After a few hours working on my project '83 Camaro, I began to realize that I mostly forgot about the less than enjoyable things that come along with fixing up an old car. One of the things on this "not-so-fun" list is the fact that just about every inch of our 140,000-mile beauty needs some attention in one form or another. So logically, I get to start from the beginning, which in my case, it turns out, is really not such a bad thing after all. Having not owned a hot rod for 20 years, I'm finding that even the simple things like changing spark plugs and wires are helping to ease me back into the game and reacclimate me to all the little nuances of turning wrenches again.
And while taking a day to give your ride a good performance tune-up is nothing like bolting on a blower or changing a camshaft, the first spin around the block with your newfound power is no less satisfying. Of course, with the kind of mileage on my car, every spin around the block can also conjure up more problems. With the Camaro, the initial brake action is very touchy, as I almost hit the steering wheel at the first stop sign, but they become tolerable once warmed up. Still, the brakes warrant some immediate attention. Without touching the throttle bodies, the car starts and idles very nicely.
But I won't be confident of their potential until they are overhauled. The radiator was quick to show its age by sporting several small leaks. Knowing I would be flogging the car plenty hard over the next few months, I stepped up and installed one of Be Cool's modular aluminum radiator kits with dual electric fans. I can check that one off the list of things to worry about. The big setback looks to be the 700R automatic transmission. When I am on the throttle hard, the trans begins to slip in the upper rpm ranges. I'll have to have an expert pull the pan for some diagnosis, but the outcome seems inevitable. Even with the stock exhaust (stock except for the addition of a Random Technologies converter), the Camaro's sound makes me smile, because I am beginning to sense the potential of the fun to come.
After completing the tune-up, we trekked to California Speedway in Fontana for some baseline braking and suspension testing. This is essential in order to document our future performance gains and improvements. The car stopped from 60 mph in a respectable 169 feet, although the rear brakes were quick to lock up. The Camaro also made its way through the slalom course with some noticeable lean and excessive rear-end slide (though we only "looped" it once) in a best 39 mph while pulling .78 g's on the skidpad.
The performance was where we expected it to be given the car's age, the inevitable deterioration of all the suspension components (bushings, shocks, and struts), and the tires' condition. When we did our testing, the dragstrip was shut down for remodeling, so we didn't get to chart an e.t., but we'll have that most assuredly dismal number at some point. As should be the norm, safety and drivability will be the first things I attack with the Camaro, adding a fresh set of tires, refurbishing and upgrading the brakes, replacing all the worn bushings with something new and improved, and replacing the cushy shocks and struts with good performance models. And, of course, Camaro Performers will be there through it all, showing you how it all goes.
The first stop for the Camaro was our resident muffler shop, The Muffler Man, to replace the stock catalytic converter with a high-flow model from Random Technologies. Upon start-up, it was obvious the original was not only full of leaks but plugged up, as this one change made more of a difference in the car's performance than any of the other tune-up parts. You can't see it from this angle, but it was necessary to weld a fitting in the exhaust tube in order to keep the air pump tube in its stock location and functional. You gotta love those California smog laws.
The new MSD Extreme distributor cap must be reinstalled without the coil cover, as the new cover included with the MSD cap incorporates bosses that hold the plug wires in place.
After replacing the cap, I ran the car to make sure I had gotten it all back together correctly. The next part to go in was one of Performance Distributor's performance Dyna-Modules. The kit came with good instructions and two tubes of silicone grease used on the module mounting plate, where it conducts heat away from the module.
After screwing in a set of plugs, I dove into the HEI distributor armed with lots of good MSD and Performance Distributor parts. Make sure you mark your plug wires before you remove them.