Many things look good on paper, but when applied to the real world can be abysmal failures. A real world litmus test always exposes the hidden flaws that can turn a great idea into disastrous application.
TCI Engineering has been designing automotive frames and suspension parts for 35 years, starting with Model A Ford frames for street rod builders back in 1974. Over the years, TCI's product line has expanded to include suspension upgrade parts for late model cars, from control arms to subframes. Fortunately for those in the Chevy hobby, TCI has done extensive testing to ensure its products deliver in the real world.
In 2005, a well-worn '68 Camaro was bought to help design and prove TCI's first-gen Camaro high-performance suspension parts and subframe designs that were on the drawing board. TCI knew that anything it developed would need to undergo extensive and rigorous track testing. Fast-forward to August '09 and this Camaro carried the TCI battle flag into the second-annual Super Chevy Suspension & Handling Challenge.
First up was a complete disassembly of the Camaro. The 350 had water in the oil, so it saw a complete rebuild to 355 cubes with a Scat crank and H-beam rods swinging SRP pistons. A set of Dart Pro 1 heads were installed with a full Comp Cams solid roller valvetrain, Edelbrock intake, and Holley 750 HP mechanical secondary carb with Holley fuel pump and regulator. A Toy Shop-built 700R4 with 3,000 stall converter was bolted to the back for forward motivation.
On the suspension side, the first thing was installing TCI's bolt-in front subframe assembly. It consists of TCI's tubular control arms, 2-inch drop spindles, TCI's own adjustable coilover shocks and 1-inch diameter front sway bar. Brakes are Wilwood Superlite six-piston calipers with 13-inch rotors. Everything bolts to a mandrel-bent, double-rail frame that features an adjustable transmission crossmember so you can fit any trans behind the engine of your choice. Even better is that the whole subframe assembly bolts right to a first-generation Camaro without modifications.
Out back, the Camaro features TCI's new Torque Arm 3-Link bolt-in kit with driveshaft. The new kit features a slider on the front arm that lets it slide front-to-rear and rotates during articulation of the suspension. This allows the handling to be controlled by the coilover shocks and rear sway bar without any binding issues. The only welding required on the kit is the axle housing, Panhard bar and sway bar brackets. The kit is connected to a Currie F-9 9-inch rear with 4.11 gears, 31-spline axles, and True Trac Posi unit. Wilwood Superlite four-piston calipers and 13-inch rotors handle braking duties in the rear. Overall, the torque arm suspension allows for a lower stance but with better rear end control and increased handling ability.
To stuff as much rear tire as possible underneath the Camaro, the stock wheelhouses were cut and modified using a set of Classic Industries replacement stock inner wheelhouses. That provided enough space to stuff a Michelin Pilot Sport 2 315/35ZR18 tire wrapped around a Boze Mesh wheel so the 355 has plenty of rubber to send horsepower to.
Driver's Impression - On the Autocross Course
My first autocross run had me thinking this Camaro's suspension was a bit too stiff, but each trip through the cones allowed me to gain confidence and the overall times showed it. While it will most likely get slammed for not being a comfy street ride, I loved every part of my job for the autocross and realized that the car has an extremely high tolerance for pressure. You want to go faster, just push the car more and with late-model F-bodies being so softly sprung, this is almost impossible. I'll even go so far and say I've never driven a better handling first-gen Camaro ever.
The TCI Camaro had excellent power and the ability to smoothly lay it down. The brakes were awesome for manual brakes; I had no problem slowing this car down anytime or anywhere and the front/rear proportioning was perfect. The car had good, responsive turn-in; the entry and offset slaloms were very easy to negotiate. It was "point and shoot" for the crossover to the end sweeper and I could trail brake into almost any corner and control the speed and degree of loose. After hard braking for the end sweeper, I lost power steering and it became a battle of wills to get over the hump. Discussion ensued ... Me: "Oh, crap!!!", Camaro: "Suckerrrr ...", Me: "Like HELL ... one of us has to be the car and YOU'RE IT!!! Turn!" And magically, power steering and a happy camper driver returned to play. Each run improved on the one before it and if I remember correctly, the TCI Camaro posted the quickest autocross time of the day.
The power transitions leading towards the finish were so easy for this car. Off a few inches from an apex? Just move the car over and get back on line (mind you, this is happening while sliding sideways at about 60-plus mph). Looking ahead was a cinch and I never once felt behind or late to the next turn. All parts work well within the confines of the chassis and this car just reeks of compliance when driven fast. Overall, I had some stellar autocross runs with the TCI Camaro, but would recommend two changes. One, soften the springs as in present form, the car is suited for one job ... autocross or slalom. Dropping the spring rates while keeping the ride height wouldn't hurt the handling but would really improve street manners and ride. And, like the majority of the other tested cars, get a larger diameter steering wheel. -Mary Pozzi
Driver's Impression - On the Street
Contrary to Mary's concern, I actually thought the ride was decent on the street. If TCI can make it ride even better with no loss of handling prowess, that's great but it wasn't objectionable the way it was. My quote from the driver's log: "Firmer than most of the other cars here, but not obnoxious."
Anyone who does a lot of autocrossing or open-track events will be thrilled with the performance these parts deliver. Yes, there was some sacrifice in ride quality, but it wasn't like driving a floor jack. It was quite livable, if not on the more extreme side compared to the other entries.
My most pressing concern on the street was the lack of interior trimmings (carpet, etc.), which were installed after our track day. It was both loud and hot inside and the strip-oriented shifter on the automatic made me think of it as a drag car that handled really, really well. The turning radius was very tight and the steering, though light, was accurate.
It's obvious that TCI spent a good deal of time developing its suspension and handling parts for the first-gen. In addition to its stellar autocross times (nearly two seconds quicker than a stock '10 Camaro SS), it was over three mph faster through the slalom than the new F-body and it pulled 0.92g on the skidpad. Bada-bing! It just blew the fifth-gen away from a performance standpoint. - Jim Campisano
TCI '68 Camaro Specs
Type: Gen I small-block
Block: GM iron block 355 displacement
Heads: AFR 200
Fuel Delivery: Holley 750 HP mechanical secondary carb, Holley fuel pump and regulator, Edelbrock Intake
Transmission: Toy Shop built 700R4
Rearend: Currie 9-inch
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Front Suspension: TCI Engineering Camaro coilover bolt-in subframe
Spindles: TCI Engineering 2-inch drop
Front Shocks: TCI Engineering All American Double Adjustable Coilovers with 450-pound spring rate
Front Control Arms: TCI Engineering tubular
Front Sway Bar: TCI Engineering 1.25-inch diameter bar
Rear Suspension: TCI Engineering Torque Arm 3-link Bolt-In Kit with driveshaft
Rear Shocks: TCI Engineering All American Double Adjustable Coilovers with 325-pound spring rate
Rear Springs: TCI Engineering coilovers
Rear Sway Bar: TCI Engineering 7/8-inch diameter bar
Front Brakes: Wilwood 6-piston Superlite calipers with Wilwood 13-inch rotors
Rear Brakes: Wilwood 4-piston Superlite calipers with Wilwood 13-inch rotors
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Boze Mesh, 18x9 front - 18x11 rear
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 2, 275/35ZR18 front - 315/35ZR18 rear
|RESULTS||TCI '68 Camaro||'10 Camaro|
|Skidpad:||0.92 g||0.85 g|
|Autocross:||44.44 sec.||46.32 sec.|