That rival car company from Dearborn has been building supercharged ponycars since Spring 2002, and while there have been rumors of a factory-blown, LS-powered fifth-gen Camaro for years (spread on these very pages, no less!), there's still no official word on when such a Chevrolet will actually hit showrooms. Insiders tell us such a vehicle, which will supposedly wear Z28 badges and come with the LSA engine offered in the Cadillac CTS-V models, will arrive sometime during the '12 model year. Well, what if you need a car and have the means now? One dealership isn't making potential customers wait.
NeSmith Chevrolet in Claxton, Georgia, is taking the Camaro by the horns and is ready to produce LS9-powered F-bodies at this very moment. This is the full-bore, 638-horse ZR1 engine offered from GM Performance Parts in crate form. It's dubbed the NeSmith Storm Camaro LS9, and Super Chevy was fortunate enough to get its racing gloves on one for a full-barrel strip and road course evaluation at Gainesville Raceway in Florida.
What you are getting is more than just a Camaro with an engine swap, because all you get from GMPP is a powerplant looking for a home. It is a completely re-engineered automobile with a special suspension, accessory drive, liquid intercooler setup and fuel system. According to Patrick Michael from Jen Jacs Restorations, the company that did the conversion, swapping the LS3 for the LS9 is pretty straightforward, but that's just the beginning. "As far as the accessory drives, everything had to be changed, re-routed, re-plumbed and rewired. The actual installation of the motor wasn't too difficult. It's all the accessories and add-ons that go with the LS9 that made it difficult."
No mods to the cowl area are necessary to make the supercharged powerplant fit; a swap from LS3 to LS9 motor mounts allow it to nestle itself where God and GM intended. But you do need to add a 10-quart oil tank (LS9s are dry-sump engines), an intercooler, and a separate intercooler pump. They did have to move the radiator closer to the engine to make room for the oil tank and intercooler coolant reservoir.
Steve Gordon, NeSmith Chevy's director, sales and service, told Super Chevy, "Demere M. NeSmith, the owner of the dealership, and I were talking and we said, 'let's do an LS9'. The LS9 is a perfect fit, but all your coolers and belt drives are different. We partnered with Jen Jacs Restoration because we knew they were true craftsmen, and we would end up with something that looked factory. The goal [for the customer] is to purchase a vehicle that will go fast and drive like anything else you bought off the showroom floor."
The car you see on these pages was the first, a one-of-a-kind '10 model with painted-on white stripes (the entire car was wet sanded, striped and buffed by Jen Jacs). Included are the GM Performance Parts lower body aero kit, Baer braking system with 15-inch diameter rotors and six-piston calipers at all four wheels, and American Racing Headers performance exhaust system with 17/8-inch headers and 3-inch catalyst system that bolts to the stock 2.5-inch mufflers. This is a fully developed package that put out 523 hp on the Hypertech chassis dyno.
The axles are larger and stronger than stock, and supposedly capable of holding up to 1,000 hp. The McLeod single disc clutch was a highlight of our test. The clutch actuation was outstanding and it took all the abuse we could throw at it, both on the strip and road course. A Hurst shifter handles the gear changes effectively; no shifts were missed on the dragstrip. A complete Pfadt Race Engineering suspension with different sway bars and lowering springs ensures the driver can keep all this madness under control.
"We knew with 700 hp, we needed something better than the stock suspension. We went to our friends at Pfadt Racing and got their suspension set up and it really handles great," Steve says. "The front and rear sway bars' end links have heim joints for more solid feel, and the car is lowered about 2 inches."
The factory struts, shocks, wheels and tires complete the package, though we did employ Nitto 555R drag radials for our strip testing (275/40R20s).
Our test came in the middle of one of the meanest Florida summers in years. It was 95 degrees and the humidity was above 90 percent-in other words, we were racing in soup. But the NeSmith Camaro was a game companion. The Nitto drag radials worked well enough to bog the engine on our first run (the stock rear gears don't help). Once we found the correct combination on takeoff, Senior Editor Evan Smith was able to make the Storm boogie. The best 60-foot time was 1.993 and this resulted in a 12.001 e.t., with the speed hitting 118.99 mph. We did have one pass that was over 120 mph-120.69 to be precise-but the e.t. was a couple of ticks slower at 12.036. While these weren't the low 11s we'd hoped for, the air conditions and car weight (4,110 pounds with driver) simply weren't conducive to low elapsed times. It's also 1.18 seconds quicker than our previous SS tester. (For comparison's sake, we tested a new Z06 on the same day and it ran a best of 11.90 at 120-four tenths and almost five mph slower than the last LS7-propelled Vette we had our mitts on.)
Driving the Storm on the road course, Evan reported, "It's a very nice car, much heavier than the Corvette and you can feel it as soon as you take off and start doing laps. It didn't have the same overall level of grip as the Corvette, but it's 800 pounds heavier. You have to take a different approach when you're driving the Camaro. It's a four place car, and there's a little understeer. However, the LS9 engine is amazing. Just roll a little throttle on and you can bring the tail around and steer with the back of the car. Or you can roll out of the throttle and correct your steering, ending up with some nice grip."
The massive Baer brakes worked wonderfully on Gainesville's tight 1.6-mile, 12-turn course. It's not easy to slow a two-ton, supercharged ponycar repeatedly, but the six-piston Baers got the job done with just a little fade at the end of our track sessions. Ultimately, the Storm whipped around the circuit in a best of 1:05.50, or about three seconds a lap faster than a stock SS.
The overall result is one of a factory supercar-the interior, wheels, and tires remain stock SS fair. Everything underhood looks like it was engineered in Detroit, as opposed to a tuner car. The biggest downer, naturally, is the price. All this engineering and fabrication doesn't come inexpensively, and the NeSmith Storm Camaro you see on these pages retails for $124,000. According to Gordon, only 11 will be made in '11 and we're guessing there's some room to dicker on that sticker. It's a chunk of change no matter how you slice it, but the LS9 engine alone will set you back $24,000 and that's all you get-an engine with a blower.
What's the price for glory? Now you know.