-inch that works with a 15-inch wheel conversion to help propel the car efficiently and durably. The upgrade is by no means a bargain-basement bolt-on, but continual half-shaft replacements aren't exactly cheap, either.
The competition-capable drivetrain works well, which delights—and sort of surprises—Kolibab, who had little drag racing experience before diving into a project he admits was aimed more at the show field than the staging lanes.
"I had always been a fan and fascinated by the sport, but couldn't really afford to get into it when I was in high school and college," he says. "I've educated myself along the way, learning more and more with every pass down the track. I've also had more guidance and assistance from Unleashed Performance, in Georgetown, Indiana, than I could ever hope acknowledge adequately."
The transition from show car to street/strip star was a gradual one, but like so many such projects, once the high-performance bug got its hooks in Kolibab, he quickly succumbed.
"I have the tendency to go over the top without just about everything I do and this car is a perfect example," he says. "This saga began with a V-6 Camaro, which lasted about four weeks after I went mod crazy on it, and knew I was hitting a dead-end. I then made the move to an SS, and while my family loves the car show circuit, I was not satisfied with it. I am competitive. I'm a hockey and racquetball guy, and the ability to merge my car appetite into drag racing is really what got me going to where we are with the car today."
Kolibab's performance goal has evolved with its level of capability, but he currently has his sights set on the mid-9s—and he knows it will be a challenge, even with the beefed-up rear axle.
"I really wanted to be in the low-10s last season, but going for the mid-9s is achievable with this combination, hoever, it has to be reliable performance and stable on the track," he says. "I can't afford to break parts like some of the shop cars I run up against, so we'll keep pushing the car, but with realistic steps and expectations."
When it comes to producing the horsepower to deliver that first sub-10-second ET, Kolibab took the sledgehammer approach – cramming a lot of supercharger-generated boost into a large-displacement engine. The basic recipe includes an ERL-reinforced LS7 block fitted with a completely forged rotating assembly, a set of deep-breathing Mast-modified LS3 heads, and an enormous Kenne Bell 3.6L liquid-cooled, twin-screw blower. It shoves air into the heads with 18.5 pounds of boost, contributing to the car's roughly 1,100-horsepower-at-the-crank output.
"Engine and power-adder selection in the ‘fast car' arena is like a religious war these days," says Kolibab. "My goal was to keep the engine combination as simple as possible, supported with the strongest foundation we could must. And so far, so good; the engine has proven very durable, and the large displacement of the supercharger means it keeps making power all the way through the rpm band. It never falls off."
The Kenne Bell blower, however, wasn't Kolibab's first choice.
"I was running a Magnuson TVS2300 on the original LS3 engine. It was a good blower, but I realized that for the planned 427 engine and ETs we were aiming for, the boost limit of it would not get us where we needed to be," he says. "We wanted to go with the biggest and baddest blower we could find—and see if we could tame it accordingly. I don't know if the K-B 3.6L will be the final power-adder for this engine, but it's working for us."
Heat is always an issue with high-boost supercharged engines and Kolibab reports it's no different with the Kenne Bell-blown 427. A large heat exchanger, including an ice water reservoir, is employed, and methanol injection has been used within reason to keep the idle air temperature in check and stave off detonation. That car has put down 900 horsepower to the tires with 93-octane pump gas, but Kolibab says future forays onto the strip will incorporate C16 or FUSE racing fuel.
"The trick is maintaining the horsepower on a hot track," he says. "Even if we have to pull timing at a race, I'm confident we'll hit the 9s."
Strong, consistent launches are also tricky, and while the Camaro performed well with the original TREMEC six-speed – even delivering some admirable 1.65-second short times—Kolibab recently made the jump to a Jake's Performance-built 4L80E automatic.
"With a McLeod RXT twin-disc clutch, I beat that manual transmission to a pulp and had zero issue with it, but with a massive torque curve that is almost a straight-line overlay with the rear-wheel horsepower, it was just about impossible to pull solid 60-foot times and clean runs," he says. "I just lost too much time shifting – and a missed WOT shift would have left the tranny on the track. The 4L80E has been an absolute blessing and I can concentrate on more aspects of the run now, rather than worrying about nailing the shifts."
Nevertheless, there's still a learning curve to negotiate with the new transmission. It features a fully manually controlled valve body, with a Circle D 3500 stall converter and a lock-up, as well as a trans brake. It's a far cry from simply managing the line lock from the six-speed days and Kolibab admits that, at the time we photographed the car, he was still getting a feel for the launch characteristics with the new setup.
Another key to the car's more consistent launches and cleaner passes down the track was the 15-inch rear-wheel conversion, which allows the use of a slick or drag radial with a more compressible sidewall. Like most racers these days, Kolibab turned to Extreme Innovations for their conversion kit, which includes new chromoly control arms, shock hats, modified knuckles, Wilwood calipers and rotors, and Santhuff double-adjustable coil-overs. He runs 28-inch-tall Mickey Thompson 325-series radials on 10-inch rims, and says the launch performance is very solid and straight, even if he's still getting used to the changeover from a manual transmission to a manual-control automatic.
Kolibab is quick to credit tuner, building partner, and teammate, Brenton Brown at Unleashed Performance, with ensuring the supercharged/automatic powertrain combination is calibrated correctly, along with the chassis setup.
"It would be impossible to state how impossible this project would have been without him," he says. "Our Dyno numbers are exceptional and I would put the detail and tune Brenton has in my car up against anything in the country – he's meticulous beyond comprehension. This has been a living project and literally every aspect of the car relating to performance has been changed – often multiple times – and I'm grateful for Brenton and his shop's dedication."
Kolibab is a meticulous guy himself, and when the car was originally destined for the car-show realm, he channeled his attention for detail into subtle yet very effective enhancements that may cause the casual enthusiasts to look twice. First and foremost, the front fascia was swapped out for the more aggressive ZL1, which delivers the secondary benefit of greater airflow for the radiator and heat exchanger.
The car also wears the ZL1 rockers and rear spoiler, along with COPO Camaro-type hood from Chevrolet Performance. He had the 45th anniversary hood graphics adapted for the raised portion of the cowl scoop – a detail that looks like it was an original feature on the car. The bodywork and paint were handled by LaGrange Chevrolet. The color scheme is even repeated on the arms of the strut tower brace, under the hood.
Inside, the LED lights and other show-car trappings have been jettisoned in favor of business-oriented enhancements for racing, including a red, six-point roll cage installed by RPM Rollbars. There's also the expected complement of auxiliary instruments to monitor the 1,100-horsepower blower engine and the rear seat has been 86-ed in an effort to trim a few pounds from the Camaro's admittedly portly curb weight. There's also a COPO-inspired overhead console/control panel.
Interestingly, Kolibab retained the blingy Alpine INE-Z928HD audio head unit, but rather than show movies on its eight-inch screen at car shows, he uses it as the display for HP Tuners calibrations and data logging. "This car has been a challenge – and not simply because we're still running the independent rear suspension – but a fun and satisfying challenge," he says. "We're sticking with the IRS for now, because of the big investment I've made in it; and besides, I'm not 100-percent convinced a straight axle will buy me much of a performance gain."
That's an admirable outlook, and with the results achieved to date, Kolibab's first serious dive into the world of quick street cars is proving successful.
"I'm having way more fun with it than I could have ever gotten at car shows, and the prospect of going quicker simply fuels my adrenalin," he says. "I couldn't be happier with my change in plans."
Car: 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary Edition
Owner: Chris Kolibab
Block: ERL LS7-427 forged
Compression ratio: 9.7:1
Heads: Mast Black Label LS3 Heads
Cam: Mast Custom Spec
Pushrods: Mast Black Label Pushrods
Rocker arms: GM LS7
Pistons: Wiseco forged 2618 aluminum
Crankshaft: Callies Dragon Slayer
Rods: Callies Ultra; billet steel
Throttle body: Nick Williams 102mm
Fuel injectors: Bosch 60-lb./hr.
Fuel pump: Aeromotive Stealth 1000
Engine management: stock GM controller with HP Tuners custom calibration
Power adder: Kenne Bell 3.6L twin-screw liquid-cooled
Boost: 18.5 lbs.
Intercooler: AFCO Dual Pass, twin fans and ice-water-cooled
Exhaust system: Billy Boat ZL1 custom three-inch system with dual tips
Transmission: Jake's Performance 4L80E
Torque converter: CircleD 3500 stall
Driveshaft: D.S.S. solid aluminum
Front suspension: stock
Rear suspension: Extreme Innovations 15-inch wheel conversion, Santhuff drag coil-overs, Unleashed Performance custom sway bars, BMR misc. arms and bushings.
Rear end: D.S.S. 9-inch with 3.73 "Posi"
Brakes: Wilwood low-profile drag discs (rear); Brembo discs (front)
Wheels: Weld V-Series 17-inch (front); 15-inch Vektor with BeadLocks (rear)
Front tires: M&H 4.5-inch Front Runners
Rear tires: Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial – P325/50R15
Fuel: FUSE 116 Race Fuel and 93 Street Tune
Race weight: 4100 lbs.
Best ET/mph: no full pass with current combination
Best 60-ft. time: 1.62 sec. (with manual transmission)
Current mileage: 9,000 – less than 1,000 on current combination
Miles driven weekly: A few – in 1/4-mile and 1/8-mile increments