These days, custom Camaros are a dime-a-dozen. Since the demise of Chevrolet's famed F-body in 2002, Camaro fanatics and musclecar builders have been taking more classic first-gen Camaros and turning them into rolling works of art. Consider how the only "new" Camaros being built these days are coming from Dynacorn. East Coast to West Coast, North to South, custom builders have been playing an almost endless game of hardball to see who could create the most eye popping F-body to hit the streets. With the debut of the concept Camaro in 2006, the game of who could build the hottest Camaro seemed ready for extra innings, until GM sent this '69 to the plate.
The story begins with Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson. Known as a car collector and musclecar nut, Reggie wanted to build the ultimate '69 Camaro with the classic looks of the most popular Camaro ever on the outside, with the latest in GM/Chevrolet high-tech performance inside.
Enter GM Performance Parts. The crack team of Bow Tie performance designers at GMPP was preparing to launch its new LSX engine block. Based on the LS engine series architecture (keep reading for more on this engine), GMPP wanted the appropriate vehicle to show off this new Earth-shaking powerplant. With the new concept Camaro taking the automotive show circuit by storm with its retro '69 looks, and Reggie's interest in building a '69, the plan became obvious. Working from GM Design Center artwork from David Ross, they would take a '69 from Reggie's car collection, and the specialists at GM Performance Division would revamp the chassis, suspension, brakes, and interior. Meanwhile, GM Performance Parts got the drivetrain ready, and together, they put together the hottest Camaro since the ZL1 first appeared in 1969. From start to finish, General Motors' employees built the entire project in-house.
The heart of this power hitter is the new GMPP LSX engine block, designed in part by six-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion, Warren Johnson. Based off the highly successful LS engine series, this block is a high-nickel content iron casting with six-bolt mains, precision CNC machining, siamese bores, and battleship-like construction. With a max bore size of 4.250-inches and a max acceptable stroke of 4.500-inches, this new block makes the LS engine the new powerhouse in GM performance.
Some might wonder why the new engine is iron instead of aluminum. When designing the engine, GM wanted engine builders to be able to use traditional displacement enlarging techniques to create big cubic inch monsters based on small-block architecture of 454 ci or larger. The LSX block features a thick deck and strategic cast-in strengthening to support high-horsepower turbo, supercharged, and/or nitrous-oxide combinations. (To find out more about the LSX block and what makes it so spectacular, check out the in-depth story in this issue on page 75.)
To make the Reggie Camaro even more special, LSX block #001 was selected for the engine build, along with a pair of prototype LSX heads. The LSX heads are based off the LS7 7.0L V-8 heads found in the C6 Z06 Corvette. The heads feature six head bolts over the standard four (for a total of eight additional head bolts per head) of the LS series for increased cylinder head sealing in boosted applications. Handling intake duties is a new GMPP four-barrel intake manifold designed to match the rectangular ports of the LS7-style head. Available from GMPP, this manifold allows engine builders and enthusiasts to run a carburetor on an LS7 crate engine.
To make sure the motor was built perfectly, and could handle all the horsepower possible, GM enlisted the aid of Warren "The Professor" Johnson. For those few of you who have been living under rocks for the past 30 years, Warren Johnson has been racing NHRA Pro Stock since the class began in the early 1970s. He's the owner of numerous NHRA records, including being the first Pro Stock driver to go over 180 mph, and later 190 mph. The Professor knows all about going fast, especially since he builds all of the engines that power his and his son Kurt's Pro Stock entries.
GMPP sent the block and parts to Warren's shop in Georgia for blueprinting, assembly, and dyno testing. Reggie himself was even on hand to help build the engine. Inside the short-block of the Reggie Camaro, Warren installed a Lunati forged crank, rods, and Mahle forged pistons. After making sure all clearances, tolerances, and gaps were perfect in the rotating assembly, the LSX prototype heads were fitted onto the block, resulting in a net compression ratio of 11:1.
A custom-ground cam was procured to control the LS7 hydraulic roller lifters and the Comp Cams supplied upper valvetrain. An MSD 6LS Ignition Controller handles ignition duties. Since the LS series engines have no provisions for a distributor, the MSD ignition system uses the factory style LS crankshaft trigger wheel to control the ignition coil packs and timing.
On top of the new GMPP LS7-style carbureted intake manifold is an old reliable of the performance industry, a Holley four-barrel fuel/air mixer flowing 850 cfm and making sure the big motor never goes hungry for fuel. Dressing up the engine are polished accessories and custom valve covers. To give the engine a classic look, the coil packs for the ignition were hidden under and behind the air cleaner, so at first glance it looks like the engine has a distributor in the old-style position.
On the dyno at Warren's shop, the LSX produced 641 hp at 6400 rpm, and 611 lb-ft of torque at 4900 rpm. What's so incredible about these power numbers is the nearly flat power of the combination. By 3000 rpm the engine is already making 520 lb-ft of torque, and the curve gradually climbs from there to the peak of 611 at 4900. That means this engine produces more torque than some diesels.
"This engine makes a mountain of torque at just about any rpm," said Johnson. "The best part is this isn't an exotic combination. It was put together with off-the-shelf parts that either are available now or will be shortly through GM Performance Parts."
There you have it, straight from The Professor himself.
To handle all the torque and horsepower that the mighty LSX produces, Tremec transmissions was tasked with building a late-model Camaro T56 six-speed to transfer energy to a Moser-built GM 12-bolt rear.
Handling is controlled by front and rear suspension pieces from Detroit Speed & Engineering (DSE). Founded by former GM engineers, DSE offers a coilover shock front suspension system that replaces the original first-gen's original coil spring/ hydraulic shock design. Included in the DSE suspension are tubular control arms and Koni monotube shocks.
In the rear, a DSE "deep tub" kit was installed, providing extra-wide inner wheelhousings and the components required to relocate the leaf springs inwards to accommodate a narrowed rear end. Both were needed to mount the 12.5-inch-wide rear tires so the Camaro could have a decent shot at keeping traction under full-throttle. We say a "decent shot" because even with the 12.5-inch sticky rears tires, this car still gets wild and wacky under wide-open acceleration!
Keeping the Camaro under some sort of control is handled by an aggressive four-wheel disc brake system from Brembo. Featuring large, cross-drilled rotors behind all four wheels, with six-piston calipers up front and four-pistons in the rear, stopping the '69 is no problem.
Al Oppenheiser and his team headed by Mike Copeland at GM Performance Division received the car straight from Reggie's collection. To understand the scope of this project, this was the first time a first-gen Camaro had been brought back to GM for rebuilding and improvements. With a seven-week timespan to put everything together, their work was already cut out for them. When they saw the car for the first time, Copeland and crew knew they had some serious work ahead of them.
Even though the car had recently been in the paint booth, Mike Copeland realized the entire Camaro would have to be stripped down and repainted if it was going to represent the best of General Motors. Copeland's crew literally began peeling the paint off in sheets from the body. Once that was done, the doors, hood, decklid, and front clip were removed and refitted to the car, resulting in fender and door gaps of a universal 3 mm and a flawless fit. During this time, the bumpers of the car were moved in tighter to the body, and the front and rear sidemarker lights were filled in. To make sure the Camaro would still be safe for street driving, Mike mounted LED lights on the backsides of the front and rear bumpers. The installed LEDs (amber in front and red in rear) reflect against the body panels, so the car still has sidemarker lights.
The rear spoiler was modified to blend in with the decklid and quarter-panels, along with the rear lower valance being modified with 3 1/2-inch openings for the exhaust tips. Up front, the factory RS hide-away headlight doors were converted to electronic control for 100 percent reliability, and the Bow Tie emblem from a 2006 Impala was fitted to the front grill. Special LSX emblems were machined from solid brass, chrome plated and hand painted for mounting to the Camaro's front fenders, rear valance between the taillights, and a special emblem for mounting to the top of the air cleaner lid.
After that, the car was prepped for spraying of its new hue, Concept Camaro Red. This is the same shade as the first concept '09 Camaro coupe, made especially by Planet Color for GM. On top of the new color, special checkerboard graphics were applied to the rear spoiler and hood cowl with a silhouette of Reggie with his famous signature finishing it off.
After painting and remounting was finished, Copeland and his team hauled the refinished Camaro out to the GM Milford proving grounds for a shakedown run to make sure the engine and drivetrain were performing properly. Over the history of GM, Milford has seen some impressive iron tested on its course, from the first prototype '55 Chevys to some of the infamous one-off cars of Zora Arkus-Duntov. This Camaro followed steadily in those footsteps.
On the twist and turns of the proving grounds, the rebuilt '69 performed flawlessly-effortlessly running up to 140 mph and sprinting the quarter-mile in the 10.80-second range. In Reggie's own words: "With the suspension and brake upgrades, this vintage Camaro handles and stops like a new Corvette."
The 2006 SEMA show was the scene of the unveiling of the new Reggie Jackson Camaro. On hand to sign autographs were Reggie and The Professor. To say the car was a home run at the show would be an understatement. People were crowding around to get a look at the machine and its new engine. With the new prototype Camaro nearby, attendees at the show got a look at the old, the new, and the melding of the two.
What does the future hold in store for this particular Camaro? Unlike other custom Camaros, this car will see the street, and probably several sets of tires. GMPP plans to tour the car around the country to various shows and events, including Hot Rod Power Tour 2007, where the car will be driven the entire route.
If you want more info and pics on how GM built the Reggie Jackson Camaro, fear not. An exclusive series following the build from day one will be in upcoming issues of Super Chevy and on the Super Chevy website. Read on in this issue for a full rundown on the new GM Performance Parts LSX engine block.