Out of the box, third-generation Camaros (and all other generations, for that matter) are fairly stout performers. Still, flex from an inadequate platform makes them twist in every corner. In fact, if you take a look at most third-gen Camaros you will see telltale signs of the twisting they do in the form of small cracks near the rear corner of the doors. It starts with the driver's side, and then they appear on the passenger's side. This is just one of the car's weaknesses.
Performance in a Camaro cannot be measured in straight-line performance alone. When it comes to all-around ability, the Camaro has a lot of potential. We found out that much of that potential can be realized in about a day or two with the installation of just a handful of components. Our search for the ultimate Camaro suspension led us to Hotchkis Performance. With the help of the their staff and aftermarket companies like Bilstein, D&B Wheel, and Yokohama Tire, we were able to make our project Camaro more responsive, a little lower (also good for appearance), and a whole lot more fun.
To install everything we took our '86 Z28 to Hotchkis' new installation facility located in Santa Fe Springs, California. Paul Yniguez (he's one of Hotchkis' new product developers and installation technicians so he knows what he's doing) handled the install. Our Z28 had more than 128,000 miles registered and hadn't had much done to it other than the addition of some basic Dunlop passenger car tires. Though it road fairly well, it wasn't up to par for its owner's spirited driving habits.
For the most part, the items Hotchkis sells are simple bolt-on components. The only exception for our project was the subframe connectors (which should be mandatory on all Camaros). Aside from a little welding on the subframe connectors, the only other hard part was having the exhaust system slightly modified for space. The passenger-side subframe connector needs 2 1/5 inches of space from the pinch weld to the exhaust. We took the car to Craig at Muffler Man, in Placentia, California, to move the factory pipe away (the operation was quick and painless).
Common mistakes with an installation like this (according to John Hotchkis) include welding and bolting on components while the car's suspension is unloaded or supported solely by the factory jack locations. Because the Camaro has a significant amount of chassis flex it is important to attach the new suspension parts while the car is in a natural, driving position (i.e., with loaded suspension).
When finished we drove the car on the stock tires for a day before getting a set of 17x8-inch IROC-style wheels, mounted with low-profile Yokohama A520 tires. In a hard Southern California rain it was hard to truly test their performance, but it was very obvious that the tires made a tremendous difference. The wheel and tire combination also improved the looks a great deal. We'll have more on the performance capabilities of the entire package at an upcoming track testing day sponsored by Hotchkis-stay tuned!