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Heart Transplant

Breathing New Life Into a Third-Gen Camaro With a GM ZZ4 Conversion Kit

Shane Reichardt Jul 26, 2002

It's quite possible that Third-Generation Camaros are the best bargain in today's used car market. This author purchased his fairly clean '86 Z28 for a meager $2,000 and then drove it for months before deciding the tired and gutless 305 had to go. Though there are myriad options to consider when it comes to looking for newfound power and performance for the '82-92 Camaros, in California those choices are reduced by stringent smog requirements. Fortunately you can still transform the car into a great performer without breaking the law--or breaking the bank.

How, you ask?

The answer is simple--with a single part number kit offered by GM Performance Parts. The kit is designed for carbureted 305 Camaros with automatic transmissions built between 1982 and 1987 and includes a 345 horsepower ZZ4 (about double the factory 305), new exhaust manifolds, dual catalytic converters, a Flowmaster exhaust system, new PCM, Corvette transmission components to improve the shifts, and lots more. In fact, the kit even includes replacement trailing arms with polyurethane bushings to ensure the new power makes it to the pavement. This assemblage of components (PN 10185077) is designed for '82-87 Camaros originally equipped with LG4 or L69 engines. These can be determined by checking the eighth digit in the VIN code. An "H" indicates the LG4 engine in '82-87 Camaros. A "G" points to the L69 engine in '83-86 cars.

Of course, living in California, one of the most important concerns when considering such a conversion is whether or not the smog Nazis allow you to keep it registered. When assembling and testing this kit, GM made it their goal to make sure enthusiasts could remain legal. And it is. The kit comes complete with all new stickers required to verify California Air Resources Board (CARB) certification. Air Resources Board EO Number D-278 is the special certification that makes this conversion legal for those of us who cannot register a vehicle without complying with local smog laws. The trade-off in maintaining the kit's emissions legal status is that the kit is not currently certified for use with a manual transmission (a manual kit is said to be in the works) or a fuel-injected car (we don't know why not fuel injection either).

Swapping engines in itself is fairly simple. In swapping out the tired 305 we decided it would be easiest to pull the old engine and set it next to the new ZZ4. We then transferred all of the external accessories (air pump, AC compressor, etc.). The new items included in the conversion kit, like the exhaust manifolds, came in bare steel and many of the brackets were scratched up, so this was the perfect opportunity to clean up things a little.

One of the components that was transferred from the old engine to the new was the well-used carburetor. We opted to take the carb to the folks at JET, in Huntington Beach, California, to have it completely rebuilt before putting it to work. We also decided to fit the new engine with a fresh cap, rotor, and 8mm plug wires from MSD. These items helped ensure that the engine reached its full potential rather than finding that the old parts were less than perfect.

Installation of the engine went fairly smooth. We did, however, run into a bit of a problem when it came time to install the new dual catalytic converters. From the factory our '86 Z28 came with a single cat. This fit fine with our Hotchkis subframe connectors. The dual cat system didn't. We took the car to Muffler Man exhaust in Placentia, California, to have Craig Watts do a little strategic cutting and welding to make the new system fit. This proved to be the only problem we encountered and had the car been stock, this wouldn't have been an issue.

When all was said and done the installation process was the least of our concerns. What really mattered was how the thing performed when we were finished. After following standard procedures for engine break-in we found that the ZZ4 conversion was exactly what this (or any) Third-Generation Camaro needs. The power is smooth and the torque comes in at low rpm and continues well into the 700-R4's shift pattern. For the price this package is one of the best bargains available, and our Third-Gen Camaro now performs better than ever!

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