Those readers who remember me from sister publication GM High-Tech Performance may be familiar with the '94 Camaro Z28 project car previously known as The Grape Of Wrath. In it's day, this fourth-gen F-body was used to test many simple LT1 bolt-on performance parts you can install in your own driveway. That effort netted a best quarter-mile ET of 13.16, all of it obtained at full street weight using emission-legal bolt-on parts and no power adder. Best of all, nothing inside the engine was touched, not even the stock rocker arms.
Having completed that effort and successfully moving the car from New Jersey to sunny Southern California, this author has set his sights on addressing the ho-hum appearance of "The Grape" with many of the cosmetic aides, which abound in this balmy climate. One of the biggest motivations--which Camaro lovers can surely abide--is the inability to purchase a new Camaro for the first time in 35 years. GM dropped the ball, but that doesn't mean you can't inject some new-car looks into your tired fourth gen--and at a cost far less than buying a new Mustang!
There are many routes, from mundane to outrageous, so we split the difference down the middle. We wanted something that would turn heads, but which looked as if the factory could've done it had they so chosen. Budget was another concern. We wanted to get a new-car look without paying a new-car price, so before moving to SoCal, we brought The Grape by Classic Restoration in Sloatsburg, NY (845-753-5091) for a new coat of 2002 Ford Mustang Dark Shadow Gray Clearcoat (Ford paint code CX).
We did the repaint partly for looks, but also as a silent protest to express our displeasure at GM's decision to kill the Camaro. One advantage we discovered was that Dark Shadow Gray Clearcoat is close enough in hue to the original Purple Mist Metallic paint where the engine compartment didn't need to be painted--a savings, which really helped. Still, most folks can get by without paint (except for the 3-piece spoiler) making this a favorable proposition. From a budgetary standpoint, these mods can be accomplished over time (as we did) or performed all in one chunk--it's your choice.
With a modern paint hue splashed on, we turned to RK Sport, one of the leaders in late-model Camaro dress-up items. RK Sport has one of the largest assortments of cosmetic pieces for fourth-gen Camaros, many of them manufactured in-house. And while it's strictly our opinion, the RK Sport stuff is far more tastefully done than what you see on most of the imports buzzing around town. It looks "OEM on steroids," or, said another way, "here's what if the GM beancounters grew balls."
One of RK Sports biggest sellers is the "Big Attitude" (aka SS) stripe kit. These really make a Camaro stand out from the crowd and are offered in several colors. We flip-flopped between black and silver, ultimately choosing silver due to the Dark Shadow Gray paint's darker-than-anticipated shade. (We look at Mustangs on the road painted the same color and swear they are lighter.) The directions with the stripe kit call for a one-hour installation time, but we spent over seven hours on a Saturday with all the proper tools and no outside help. We suggest first-time users plan on taking at least seven hours because these stripes are very easy to mess up. It's also worth noting that if you plan on a repaint, allow for a couple of month's cure time before installing the stripes, otherwise the vinyl will leave an impression if removed later on.
Prior to our strips, Classic Restoration also painted and installed our GM Performance Parts 2-inch spoiler. This three-piece kit is available over the counter from any GM dealer, but we've heard horror stories from readers who encountered the village idiot behind the GM parts counter. The solution? Go straight to RK Sport. The price is great and you won't have to wipe drool from the counterman's chin. If you decide to be even bolder, RK Sport offers a 3-inch tall spoiler of their own design. It's a little more expensive, but otherwise follows the same shape as the 2-inch spoiler.
Years of neglect during the Northeast's winters--punctuated by fanatic use of car polish during the summer--really took its toll on The Grape's badges and emblems. After the repaint, we replaced them all with carbon fiber pieces from RK Sport. The nose emblem, "Z28" badges (all three of them) and red Bowtie were all replaced with carbon fiber, but readers desiring more "bling" can opt for chrome or gold--just don't expect us to aim a camera at your car if you do.
Prior to any of this concern over cosmetics, we installed a set of BMR lowering springs, ostensibly as part of a suspension-improvement package. The suspension worked as advertised at the track, but for our purposes here, the springs alone are worth mentioning. No self-respecting g-Machine would look the part without the right "rake" and proper low ground clearance. Prior experience with other spring kits told us the out-of-the-box install probably wouldn't look 100 percent right, so before installing, we cut a third of a coil out of both front springs. If you really want to achieve the right look, we suggest this mod for any third- or fourth-gen F-body spring kit from any manufacturer (in our experience, that also extends to Eibach, Hotchkis and Hypercoil kits). Bypass this simple step and risk an ass-dragging look.
Nothing says more about your car than wheels. The problem with fourth-gen F-bodies is that you'll either look like everybody else or you'll pay up to $700 a piece for three-piece hoops. We looked far and wide, and after considerable research, we found a company called Topline Products who manufactures a Mustang "Bullitt" look-alike wheel, but with a GM bolt pattern and offset. For about what you'd pay for a set of knock-off 9x17-inch Camaro SS wheels all around, you can get 9x17 Topline Products "Bulletts" (spelled differently to avoid legal issues) in front and whopping 10.5x17s in the rear. These take 275/40R17 tires in front and 315/35R17 in the rear (the same sizes as the '96 Corvette Grand Sport).
One big difference over the more commonly available Grand Sport repos is that the large 315 tire fits inside the F-body's wheelhouse with absolutely no modification to the fender lip. The original ZR1/GS rear wheel is actually 11 inches wide (ZR1 and GS rears vary in offset due to a difference in the 'vette's body width), so the slightly narrower 10.5-inch width of the Topline Bullett wheel prevents the typical fender-lip interference encountered when fitting GS wheels to the F-body. Ours were painted silver gray in the center, which matched our RK Sport stripe kit perfectly.
The Topline Products wheels are actually designed to fit C4 Corvettes, meaning they come with Corvette centercap logos instead of the Mustang "Cobra" logo. That's no big deal, but the hub diameter for the rear wheels will be an issue. The rear diameter of C4 Corvette hubs is about a millimeter less than the front (which happens to be the same for Camaro and Firebird at all four corners). You'll need to pick up a metal rasp from Sears and use a variable-speed drill to bevel the rear hub openings for fitment on the F-body. This only takes about an hour, but can be a real pisser if you're not ready for it. When you're done, the look will be bitchin'. We found another big plus: these are quite possibly the most easily-cleaned wheels we've ever owned, but late-model Mustang guys already know that.
For tires, we went affordable over the bucks-up brands. Nitto got the nod--they're not only grippy as Velcro, they fit into the budget. If price is a concern, Discount Tire Direct is the only way to go. For the front, we ordered the ultra-sticky NT555 RII in the only size available: 275/40ZR17. A few years back, Nitto tried getting into the DOT road race tire game and made this single size to test the market. They lost their stomach for it when it didn't catch on, so no other sizes were made. Camaro, Firebird and C4 Corvette guys, however, are the beneficiaries, because this tire easily kicks the ass of tires twice its price. For the rears, we went to Nitto's NT555R Extreme Drag Radial in the 315/35R17 size. We know plenty of guys road racing on this supposedly drag-only tire, so we had no problem putting these on our street car. Some folks might have a problem with race rubber at all four corners of a street car, but this isn't our first rodeo with this rubber; we've previously gotten over 17,000 miles of use with super-soft Nitto R-compound tires. At the Nitto's price, you can afford two sets for the cost of any comparable performing tire. We'll say just one more thing about Nitto: this is one of the few Japanese tire companies who pay attention to the needs of larger, heavier domestic performance cars. They make the proper large sizes in the serious compounds because they understand our cars, our driving habits, our budgets and our needs. 'Nuff said, now to the pix.
DO YOU LIKE THE LOOK?
Do late-model F-bodies interest you? Should we send it to the crusher along with all GM's hopes and dreams?
Do you have other ideas for this street car we should entertain?
Click on the link below to PHR editor Johnny Hunkins know
Here's What I Think!