During the long and tedious process of building a race car from scratch, everyone inevitably reaches the same painful conclusion: When your car finally starts looking like a car again, the fun is just getting started. In other words, a project that looks like its nearing completion, from the outside looking in, is actually nowhere close to ripping off WOT passes at the track. That’s precisely where we’re at with The Purp, GMHTP’s in-house ’95 Camaro drag car. The interior is gutted, the rollcage is in, the chassis is buttoned up, and the motor and trans are itching to go play, but much of the grunt work has yet to be completed. Nothing’s been plumbed, there’s nowhere to sit, all the wiring is still in boxes, and the bulk of the safety equipment is MIA. We need to pop the big red transbrake button like a greasy teenager needs to pop a big red pimple, and fortunately, we have friends in high places that feel our pain. We’re talking about Judson and Linda Massingill of the School of Automotive Machinists. After hearing our sob story, they offered to lend a hand in putting the finishing touches on The Purp. Shortly thereafter, being the deadbeats that we are, our Camaro was on a truck heading for Houston (big thanks to Intercity Lines, Inc!).
Anyone who’s been following the late-model GM scene for more than a week has probably heard of SAM. The school’s cutting-edge vocational program churns out the top race engine builders in the country, many of whom go on to work for elite shops like Hendrick Motorsports, John Force Racing, and Warren Johnson Enterprises. In fact, The Purp’s 720hp LSX small-block was built by Bryan Neelen and Pecos Loughlin of Late Model Engines, both SAM graduates. In addition to conceiving incredibly powerful engine combos, the SAM crew has earned a reputation for building some of the fastest late-model Camaros in the country. The school’s iconic orange ’99 Camaro SS runs 8-flat at 170 mph—thanks to a 435ci LS motor that makes 1,058 hp—and has four LSX Shootout Series All Motor championships to its credit. The shop’s ’98 Camaro street car used to run high-9s on pump gas, but SAM swapped out its 500ci LS2 for a 427ci combo last fall and proceeded to run 200-plus mph at the Texas Mile. Oh yeah, SAM also has a 2012 COPO Camaro that’s already run deep 9-second passes. Needless to say, The Purp is in very good hands.
Considering that it’s been nearly a year since our last story on The Purp, here’s a quick recap of what the project is all about. Several years back, Editor Scott Parker bought a battered and worn-down ’95 Camaro V-6 for $500, and decided to go racing in NMCA’s LSX Real Street class. Despite rules that mandate a stock-style suspension, race weights of 3,150 pounds and higher, and either 10.5-inch slicks or 275mm drag radials, the heavy hitters in this competitive class run mid-8-second passes. To keep pace with the forced induction boys, we had Late Model Engines in Houston build us a 451ci LSX motor stout enough for a boatload of nitrous, but still good for 720 hp in naturally aspirated trim. After gutting the car of all non-essential creature comforts, we installed a Chassisworks rollcage, BMR Level 2 front and rear drag suspension, Strange S60 rear end, Aeromotive fuel cell, and Strange brakes. After bolting a killer Century Transmission Powerglide to the 451 and dropping it in, The Purp sat dormant for several months until SAM came to the rescue.
To get the project one big step closer to completion, this month we’re putting the finishing touches on the chassis by installing the brake lines, line lock, transmission cooler, shifter, Lexan, and seats. The SAM crew has really turned up the wick on this project, so stay tuned for stories on the nitrous, safety equipment, electronics, wiring, and track testing in the near future. Last but not least we have to give a huge shout out to SAM technician Dustin Rush, and Judson and Linda Massingill for stepping up to help with this project.
10 Instead of taking our chances with the 20-year-old stock brake lines, we opted to replace them entirely. At the back end, SAM technician Dustin Rush bent the hard line to run from the passenger-side framerail to the driver-side framerail along the floorboard, directly in front of where the factory gas tank would normally sit. Next, a 1-inch section of the line was removed—and both ends were then flared and screwed into a brass T-block—on a section of the framerail adjacent to the driver-side shock. From there, the hard line was routed on the framerail to the front of the car. Tabs and cushion clamps supplied with the SSBC kit were used to mount the hard line to the body.
11 Bending tubing is hardly rocket science, but using the right tools and exercising patience are paramount to good results. A simple cast steel bender (PN 900675) like this one from Summit can be had for $10. Since uneven cuts can lead to leaks, a quality tubing cutter is also a must. Likewise, single flares are hit-and-miss, so creating double 45-degree flares with a double flaring tool (PN SUM-900310) is highly recommended.
12 To minimize plumbing, the Roll Control should be mounted as close to the master cylinder as possible. We found a nice spot on the firewall, right next to the steering shaft, to bolt it down. The top inlet port connects to a hard line routed to the front brake port on the master cylinder, and the bottom outlet port connects to the front brake hard lines. Wiring it up is very easy as well. One wire hooks up to the activation switch, and the other connects to a switched 12-volt ignition source.
13 The hard line exiting the Roll Control outlet was routed to a brass distribution T-block mounted on the driver side framerail. From there, the driver side hard line was routed along the framerail, while Dustin ran the passenger side hard line along the K-member.
14 The slick BMR Fabrication manual brake adapter plate bolts in place of the factory power booster. For low mass and good looks, it boasts aluminum construction and counter-sunk Allen head bolts. With the plate in position, Dustin bolted up the master cylinder before hooking up the hard line to the Roll Control.
15 To ensure easy access for brake bias changes, Dustin mounted the adjustable proportioning valve to a horizontal section of the cowl right behind the hood prop. In this location, the only part that’s visible at eye level is the adjustment knob. A hard line was then bent up to connect one end of the valve to the master cylinder. The other port connects to the rear brake hard lines, which were routed along the framerails, through the driver side wheelwell, then into the engine compartment.
16 Although the Strange Pro Steel front brakes were already installed when The Purp arrived at SAM, Dustin noticed that the calipers were not sitting square to the rotors. The culprits were triangular casting humps on each spindle that prevented the caliper bracket from sitting flush on the spindle mounting pads. Grinding the humps down with an angle grinder corrected the problem.
17 Like many late-models, fourth-gen Camaros do not have front grille openings, and instead direct air into the radiator from the bottom of the car using an air dam. To ensure adequate airflow to the transmission cooler, it was mounted above the air dam and in front of the radiator on the passenger side. To attach the cooler to the radiator core support, Dustin fabricated some custom brackets out of 1x3⁄8-inch steel plate.
18 After screwing in 1⁄4-inch NPT to -6AN male adapter fittings (PN SUM-220647) into the Powerglide’s fluid cooler ports, Dustin ran a pair of -6AN steel braided lines (PN SUM-230615) along the oil pan, over the K-member, to the framerail, and finally to the front of the car. A pair of 1⁄2-inch NPT to -6AN male fittings were screwed into the tranny cooler to adapt them to the -6AN 90-degree hose ends (PN SUM-220687B).
19 As luck would have it, the factory shifter mounting pads just happened to line up with the bolt-holes on the TCI shifter base. Dustin marked and drilled out the four bolt-hole locations to the floor, welded nuts beneath them, then bolted the shifter up.
20 The broad variety of factory floor shapes and contours means that there is usually some custom fabrication involved when installing a set of race seats. After marking the width of the seats onto the floorboard, Dustin welded up a set of custom 2x1⁄4-inch steel brackets lengthwise, thereby bridging the stock mounting pads together. Before doing so, the brackets were countersunk into the floor 1⁄4-inch to buy some additional roll cage clearance. This involved cutting notches into the floor with a cutoff wheel, sinking them downward, and then welding them back together.
21 The infamous catalytic converter hump on the passenger side floorboard makes fabricating custom seat brackets much more difficult than on the driver side. Since the front and rear factory mounting pads are at different heights, Dustin welded the bracket horizontally in the rear. To keep the seat level, the front mounting bolts must be bolted directly to the floorboard using a 2-inch spacer at the right-front corner.
22 With the fabrication on the custom brackets complete, the Kirky seats bolted right up using four bolts per side. Nuts welded to the bottom side of the bracket holes allow for easy bolting and unbolting of the seats.
23 After bolting up the seats and shifter, The Purp’s interior is finally starting to resemble a real race car. The Kirkey seat covers (PN 41311) provide comfort and good looks, and we plan on installing carpet to comply with class rules and spruce things up even more.
24 The rear hatchback glass is one heavy SOB, checking in at about 40 pounds. To cut some easy fat, it was replaced with a polycarbon unit for Percy’s Speedglass, which weighs half as much. Since the window seals around the corners of the stock glass are extremely thick and difficult to remove, a glass company popped it out for $60. Next, Dustin glued the new polycarbonate glass down.
25 As with the rear, Percy’s set us up with a polycarbonate front windshield. Although the window installation kit didn’t arrive in time for our deadline, Dustin was able to test fit it nonetheless. The window installation kit is essentially an inner frame that welds around the window opening. It features tabs and nuts spaced three inches apart, and the window screws directly into the nuts.