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Car Corner
Camaro Projects

May 1, 2002
By Scott Lewis

It's that time again. Time to look at my next car. NO.. this is not another search of the Internet. Those searches were based on hypothetical budgets to get an idea what was available. Today I want to do something different. I want to take a look at the scope of my next car and how that relates to my current car.

A while back I wrote about my dream project Camaro. A bad ass 69 Camaro convertible with a supercharged big block. That idea was assuming I would spend many years building such a car with a budget of $30-40K. That's a lot of money, and that kind of project is surely a pipe dream for the next decade or so. For the moment I have more modest plans in mind.

Over the last year I have done a lot of thinking about what I want in a classic/project car. Not the model this time, but the characteristics. For this article I will use my dream of a 1969 Camaro Convertible to be the make & model of car, but these plans could work on any car. The key is to set the focus for the characteristics I want in such a car. Ideally I will follow this plan even if I get a Mustang, Chevelle, etc.

The Switch

Think about this for a moment. Given the time to get a car "in shape" there is no reason an old sixties car couldn't provide reliable transportation. Also, fourth generation Camaros make great project cars. I have 73K miles (as of this writing) on my Z-28 and it is in excellent condition. What's to stop me from having an old 60's car as my daily driver while building a bad ass project Camaro using my 93 Z-28.

I could modify my 93 Z for performance more easily than a classic sixties Camaro. After all, I already own the 93... and it is already fast. I could bolt on a supercharger and have 400+ horsepower (that's net horsepower, not gross horsepower like they rated engines in the 60's, see sidebar).

Gross vs. Net Horsepower

Prior to 1972 all engines were measured in gross horsepower. This was basically a stripped engine on a dynamometer. No accessories were on the engine. No A/C, no alternator, no power steering, nothing.

In 1972 they switched to the SAE net ratings for horsepower. This rates an engine as it would sit in the car with all accessories, even a full exhaust. This is a more realistic figure. It is hard to compare engines rated under the different systems. 

Also, 1972 was the year a lot of engines took a beating with new smog rules and lower compression ratios. This effected horsepower further making direct comparisons difficult. It is nearly impossible to find a historic example of exactly how much horsepower difference there was.

Today the factories are big into crate engines. These engine are rated in gross horsepower. So a crate 350 engine that makes 350 hp is not as powerful as the 350 hp engine in a new Corvette using the net rating. It is probably safe to say that the difference between gross and net horsepower is around 10%-15%.

One last note, don't confuse SAE net horsepower with horsepower at the driven wheels, which is measure by putting the actual car on a chassis dynamometer and measuring the power where the tires meet the ground. This further lowers the rated horsepower buy including the power lost through the transmission, differential, etc.

 

This has lead me to the idea of buying a 69 Camaro and building it up as a reliable daily driver. Performance would be secondary to reliability and affordability for driving to work every day.

The 69 Camaro Plan

If performance is not the paramount goal of building a 69 Camaro, I would really like to experiment with an engine that is different. I would obviously rebuild the entire car; new suspension, brakes, transmission, etc. This would be important to meet my reliability goal. But the engine... that presents many possibilities.

A crate engine would be ideal. It would provide good performance at a reasonable price. Surely it would be reliable. But looking at the current selection of crate engines from Chevrolet is like a kid looking through the glass of a candy store counter. There are so many wonderful choices (i.e., 350/250hp - $1,259; 350/330hp - $2095; 350/350hp Ram Jet EFI - $4,495; 454/425hp - $4,319; 502/502hp - $5,795; 502/510hp Ram Jet EFI - $8,495; etc.). Those prices were accurate when I looked them up... you mileage may vary.

This is were I would really like to be different. I want decent gas mileage. I now drive 85 miles round trip to work. A 500+ hp big block is NOT going to pull down 25-30 mpg on the highway.

Vortec 4200 DOHC Inline 6

I would really like to try the new Vortec 4200 DOHC Inline 6 from the Chevy Trailblazer. This engine is as powerful as some of the big blocks of the sixties. The 4200 is rated at 270 NET horsepower. The base 396 big block put into the Camaro in 69 was rated at 325 GROSS horsepower (see sidebar). Considering the difference between the old gross rating and the new SAE net rating, the Vortec is probably about as powerful as that 396 engine.

The Vortec is all aluminum, so it should be significantly lighter than a cast iron V-8. It should be easy to build a Camaro that weighs no more than 3000 lbs. with this engine.

To get and idea what kind of performance I could expect from this completely original, and unusual, combination I did a little math.

Vehicle weight
(approx.)
Power Weight per Power Gear Ratio Gear Corrected
Weight per Power
TrailBlazer 4400 270 16.3 3.42:1 4.8
Camaro 3000 270 11.1 2.73:1 4.1

In straight power to weight the Camaro has a significant advantage, so much so that I would try to gear the car for the best gas mileage (remember, 85 miles per day). I came up with a number that "adjusts" the power to weight ratio by the gear ratio and the result is the number in the right column. This number is supposed to provide a comparable number as to how much power each vehicle has relative to its weight and gearing.

Given that this new number is close (still at an advantage for the Camaro) we should be able to extrapolate to find out what kind of performance this combination could provide. The Trailblazer goes 0-60 in 7.9 seconds (Car and Driver, June 2001). We should expect our hypothetical Camaro to be in the 7 second range. Not bad. The Trailblazer did the 1/4 mile in 16.3 seconds at 88 miles per hour. We might make it into the 15's with the Camaro. After all, this combination provides more than a 14% power-to-weight advantage over a Trailblazer. At the least we would have a low 16 second combination. Nothing to write home about, but respectable.

Now for the fun part (at least when you drive 85 miles per day... did I mention that?) The bloated Trailblazer is rated at 22 MPG on the highway (2WD). A Camaro with 2.73:1 gearing and an overdrive transmission should be running about 1500-1600 RPM at 65 mph. Given the weight and gearing advantage, mileage close to 30 MPG should be very possible on the highway.

16_torque.gif (36811 bytes)If you look at the torque curve for the Vortec 4200 you will see that it is almost perfectly flat. It provides more than 250 lb/ft of torque across the entire RPM range of the engine. This should provide good throttle response and power at any RPM.

I think this engine would work great with either a manual or automatic transmission. I would love to see it with a 5 or 6 speed manual, but even a 4 speed automatic would be acceptable.

Hopefully GM will make the Vortec 4200 available as a crate engine. (Note: GM, if you are reading this make a Ram Jet crate version of the Vortec 4200 and I WILL buy it.)

If GM decides not to build the Vortec 4200 as a crate engine I still have a smorgasbord of crate engines to choose from. I was watching Car and Driver TV with a segment on John Moss. John is head of the department that builds all the TOYS at GM. I don't want to get into any details except for one... John said that a crate version of the 4.3 liter V-6 would be coming out in a Ram Jet configuration. It would be good for 270 hp, 290 hp with headers. I assume this is gross horsepower not net (don't forget the 350 engine in the 69 Camaro was rated at 300 hp with a four barrel carb). The 4.3 is a very realistic engine I could use in my (hopefully) soon-to-be realistic Camaro. I would prefer the inline 6 with its super smooth torque, but I should be able to get to the number mentioned in this article with the V-6.

We are pretty far into this article and all I have talked about is the engine. I could detail the rest of the car, but that would be excessive. You can always read the old article to get an idea.

In a nutshell... I would build the suspension to provide better handling and comfort than stock. I would make sure the car was equipped with air conditioning and other amenities. I would like to try and set it up with power windows and locks, CD player, nice bucket seats, full console and gauges, etc. After all, this will eventually become my daily transportation in place of a 93 Camaro that has all these options.

The 93 Camaro Plan

I want a manual transmission. There is always the possibility that if I buy a classic convertible, my wife will push me toward an automatic. Maybe I should let her. She never drives the 93 Camaro anymore. Maybe I could swap in a 6 speed. This decision would be the biggest one of this project. Even more difficult than getting a supercharger. A supercharger is a simple bolt on device, swapping and automatic for a manual transmission is a complicated proposition.

It would probably be cheaper to sell my 93 for another 4th generation Camaro with a manual already in place. But I like the idea of being the original owner. This will be even more euphoric when the car is 30 years old. Like I said, whether or not to swap in a manual tranny will be the hardest decision of this project.

As for power, I would like to start off small. I would want to get the G-Force accelerometer. This device suction cups to your windshield and enables you to perform timed acceleration runs (0-60, 1/4 mile, etc). They go for about $140. A small price to pay considering the amount of money a performance project will eat up.

I already put a cold air induction box and new wheels and tires on my 93 Z-28. The next logical step would be a high flow catalytic converter and a CAT back exhaust system. After doing a tune up on the Camaro I don't know if I want to go through the fun of installing headers, but I probably should. Headers would help with or without a supercharger. Once the exhaust was done it would be time to decide if I was going to go the supercharger route.

The supercharger would dictate how extreme the rest of the engine needs to be. Without it I would definitely swap the heads and camshaft. I would also add a larger throttle body, and port the intake manifold. With a supercharger I could skip the head and cam swap, but the intake might still be a good bet. Like I said, it would be at this point that the supercharger decision would be made.

Once there was significantly more horsepower under the hood I would turn to the brakes and suspension. Baer probably makes a brake kit for my car that should be more than enough to stop the car from hot dog driving and possibly a little slalom racing. But the key to slalom racing will be the suspension. New shocks are a must, the current ones are squeaking a little after 73K miles. Plus I would replace all the bushings with polyurethane. New springs to lower the ride height and firm up the ride a bit would be next. Of course, I would add thicker anti-sway bars front and rear.

I would also add sub frame connecters. I would look into bolt on vs. weld on. Many years ago weld on connectors were the best way to go, but I have not been following the market on these recently. Maybe bolt on connectors are good enough now-a-days.

Notice that I didn't touch the short block. If this car was fast enough, I would just assume leave the block alone. But if I want to go all out I could stroke the engine to 383 c.i.

The interior of my 93 is in bad shape... to a degree. Having used this car as my wife's and my primary transportation for over a year and a half with a kid, there are a lot of stains from spills in the seats and carpets. I want to replace the front seats with aftermarket seats, such a Recaro. They would be leather, of course. I would have the back seat reupholstered in a matching leather, and the tweed inserts in the doors would be replaced with matching leather as well. While the interior was apart I would replace the carpet. That should bring the interior up to like new standards.

Conclusion

There you have it. My initial plan to build a daily driver 69 Camaro, and a short plan to build a monster performance 93 Camaro. What do you think?

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