Here at Camaro Performers magazine we love project cars, but something was missing from our stable of hot rods. We had the requisite first- and second-generations covered with the Track Rat and Orange Krate builds, and we even have third- and fifth-gen project cars, but where was the love for the iconic fourth-gens? This was an oversight that just had to be addressed.
By definition, fourth-gen Camaros ran from 1992 through 2002. From 1992 until 1997 they were equipped with Gen III LT1 V-8s. In 1998, one year after the new Corvette hit the streets, the Camaro was revamped and equipped with the Gen IV LS1. This gave a new lease on life to the Camaro and offered near Corvette performance on a working stiff's budget. In stock form they had decent handling and power, but with a few mods they became true performers. The good news is that there are a ton of them on the market, and if you hunt hard enough, you can find clean examples at great prices. But to get these deals, you need to know a few simple things: the suspension found on V-8 Camaros from 1992 until 2002 were virtually unchanged. So if you're just looking for a budget autocross car, then you can pick up a LT1 version for quite a bit less cash than its LS1 cousin. When shopping for an LT1 fourth-gen, look for one that's been well maintained-preferably one that's had its opti-spark recently serviced. If you find a '97 you can get some of the cosmetic looks of the later LS1 cars with the cost cutting LT1 engine.
For the most part, the differences between Z28s and SS Camaros are cosmetic. Sure, the SS might have slightly larger sway bars, and perhaps a power steering cooler on later models, but the performance is about the same. The price between the two is hardly equal, though. That SS hood and spoiler look great, and when combined with the SS emblems, can add a few thousand bucks to the price.
With Nick Licata's Orange Krate project car off at Competition Specialties for a rebuild, he was a man without a running Camaro. Sure, he could drive our '10 SS or project Bad Penny whenever he wanted, but it just wasn't the same as having one nestled in his own garage. Adding a fourth-gen to his collection would give him a great daily driver and something fun to thrash around the track. Given his desire to drive the car as much as possible, the decision was made to go with a later model; that meant LS power. Also, since Nick is a sucker for road racing and autocross action, we were set on finding one with a manual transmission.
While there were quite a few on the local market, it wasn't easy finding just the right combination. The perfect mix would have been a hard top Z28 with a six-speed manual transmission. The hardtops are somewhat more rigid compared to the T-top versions and, of course, are less prone to leaks. And even though they added quite a bit of cash to the window sticker, it seemed like every V-8 Camaro produced had the removable tops. The same problem held true for finding a manual transmission, only in reverse. For every manual we came across, we saw six automatics. We can't tell you how frustrating it was to find a Z28 without T-tops, in the perfect color, only to scroll down the ad and see that it had an automatic trans. But we scoured the Internet, kicked a few tires, and eventually found the perfect candidate: a 2001 Chevy Camaro Z28. Well, it had T-tops, but the rest was so good we decided to overlook that one transgression. The '01 had 109,000 miles on the odometer, but it was a one-owner car that had been garaged its entire existence. As a bonus, the owner, Russ Gay, had just spent $2,000 having the Camaro serviced and the front windshield replaced. When we went to check it out you could tell the guy loved the car by how well it was maintained. Hell, from 10 feet away it looked brand new. We haggled a bit and finally settled on $7,500. Hey Russ, if you're reading this, don't worry, we'll take good care of it. We may be a little rougher on it than you were, but if we break something; no worries, we have the ultimate set of tools. We can fix it.