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1979 Chevy Camaro - South Jersey Swap

George Park Transformed This 1979 Chevy Camaro In His Backyard, Dropping In A Junkyard LS1 Setup For Present-Day Power

By Thomas J. Lyman, Photography by , Thomas J. Lyman

Like it or not, the newest rage in developing project cars seems to be the phenomenon of putting fuel-injected, computer-controlled Bow Tie muscle into vintage Chevys-from Tri-Fives to Camaros, and everything in between. With "Saturday Night Fever"-era cars like the second-gen Camaro being more affordable and easier to find, we here at the magazine have been on a crusade of sorts to feature them more often, especially when such drastic measures are taken to make them perform light years ahead of OEM specs.

George Park is just one of the aforementioned people doing these builds. He'd purchased a second-gen hardtop Camaro when he was 18, from his aunt. Park drove this disco-era F-body for a while, and eventually (like most of the breed) the car showed signs of frame rot, as well as some corrosion of the body. However, Park was still a fan of the body style, and decided to stick with it. He bought another Camaro, this time a T-top car, about four years ago from a friend for the outstanding price of $1,500 (as we said, these cars are obviously available).

The T-top car came equipped with a 12-bolt and a rollbar, so George figured he would take the Camaro to the next level. That included making some radical changes to the powertrain. From that point, George basically combined the rolling shell of the T-top car with his frame-rotted hardtop to make one "super Camaro," and started searching for some late-model LS1 power for the car.

Before we get into the details of Park's LS1 swap, we should note that George did almost all the work in his New Jersey backyard, including the paint. This just goes to show how hassle-free these engine swaps can be-just about anyone with a high school automotive tech level of knowledge can perform the motor swap (in fact, while we're giving out kudos, some have to go to Park's family, who helped out with work on the car).

Park went to nearby Corvette powertrain dealer Contemporary Corvette in Bristol, Pennsylvania, to find an LS1 "kit," and uncovered a perfect specimen with just 6,000 miles on the clock. He purchased a salvaged LS1, complete with the stock 4L60E four-speed overdrive tranny, ECU and wiring harness, and other miscellaneous goodies for $5,000. It took Park just a week (with the help of his family, see above) to mate the entire LS1 package to the Camaro. After a few fuel pressure kinks were worked out, Park had the motor up and running, and proceeded to beat a 9-second car at a local bracket event.

With the "ain't broke/don't fix" mentality firmly in place, he ran the car for a year in "stock" trim before switching out the cam for a more aggressive Comp Cams spinner and an Aeromotive fuel system. The LS1-equipped Camaro also packs Pace Setter long-tube headers, a custom mandrel bent exhaust system developed by Park himself, and 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers. Park can only make a guess at a power figure, perhaps 402 hp, as the car has never been tested on the dyno.

George made some minor suspension modifications, mostly to improve the Camaro's performance off the beams. Up front, the car now bounces on single-adjustable Competition Engineering shocks, and Napa OEM-replacement units in the rear. Park did add a slide link traction bar, which also helps in the launching phase. The Camaro rides on 15-inch Centerline Warrior wheels, with skinny BFGoodrich Control T/A rubber up front (195/65/15) and monster Mickey Thompson E.T. Streets in the back (275/65/15).

The interior of the Camaro is all business, with Auto Meter gauges and a monster shift light in the proper position-right in front of the driver. Park added some Jaz racing seats, a center console sourced from an '02 Camaro, and a beautiful brushed aluminum gauge housing done up by Sutton's Speed Shop in Pemberton, New Jersey. George also painted the car himself-in the backyard, no less-with Napa Fire Red paint.

As with the other LS-derived cars featured in this issue, George Park's Camaro definitely turns heads-on the street as well as at the strip. When we tested the '79, Park made the car's best career hit, a wheels-up 11.60 at 116 mph. Even more impressive (at least to us who relish daily-driven muscle) was Park leaving in his car, racing back down to South Jersey in time for his wife's ultrasound appointment. We figure he owes her at least that, for all the help she supplied on the Camaro.

"It's a great car, you know," Park said. "I wanted something different, reliable, and fun. And I think I got it with this combination."

By Thomas J. Lyman
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