Chevy Camaro LT1 - LT1 Hunting

The Ultimate Guide To Finding The Perfect Camaro Project Car

Stephen Kim Jan 1, 2008 0 Comment(s)
0801chp_01_z Chevrolet_camaro_lt1_project Front_view 1/1

Time Must Fly When You're Outraged By The Death Of An Icon, Because It's Already Been Five Years Since GM Ignominiously Euthanized The Camaro. That Makes The Last Of The LT1-Powered F-Bodies 10 Years Old, And As Such, Prices For Early Fourth-Gen Camaros have plummeted to what was third-gen territory not long ago. Thanks to its increasing affordability, the LT1 platform is experiencing an aftermarket second wind, with the recent launch of parts no one bothered developing in the past.

Out of the box, '93-97 Camaros typically run low 14s, and simply opening up the intake and exhaust tracts can shave a full second off of quarter-mile e.t.'s. Throw in some shorter gears and sticky meats and you've got a solid 12-second car. Furthermore, while fourth-gens aren't blessed with the most forgiving chassis, given smooth steering and throttle inputs, they clip corners with an agility that belies their 3,400-plus pounds of heft. Consequently, fourth-gens dominate any SCCA class in which they compete.

Although the LS1 casts a big shadow over its predecessor, '98-and-later Camaros command prices that are often twice as much as their the earlier counterparts, keeping them out of the reach of many enthusiasts. On the other hand, as long as you can forego having the latest and greatest small-block GM has to offer, the LT1 practically owns a used-car price class consisting of turbo Mitsus, VTEC Hondas, and both Fox and SN95 Mustangs. And, unlike when you buy an LS1 Camaro, you won't have to take out a bank loan. To help you get started with your search, we've compiled a buyer's guide covering where to find your car, common LT1 problem areas, and a brief rundown of what to expect out of popular aftermarket upgrades.

Quick NotesWhat It IsEverything you need to know when buying an LT1-packing CamaroThe Bottom LineKnow what to expect before ever spending a dime.Cost (APPROX)$3,900-$5,000

Charting The Changes'93Rated at 275 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, the first year of the LT1 Camaro had several mechanical differences from later models. In addition to multiport fuel injection, '93 was the only model year with speed-density air metering, a removable EPROM chip, and a shorter, 2.97:1 First gear in cars equipped with six-speed transmissions. This was also the only model year with yellow lettering on the gauges and dash.

'94GM dropped batch-fire injection in favor of sequential-port EFI and switched from speed-density to MAF air metering. While T56-equipped cars got a taller, 2.66:1 First gear, the ring-and-pinion was changed from the '93's 3.23:1 to 3.42:1. The EPROM chip was no longer removable, and white lettering on the gauges and dash replaced the yellow. The 4L60 automatic transmission was now electronically controlled (4L60E).

'95The biggest mechanical improvement was the built-in ventilation system for the Opti-Spark ignition. It drew in air from the intake elbow to prevent moisture buildup in the Opti-Spark, significantly reducing its rate of failure. Although it wasn't advertised, automatic trans vehicles equipped with the California emissions package received a second catalytic converter on the driver-side downpipe worth approximately 10 extra horsepower. Six-speeds with California emissions, however, retained the single-cat setup.

'96The dual-cat exhaust arrangement GM started phasing in the prior year became standard on all models, boosting the horsepower rating to 285 across the board. A new OBD-II computer system featured a total of four O2 sensors, making the stock PCM calibrations less friendly to aftermarket performance enhancements.

'97There were no major mechanical changes this year. All Camaros received a completely revised instrument panel, dash, and center cluster. New five-spoke wheels replaced the old "salad-shooters," and the taillights were also redesigned.

Where to Look
As with all used cars, Auto Trader and other classified car magazines are a good place to start your search. Since these aren't collector cars and most served daily driving duties, don't expect a low-mileage garage queen. Many LT1 Camaros on the used market have between 100,000 and 150,000 miles on the clock. That shouldn't be a turnoff, however, since the LT1 is essentially an updated spin-off of a traditional small-block Chevy and therefore extremely durable. Likewise, shopping at the right places will save you loads of money compared with dealership prices, so you won't go broke buying replacement parts should something go wrong.

Online shopping is a powerful tool, and some of the best places to find leads these days are on message boards. For LT1 cars, Camaroz28.com is an excellent resource for both online classifieds and detailed tech info. Since like-minded enthusiasts take much better care of their cars than the average driver, vehicles listed on message boards are less likely to be turds. The downside is that enthusiasts sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between sentimental value and true market value, but that's where your negotiating skills come in. Classified ads and pricing reports from Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) and Edmunds.com will give you an idea of what is and isn't a fair asking price. Auction sites like eBay are worth a look as well, but use common sense before bidding, as pictures tend to hide imperfections. Although Carfax reports aren't infallible, they are worth purchasing for at least some insight into a vehicle's history.

Common Problems
Opti-Spark: The optical ignition system (Opti-Spark for short) affords extremely precise control of ignition timing from cylinder to cylinder. Unfortunately, it's extremely intolerant of moisture yet positioned directly behind the water pump. New factory replacements can be had for $250 or less from GM wholesalers, or the stock unit can be rebuilt with cap and rotor kits from ACCEL, MSD, and Summit for $100-$150. ACCEL and MSD also offer entire aftermarket Opti-Spark replacement units with improved internal components. Unless the Opti-Spark has recently been replaced in the vehicle you're looking to purchase, expect to fix it.

Intake leaks: What often appears to be a rear main seal leak is most likely a leaky intake manifold. Removing the intake and applying a liberal dose of high-temp RTV on the front and rear of the block should sufficiently seal the manifold from future leaks.

Driveshaft vibrations: The steel 2.75-inch driveshaft in LT1 Camaros often vibrate on the freeway, most noticeably at speeds above 80 mph. Trying to rebalance it at a driveline shop is a crapshoot. The cheapest fix is scouring junkyards or message boards for a 3-inch aluminum drivehaft out of an LS1 Camaro or a 2.75-inch aluminum unit out of a third-gen 1LE F-body for $150-$250. If that doesn't pan out, aftermarket units from Denny's Driveshafts or Inland Empire Driveline will set you back $300-$400.

Misc: Minor mechanical bits also prone to failure are the transmission mount and power-window motors. Energy Suspension and Prothane both offer urethane replacement mounts for less than $30, and the swap takes less than 30 minutes. The power-window motor replacement procedure is a bit more involved, but the parts can be purchased from your local auto parts store for less than $100.

Power Play
The key to the LT1's stout power output is its Vortec-style aluminum cylinder heads. Competent porters can squeeze 280-290 or so cfm out of factory LT1 castings, which translates to a whole lot of power with very streetable cams. With ported stock heads and a cam in the 230/240-at-0.050 range, LT1s can lay down 400-420 rwhp with ease. That's enough to propel a dialed-in chassis well into the 11s at nearly 120 mph. While those figures are impressive, respectable gains can be achieved without internal modifications. Since GM intentionally choked up the intake and exhaust tracts on Camaros to ensure that LT1 Corvettes maintained a slight power advantage, cold-air induction kits and after-cat exhaust systems free up considerable amounts of power. With the addition of long-tube headers, simple intake and exhaust bolt-ons can boost quarter-mile trap speeds into the 107-111 mph range.

Weak Links
One place GM engineers shamelessly cheaped out in fourth-gen F-bodies is the rearend. The 7.625-inch 10-bolts are absolute junk, and failure is almost guaranteed once sticky tires and minor engine mods are thrown into the mix. While aftermarket girdles help, that money is better spent on a 12-bolt or 9-inch replacement rearend from companies such as Currie, Moser, and Strange. Each offers complete bolt-in assemblies with your choice of axles, gears, and differentials, with prices starting at $1,800. Further up the driveline, although the Tremec T56 transmissions can handle in excess of 700 hp, LT1 clutches become marginal at anything beyond 400 hp. Centerforce, Ram, and Spec offer a variety of upgrades. Additionally, McLeod's slick twin-disc setup will hold as much power as you can throw at it.

Another shortcoming of early fourth-gen Camaros is their severely undersized brakes. The single-piston calipers and 10.7-inch front rotors are no match for the kind of power these not-so-lightweight vehicles produce. To fix this, Wilwood offers high-end big brake kits, but resourceful enthusiasts have concocted some budget-oriented solutions. All '98-and-later F-bodies (including V-6 models) came equipped with twin-piston front calipers and 11.8-inch rotors. To swap them onto an LT1 car, you'll need everything between the upper and lower control arms (rotors, calipers, steering knuckle) off of a newer F-body. Careful junkyard or message-board scouring can land a complete setup for less than $250. Taking it one setup further, UMI Performance bundles together a complete C5 Corvette front brake setup for $820. The kit includes brand-new GM 12.8-inch rotors and twin-piston calipers, Hawk pads, and custom caliper mounting brackets.

GM Wholesalers
If you need stock replacement components of GMPP parts, don't even bother with dealerships. Instead, check out these GM wholesalers. They sell the same goodies that dealers sell but at a fraction of the cost.

Pace Parts
888.748.4655 · paceparts.com
Scoggin-Dickey Parts Center
800.456.0211 · sdparts.com
Van Devere Oldsmobile
330.253.6137 · vandevere.com

What Makes an LT1 an LT1?
Knowing the anatomy of an LT1 will help determine which parts are interchangeable with a traditional small-block Chevy and which parts are LT1 specific. Like all '86-and-later small-blocks, the LT1 is equipped with a one-piece rear main seal and the crank is externally balanced. While the harmonic damper is zero balanced, the flywheel or flexplate relies on counterweights to properly balance the rotating assembly. That said, any one-piece crank seal will fit an LT1. Just make sure to zero-balance the flywheel or flexplate if you're internally balancing the rotating assembly.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the LT1 and its forebears is its reverse-flow cooling system. The setup routes coolant through the heads before the block, which allows running 10.4:1 compression from the factory. With revised cooling passages in the block and heads to accommodate this, the downside is that there is no such thing as an aftermarket LT1 block. However, hot rodders routinely push it past 800 hp without failure. Reverse-flow cooling also means that regular SBC heads won't work on an LT1. Fortunately, AFR, Dart, Edelbrock, and Trick Flow all offer LT1-specific castings.

Other LT1 quirks include a cam-geardriven water pump, an optical distributor attached to the timing cover, and an extremely short-runner intake manifold. In the past, this meant there were no aftermarket upgrades for timing sets, distributors, or intake manifolds. However, the aftermarket has stepped up with high-quality upgrades in the last year or two. The LT1 also features a hydraulic roller cam, so it's compatible with all '87-and-later small-block valvetrain hardware.

Cop Cars & Strippers
There really isn't much that's appealing to civilians about a used LT1 Camaro equipped with the B4C police package, but we'll give you the rundown nonetheless. These vehicles didn't have any major performance enhancements, just beefed-up alternators, batteries, and oil coolers to endure the rigors of patrol work. GM offered the B4C package to law enforcement agencies throughout the LT1 Camaro's production run, but whether or not a car's glamorous history makes it more appealing than a standard Camaro is questionable.

The 1LE package, on the other hand, was a stripped-down corner burner built for serious road racers and autocrossers. There were subtle variations in the package from year to year, but 1LE cars generally featured stiffer springs, shocks, and bushings along with larger sway bars. In fact, '96 and '97 1LEs were equipped with Koni double-adjustable shocks. Stripped of all power options and foglights, the 1LE was also the lightest fourth-gen ever built. While its production numbers are extremely low, the 1LE's legacy is the cheap over-the-counter suspension components it left behind. The 1LE's suspension pieces are readily available through GM wholesalers, and a common upgrade for enthusiasts on a budget. Of course, vendors such as Bilstein, BMR, Edelbrock, Eibach, Hotchkis, and SLP offer a full line of suspension parts too.

Computer Tuning
Thanks to hackers cracking PCM codes, the power and flexibility of a standalone engine-management system can be had for $200 in software. All you need is a laptop and an interface cable that connects to your car's ALDL port. Two big players are LT1 Edit (carputing.com), and TunerCat (tunercat.com). Both allow tweaking fuel and spark maps, gear ratios, tire sizes, shift points, rev limits, cooling fan settings, idle speed, and much more. Software for OBD-II cars runs $100-$150 more, and since '93s have removable chips, they must be sent out to a specialist for reprogramming. The '93 PCM can be replaced with one out of a newer LT1 car, enabling the use of these powerful tuning tools.

Sufficient for most applications, LT1 Edit and TunerCat have their limits. The factory LT1 PCM will not allow the motor to rev much past 7,000 rpm, so cars with big, nasty, solid roller cams must upgrade to a standalone EFI system from ACCEL, BigStuff3, or FAST. Likewise, since the stock PCM isn't compatible with low-impedance fuel injectors, forced-induction motors must upgrade to an aftermarket EFI system as well.

Sources

Centerforce
Prescott, 86301
928-771-8422
http://www.centerforce.com
Lunati
662-892-1500
www.lunatipower.com
Energy Suspension
San Clemente, 92673
888-913-6374
http://www.energysuspension.com
Currie Enterprises
Corona, CA 92880
714-528-6957
http://www.currieenterprises.com
Comp Cams
Memphis, TN 38118
800-999-0853
http://www.compcams.com
Summit Racing
Akron, OH
800-230-3030
SummitRacing.com
Wilwood Engineering
Camarillo, CA 93012
805-388-1188
www.wilwood.com
ProCharger
Lenexa, KS 66215
913-338-2886
www.procharger.com
Strange Engineering
Morton Grove, IL 60053
847-663-1701
www.strangeengineering.net
Vortech Engineering
Oxnard, CA 93033
805-247-0226
www.vortechsuperchargers.com
Moser Engineering
Portland, IN 47371
260-726-6689
www.moserengineering.com
Speed Inc.
Schaumburg, IL 60193
847-891-0767
www.speedinc.com
RAM Clutches
Columbia, SC 29203
803-788-6034
www.ramclutches.com
BigStuff3
Hartland, MI 48353
(248) 887-7072
www.bigstuff3.com
Prothane
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
714-979-4990
www.prothane.com
UMI Performance
814-857-5400
http://www.umiperformance.com
FAST
Memphis, TN 38118
877-334-8355
http://www.fuelairspark.com
Thunder Racing
Baton Rouge, LA 70809
(877) 516-7223
http://www.thunderracing.com
Trick Flow
Tallmadge, OH 44278
330-630-1555
www.trickflow.com
Spec Clutches
800-828-4379
specclutch.com
Dart
248-362-1188
www.dartheads.com
Inland Empire Driveline Service
800-800-0109
iedls.com
McCleod Industries
714-630-2764
mccleodind.com
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