Second Coming

Writing: Dave Smith

Photos: Andy “Fly” Tipping

Second-gen Camaros could be the next big thing, and here’s one very good reason why.

Finally, the second-gen Camaro is coming into its own. After decades of being the rusty box that a donor small-block, transmission, rear end and front clip came in, people are taking them seriously, and there are some tremendous restos going on out there. This is definitely one of them, with clean lines, upgraded running gear and a late-model powerplant under the hood, it’s a street machine that is really showing the way things are going.

The owner and builder of this 1980 Camaro is a young woman called Sera Jay from Wisbech, and here’s the story in her own words. “I’ve got what some would call an unhealthy obsession for engineering and fast things with engines – especially for a girl,” says Sera, “and the focus of one of those obsessions has always been second- gen F-bodies. August 2011 was when I finally got the chance to buy one. It was cheap, ratty and very rusty. I’m sure that the previous owner had painted it with a roller and household gloss paint, and it was hideous in a badly done Bumblebee colour scheme.”

“I drove it the 200 miles home without any incidents. At that point it was fitted with a very gutless roller cam 305 small-block, TH350 transmission and stock 2.43 open diff. It smoked from the right hand bank a bit and, while it made the right sort of noises, it was tiresomely slow. But it had 10 months MOT (presumably carried out by a tester with a white stick and Labrador) so I drove it for a few months and fixed a few minor issues with it.”

“I’m an engineer – I’m quality manager for a local engineering firm – and I love nothing more than a challenge and doing things myself as much as I can. I’ve got a well-equipped workshop at home, so I’ve done nearly everything on this car myself; the bodywork, the engine and transmission rebuilds, the chassis bracing and the ECU and transmission controller builds.”

“Once I got fed up with its lack of performance and generally rough appearance I started to dig around it a bit more. It turned out to be a lot more rotten than I had expected and it ended up as a complete bare metal restoration project. I fitted new door skins, most of a new floor, the rear frame rails were gone, the bottom of the A-pillars, the rear panel… the list goes on. About the only panel that I didn’t need to repair was the roof!”

“A set of carbon/Kevlar front end panels came up for sale around the time that I was doing the body – the bonnet and front bumper were perfect for the look I wanted, and super light, so I ended up fitting those. They weren’t set up for a road car so I had to do a lot of cutting and modification, adding in mounts for lights, grilles and also the bonnet hinges. All of that’s saved me around 150lbs in weight from the front of the car.”

“It turned out to be a lot more rotten than I had expected and it ended up as a complete bare metal restoration project”

“While all that was going on I was forming a clear idea in my head of what I wanted to end up with; something fast in a straight line, but that also handled ok. I didn’t want anything too modern, big wheels and slammed on the deck doesn’t really do it for me. As part of making it handle better I made a set of solid aluminium body bushings for it, sub- frame connectors to connect the front sub-frame to the rear frame rails, and also a set of braces to connect the upper control arm mounts back to the cowl panel. I fitted Energy Suspension poly bushes front and rear along with much stiffer front and rear springs and the largest anti-roll bars from a WS6 Trans Am (1.25”/0.75”). I swapped out the original steering box with a third-gen IROC box with 2.25 turns lock to lock, which really quickened up the steering. The end result is a stiff chassis and predictable handling even on the twisty and often rough roads of Norfolk.”

“Going faster also means you need to stop better, so on a trip to the USA in 2012 I went trawling the junkyards looking for an Eighties A-body car. I pulled the complete front spindles and brake discs and fitted those. I had to re-drill the discs as they use a different wheel stud PCD. That means I got 12” discs up front rather than the 11” F-body ones, and they use the same callipers. I also got a hydro- boost set-up from a G20 van, and had to make up some adapters to fit it to the firewall and modify my power steering hoses to make it work. All that means that it really does stop pretty well for an old Seventies technology car. At the back, I fitted a 12-bolt rear axle with a Moroso Brute Strength posi, 32-spline steel shafts and 4.11 gears. It does make driving in the wet a bit interesting, but on the track it’s invaluable.”

“When I first rebuilt the car and had it on the road in 2014 I built up a 360 SBC for it – I fitted multi-point fuel injection and controlled it with Megasquirt. I hate carburettors, I’m a techy girl and for me nothing beats the controllability that you get with a programmable ECU. This wasn’t a bad motor, made about 400hp and was pretty lively on the street fitted in front of the 700r4. However, that wasn’t enough for me, and the result of the need for speed is the combination that’s fitted now.”

“I picked up the motor at the NSRA Southern Swap Meet in 2014 – it was missing a lot of parts and the block had some minor damage where it had been dropped. It’s basically a 6.0 litre LQ9 truck motor – this is exactly the same as the LS2 motor, but it has an iron block. Heavier, but a lot stronger. I used a stock truck crank and modified it so I could bolt my 4L80E transmission up easily. DSS Racing forged pistons and LS2 rods completed the rotating assembly. Cammotion ground me up a custom profile cam with .621/.612 lift and 236/242 @.050” duration.”

“The heads started off as 317 truck heads, which have the same sized valves and ports as the sought-after 243 LS6 heads, but with bigger chambers, so I had .050” milled off the heads to bring the compression up to around 11:1. I also did a lot of work on the ports to smooth them out and removed the rocker bosses in the intakes, blended the bowls, un- shrouded the valves in the chambers and opened out the exhaust ports. I fitted roller rocker trunnions to stock rockers and Comp 26918 springs. I topped it all off with a sheet metal intake from eBay, which if nothing else looks cool, and a 102mm throttle body. I used a set of 72lb/hr injectors which I had on my parts shelf. They are a little big for the current power level, but I have plans for nitrous in the future.”

“The engine is controlled by a Megasquirt MS3X ECU – I bought the kit of parts from DIY Autotune in the USA and assembled it myself – which works really well and has a lot more features than I am likely to ever need.”

“I used a set of 72lb/hr injectors which I had on my parts shelf. They are a little big for the current power level, but I have plans for nitrous in the future”

“The transmission is a 4L80E that I bought in pieces. The previous owner had stripped it down to try and fix a problem with no forward gears. It turned out a previous rebuilder had managed to cut the seals on the forward clutch apply piston on reassembly. Since it was apart anyway, I fitted a hardened billet input shaft and billet clutch hub along with Alto Power Pack clutches in first, second and third. I also upgraded the sprags and modified the pump to improve the lockup clutch release. I finished it off with a Transgo HD2 shift kit to firm up the shifts. Hopefully the transmission will be more or less indestructible after all of that… It’s controlled via Megashift, which is the transmission equivalent of Megasquirt. Both controllers are linked via CAN so I can tune both via a single connection to my laptop.”

“The interior was really shabby when I bought the car so I fitted new carpet and headliner. The front seats are from a Mk3 MR2, which are quite retro- looking and fitted in the car really well, although I did have to do some serious modifications to the runners. They are far more supportive than the originals and super comfy. I also made new door cards as the original ones were completely shot. I used the original top plastic mouldings and made new boards and covered them with black and orange vinyl to match the exterior of the car. I modified the original instrument cluster to take Auto Meter gauges as virtually none of the original ones would work with my new engine and transmission anyway.”

“I moved the battery to the trunk, hidden away behind a panel on the right hand side, which helped with a tidy look under the hood. On the subject of wiring, adding fuel injection and a modern motor to a car this old means more or less starting again, so I bought a universal GM style harness from EZZ Wiring and installed that. I was able to re-purpose a lot of the extra circuits to provide power to all of the various components on the engine and transmission.”

“What’s next? These cars are never finished and I have a lot of plans for the car in the next 12 months. I’ve just ordered a new torque converter from FTI in the USA: 9.5” billet lock-up, 4000rpm stall. The car currently has a stock converter and it’s far too tight to get a proper launch, and until 30mph the car actually feels quite slow at the moment. I knew this would be the case, but at the time it’s what funds would allow. I’d like to swap out the intake for a Fast LSXR 102mm one as they do make better power than the sheet metal ones, especially at lower revs. But they don’t come cheap…”

“In the meantime, I’m doing what you should do with a hotrod – driving it”

“I’ve also just started drag racing with the car; I put in a couple of shakedown runs at Shakespeare County during Gary’s Picnic – nothing too serious as I’m still finding my feet with the new power plant. The best run was 14.1 at 105mph, but the stock converter means it’s launching at 1,500rpm and is sluggish for the first 300ft until I get into the cam’s power band. Hopefully the new converter will liven things up here, too. The next outing will be Dragstalgia at Santa Pod.”

“In the meantime, I’m doing what you should do with a hotrod – driving it. It gets driven everywhere, including to the shops and it gets driven hard, too. I don’t believe in parking it up in a garage and polishing it, I built it to drive it.”