1987 Chevy Camaro 305ci Project - My Generation Camaro, Part I

A Budget-Based 1987 305ci Camaro

Jeff Smith Jul 1, 2001 0 Comment(s)

Step By Step

Tim Moore made the deal of the year when he laid down a paltry $271 at an auction for this Camaro. This is an ’87 Z28 with a carbureted 305ci small-block, a TH700-R4, and snail-like 2.73 gears.

If you look past all the emissions stuff, there’s actually a carbureted 305ci small-block under all those hoses. The original Regular Production Order (RPO) LG4 engines were rated at a stormin’ 160 hp. With a baseline trap speed of 78 mph, this equals roughly 120 to 130 hp at the flywheel.

When Tim purchased the Camaro, it would barely run—until he discovered the original catalytic converter was plugged. Replacing the cat with a CarSound replacement cat unplugged the exhaust and dramatically improved performance.

This was the last year for the feedback carburetor on Camaros. The carburetor is just like a normal Q-jet, but includes a parallel circuit using a solenoid that controls additional fuel to the primary circuit. The solenoid (arrow) is controlled by the computer and adjusts part-throttle fuel enrichment to maintain the ideal 14.7:1 air/fuel ratio.

Exhaust work should be one of the first things to modify on any stock vehicle for more power and economy. We added a Flowmaster after-cat system using an 80-series cross-flow muffler and mandrel-bent tubing that duplicates the single-exhaust system. We elected to retain the replacement 2-1/2-inch cat even though we used the larger 3-inch Flowmaster system.

This is the receipt for the Camaro.

One reason Tim bought the car is that it doesn’t have T-tops (which always seem to leak) and also because the body was fairly straight. This will keep the cost down when it comes time for paint.

As you might expect with a 150,000-mile car, the interior was a little ragged. The driver seat needed repair, the dash pad was cracked, and the headliner was completely missing. Tim got a new headliner from Classic Industries that made a big difference.

The Camaro still had its stock 15x7-inch five-spoke wheels, though two of them were missing their center caps.

Our ultimate goal is to eventually get our ’87 Camaro into the low 13s—right where the new Camaros currently run. The difference is that we hope to spend a lot less money to get there.

Let's face it. The time is ripe for a 305ci third-generation Camaro. Chevy built about a billion of these third-generation Camaros between 1982 and 1992. The eldest of this generation Camaro is almost 20 years old now, and that makes them both plentiful and incredibly affordable. There are tons of replacement and hi-po parts available. If you are resourceful, it's possible to build a 14-second dragstrip car out of an early third-gen Camaro without selling your soul to the devil (save that for something really important).

Chevy High Performance has been looking for a third-gen Camaro for quite awhile, but the moon and stars never seemed to be properly aligned-until associate Tim Moore ran across the third-gen Camaro deal of the century. At a recent salvage auction, Tim bought this fairly straight, carbureted 305ci '87 Camaro with a TH700-R4 and 2.73 gears for a meager $271! That's right-less than your sister's latest telephone bill. When Tim told us about his acquisition, our 4.10 gears started to turn.

The Camaro needed some work. First, Tim replaced a couple of dead plug wires. Then he discovered the catalytic converter was plugged when the engine wouldn't run over 2,000 rpm in any gear. A quick call to CarSound for a stock replacement catalytic converter got the Camaro up and running, and with a few more dollars for smog and safety inspections and new plates, Tim was driving his resurrected Camaro for just over $500.

The Plan
Given the nature of hot rodders, we couldn't stand the thought of leaving this little cruiser alone. So we formulated a simple performance plan-go faster for the least money. The goal for this Camaro is to push it until the Camaro either runs quick or blows up. This won't be just a junkyard adventure, but we will use the resources of recycled auto parts when they serve a purpose. When it comes to performance, we're going to source out the best way to get there for the least amount of money.

The first thing we had to do was baseline the Camaro so we would have a starting point from which to judge our efforts. The Camaro accompanied the rest of the competitors during the 0-100-0 Shootout, but the Camaro was on the track for only three baseline runs. The combination of 150,000 miles on the stock Q-jetted 305 and a 2.73 gear didn't help acceleration, where the Z28 attained a stunning 17.45 at 78.64 mph. This is about what we expected.

Prior experience has taught us that enhancing the exhaust side of things has always been a great place to start with virtually any V-8 car, no matter how anemic the engine may be. We had already installed a new catalytic converter, so the next step was a better after-cat system. We looked into several after-cat systems from DynoMax and Edelbrock, but finally landed on Flowmaster's exhaust system. All these systems offer a similar performance advantage, so we went with the most cost-conscious system.

Flowmaster offers two different after-cat exhaust systems for this car: one for the smaller 2--inch catalyst, and one for the later, larger 3-inch-diameter catalytic converters. Although we had already replaced the old cat with a direct-replacement 2--inch cat, we ordered the Flowmaster after-cat system for the larger 3-inch catalytic converter. We did this to accommodate later changes and the possibility that at some point down the road we may install a 350ci engine in the Camaro. Had we thought ahead, we would have gone with the larger converter the first time around.

We also wanted to improve power on the inlet side as well. These early Camaros are notorious for having a restricted inlet, so the first thing we did was add a K&N air filter to the stock air cleaner assembly. In the next installment, we'll show you how Tim hunted down another air cleaner assembly to build a dual-snorkel cold-air system for next to nothing.

In addition to the exhaust modifications and new air filter, we also looked more closely into the ignition system as well. This was the last year for the carbureted 305, replaced in '88 with either a throttle-body or Tuned Port Injection. The feedback carburetor had been rebuilt on this car at some point and Tim removed the lid just to ensure that all the parts were in decent working order. He also looked into the HEI ignition system to make sure everything looked OK. Since there is no advance mechanism in these distributors, there was little to do. Both the advance curve and the part-throttle air/fuel ratio are controlled by the computer.

We considered a computer chip for the Camaro, but we decided to wait until we had more accomplished before making the investment. In discussion with Steve Cole of The Turbo Shop (TTS), he said that the computer-controlled advance curve is very limited in this combination-roughly around 22 degrees of spark timing. While more timing could be added with a chip, the least expensive route was to simply add more initial timing to the engine. This is a good idea anyway since the factory initial timing setting is 0-degrees BTDC! Tim checked the Camaro and that's where the timing was set, so we had plenty of room for improvement.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time to test our new-found power at the dragstrip. We'll save those numbers for next month when we start our budget assault on the 14-second bracket.

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