Different decade, same BS. Ever since 1967, six-cylinder Camaro owners have been hearing the same non-sense. “Ah man, why didn’t you get the V-8?” While questions like that are merely a mild annoyance when asked by people that know absolutely nothing about cars, the situation gets far worse when so-called hot rodders get in on the action. “You need to weld on two extra cylinders” is a common yet embarrassingly unoriginal quip, and “you can never make a V-6 go fast” tops the list as the granddaddy of all ignorant remarks. For much of the first four generations of Camaro, there were elements of truth to the V-6 bashing, but anyone that still spews that kind of idiotic trash talk needs a serious reality check.
Rated at 304hp, the 3.6L six-banger in the 2010 and 2011 fifth-gen squashes the LT1 and TPI V-8s of yore despite having just 2/3rds the displacement, and virtually matches the output of the ’98 Camaro’s vaunted LS1. Better yet, the V-6 pony count is up to 323 hp for 2012. Peak power numbers aside, these potent sixes are good for mid- to low 14-second e.t.’s at the dragstrip, knock down 30 mpg, and cost almost $10,000 less than their LS3-powered brethren. Lower mass and a more ideally balanced chassis is just icing on the cake. So perhaps the real question should be “ah man, why did you waste all that extra money on the V-8?” Granted that this is one little engine that already performs like a V-8, the V-6 faithful have managed to wring tons of extra power out of them, so we thought we’d take a closer look on how it’s done. From basic bolt-ons to free mods to power adders to computer tuning to suspension upgrades, we’ll cover it all.
Before diving elbow deep into the intricacies of V-6 performance, taking a closer look into its glorious high-tech guts is in order. Although it displaces just 217 cubic inches, it makes up for its small size with a heavy breathing induction package that enables it to rev freely to 7,000 rpm. That’s another way of saying that it makes the most of every last ounce of torque that it makes, and the result is V-8-like power in a smaller, lighter, and more fuel efficient package. To achieve this impressive performance, the Camaro’s all-aluminum LLT V-6 utilizes four-valve cylinder heads, gasoline direct injection, a stout 11.3:1 compression ratio, six-bolt main caps, piston oil squirters, and variable valve timing to actuate its dual overhead camshafts. Considering that the LLT already produces 1.4 hp per cubic inch (84 hp/liter), is it really possible to substantially improve upon those figures? You bet.
In bone stock trim, 2010 and 2011 Camaro V-6s will typically lay down 230-240 horsepower on a Dynojet chassis dyno. With some bolt-on induction and exhaust mods, those numbers increase by 40-50 hp. Better yet, the V-6 Camaro crowd isn’t a bunch of dyno racing weanies. Naturally aspirated V-6s have run as quick as mid-13-second e.t.’s in the quarter-mile, with turbocharged and nitrous-sniffing sixes running in the 11s. That’s plenty fast to smoke an unsuspecting SS at the stoplight. For 2012, GM has replaced the LLT V-6 with the LFX. While both share the same basic architecture and displacement, the LFX boats revised cylinder heads, intake manifold, camshafts, connecting rods, and throttle-body. Not only do these tweaks boost hp to 323, but the LFX is also 20 pounds lighter. As promising as the LFX looks on paper, the engine is so new that aftermarket development work for it is still in its infancy. As such, we’ll keep the focus on the ’10-’11 LLT V-6 for this write up.
Since no one knows these cars better than the people that own them and spend their hard-earned bucks modding them, we hit up www.camaro5.com–a cool online hangout for fifth-gens of all cylinder counts—to find ourselves a V-6 insider. There we bumped into a Chris Creech, better known by his forum handle “BaylorCamaro.” By stretching his college student budget, Chris has bolted up a carefully researched bucket of mods to his 2010 2LT, shaving a full second off its quarter-mile e.t. in the process. With an upgraded suspension and big Brembo brakes to match, it’s very much representative of the performance potential of the V-6 Camaro.
It isn’t exactly a free mod, but for $5, it’s pretty close. Like many late-model EFI motors, the LLT is prone to heat soak, and the stock computer starts to aggressively retard timing once inlet air temperature exceeds 85 degrees, substantially reducing power output on hot days. To remedy the situation, relocating the IAT sensor is an easy fix. Since the IAT sensor on the LLT is integrated into the MAP sensor, this mod involves buying a second IAT sensor from a fourth-gen LS1 Camaro (PN 12160244), and mounting it in the stock air box or in an aftermarket air filter. Wiring it up is as easy purchasing a new factory pigtail (PN 12102620), plugging it into the new IAT sensor, and then splicing it into the tan and blue colored wires that came off of the stock IAT/MAP sensor. “Some people think that relocating the IAT sensor is a waste of time, but it helps a lot if you live in a hot climate,” Chris explains. “Before I did the relocation mod, the inlet air temps would read over 200 degrees in the summer. Afterwards, the inlet air temps are now just five degrees above ambient temperature. The car definitely feels less sluggish.”
Intake and Exhaust
Many an LLT-powered Camaro owner purchases their machine thinking that they’ll never buy a single performance part for it. When they finally submit to temptation, the first aftermarket bits they usually bolt on are a cold air induction system and a performance exhaust. This makes a lot of sense, since both can be had for less than $500, add a healthy dose of power, and can be installed by any monkey with a wrench in a single afternoon. “With a cold air intake and exhaust, you can expect to pick up 15-20 rear-wheel hp,” inside man Chris explains.
The typical cold air kit replaces the stock air box and intake ducting with an open element high-flow air filter and tubing. Injen, Vararam, and Airaid all offer kits designed specifically for the LLT V-6. Getting more air into the motor means it’s a good idea to uncork the exhaust, and this is where things get interesting, as there are a multitude of methods to accomplish this goal. The easiest way to move more exhaust volume out the tailpipes is with a set of aftermarket mufflers. Manufacturers such as MRT, Magnaflow, SLP, JBA, and Borla offer rear section, or “axle back,” exhaust systems that bolt to the factory mid-pipe. In addition to utilizing a better-flowing muffler, these rear-section systems feature larger 2.50-inch inlets. Another nice perk is that aftermarket mufflers are up to 30 pounds lighter than the stock units.
Moving farther upstream, for those that need even more exhaust flow, the next logical step is replacing the 2.25-inch factory mid-pipe, which connects the headers to the mufflers. Borla and Magnaflow both offer complete after-cat exhaust systems that include a mid-pipe for $1,200 to $1,300, but a more economical option is using the factory piping off of an SS. “If you can’t afford an aftermarket cat-back exhaust system, you can buy a 2.50-inch mid-pipe off of an SS for under $100. Since there are lots of SS cars with aftermarket exhaust systems, there’s always someone selling their stock mid-pipe,” says Chris. “The SS mid-pipe bolts right into V-6s that have been upgraded with long-tube headers, and it will also work with shorty headers with some minor modifications. Just make sure that you get a mid-pipe off of a manual transmission car, because the automatic L99 cars have a different mid-pipe. This mod is great for V-6s with long-tube headers, because the collectors measure 2.50 inches and they mate up perfectly to an SS mid-pipe.”
Although installing a set of headers is more labor intensive than bolting up some mufflers, the payoff in power is definitely worth the effort. LLT headers come in two forms: long-tubes (American Racing, BBK, Pacesetter, OBX) and shorties (JBA, Thorley). For the ultimate in power, you can’t beat a set of long-tubes. Gains of 8-12 hp are common, and prices range from $350 to $1,200. Shorty headers typically yield less than half the hp increase of long-tubes, but are easier to install and cost $400 or less.
So you’ve bitten the bullet by adding a cold air induction system and a full exhaust, picking up a bunch of hp in the process, but now what? The next step up on the easy horsepower ladder is tuning the factory powertrain management computer. This can be tricky due to the LLT’s high-pressure gasoline direct injection system, but the aftermarket has met the challenge. Options include handheld tuners like the Hypertech Max Energy Power Programmer, or a tune custom tailored to your specific application from Trifecta Performance. Both types of tuners adjust the fuel and ignition timing maps to optimize power output in addition to adjusting rev limits, shift points, cooling fan operation, and adjustments for axle ratio gearing changes.
The Trifecta EZ Flash system enables hooking a laptop up to the vehicle diagnostic port, and tuning the computer with the company’s proprietary software. After downloading the EZ Flash software and data logging the motor, users e-mail a baseline file to Trifecta. The company then sends back a custom tune that is uploaded into the factory computer. On cars with basic intake and exhaust modifications, users have reported gains of 12-15 rear-wheel hp. Trifecta also offers a custom tune that allows running the LLT V-6 on E85. Taking advantage of E85’s enhanced octane rating by implementing an aggressive timing map, the E85 tune is said to add an extra 10 hp over the standard gasoline tune. In contrast, the Hypertech hand-held tuner offers a more generic tune that is also uploaded through the vehicle diagnostic port, with advertised gains of 4-6 hp. Prices start at $450 for a Trifecta tune, and $380 for the Hypertech hand-held unit.
With the untapped power potential of the 3.6L V-6, sooner or later you’re going to need more stopping power. The good news is that big-brake kits from Wilwood and Baer designed for the SS will also fit six-cylinder Camaros. For maximum bang-for-the-buck, however, it’s tough to top the value that comes from bolting a set of factory Brembos off of an SS onto a V-6 car. Chris Creech scored a set of factory four-piston Brembo calipers, 14-inch rotors, and lines from SLP for $250. This setup dwarfs the stock single-piston calipers and 12.64-inch rotors by a large margin. “SLP was selling this kit as a take-off package from an SS they converted to one of their ZL Camaro packages,” he reports. “Everything bolted right up to the stock spindles. The difference in braking performance between the SS brakes and the stock brakes is incredible.”
Boohoo. No one makes a supercharger system for the LLT V-6, at least not yet (stay tuned for info on the KPE kit). Fear not, for if your goal is to stomp LS3s, that can easily be accomplished with a nitrous or turbo kit. Dollar for dollar, when it comes to cheap hp you can’t beat nitrous injection, and Zex offers a $650 kit designed specifically for the 3.6L. It’s adjustable from 55-100 hp, and can be installed in just a couple of hours. The fastest nitrous-powered V-6 Camaro on record has run 11.84 in the quarter mile, which is plenty quick to take out even a mildly modified SS.
If you want V-8 stomping performance all the time without having to refill a nitrous bottle, turbocharging is the hot ticket. STS Turbo Systems makes it easy with its rear-mount setup for LLT Camaros. Since it bolts in place of the factory mufflers, installation is stupid easy. At just 6psi of boost, the system adds 150 hp, and when maxed out, the turbo is capable of supporting 620 hp. The STS system includes an air-to-air intercooler, 38mm wastegate, 52mm blow-off valve, and all the necessary plumbing accessories. At $5,200, it isn’t exactly chump change, but it’s hard to balk at such serious power gains. So far, STS-equipped V-6 Camaros have run high-11s at the dragstrip.
All V-6 Camaros ride on the same mushy suspension, and GM doesn’t offer any factory options to improve the situation. That’s no big deal, because the aftermarket is brimming with upgrades, and all suspension components are interchangeable between the SS and V-6 models. A quick and easy way to reduce body roll and increase grip are with a set of larger diameter sway bars and stiffer springs, offered by companies such as Hotchkis, Pfadt, LSR Performance, BMR Suspension, SLP, and Detroit Speed and Engineering. For weekend autocross and road racing warriors, KW and Pfadt Race Engineering offer coilover kits that allow lowering ride height 2-3 inches in addition to adjusting shock valving. Furthermore, Hotchkis has developed subframe connectors and a strut tower brace to stiffen up the Camaros already excellent Zeta chassis even more. As with the engine mods, a few simple suspension tweaks can make a world of difference. “The stock V-6 suspension is way too soft and it makes the car drive like a boat. Unfortunately, Chevy doesn’t offer any factory suspension upgrades like Ford does in the Mustang,” Chris reports. “To firm things up, I installed a set of Pfadt sway bars and lowering springs on my car. The difference in handling is night and day.”
Some mods are more for fixing annoying hiccups rather than increasing hp. Owners of LLT-powered Camaros equipped with automatic transmissions often report a dead spot in throttle response at 2,500 rpm. For $150, RevXtreme will CNC-port the stock throttle-body, which is good for an advertised 4-6 hp. The porting features a unique swirl pattern finish that is said to reduce surface tension, and increase airflow and velocity. According to users, however, the real benefit of the RevXtreme throttle-body is that it reduces the dreaded 2,500 rpm dead spot that plagues automatic-equipped V-6s.