It was the summer of 2009 and Chevrolet had finally made good on its promise to bring back our beloved Camaro. Cars were hitting the dealer lots and we were itching to dig into one. That’s when fate stepped in. A friend of ours, Yancy Johns, had just taken delivery of an Ice Silver RS/SS and said we could borrow it for a few upgrade articles. So with just 3,000 miles on the clock, it was loaded up and shipped from Tennessee to sunny Southern California. Little did Yancy know that his loan would last over two years. The problem was that we just kept finding cool new things to add to the car. Around that same time we heard rumors from GM about a Z28 version in the works (later to morph into the ZL1?). It was said to have huge brakes, a blower under the hood, and aggressive styling—we wanted one bad. But we’re an impatient lot here at Camaro Performers, so we decided to build our own and dubbed it project CP/28.
Our first task was to tackle the Camaro’s most notable flaw: heavy and vague handling. At 3,900 pounds, nobody thought the Camaro would turn on a dime, or even a quarter, but ours was maneuvering in the buck-fifty range. So we called up Detroit Speed Inc. and installed their suspension kit. That alone made a huge difference. With that first story completed, we just kept swapping out parts as fast as the aftermarket could dish them out. Huge, 14-inch Baer brakes with six-piston calipers the size of small cats found their way behind the stock wheels. They helped knock a few feet off the Camaro’s stopping distance, but more importantly they didn’t fade away after numerous hard hits. While the big brakes did fit inside the stock 20-inch wheels, we decided to set our SS apart from the crowd with a set of Boze three-piece wheels. The best part was that we were able to up the tire sizes and go with 275/35-20 up front and 315/35-20 rear Nitto NT05 tires. The wider rubber, along with the lower stance from the DSE coils, really helped the fifth-gen’s aesthetics. But that was only the beginning.
It was time to pop the hood and see what could be done about the Camaro’s power output. Now, the SS with the six-speed manual had a 426hp LS3 engine, and while that’s a decent amount of power, the 3,900-pound car just didn’t feel all that fast. Since the car was registered in Tennessee we weren’t really beholden to California smog laws, but we still wanted to see what could be done within the strict confines of our rules. Unfortunately, that wasn’t much. Even something as simple as swapping out the air intake was verboten since none of the aftermarket versions were CARB (California Air Resources Board) certified. We then found out that Magnuson had a blower kit that was labeled as “good to go” by CARB. One of their 2.3L TVS units added over 130 hp and 90 lb-ft of torque to the party. That extra power was just what the Camaro needed; unfortunately, the clutch disagreed. After checking out in a blaze of glory and a lot of smoke, we soon had a Centerforce unit handling the power. We were at around 480 ponies to the rear tires and, in typical hot rodder fashion, we wanted more. A JBA catback system gave us around 10 more hp, but we were greedy. Needless to say, the decision was made to go beyond what’s “OK” in California and up the power even more. The first step was a pair of JBA long-tube headers and highflow cats. All engines benefit from longtubes, but a blower engine really responds to the added airflow. With some tuning from Mike Norris (Norris Motorsports), the power output rocketed up to 551 hp and 493 lb-ft to the tires. The car felt great until the stock GM fuel system decided it couldn’t keep up and sent us lean during a hard run. That killed our rings, so we decided to mash them lemons into some tasty lemonade.
The engine came out over at Don Lee Auto, and since it’s the same effort to rebuild an engine as it is to swap in new rings, we decided to stroke the LS3 to 416 glorious inches. An Eagle crank along with their H-beam rods was mated to eight Ross 4.070-inch blower pistons and slid into the honed block. The heads were left stock, but we added a COMP-ground Lingenfelter GT9 cam (215/247 duration, 0.629/0.658 lift, and 121 LSA). After putting it all together with a complement of ARP bolts, we addressed the fuel system that had originally put us in this spot.
A high-volume fuel system from ADM Performance was installed. Based on the fuel system found in the supercharged CTS-V, the ADM kit was more than enough to feed our blown 416. Since the cradle was out for the fuel upgrade, we went ahead and replaced most of the bushings with Energy Suspension urethane pieces, and the stock sway bar endlinks with trick pieces from Proven Wicked. With the drivetrain back together we hit the dyno once more. The numbers clicked up to 600 hp and 610 lb-ft to the tires, but boost was dropping off at 4,000 rpm due to belt slippage. That led us to Innovators West for one of their eight-rib pulley systems. Once installed at Norris Motorsports, we were able to give our 416 a full 9 psi of boost through the whole pull. With 651 rear-wheel hp and 660 lb-ft of twist, our Camaro had oficially moved into a whole new category.
Given the stupid-big smiles we would get when driving the car, we flgured that was enough for the engine. To survive the power, we added stronger G-Force axles and eventually a 9-inch rear and one-piece aluminum driveshaft system from The Driveshaft Shop. We also upgraded our single-disc Centerforce clutch to their new DYAD twin-disc and bolted on a prototype set of coilover adjustable shocks from Penske. CP/28 was a blast to drive even if it did look nearly stock.
The Boze wheels helped dress up the Camaro a ton, but the SS just didn’t have the vibe we wanted, so we contacted Ben Hermance to help us come up with a better visual plan. With rendering in hand, we hit up Anvil Auto and Seibon for some of their carbon-flber panels. Once installed by Brian Finch, we took the Camaro over to Best of Show Coach Works in Escondido, California, for the custom graphics along with new badges from Sparks and a GM Heritage grille. Finally, CP/28 was looking like the car we envisioned nearly two years earlier.
With the last big projects in the “done” category, we then moved on and tackled the details. Technostalgia LED taillights were installed, and the engine was dressed up a bit with trinkets including Lingenfelter fuel rail covers and parts from Drake and Showstopper Accessories. Shortly before the car shipped back to Tennessee, we bolted on Seibon’s new carbon-fiber ground eflects kit. It was the finishing touch we were looking for.
Even being two years in the making, we still beat GM to the street with our version of the ultimate Camaro. It stops on a dime, fries the tires at will, and turns heads wherever it goes. Yancy promises to take it to lots of events and we have liberal visitation rights, so chances are you’ll see it at a few driving events and again in these pages.
Now to find a ZL1 we can borrow… just for a while.