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1971 Camaro Suspension Upgrade - Project Back to the Street: A Return To The Classroom

By Michael Galimi, Photography by Michael Galimi

It has been a few months since you have last seen Project Back to the Street. To recap the story, we embarked on a mission to convert a heavily modified '71 Camaro from a dedicated bracket-racing ride into a ground pounding, corner carving, street-legal hot rod. In order for a return to Main Street, the Camaro had to go back to school-the students at the Mercer County Technical School (Pennington, New Jersey) are handling the work, under the watchful eye of head instructor Bob Gonier.

Progress on the Camaro was hot and heavy for the first several months, but the relocation of the Super Chevy headquarters to Florida stopped forward motion this past summer. This month, we return to action and would like to refresh you on what we have accomplished to this point. Progress will resume next month as the students are revved up to tear back into our project car.

The trip back to the street has been a long one as the former race car was stripped down to a bare shell. This build-up is essentially a ground-up task, as if we purchased a bare shell. The good news was that the body is straight and we only had to replace the floors with new ones from Ground Up Restoration. Stripping the rest of the car was rather easy as the front-end was a three-piece fiberglass unit, which saves weight in a racing application, but was hardly street-worthy in our opinion. It was discarded and taking its place are new fenders, hood, nose and air dam, which we will cover in the near future. The interior and roll bar were gutted and cutout, as all new seats, dashboard, gauges, console, etc. will be employed. As you can tell by the illustration on page 86, the Camaro will enjoy a g-Machine appearance.

The drag racing-oriented suspension, front and aft, was removed and replaced with something a little more suited for the streets and corner carving. Super Chevy tapped Fat Man Fabrications for its Front Frame Stub kit. Gonier and his students unbolted the front subframe assembly, cleaned it up, added primer, and painted it black. The kit includes upper and lower tubular control arms, drop spindles, 12-inch four-piston Wilwood brakes, QA1 adjustable billet-aluminum coil-over shocks, and all the steering equipment to go along with the suspension and brakes. The front frame rides on Energy Suspension polyurethane body-bushings, giving the car a nice ride but keeps flex to a minimum when the driver gets aggressive.

Moving rearward, Fatman Fabrications came through its Triangulated Four-Bar rear suspension system. The guys at Fatman told us that Air Ride originally designed this suspension, but Fatman sells this setup for use with the less-complicated QA1 adjustable rear shocks. The four-bar setup is essentially a four-link rear suspension, although it doesn't look like the traditional four-link found in drag racing applications, where the bars are parallel. Instead, the Fatman/Air Ride suspension utilizes bolt-on chassis brackets (we welded ours) and the setup looks similar to what you'd find under something like a '78-83 Malibu. A Currie 9-inch was slung under the backside during the rear suspension installation. The iron housing came complete with 3.70 gears, 31-spline axles, and a limited-slip differential.

The drop spindles and rear suspension combination will have this second generation F-body slung low to the ground and handling like a Vette. To ensure our project can keep up with some of the new and powerful generations of Vettes as well as outrun Super Chevy Project Homewrecker, a GM Performance Parts ZZ454 crate engine was tapped for a tour of duty. We tested the bullet on the engine dyno at B&B Performance Machine (Rahway, New Jersey) with a set of 2-inch long-tube headers and a Holley 770cfm carburetor. To our surprise, GMPP was slightly conservative with its horsepower rating. Final output was an impressive 502 hp and 547 lb-ft thanks to 34 degrees of ignition timing, 93-octane fuel, a 1.5-inch spacer, and an average air/fuel mixture of 12.8:1. We just hope the carb spacer fits under the hood once we bolt the engine into the car.

We resisted the urge to add a Tremec six-speed manual transmission and decided on a 4L60E transmission. It's an electronic controlled transmission and Level 10 Transmissions fortified it to handle the horsepower and torque of the big-block Chevy. The overdrive transmission has better clutch packs, bands, drums, valvebody, and deep sump fluid pan. A separate transmission controller and a custom torque converter round out the transmission setup.

Right now, the car sits in the technical school's shop stripped of any remnants of its drag racing past. The future looks bright as the car is staying in school so it can return to the street.

National Parts Depot (NPD Michigan)
2435 S. Haggerty Rd.
MI  48188
GM Performance Parts
P.O. Box 33170
MI  48232
3M Corporate Headquarters
3M Center
St. Paul
MN  55144
Fatman Fabrications
8621-C Fairview Road, Highway 218
NC  28227
Energy Suspension
1131 Via Callejon
San Clemente  92673
B&M Racing
9142 Independence Avenue
CA  91311
Currie Enterprises
382 North Smith
CA  92880
Level 10 Performance Transmission Systems
3670 Route 94
NJ  07419
Wilwood Engineering
4700 Calle Bolero
CA  93012
Midstate Automotive Paint
1816 N. Olden Avenue
NJ  08368
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By Michael Galimi
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