With the fifth-gen Camaro making its debut in the spring of 2009, the aftermarket was completely taken by surprise by the enthusiasm of the new breed of Camaro owners who were instantly willing to rip off many of the stock components in favor of bolt-on performance upgrades. Early on, it was obvious that the typical day-two wheel, tire, and exhaust upgrades would be first to happen. And that was the case, but what took most everyone by surprise was the fact that many new Camaro owners didn't hesitate to bolt on superchargers before the ink on the title had dried. That's a good thing, 'cause those who had dreams of turning the portly late-model hot rod into a serious performer were dealing with a major weight disadvantage, but the hardcore Camaro enthusiasts were up to the challenge and willing to attack with a vengeance. In stock form, the automatic trans car comes in at a little over 3,900 pounds. Add on a supercharger and we're talking two tons of fun. Sure, with a blower the car feels quite a bit lighter, but it's still a heifer compared to its lighter, more nimble rivals in the staging lanes.
It was going to take a lot more than a "minor" weight disadvantage to keep Francis Johns away from the Camaro. "I was looking at the fifth-gen Camaro as an eye-catching hot rod that would allow me to build a 10-second, reliable street car," says Francis. The week he took delivery of his Camaro was probably the most memorable seven days of his life. Besides purchasing the Camaro in August of 2009, he opened up FJ Performance in Export, Pennsylvania, to showcase what his shop was all about, and he celebrated his 23rd birthday-a busy week, indeed.
At that time there wasn't as many aftermarket parts available for the fifth-gen like there are today, so he was commissioned to prototype parts for quite a few companies. This worked out great for Francis as it kept his shop on the forefront of the late-model Camaro scene; having these new parts debut on his Camaro didn't hurt, either.
Being a drag guy, Francis first ran the car in stock form, and all the way up to where it is today. "We started out running low 13s in the quarter-mile, and got into the high 12s with just bolt-ons," says Francis. "Once we installed the Magnacharger 2300 kit, it propelled the car to 12-second e.t.'s at 120 mph on stock tires and wheels."
A few more upgrades, including a smaller 3.6-inch pulley, an AEM water/meth injection kit, and some minor weight loss incentives, resulted in 11.3-second quarter-mile times at 124 mph. At this point the car was dishing out 580 hp to the tires. Was Francis happy at this point? Almost.
There's only so much horsepower a stock Camaro drivetrain can take, so from that point on, the weak links began to cause issues. Due to the confines of space on these pages, we can't possibly list all the carnage, but there was plenty. Many fixes and a few more upgrades later advanced the car to 657 hp and 668 lb-ft of torque to the tires!
Francis and the crew at FJ Performance realized the limiting factor of the stock heads, so they dove in and bolted up a set of Precision Race Components LS3/L92 CNC heads with 0.675 lift springs. No cam specs were listed on the tech sheet; all we know is that the gang at Texas Speed Grind whittled a custom stick. The aforementioned Magnacharger is set at 7 pounds of boost, while twin 044 Bosch fuel pumps ensure the mill stays quenched during high-rpm escapades.
American Racing Headers command the spent fuel through the 2-inch primaries down to a custom X-pipe configuration finally dumping into a set of SLP Loud Mouth 3-inch mufflers.
With Francis' '10 now making serious grunt, the stock drivetrain lacked the 'nads to withstand what the stout LS was delivering. Wisely, a Keisler TR606 trans and Spec twin disc clutch were incorporated into the mix. Although the stock driveshaft and rearend remain, Hendrix 1000hp axles pick up the slack and welcome the challenge in the process. A good thing, since the stock stems were bound to go next.
With only BMR trailing arms plucked from the aftermarket, the car rides on stock suspension. Bogart RT 17-inch wheels reside on all four corners while M&H skinnies wrap the front and a pair of fat Mickeys provide grip out back.
For the most part, Francis relied on GM's standard interior offerings but introduced an MGW shifter for snappy gear changes. Sparco R505 seats join the fray and deliver a somewhat minor weight favor. As it always goes with drag racers, quicker laps than the previous run are the constant goal, so Domination Chassis installed an eight-point rollcage, certified up to 9.90 e.t's.
When you build a serious performer, monitoring the vitals is a must, so Francis incorporated a Fesler-Moss A-pillar pad loaded with an Aeroforce Scan Gauge. AEM Boost and Wideband gauges are custom mounted at eye level in the dash.
Always intent on having custom paint added to the mix, a physical altercation with a road construction sign forced the issue sooner than Francis had planned. Jeff Young over at Young's Autobody fixed the ding and came up with a custom paint design to give the car its own personality. GM's Red Jewel Tint resides below an obedient border of metallic silver, with orange pinstripe that trails off into Ohio-style flames over the quarter-panel. On the upper arena, Jeff figured in a gloss-black finish, which offers an ominous scene offset by only the Yenko-inspired FJP hood stripes.
Francis is quick to point out that not one of his accomplishments would have happened without the help of his buds, Nikko and Jason. "Their countless hours of dedication helped me put this car together," says Francis. "I have to give props to Andrey for helping with the cam install, and also Joe at Pittsburg Performance and Jay over at J&S Dyno for allowing me to dial in the tune on their dyno. Without them, I would have never gotten into the 10s."
Francis tags being able to compete in the LSX Shootout, then running his first 10-second quarter-mile in a car with a stock bottom end huge milestone accomplishments. "If I had the opportunity to do one thing over again, I would have put on the Hoosier slicks a lot sooner. Those tires made the difference in getting this car into the 10s.
Francis is one of those guys who welcome a good challenge. Sure, he could have easily wheeled down the quarter-mile in under 10 seconds in a much lighter vintage Camaro, but lots of guys do that. Pushing a two-ton brick down the 1320 in the same amount of time ... now, that's more his style.