1988 Chevrolet Camaro - Salt Fever

Going 170 MPH In A Straight-Six Camaro Is Addicting-and There's No Cure

Tony Kelly May 8, 2007 0 Comment(s)
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Bill Harris couldn't help it-he caught the fever. He just went to Bonneville to watch, and then he went back again, and that was it. He was under the spell. At the time, he was building a really cool street machine, a 1950 Chevy business coupe with a GMC straight-six engine from a medium duty truck. When Harris got Salt fever the GMC engine came with it.

Salt fever didn't make Harris completely lose his head. While checking out the rule book, he discovered that a late model Camaro with a GMC six-cylinder engine would have an advantage competing for records and points. At the same time, another salt flats racer was getting out of a 1988 Camaro, which ran with a blown Donavan Hemi at speeds around 230 mph. Harris bought the car in March of 2005. It needed work, but with the help of a bunch of pals, including Dale Webster, Dave Zapatka, Richard Ross, Bob Ross, and his crew (wife Dianne, Bridget Webster, Ken McGuire and Gary Miley.) Bill had the car ready for Bonneville in August 2005. They ran in XXO/Gas Altered class, and Harris and the gang set the record. Pretty good for rookies, eh?

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Since that first outing, the car has run in six lakes meets, and holds four records, including a best of 170.848 mph at Bonneville in 2006. Harris believes the car has more potential, and he and his friends will be back as often as possible to push the envelope. It's amazing when one considers that the origins of this big GMC engine dates back to the 1930s, and versions of this powerplant were used in military trucks during World War II.

During the early days of drag racing and lakes running, some competitors ran awesome big "Jimmy" sixes equipped with Wayne heads, Hilborn injectors, and other period speed equipment. Many of these engines did very well against the ubiquitous flatheads and early OHV Cads and Olds engines, but the debut of the small-block Chevy and the Chrysler Hemi made the GMC sixes a thing of the past.

The original displacement of the circa 1954 engine in this Camaro was 302 ci, now expanded to 320 inches. This makes runs at 170-plus mph quite remarkable. The "Jimmy" is naturally aspirated with Hilborn injectors, and achieves top speed while turning less than 6000 rpm. If you've ever seen the crank in one of these engines, you know that it's a big piece of gear, so high-rpm runs just aren't going to happen.

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Driving on the salt is something Harris is still getting used to. He shares the piloting duties with Richard Ross, and they both are amazed at the amount of torque developed at high speed. There have been times when the car shifted at about 120 mph and the rear end wanted to get a bit sideways. That's a ride you won't get at Disneyland!

When the car fires up, there's no mistaking that it's something different. The third-generation Camaro is a popular dry lakes car because of the aerodynamics and availability of donor shells, but that mighty GMC engine really sets this car apart.

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