Starting A New Car Project - Project Purple Haze: Part I

A budget 3rd Gen Camaro project that anyone, yes, anyone, can afford

Patrick Hill Jun 6, 2007 0 Comment(s)
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With all the high-dollar projects around these days, it can be prettydiscouraging for those of us with budgets smaller than the value menu atMcDonalds. When you read about someone dropping $5000 on car, then$10,000 for a motor, another $10k for drivetrain stuff, and anotherfive-figure amount for paint, body work, interior, and electrical stuff,you can't help but wonder if there's anything you can build that'll fityour budget. Well, here's proof that you can!

To set the stage for this project, you have to go back to April 2006just after the Year One Experience. I had stayed in Georgia an extracouple of days to visit my brother and a friend of mine. A friend of mybrother's called him about a '92 RS Camaro she wanted to get rid of. Thecar belonged to her late husband, and she wanted it out of the driveway.Asking price was $800.

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Curiosity piqued, my brother and I drove down to Sharpsburg to lay eyeson the car. Underneath the inches of pollen dust and maple leaves was a'92 RS Camaro, with T-tops, automatic, and a 305 V-8. With a pair ofjumper cables and my brother's Ranger, we jump started the car. The 305sprang to life in an instant, with no smoke, no death knock, and a nicesmooth idle. This was very impressive considering the car was showing205,000+ miles on the odometer! Besides the pungent scent of cigarettes,the interior was in great shape, with the multiple cracks in the dashpadand the cracked driver's side t-top being the only major things wrong.

After a brief discussion with my brother (brief being measured inseconds!) we agreed to buy the car. A few weeks later the Camaro wasparked at my brother's place, and a new project was born!

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Fast forward a year later. I was back at the exciting Year OneExperience, and after the event, did some quick prep work to drive theCamaro back to Tampa to begin the process of re-habbing our tired 3rdGen back into street warrior condition. This mainly involved cleaningout the inside, topping off fluid, filling tires, and getting the A/Csystem working since the windows were non-functional. The A/C system hadbeen converted to R-134 at some point in the car's life, so all that wasneed was a quick charged of freon, and ice cold air came out of thevents. The drive from Atlanta to Tampa was uneventful, with the 305cruising smoothly at 75 MPH, while spinning about 1900 RPM! Thisresulted in highway mileage of 23-25 MPG. Considering there's riceburners with V-6s out there that can't post numbers like that, you gottabe impressed with that kind of efficiency from a high-mileage 305 V-8!

Once back at our Tampa office, it was time to clean up the car'soutside, and put it on the lift for a thorough examination to startmaking our project's to-do-list. The gameplan for this project issimple: budget performance with a do-it-yourself theme, with most thingsbeing done in a 24-48 hour time span, so if your 3rd Gen is your dailydriver, you won't have to bum a ride to work on Monday. We'll also bekeeping tabs on cost of parts, so along with the price of our projectcar, you can see just how affordable building a 3rd Gen Camaro can be.

Check out the photos below, and stayed tuned to (and thesoon to be live for new installments of our PurpleHaze project. And, if you've got comments or suggestions, log on to theSuper Chevy message board and post to the Project Purple Haze section.

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This is how our project Camaro looked after the drive from Atlanta,and sitting under oak and maple trees for a couple of years. Underneathall the pollen and road grime, you can see hints of the factory PurpleHaze paint. With 206,000 miles on the clock, this car is pretty straightwith no rust, and the plastic nose cone and bumper cover intact and ingood shape.

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To scrub off the years of accumulated crud. We used Turtle Wax's Icecar wash. As you can see in the next photo, it made quick work ofcleaning the '92 RS up. Along with the car wash, the Ice product linefeatures a liquid clay bar system, liquid wax, spark on foam quickcleaner/detailer, and paste and liquid wax. Once we get our paint jobpolished back up, we'll use the other parts of the Ice detailing systemto show you the benefits of Turtle Wax's product line, and why youshould consider it for use on your car.

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After using Turtle Wax's Ice car wash, the Camaro was looking tentimes better. This car was is part of Turtle Wax's new Ice line ofdetail products, featuring easy application, low cost, and high quality.The Ice car wash cut through all the love bugs, pollen, road tar, grime,and dirt with easy. After the car was rinsed off, we even saw some shinereturn to the 15 year old paint! In a later story, we'll use Turtle Waxrubbing and polishing compound to see how much we can bring our factorypaint job back to life.

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Despite the fading paint, our plastic nose cone is in excellentshape, with no cracks, dents, or other flaws. This part can easily beremoved, cleaned up, and repainted to look like new again. With thenewest 3rd Gen now being 15 years old (like ours) finding cars withthese plastic parts in good shape can be difficult, but far fromimpossible. In the worst case scenario, the aftermarket offers newreplacements for these parts if the car you've got needs new ones.

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This Camaro came with the optional 16-inch wheels in '92. Besidesallowing us to eventually fit some bigger brakes on all four corners, inour opinion these wheels look better than the 15-inch aluminum wheelsavailable that year. Our wheels are in excellent shape, with no dings orscratches. The only thing wrong is the clearcoat is coming off, but thisis a minor problem. In a later installment we'll show you how to do aquick clean up and resto in wheels like these.

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Before we washed the car outside, we rolled it into the shop use thelift and see how the underside of our $800 purchase looked. For those ofyou who don't have lifts at home (and we know that's most of you!) a setof jack stands and a floor jack will let you do the same thing, just notquite as easy. We'll be using the lift in our project quite a bit forthe purpose of shooting better pictures to illustrate the differentinstallments of our project, but the stuff we'll be doing can also bedone in the drive with the afore mentioned jack stands and hydraulicfloor jack. If you only have one pair of heavy duty jack stands, we'drecommend picking up another just in case. When it comes to stands spendthe extra money and get ones rated for at least six tons. They're morestable, and give you an extra piece of mind when underneath the carworking.

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Once in the air, we spotted this sizeable oil stain in the back.More on that later. Overall, the rear of the car is in great shape, withthe trunk pan showing only a few road dings, but rust free, along withthe rest of the sheet metal.

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Here's a good overall shot of the Camaro's underside. Aside form theleaking pinion seal (again, more on that later) the bottom of the car isin excellent condition. This basic understructure was used on the Camarofrom 1982 to 2003. While the floor pans and front sub assembly changedin 93 when the 4th Gen debuted, the rear suspension stayed the same.With the abundance of 4th Gen suspension parts, 3rd Gen owners can maketheir cars handle just as well as the later Camaros for cheap.

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With the car in the air, we started tracking down the cause of themassive oil stain underneath. At first we thought the rear seal on thetransmission was leaking, but on further examination, it was found thepinion seal on the rear was the culprit. The 7.62" 10-bolt rear in thesecars uses a crush sleeve seal system, so to fix this problem is going torequire disassembly of the rear. This job might be one best left to theexperts, so we're gonna price getting it done at our local shop beforedoing it ourselves. No matter who does the job, we're going to invest ina crush sleeve eliminator kit to make re-assembly of the rear easier,and give us better sealing. A future installment of our series willcover beefing up the notoriously weak 7.62" 10-bolt, and/or replacing itwith something stronger. Anyone know where a Dana-44 might be layingaround?

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Looking forward, here you can see the great shape the floorpans andother underside sheetmetal is. No hard dents or scrapes in the undersidetold us our Camaro never saw any hard use in its life, or any mishapswith bottoming out. Future plans include installing subframe connectorsfor improved chassis stiffness to increase handling performance, andsafety.

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On the drive back a rattling noise could be heard form the front endevery time we hit a bump. Suspicion was we had a loose/bad motor mount,but once on the lift we were pleasantly surprised to find it was nothingmore than the sway bard end-link bushings has disintegrated. This is asuper easy fix, since most parts stores carry stock replacementbushings, and even aftermarket bushings from companies like EnergySuspension, for $10-$15.

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Aside from some minor oil seepage from the oil pan gasket, the frontsuspension is in great shape, with the tie rods/centerlink/idler armsnice and tight. We did notice some place in the wheels that told us thewheel bearings needed replacing, but again that's a minor and easyproblem to be taken care of. We also didn't see any signs of the carever suffering a front end collision, all the bumper/body mounts werestraight and undamaged, and the paint on all the subframeparts/crossmembers matched the car.

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Looking at the back of the motor and transmission, it looks like therear main seal might be leaking a little bit, along with the oilpressure sending unit above the oil filter. Since we've got a new 350crate motor on the way from GM Performance Parts, this isn't a big deal.The 700R4 worked perfectly on the drive from Atlanta to Tampa, shifterfirm and smooth, no slippage noticed. With 200k plus miles on theinternals, eventually we're gonna pull the trans out for a rebuild andperformance upgrade, especially with the increased power of our newengine that we'll be installing.

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The 700R4 is a great automatic overdrive trans, and the aftermarkethas a ton of good parts to beef these units up to take a lot ofhorsepower and abuse. Since our Camaro is a '92, our 700R4 has thebigger/stronger input shaft than the earlier 700R4s did. Also, our transis still shifted mechanically with the only electronics controlling thelock-up converter, so we can modify it easier and for less.

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We noticed the oil pressure gauge was going a bit crazy on the drivedown, but knew the motor had plenty of oil pressure (or else we would'vehand grenaded the motor on I-75 at some point!). Once underneath thecar, the leaking oil pressure sending unit told us what the problem was.This is another easy fix, at worst a $20 part at your local parts store,and about half an hour to change.

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The rocker panels are in great shape on our Camaro, with no scrapedor dents from the car being put on a lift improperly. The plasticrocker pieces are also in excellent condition. More importantly- NORUST! We'd much rather deal with leaking gaskets/seals, worn outbushings, and minor electrical gremlins over body work/repair.

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Taking a close look at the trans, we found the tranny mount wasbusted and needs replacing. This is another easy thing to fix, with agood performance tranny mount running $20 to $30 and taking maybe atotal of an hour to install. The tail seal on the trans was dry, thelittle bit of splash around the area from the pinion seal leak, withrear end lube traveling up the torque arm and spraying the trans a bit.

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Option code L03 got you the throttle-body injected 170 HP 305 V-8 in1992. This motor (except for the hydraulic roller cam) is identical towhat Chevy installed in same year trucks. The TPI 305 (rated at 205 HP)was option LB9 and served as the base motor for the Z28, and the onlyengine you could get with a Z28 convertible. With over 200k miles on theclock, our 305 runs very strong, with no smoking or death knock noises,and a good healthy pull for a small V-8. One of our early installmentswill be to swap this motor with GM Performance Parts budget 350 cratemotor. Rated at 290 HP, this simple swap will give our RS more powerthan a similar year Z28, or even a 4th Gen LT1 powered Z28.

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Aside from the cracked dashpad, a few carpet stains, some of thedash lights not working, and bowling alley cigarette smell, the interiorof our Camaro is in pretty good shape. The seats are intact and theircovers untorn, while the back seats are also intact and in good workingorder. In a later story we'll go over replacing the interior carpet,dashpad, headliner, and seat covers to bring our 3rd Gen's interior backto showroom condition.

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The passenger side of the dash under the dashpad is in great shapealso. If you think you see a green stain in the passenger floorboardcarpet, you aren't imagining things. On the drive back to Tampa thatCamaro's heater core sprang a leak. We went ahead and did a quick heatercore bypass to keep the interior dry. When we get to changing thedashpad, we'll also cover taking out the dash to change the heater andevaporator cores also.

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Our center console is in ok shape, but could use with arefurbishment. When we get to replacing the interior, we'll replace whatparts we can afford, and clean up the stuff that's still useable. Theshifter and mechanical pieces seem to be in good working order, and allthe parts are in the console.

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The seats in the Camaro are in great shape, with no rips or stains,and no springs sticking out. We'll wait to see if we can get away withjust a thorough scrubbing of the seats, but odds are with the cigarettesmell the best thing is going to be replacing the seats covers with newones, and possibly installing new seat foam at the same time. If yourcar has torn seats, until you can put new covers on, it doesn't hurt togo the cheap route of buying parts store $20 seat covers and using thosein the interim.


The first part in our new web exclusive project, budget building a 92 Camaro RS for all around performance and drivability that...
Patrick Hill Jun 6, 2007


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