The old adage of “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone” played over and over in David Lee’s head for seven long years. Up until 2003 he was living in SoCal, hammering the gears and cruising in his ’87 IROC Z28 with the T-tops off—life was good. David still lives in SoCal, but money issues played a major role in him snapping the T-tops back in and parting ways with his beloved third-gen. “I really didn’t want to let the car go, but at the time, I had no choice,” reflects David. “For the next seven years I had dreams of driving my old car. So by 2010, I had saved up some cash with the hopes of getting my hands on another IROC.”
Searching the web for months before finding a legitimate match, it was in May of 2010 when an ad on Craigslist appeared for an ’89 IROC. David excitedly called the owner, and wanting to make absolutely sure the car was as advertised, delivered something just short of an FBI-style interrogation over the phone before making the drive to see the car. “I had special ‘requirements’ before buying the car,” said David. “It had to be a five-speed, and it most certainly had to be a T-top car. I wanted another Camaro just like the one I had sold seven year prior. Once I saw the car in person and took it for a drive, I couldn’t help but pull the trigger.”
Although the car was nice, it was a work in progress. David’s makeover started with the interior. Scouring a number of junkyards for just the right interior pieces nice enough for his project, David admits the interior probably consists of parts from 20 different third-gens and one fourth-gen. The carpet, headliner, door panels, seatbelts, armrests, and other pieces are all from different cars. David wasn’t going to settle on inferior-looking parts for his new project. In keeping with a mostly OE look, the only aftermarket pieces you’ll find here are Auto Meter gauges, a Grant steering wheel, and a Hurst shifter.
As important as a nice interior is to David, a killer sound system is a must. He dropped in a box housing two 10-inch subs. Not long after, four more speakers, an amp, and a Kenwood unit joined in the mix. The car was beginning to come alive not only visually, but musically as well.
Next up, David set focus on the exterior. He got started by ordering up a 3-inch cowl hood from Harwood. It needed some trimming, so he took the car to Upland Paint & Body. They not only handled the hood, but David commissioned them to paint the whole car in Metallic Silver, just like his old IROC. “A week later I went back to the shop to pick up the car,” remembers David. “At first glance, I was instantly taken back to seven years prior. The shop did an awesome job and it looked just like my old car.”
With the exterior looking fresh, it was time to concentrate on the wheels. Again relying on the Internet, David found a solid set of polished American Torq-Thrust II’s for about five bills (17x8 up front and 17x9 out back). David then wrapped Nitto rubber around the rollers: 245/45-17 front and 275/40-17 rear.
The importance of stance is insurmountable when it comes to any car, but the natural altitude of a third-gen can instinctively discount the killer DNA. Hip to the scene, David bolted up an Eibach Sportline kit featuring KYB shocks front and rear, netting a 2.25-inch drop in the front and a 2-inch drop in the rear. The results offer minimal tire-to-fender clearance (a good thing) equating to “the look” David was going for. The by-product is much better handling for a car that arguably drives well straight from the factory.
David sheepishly admits to the 305 TPI’s demise only a few months after purchasing the car, but that carnage was actually a blessing in disguise for two reasons: for one, it enabled David to get his brother Eric involved in the project, and secondly, they’d be upgrading to an engine with a lot more horsepower.
“To have my brother help out on the project was huge for me,” mentioned David. “Eric is the brains behind the build and I couldn’t have done it without him.” Both had pretty full schedules, so the project went on longer than originally planned, but that didn’t dampen their spirit or determination to get the Camaro on the road and done right.
Once started, the Lee duo opened their web browser to summitracing.com and the clicking began. They started off with a BluePrint 383 stroker and bolted on an Edelbrock Performer RPM Air-Gap intake manifold topped with a Summit double-pumper 750-cfm carburetor. For additional engine bay bling, chrome Summit valve covers and an Edelbrock air cleaner joined the arrangement. An Accel HEI ignition provides the necessary spark, while a Summit 100-amp alternator keep the juices flowing.
Hedman Hedders ceramic coated 15⁄8-inch shortys manage the spent fuel while an aluminum Flowmaster exhaust system dumps into a 3-inch American Thunder Flowmaster muffler system. The combo offers this stout third-gen a throaty growl that mandates extra attention while cruising the streets.
The aforementioned stock five-speed Borg Warner T5 transmission is mated to a Centerforce dual-friction clutch. The stock bellhousing was maintained, as was the OE driveshaft. The Chevy 10-bolt rearend and 3.23 cogs hold quite well (so far) against all 355 ponies and 460 lb-ft of torque.
If done differently, David admits that he’d have painted the engine bay before installing the new mill. The plan is to someday spray it in matching Metallic Silver and to also replace the old and worn reservoir tanks. “Once those are done, the engine bay will be much more presentable.”
Putting your heart and soul into building a car makes the final product sweeter than ever. After all the sweat equity David and Eric put into this third-gen, it’s a safe bet David will think twice before letting this car go through a similar fate as his first Camaro.
Yep, he’ll definitely be holding on to this one.