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Turbocharged 1980 Camaro Z28 - Grand National Rival

By , Photography by Bill Erdman

Amongst late-model GM owners, Grand National and GNX guys stand apart. Their factory built, turbo-equipped cars were not only among the fastest of the '80s, but had a certain style all their own. Sure, Chevy had some turbo offerings in the '80s-a carbureted V-6 Monte Carlo and a three-cylinder Sprint among them-but the second- and third-gen Camaros never left the factory that way.

When Daniel O'Connell and his father Denis bought an '80 Z28 while Daniel was still in high school, they hadn't originally planned to build a hair-dryer-equipped pavement pounder. For a few years, the car was driven in stock form, but upon graduation Daniel started doing everything he could (and could afford) to up the Camaro's power level. He ultimately wanted a fast, usable street car with power steering and air conditioning.

Around '92, the old 350 was junked in favor of a big-block with a Paxton Novi supercharger for some real fun. The blown rat lasted a few years, but eventually the limit was reached on how much power it would produce, and Daniel was tired of the blower belt coming off at inopportune times and taking the fan with it in an attempt to assassinate the Camaro's radiator.

Back to the drawing board father and son went, and after some thought, found inspiration in the GN and GNX. He felt that the power he wanted would never be made with a supercharged engine, and didn't want to mess with nitrous. That left turbocharging. With no belts to slip off, a turbo would satisfy the power needs of the F-body nicely. After some more thought, the decision was made to build the Camaro in a GN-style, an imagination of what it would've been like had Chevrolet built a turbo muscle car with two extra cylinders. Since the Camaro already sported black paint, it was a match made in heaven

Once the old big-block was pulled out, Daniel installed a freshly-built LS6 rat crate engine he bought from a friend that was topped with Dart 265 oval port heads and stuffed with a solid roller cam. A Dart single-plane intake was converted to EFI with 96-pound injectors, and a custom mounted 75mm Ford throttle body with an ACCEL Gen 6 DFI system controlling everything. Ignition is handled by an MSD Digital 7 box with HVC coil. An Innovate wideband O2 sensor with Auxbox data logger keeps an eye on the air/fuel ratio.

For the turbo system, an Air Research 86mm turbo was plumbed in along with a Spearco air-to-air intercooler, Paxton blow-off valve, and an HKS wastegate. Homemade headers, along with 4-inch up-pipe and downpipe were fabricated to take care of the exhaust.

Backing up the engine is a TH400 trans with manual valvebody and trans brake built by Neal Chance, along with a 4,000rpm stall converter, ATI scattershield and pan. Feeding the engine fuel on the street is a Paxton street pump, while at the track Daniel switches over to a Weldon 2035 race pump.

Once everything was set up, Daniel enlisted the help of Mike Beck at C&M Racing to get the engine and turbo running correctly and tuned just right. Bob Ida of Ida Automotive also helped out with hours on the chassis dyno and ideas that helped get the car dialed in to make 823 hp at the wheels along with 1,200 lb-ft of torque-not bad for a homebuilt hot rod, right?

So the car could handle the projected horsepower of the new engine, a five-point rollbar and cage was installed, along with a G-Force Racing five-point harness to keep the driver safely secured. Auto Meter gauges help keep track of everything that's going on underhood. Out back, the Camaro's 10-bolt rear was treated to a Moser spool kit along with 33-spline Moser axles, C-clip eliminator kit, a Trans Am housing cover, 1330 U-Joint 3-inch steel driveshaft by Driveline, and a driveshaft loop. The Camaro's stock 3.08 gears were retained because, as Daniel puts it, "It makes so much power now it doesn't need any more gear."

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