Q. Hi Tony.
First, let me say I love your column and usually look at it before any other feature in the magazine. I have a ’69 Camaro with a stock 350, stock intake manifold, and a four-barrel carburetor. The car has stock exhaust manifolds and a chambered exhaust system. I’m interested in upgrading the engine and would like your advice on what makes sense as I start, and also in what order to do things. I’d like to add long-tube headers but rarely see anything in your magazine (except for last month) about a chambered exhaust system. Are they compatible? Also, I’d like to upgrade the manifold and carb to something like an Edelbrock Air-Gap and a Holley carb. Finally, I’d like to have a little more performance oriented cam. What order should I do these upgrades? Eventually, I’d like A/C and a front drive system, too. I’m not racing or autocrossing the car. I’m just looking for things to make it a little cooler with a little more power and better sound.
Thanks for any help you can offer!
Thanks for the kind words.
Since you’re asking where I would start, I assume you’re going to do this in stages. Anytime you install a freer flowing exhaust system, you will need to adjust the carburetor to make up for the increase of airflow, for the best possible performance. This is one of the reasons I would probably install the headers first.
With some basic and typical modifications performed by your local exhaust shop to your chambered exhaust system, it will work with any type of header or exhaust manifold setup. They will cut the system back to the proper length and install some flanged reducers to adapt the header collectors to the 2.125-inch chambered system. Are you dead-set on running full-length headers? There are mid-length headers out there that don’t hang down as much. Camaros that sit a little lower than stock ride height benefit from these mid-length headers and can get plenty of performance gains from them.
When you’re ready for carb and intake manifold, it’s a good idea to pick the ones you want to run in the long run and consider installing a high-performance camshaft at the same time. This will save money later on. If you choose a carb and intake that work with a low/stock performance camshaft and you decide to upgrade the camshaft to a higher performance level, you’re going to end up buying a second carb and intake manifold. If you can swing it, do all three at the same time.
Just in case you’re new to the hobby, each intake manifold is rated for optimum performance within a specified rpm range. That range is determined by your end goal performance. Be it mild performance, street/strip, Pro Touring, drag racing, etc., be realistic when choosing what you want. Don’t shoot for the stars and get something you won’t be happy with. Once you’ve decided on a performance level, you’re ready to choose an intake manifold. For best performance, a carburetor and camshaft need to be matched to the intake manifold. A mild street Camaro can deliver plenty of power from an Edelbrock 650 carb, Performer intake manifold, and Performer cam and lifter kit. If you’re looking for more power, choose a Performer RPM intake manifold and a larger carburetor from Edelbrock or Holley to match. Then choose a cam and kit from Edelbrock or COMP Cams. Both companies have excellent tech support to help you get the right parts for the best performance.
If you haven’t yet looked into front drive systems, make sure that you choose one that allows an easy upgrade that includes an A/C compressor. I’ve always been a big fan of the Vintage Air FrontRunner system. To make sure everything lines up correctly, it includes a water pump and alternator, along with everything else you’ll need. Other kits that don’t include the water pump and alternator are just leaving too much room for possible fitment issues. You can always install a FrontRunner with an A/C pump and run it without hooking it up until you’re ready, just as long as you keep the caps in place until you’re ready to hook it up.