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A ZR1-Inspired 1971 Camaro Built To Drive

A Grand Touring 1971 Camaro by GAP Racing

Brandan Gillogly Jan 16, 2017 0 Comment(s)
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When Rob Roberts sold his 1969 Camaro project car, he didn't know just how much his sons, Matthew and Austin, would miss it. He could tell that Matthew especially was sad to see the car get loaded up on a trailer and roll off forever. "I knew I had made a mistake," Rob told us. He had sold the Camaro to make room for a Corvette ZR1 that would replace it. The LS9-powered C6 got hot-rodded with an aggressive cam, an overdriven supercharger, and a set of HRE wheels, but it just wasn't the same as the old muscle. Soon enough the bug for old iron bit him and Rob found a 1971 Camaro to buy as a project. The car was a driver, although it was always in need of some sort of mechanical attention. Rob told us, "the car was leaking oil, then the fuel gauge didn't work, and I didn't even know what was wrong with it." Those nagging gremlins caused that early iteration of the car to earn the nickname "Enigma" because Rob never really knew what the problem would be each time he wanted to take it for a cruise. In order to make the car dependable enough to drive from his home in Texas to Biloxi, Mississippi, for Cruisin' the Coast, Rob dropped in a basic Chevrolet Performance crate 350 and hit the road. The car did its job, delivering Rob and Matthew to Mississippi. It was just missing something. That's when Rob decided to meld his Enigma with the best parts of his Corvette ZR1 to create a road-carving Camaro capable of comfortable, reliable, cross-country cruising.

To build his ZR71 Camaro, Rob enlisted Tim Palazzolo and the crew at GAP Racing in Houston. One of Rob's friends had a first-gen Camaro built there, and the impressive workmanship sold him on the shop. Like a lot of talented car builders, Tim got his start when he was young, learning fabrication skills on custom mini trucks. In 2008 he began working with his father, George, in the business he created building hot rods and muscle cars. Now that George has retired, Tim runs the shop and has recently focused on full-scale car builds like this one.

While Rob's Camaro was a driver, the body was in sad shape. GAP Racing removed the hood, fenders, roof skin, cab floor, trunk floor, and quarter panels. All junk. Replacements were ordered from Auto Metal Direct. While the new quarters were being installed, wide rear inner fenders were fitted, so wide that the rear subframe had to be narrowed. In place of the 10-bolt is a Moser Engineering fabricated 9-inch housing with a Detroit Truetrac and 3.50 Moser gears and 35-spline axles. It's mounted to the subframe using a Detroit Speed Quadralink modified for the 52-inch-wide axle. A custom floorpan was also fabricated to fit a Tremec T56 Magnum transmission.

The foundation for the front suspension is a Detroit Speed hydroformed subframe that uses Detroit Speed control arms and spindles, and JRI remote reservoir shocks with improved geometry for a better camber curve. The subframe incorporates Detroit Speed's own rack and pinion steering. The installation of the subframe required a bit of fabrication on the part of GAP Racing, as it's not intended for the front drive system from an LS9. Rob pirated the supercharged powerplant from a 2012 ZR1 and GAP Racing upgraded it with a ported snout from Lingenfelter and a cam from Brian Tooley Racing. It's the same cam grind as Rob's 2010 ZR1, which he has since sold.

For the interior, Rob didn't want anything too wild. After all, this car will see a lot of use. Rob called upon Stitch by Stitch Custom Designs in Cookeville, Tennessee, where he went over some ideas with the owner, Jan. He explained his goals of a simple interior that was both comfortable and durable while keeping an overall performance theme. Jan immediately knew which direction to go. He picked up some upholstery fabric samples and Rob gave him the go-ahead. Jan kept the factory dash and console, wrapping them in stitched leather, and added matching Recaro front seats. The rear seats were ditched entirely, replaced by a luggage shelf and a leather and carbon fiber waterfall between carbon fiber wheel tubs.

Despite the custom touches and perfect paint, Rob plans to rack up the miles on his ZR71 Camaro. His goal is to complete Power Tour 2017 with the car, and we admit it seems well suited for long distance touring. The LS9 won't go to waste either, as Rob sees some hard driving in the car's future: "show cars are great, but my philosophy has always been 'drive it like you stole it' so that's just what we plan to do."

02 1971 Camaro ZR71 LS9 GAP Racing 660x440 2/55

Rob Roberts' ZR71 Camaro took home a GM Design Award at the 2016 SEMA show.

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Custom-mixed PPG paint was sprayed by Painthouse in Cypress, Texas.

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The list of custom bodywork is extensive, yet the results are subtle. Up front, the side marker lights were shaved and a custom-fabricated carbon fiber chin spoiler was installed. Along the flanks of the car, the rockers were extended to eliminate the pinch welds that always seem to be mangled from years of haphazard floorjack placement.

06 1971 Camaro ZR71 LS9 GAP Racing 660x440 5/55

Forged three-piece HRE S101 wheels measure 19x9.5 in the front and 19x12.5 in the rear and are mounted with 275/35R19 and 345/30R19 Nitto NT05s, respectively. Six-piston Baer brakes and 15-inch rotors are used in front

10 1971 Camaro ZR71 LS9 GAP Racing 660x440 6/55

The rear marker lights were also shaved, and the rear edge of the trunk lid was reshaped to form a tight gap at the rear. Custom bumpers close up the gab between the body and a custom steel rear valence was welded in to roll the body under towards the stainless fuel tank from Rick's.

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GAP Racing's custom inner wheel tubs required moving the frame rails inboard. Combined with the modified Detroit Speed Quadralink, they allow the car to sit low over the 345-series Nittos in the rear without rubbing.

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Custom grill emblems were made to reflect the car's old nickname, Enigma, and the merging of the 1971 Corvette with C6 ZR1. Behind the grille are an Autorad aluminum core support, radiator, supercharger heat exchanger, and condenser.

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Upholstery is by Stitch by Stitch in Cookeville, Tennessee. GAP Racing modified the tunnel to fit the beefy Tremec T-56 Magnum that was prepped by Bowler Transmissions. It's mounted to the F-body using a BMR crossmember.

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A Racepak IQ3S street dash puts all of the car's vital stats in easy view behind the Sparco steering wheel.

22 1971 Camaro ZR71 LS9 GAP Racing 660x440 11/55

The shape of the back waterfall mimics the LS9's engine cover. Underneath the flat cargo floor is the Kicker amp and wiring.

23 1971 Camaro ZR71 LS9 GAP Racing 660x440 12/55

Starting with a 2012 LS9 long block, the crew at GAP racing installed a Brian Tooley Racing (BTR) camshaft with 231/248 duration and .617-inches lift on the intake and .595-inches of lift on the exhaust. It's BTR's Stage III cam for 6.2L LS V8s with positive-displacement superchargers. Based on Rob's experience with his C6 ZR1 and its similar engine, it should be making 750hp to the tire.

24 1971 Camaro ZR71 LS9 GAP Racing 660x440 13/55

GAP Racing modified a set of Hedman headers to fit the Camaro's engine bay. They use 1 7/8-inch primaries that step up to 2-inches before the collector. From there, the stainless steel exhaust dual exhaust and X-pipe were fabricated by GAP Racing, ending in a pair of Black Widow mufflers. The carbon fiber inner fenders are from Anvil.

25 1971 Camaro ZR71 LS9 GAP Racing 660x440 14/55

GAP Racing relocated the LS9's dry sump tank to the trunk. It shares space with a Rick's Tanks stainless steel fuel tank and an XS Power battery.

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