In many cultures, the belief is that a person’s soul is “reborn” into a new body once it leaves the current one. Some theorize that how a person lived their life has some bearing on who, or what they come back as. Do good and you might come back as a doctor or Formula 1 driver. Do bad and you might come back as a cockroach, or worse, a politician. Now, with the exception of Herbie, Christine, or that tragic TV show My Mother The Car, most people don’t imbue their cars with souls. If they did, then Mary Pozzi’s ’73 must have been exceptionally good because it keeps being reborn better and better.
Several years ago we featured her cone-dodging F-body in Camaro Performers magazine. It was fast and Mary wielded it like a surgeon works a scalpel. But as time progressed, the competition kept getting faster.
“In 2002, the LS engine swap wasn’t common and there wasn’t much available, like aftermarket subframes, three/four-link rears, or anything other than upgrades to OEM parts," Mary informs. "This car had a warmed-over 350/350 combination and was pretty anemic by 2002 standards. Basically, it couldn’t get out of its own way if its life depended on it. I planned on eventually replacing the engine and transmission but immediately wanted to start on the suspension and brakes, and upgrade to 17-inch wheels. The initial build took about two years, once parts were removed and replaced, but there always seemed to be something else that needed attention. It’s a never-ending cycle, and I’m positive most of your readers can relate to. I drove the Camaro once or twice with the gutless 350 backed by the TH350 automatic trans and promptly gagged a maggot.” By 2004, Mary and her husband Dave had picked up GM’s new ZZ383 small-block and a Richmond five-speed tranny. “Like all things with this car, the install didn’t go easy and between work and horses (my other “job”), this took a year to get done. I ran my first autocross with the Camaro in August of 2005, and my first track day three months later. In early 2006, Dave and I went down to Willow Springs for another track event, and on the way home I told him the horses were going and the cars were staying,” recalled Mary.
Over the years the Camaro evolved. Global West Cat-5 leaf springs found their way under the back, while Hotchkis wares found their way up front. Mary and Dave tweaked, adjusted, and sorted out the Camaro until it became capable of winning most autocross events Mary took it to. She explained, “In 2007, I competed in the SCCA Solo Tour autocross in Atwater, California. I ran in C Prepared class and the Camaro weighed almost two tons, including me. Add in that the car was down around 350 hp with a footless overall tire footprint compared to the ‘real’ CP race cars, and I was at a huge disadvantage. My competition was a past National Champion, and she was good. The Tour is a two-day event with the fastest times for each day added together, and I had her beat by about half a second the first day. On the second day, she killed the course and was ahead by about 0.8 seconds overall (huge in autocross time). On her last run, she promptly ran over the start cone right off the line for a two-second penalty. It was my last run and I needed to improve on a section called the ‘showcase.’ I entered it quick, trailbraked in, and got the Camaro rotating perfectly to get out fast and smooth. After finishing, I saw my time was over a second quicker than what I’d run earlier. Later, other drivers told me they’d never seen a Camaro do what mine had done, which I thought was pretty cool. I never had more respect or admiration for that car as I did that day.”
As time went by, the Camaro was still fast but the other cars kept getting faster. Of course, credit to the Camaro staying near the top was the seemingly limitless amount of wheel talent possessed by Mary, and the car being well-sorted out and balanced perfectly to Mary’s driving style. Still, there were limits to what the leaf springs and heavy carbureted small-block could do. The excessive weight on the Camaro’s nose certainly wasn’t helping either. It came to pass that Camaro Performers magazine needed a car for an LS engine swap story and Mary’s was the perfect candidate. Mary and Dave pulled the old drivetrain in preparation for the swap, and that’s when the project snowballed. After talking with Cris Gonzalez over at JCG Restorations and Customs, she decided that the paint was a bit tired, so her plan was a simple reshoot, and of course, the leaf springs would stay. Well, rust was found so the simple re-paint became a “down to bare metal” full-blown rebuild. Eventually, the “while we’re here we might as well …” syndrome kicked into high gear. First up were mini-tubs, then a smooth firewall. “Cris taped a little sign on the top of the windshield that said ‘RACE CAR.’ I’d go down to see progress and he’d say ‘Hey, Mary, I’ve got this idea!’ Which usually involved some cool custom stuff he was working on. I’d take him out to the Camaro and just point to the sign causing us both to look at each other and laugh,” Mary relayed.
She managed to resist temptation, mostly. The body was massaged, and to save weight, an Anvil Auto carbon-fiber RS nose, hood, inner fenders, trunk lid, and other bits found their way onto the Camaro. When it came time for color, Mary went bold with Inferno Orange from the fifth-gen Camaro. As Mary noted, “This color isn’t seen on very many early muscle cars, and when blended with the carbon-fiber panel accents, it definitely stands out. I chose a light gray paint for the interior, engine bay, and undercarriage, as I wanted to be able to see any leaks or cracks.”
With the car coming along so well, Mary was no longer content with the stock LS3 crate engine, so she started eyeing the engine Dave had put aside for his Camaro project. It was actually the 402ci LS2 stroker that Bad Penny, our ’68 project car, had ran prior to the current 461ci monster that resides between the framerails today.
Filled with treasures like a Lunati Pro crank, matching rods, Wiseco slugs, and fitted with a baffled Canton oil pan, it could stand up to serious abuse. Topping the short-block were a set of massaged AFR heads, CHE bushed rockers, and a FAST intake. On the engine dyno it made 580 hp, and in Mary’s Camaro it puts 482 hp (at 5,975 rpm) and 478 lb-ft of torque (at 4,850 rpm) to the tires. Exhaust is handled by a set of Edelbrock 1⅞-inch long tubes mated to a Magnaflow system. Replacing the Richmond is a Tremec T-56 Magnum six-speed with a Centerforce clutch and Quicktime SFI-certified bellhousing. Power transits back through a 3.5-inch aluminum driveshaft from Inland Empire Driveline and into a Currie Ford 9-inch with TrueTrac posi and 3.89 gears. The reduced weight combined with the increased power still has Mary grinning, a slightly evil grin, but a grin nonetheless.
Mary kept the GM subframe, but it’s far from stock. It was fully welded then fitted with Hotchkis upper and lower tubular arms with Howe tall ball joints and GM spindles. The rear has Hotchkis’ new three-link, and RideTech’s single-adjustable coilovers are on all four corners. To bring it all to a sudden stop, Baer 6P calipers clamp down on 13-inch rotors up front and Baer SS4 calipers combined with 12-inch rotors bite down on the rear. In a balance between track and street, Mary went with Hawk D-70 pads up front and H-10 pads in the rear. Her rolling stock went on a diet as well, and now features a set of lightweight Forgeline wheels in 18x9, and 18x11 wrapped in Falken Azenis rubber (275/35-18 front, 315/30-18 rear). To stiffen up the chassis, there’s a set of Detroit Speed subframe connectors, Global West interlock solid body mounts, and Hotchkis “Handle Bars” up front.
The interior is all business. No stereo – just a pair of Corbeau FX1 seats and RideTech harnesses to hold the occupants in place. The back seat was ditched with the interior stitched in black leather by Rogo at Custom Classics. A Covan dash houses Autometer Phantom gauges while a 15-inch Grant GT steering wheel leads the way towards the next apex. For even more structural rigidity, Mary installed a RideTech Tiger Cage. And while she prefers function over form, she did add a few dress-up items like billet hood hinges from Eddie Motorsports and some bling from Marquez Design. But for the most part, if it’s on the car, it serves a go-fast purpose.
Mary got the Camaro back from paint in January 2011. Since then, she and Dave have been wiring, plumbing, and generally getting the Camaro prepped for its new lease on life. “If I had to do it over again, I’d get the basic bodywork done, leaving the little imperfections, then have it painted so it looked good but not ‘show perfect,’” mused Mary.
Not that looking good has hurt the car’s performance. With only limited time dedicated to sorting out all the new components, the Camro has already finished on top of the heap at several autocrosses and managed to secure a spot at the 2011 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational. If the car keeps doing this good, we can only imagine what it will come back as next time around.
“If I had to do it over again, I’d get the basic bodywork done, leaving the little imperfections, and then have it painted so it looked good but not ‘show perfect.”