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A Big-Block-Powered 1971 Camaro That Handles Like a Champ and Looks Great Doing it

It’s Been Such a Wrong Time: Who’d Have Thought a Big-Block-Powered Second-gen Camaro Could Handle This Good?

Chris Shelton May 22, 2015
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Woe was the first run of the second-gen Camaro. Despite its more sculpted body, despite its more rigid platform, and despite a more powerful 350 engine option, it was sort of a dud when it came out. Hot on the heels of one of the most handsome and successful muscle cars and competing with the new-for-1970 Monte Carlo, the second-gen hadn’t a chance and the numbers proved it. Whereas sales figures rose to nearly quarter of a million cars by 1969, half of that figure sold in 1970. By 1972, Chevrolet sold roughly 60,000 of ’em. In fact, it took until 1973 for the model came to life—not so coincidentally the same year GM uglified the Monte.

Of course, the engineering and marketing departments would love to chime in. And if they did, they’d probably tell you how they would’ve liked to design the second-gen. And if they really would’ve gotten their way, the second-gen likely would’ve looked like David Pfost’s.

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Side View 2/14

That’s by no coincidence. You see, before David was a parts manager for a BMW dealer, he was a BMW tech. Here’s a little secret about Euro-car technicians: wrenching on Continental iron—particularly the Bayern’s best—does strange things to a person. They start judging things in funny ways; ways peculiar to most enthusiasts. They purposefully seek out flaws and don’t rest until they’ve refined anything they can unbolt. Knowing that, it’s probably no surprise that David started seeing things in the restored Lime Green Z-car for which he’d paid dearly. Needless to say, he didn’t like them.

Rather than fixing what he didn’t like, David instead carefully removed and stored the stock running gear and started with a clean slate. As luck would have it, he just happened to have the right car for the job. In this case he purchased the engine the later-generation Z car should’ve come with had it not needed to conform to SCCA production requirements: a big-block, in this case a Chevrolet Performance ZZ502. Knowing not to trust anybody with any less scrutiny than his own, he commissioned Monrovia, California’s Johnson Machine to disassemble and blueprint the engine before he personally reassembled it.

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Engine View 3/14

David capped this particular engine with an 850-cfm Holley and sumped it with a Moroso 6-quart pan. In a bid to offset the 502’s additional weight (which with aluminum heads tips the scales at 40 pounds heavier than an all-iron small-block, according to big-block advocate Mike Petralia), David equipped his with a March accessory drive system, an aluminum Edelbrock water pump, and a like-alloyed Be Cool radiator. Understanding the value of a flat torque curve over peak horsepower, David chose a relatively small-tube header for a 502, a pair of Doug’s Headers’ 1 3/4-inch units. Since David pursues torque, those feed 2 1/2-inch-diameter tubes that converge in an X-pipe. Since he doesn’t necessarily want to attract too much attention, they terminate at DynoMax Super Turbo mufflers. You can credit the German influence for the conservative looking engine compartment.

That same German influence, in this case as deference to control rather than laziness, more than likely influenced David’s transmission choice. His car’s Richmond Gear 4+1 is a five-speed box with close-ratio gear characteristics enjoyed by Bimmer fans for years. He equipped his with a positive-feeling shifter any German could love, a Long Industries’ sliding-rail unit. Although he uses a forged steel flywheel and an 11-inch performance clutch, David still elected to use a Lakewood safety bellhousing.

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Engine 4/14

To the yonder side of that transmission is an axle discontinued for the 1971 Camaro: the GM 12-bolt. Tom’s Differentials blueprinted this one and, fitting for a sporty-car-type owner, equipped it with a limited-slip differential. When combined with the Richmond’s 3.27:1 First gear, the axle’s 3.08:1 cog yields a 10.1:1 final drive, a figure comparable to a close-ratio Muncie M22 Rock Crusher with a 4.56:1 screw. Naturally, such a tall gear keeps driveshaft speeds and mechanism vibration low.

David tuned his car more for canyon carving than for the quarter-mile, a philosophy illustrated by the conservative 1 1/2-inch drop. Up front it’s Eibach coils; out back it’s Global West leafs and hardware. Each corner sports its own Edelbrock IAS damper, and bolt-in Competition Engineering subframe connectors link the ends. Likewise, each of those ends sports a Baer four-pot caliper with 13- and 12-inch-diameter rotor, fronts and rears respectively.

The wheels are Billet Specialties Legacies in a decidedly non-trendy 17-inch diameter. The 7-inch fronts wear Michelin Pilot Sport 225/45 and the 9.5-inch rears boast 285/40—hides with generous sidewalls that offer greater compliance on real-world roads.

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Interior 5/14
1971 Chevrolet Camaro Front Seats 6/14

Given his posterior’s close proximity to some of the more refined seats in the automotive industry, is it any surprise that David equipped his car with Bimmer seats? Sorenson’s Top Shop covered the stock rear seat in the BMW pattern and materials to match the 1995-vintage 318S-series buckets. Other than the Classic Industries stainless-spoked, leather-clad steering wheel and the GM-badged Z-series Auto Meter gauges, the cockpit is stock. Other than the steel cowl-induction hood, the same could be said of the exterior.

And for the record, Marco’s Auto Body in San Gabriel, California, applied the Lime Green finish.

OK, so the second-generation Camaro didn’t splash big, but was it successful? Before you answer that, consider this: the second-gen lasted 11 years relatively unchanged. It survived the oppressive emissions-control era. It was one of the few cars that actually looked tolerable with tack-on federal bumpers. It performed well on the quarter-mile, regardless if it was straight or bent into an oval. In a way, it was the car that upheld the muscle car image in a time when the Mustang, the car that inspired the Camaro the first place, embarrassed itself with its own lack of direction.

To answer the question; sure, the second-gen Camaro was successful. It just took a few people like David Pfost to look beyond the trends and recognize the car’s stronger points … and capitalize upon them.

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Rear Side View 10/14


1971 Chevrolet Camaro Z 28 11/14

Track Testing Results:
420-ft Slalom – 6.06 sec. = 47.7 mph
200-ft Skidpad – 12.27 sec. = 0.82 g’s
60-0 mph Braking 192.43 ft
30-0 mph Braking 51.53 ft

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Baer 12/14

Driving Impression

We first saw Dave Pfost’s second-gen online and thought it was a pretty nice looking car. We thought so much of it we set up a meeting with Dave in order to grab a closer look at his Lime Green ’71. Our first impression upon seeing the car in person was that it was a pretty nice car.

Our second impression, after putting it through some aggressive testing, (420-ft slalom, 200-ft skidpad, 60-0 mph braking) was that this was an amazing car.

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Grille 13/14

Generally, second-gens aren’t known for “killer” weight distribution in a road racing or slalom setting, especially with a big-block stuffed between the framerails. With some suspension upgrades and aluminum heads bolted to the big Rat engine, all the misconceptions of big-blocks making the front end too heavy for adequate handling response went straight out the window.

We’ve tested quite a few cars, but this is our first outing with a big-block-powered second-gen. To our surprise the car handled exceptionally well and predictability was spot on throughout the slalom course. As was expected, the car didn’t fare exceptionally well on the skidpad due to the weight distribution and suspension setup. But for everyday driving and track days, the car handles exceptionally well and rides super smooth on the highway.

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Taillight 14/14

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