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427 LS7 Camaro - The Jade Grenade

Ro McGonegal Jul 1, 2011
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Anymore, you tend to see a whole lot of cars that were built for their owners. It is an expensive place to be. If you live in the same town as the conversion shop, you’re lucky. If not, you really have little or no control over the process even if the parameters were firmly erected at the very beginning of the saga. Sometimes it takes so long that the original concept is overrun and changed for another discipline entirely. So here are a couple of enthusiasts, feet firmly planted and thriving in middle age. Yup, just a couple of gear heads that needed something to do. This would be owner Mark Turner and builder Brian Finch at

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Two Pro Touring privateers backyard build a bullet in record time

It was much more than that. It was also about a backstory of a simple bonding exercise, flesh and blood instead of cold rolled steel. When asked about the most memorable experience of the process, Brian was immediate: “Building such a great relationship with Mark.” For the record, Mark was involved in all phases of the build and did the wiring, plumbed the fuel system, installed the engine and transmission, and the overall assembly of the icon Camaro. Brian did all the fabrication work, sheet metal replacement, body and paint, hanging the final body assembly, and generally getting his hands dirty. The celebrated David Lewallen of Cleveland, Tennessee, was the tailor.

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The thing is, these boys didn’t want to make a career out of the project, so they humped and then kept humping for four straight months every night and every weekend. And when they finally sat down to slug a beer, they happily discovered that the job was finished and that their families had not forsaken them with the mistress in the garage.

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Brian: “This [build] had a couple of driving forces. One was to prove that the backyard guys can pump out some killer cars in a short amount of time. The other [reason] was to build the owner a car that from the start would be at the level needed to compete with the best Pro Touring cars out there. With the win at the 2010 Nashville Good Guys autocross and the fact that it competed at the 2010 Optima Ultimate Streetcar Invitational, I feel we hit our mark. I feel that with the right driver, this car has what it takes to win a ton more events.

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“Many people do not believe that it was built in such a short amount of time. We documented the entire process on just for the naysayers. The part that made it even more challenging is that we had to replace every single piece of sheet metal. Clearly insane with the timeline we had. We started the build on December 18, 2009 and it was completed a week before the Faceoff at Road America on May 1.

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Of course, there were distractions, several time-robbing events that took precedence. “There were three full weeks we didn’t do anything to it,” Brian admitted. “I went west to attend the RTTC event in Irvine, California, and then stayed another week to go to the Goodguys Del Mar event. I also took a week off to attend the OUSCI premier in Hollywood. The car won the street machine class at GG Nashville and was also chosen as a finalist for the GG Muscle Machine of the Year. I think that was the first time a finalist has done both.”

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Readying the metal for paint was an unending nightmare. Brian replaced every bit of sheet metal, including the freakin’ roof, with pieces that weren’t warped, bullet-holed, or bleeding. He rubbed the envelope down, built rolled pans for front and rear, banished everything that was chrome-plated, powdercoated the bumpers no-color, and added some subtle contrast with an Anvil carbon-fiber ZL2 hood. The medium is ’04 Hummer Grenade Green as per Sikkens base and Autoclear III.

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With the chassis, the boys saved a lot of time by acquiring proven, ready-built systems that come very close to being bolt-in parts. To bolster the front of the Camaro, Brian and Mark chose a complete DSE sub-frame assembly, including spindles, tubular upper and lower control arms, anti-sway bar, Afco M2 coilover double-adjustable shock absorbers with remote fluid reservoirs, and a rack steering system. At the driven end, Brian put up a Strange 9-inch with 3.89:1 cogs and a Truetrac differential with a DSE QUADRALink 4-bar suspension, Afco dampers, and a rear bar. A chassis that resists bending and torsional forces cinches the whole thing together with DSE sub-frame connectors, weld-in cross member, and an eight-point rollcage from 1 1/2-inch chromemoly. To make sure that the fast and bulbous fatties would slip beneath the fenders without interference, Brian installed DSE mini-tubs.

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The rim and tire combination is Pro Touring standard: Rushforth Super Spoke modulars, 18x10 (6.125-inch b/s) and 18x12 (5.5-inch b/s), support the usual Michelin Pilot Sport 2 (275/35 and 335/30) tires. The largest brake rotor/caliper that will fit beneath an 18-inch wheel is 14-inches in diameter. Rather than trolling the aftermarket concessions, Mark and Brian settled on OE Corvette Z06 equipment featuring hopped-up 14-inch front rotors with six-piston calipers and 13.4-inch rears with four-piston friction-makers.

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As for the power source, the decision went to a mildly modified LS7 for reasons of budget and easily sourced components from any Chevrolet dealer should something untoward happen on the road. All LS engines will take tremendous abuse and still keep ticking. They are excellent platforms for modification and respond well to even the most minimal changes. The LS7 is rated at a politically correct 505 hp but probably produces closer to 540. The OE 12- degree cylinder heads were swapped out for Trick Flow CNC 235 (2.20-inch titanium intakes; 1.61-inch exhausts) castings that were surfaced to produce a half-point more compression, now calculated at 11.5:1. The 427 originates with a dry sump oiling system but rather getting embroiled in the packing it would require, Brian blocked off the in-ports and used a Camaro oil pan and stock pump/pick-up. All other internals are stock, including the forged crankshaft and titanium connecting rods. The link between engine and drivetrain is a stock LS7 flywheel and clutch assembly. Brian and Mark have seen wheel horsepower at 585.

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A FAST modular composite intake manifold pulls through a Spectre Performance intake system to a 92mm throttle body. Fuel flow is maintained by an in-tank Walbro pump. Brian continued with the exhaust system. He inserted the Stainless Works 1 7/8-inch primary-pipe headers and built a mandrel-bent 3-inch stainless system joined with 3-inch, two-chamber Flowmasters. Brian considered the vaporizing hell-hot tarmac in August and opted for cooling power based on an Afco two-row aluminum core as his ally, that and the Vintage Air system. He also posted a Derale engine oil cooler in the airstream ahead of the cylinder block. A Wegner Automotive accessory drive collects the OE alternator, water and power steering pumps, and a Vintage Air Gen IV compressor.

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We turn to the man-pit and eyeball the interior. Though the 427 supplies all the aural input Mark needs, he backed it up it with a capable Sony head, amp, and subwoofer loitering in the trunk. The interior field is properly subtle (it’s a driver not a lounge lizard) and constructed for the ultimate in peripheral driving. See as far down the road as possible. Have controls that fall to hand even with the G-Force four-point webbing tightened nearly to the point of asphyxiation. That’s it for the serious part.

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Mark indulged in David Lewallen’s craft, a sweet amalgam of leather and subdued metal appointments. He recovered the Procar 1100 series front seats and stock bench seat, did a full-on carpet job, a custom leather headliner, and the slick and subtle door and rear panels. He mounted Classic Innovations front and rear glass flush to the surrounds. Lewallen also constructed the console/arm rest that becomes vital on a long jaunt. That stubby Keisler shifter is connected to a T56. Lewallen envisioned a flat, handmade panel for the Auto Meter carbon-fiber instruments and the Vintage Air ducts.

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After the four-month rampage, Brian gave his assessment: “Overall, I feel the car is a perfect blend of custom mods and subtle colors. The carbon-fiber panels from Anvil add to the overall effect but do not dominate it as with other colors. The no-chrome/blacked out look is something you will see with all the Finch builds so keep an eye on that.” We will.

I feel we hit our mark. I feel that with the right driver, this car has what it takes to win a ton more events.

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