1997 Chevy Camaro Z28 - Right Place, Right Time
Circumstances Help Create A Fine LT1 Camaro
From the April, 2009 issue of GM High-Tech Performance
By Peter Bodenstiener
Photography by Robert McGaffin
"Everybody wants a 1,000-horsepower car, but they want it on a 400-horsepower budget."
Larry Hamilton has learned this over eight-plus years as the service manager for Chicago-area performance shop Speed Inc. In building his own 1997 Camaro, he knew he only had a 400hp budget to work with, so he would have to be creative. Fortunately for Hamilton, opportunity knocked one day when the car of a well-known local street racer appeared on the lot of a used car dealership where his wife worked. "The car was originally owned by a friend and fellow employee (of Speed Inc.)," Hamilton said.
Hamilton had helped build the car at the shop, and then kept track of the car and its exploits over the years after his friend sold the car. When it turned up for sale, he saw a chance to replace his departed 1996 Z28, which he had regretted selling, with a car that he knew was already fast, and inexpensive, too. "The original owner had a goal to make the car the fastest stock-block LT1 out there," Hamilton said, and that goal had been largely accomplished with the help of a Speed Inc. head and cam package, some weight-saving mods (including removal of the rear seat, bumper supports, A/C and power steering), 4.10 gears, and a Turbo 350 transmission.
Hamilton's plan was to make the car a bit more streetable, yet remain within striking distance of the low 10-second times the car had turned before. "I wanted to go to cruise nights, drive it on the street, and then race it at the track and beat it up without having to worry about it too much," he said. "I added a K-member and A-arms to take weight off of the front of the car," which helped offset weight he added by swapping in a 4L60E overdrive transmission, adding subframe connectors, and installing a relocated power steering system that also hides the alternator for a cleaner underhood appearance.
Obviously, working at a speed shop has its advantages when attempting to build such a car. Hamilton is quick to say, though, that this is no company-sponsored ride, while acknowledging the help that Speed Inc owner Tom Izzo provided in the form of parts discounts and shop access. Hamilton is a meticulous builder, and because this car was a bit rough-edged when he got it (he spent three hours removing stuck-on rubber from each quarter panel), he ended up going over every aspect of the car. He made every element as perfect as he could, and, as tends to happen with automotive projects, one thing led to another. Hamilton's conservative budget projections were soon overcome by his comprehensive approach.
"Eventually I built a super-nice car and spent a ton of money on it," Hamilton said. "It just snowballed." He gutted and reworked the engine bay and repainted some of the exterior parts as well. The snowball then became an avalanche when Hamilton decided the car needed a new short-block. "I was having an oil pressure issue, which turned out to be a problem with the oil pump pickup tube," Hamilton said, noting that the car had seen about 90,000 hard, occasionally nitrous-boosted miles at that point. "I thought, `if I'm going to pull the oil pan, I'm going to put a short-block in it.'"
While many advised him to swap in an LS engine, Hamilton had already refurbished the entire engine bay based on the LT1's presence. Besides, he felt he could achieve his goals with an LT1. "A lot of people don't mess with LT1s anymore," Hamilton said, adding that he likes to do things a little differently. "That old LT1 car hung with a lot of built LS cars. I knew what it was capable of. Most people look at it as an underdog sort of thing, but the car is right there."
Owner Larry Hamilton has been...
Owner Larry Hamilton has been with Speed Inc. for more than 8 years of the company's 10-year history. Growing up with a dad who was a mechanic helped get him involved in cars as a hobby. As the shop's service manager, he works closely with customers and now considers many of them friends.
Hamilton started with a stock LT1 block, bored .030 over, with 4-bolt splayed main bearing caps. He added a stroker crank that bumped displacement up to 396 ci. The connecting rods he selected were machined to provide enough clearance for a cam with a standard-sized base circle. This ensured an easier life for the hydraulic roller lifters and enabled the use of a Lloyd Elliott .573-lift, 245/253-duration cam with 35 degrees of overlap. With a compression ratio of 12.4:1, the updated mill recorded 444 rear-wheel horsepower and 411 lb-ft of torque on the dyno.
Hamilton has been to the strip twice with the new motor, logging a best ET of 10.89 at 123 mph on motor. He has installed a single-stage Nitrous Outlet plate system with a 200hp jet, but has yet to try the spray; he reasons that it should be good for a 9.80. Helping achieve these impressive track numbers are the car's 3.73 gear, spool, M/T drag radials (coupled with skinnies up front), a drag strip-oriented rework of the front and rear suspensions, and a 4000-stall Yank converter.
"With the new (engine) build, I consulted back and forth with Yank and came up with this converter," Hamilton said. "It hits hard and gives good 60-foot times; it's nice to drive and works awesome at the track." With this converter and plenty of displacement, Hamilton says the car is fine to drive on the street, despite the spool and the aggressive cam. "Don't get me wrong, it is racy. It's no Cadillac."
The new block still uses the heads that the original owner installed (with a little extra porting work), and it runs the stock ECU. Plans for upgraded heads, a standalone ECU, and a reworked intake path occupy Hamilton's thoughts. "The foundation has a lot more potential left in it," he says. There's probably another 100 hp in those parts." While he gives his bank account a breather, he plans to run a local 10.20 true street class this summer. Meanwhile, the Camaro shares space with his 1989 Mustang LX that has just over 14,000 original miles. It's another of the more than 20 "toy" cars he's owned in his merely 30 years.
"I'm one of those fans of everything," Hamilton says. "If it's got balls, I'm cool with it." He doesn't think he'll ever part with that Mustang, and he thinks the Camaro is around to stay, at least for a while. "I used to buy and get rid of cars a lot and never held on to anything," he said. "I was always changing to make myself happier, and that wasn't always the case." Given all that he's done to this Camaro in just over a year of ownership, here's hoping he decides to enjoy the impressive results of his labor for a little while.
p front, skinny bias-ply M/T...
p front, skinny bias-ply M/T tires on Billet Specialties Street Lite 15x3.5-inch wheels announce the car's straight-line go-fast intentions. Baer rotors help bring things back under control.
A 1969 Z/28 emblem takes center...
A 1969 Z/28 emblem takes center stage at the rear of the car on the '69-style blacked-out tail panel, along with a Nickey Chevrolet logo (this is a Chicago-area car, after all). Note the matching Z/28 emblem on the fender. The M/T ET Street drag radials are 275/60-15s.
There's no way you could climb...
There's no way you could climb into this interior and not realize you were getting on board a seriously fast automobile. From the 6-point roll cage to the 5-point safety harnesses, Corbeau racing shells, and the absence of the rear seat, this cockpit lets you know the score. Replacement of the bulky airbag-equipped steering wheel with a Grant wheel was a weight-saving measure, intended to help offset the addition of heavier parts elsewhere.
The ultra-sano engine compartment...
The ultra-sano engine compartment reflects just how owner Larry Hamilton likes things--neat and clean, with everything in its place. Cleaning up under the hood was one of the first things he did after acquiring the car. "The car is not perfect, but I tried to make it as perfect as I could," Hamilton says. He believes that when people see the attention to detail in his car, it helps bring business to Speed Inc.
A Nitrous Outlet wet plate...
A Nitrous Outlet wet plate kit is a recent addition to the car--so much so that it hasn't yet been tested in conjunction with the new short-block. Hamilton says it's good for a 400hp shot, but he's starting with a 200 jet. Twin 255lph Walbro pumps ensure that the engine gets adequate fuel at all times.
The front view of Larry Hamilton's...
The front view of Larry Hamilton's LT1 Camaro shows off the multi-hued Mystic Teal paint, debadged nose, powdercoated black billet grille, and custom hood stripe. The hood stripe isn't actually black, Hamilton says; in bright light, it reveals a green tint that coordinates with the body color.
|Data File:|| 1997 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28|
|Owner:|| Larry Hamilton|
|Block:|| LT1, 396cid|
|Compression Ratio:|| 12.4:1|
|Heads:|| LT1, aluminum, milled to 46 cc and hand-ported, machined for 8mm LS1 valve guides|
|Cam:|| Lloyd Elliott hydraulic roller, 245/253 duration at .050, .573/.573-inch lift, 105 degree centerline|
|Valve Springs:|| Patriot Xtreme Dual Springs|
|Valves:|| GM LS6 2.00/1.55|
|Rocker Arms:|| Steel, 1.6 ratio|
|Pistons:|| SRP coated|
|Rings:|| Diamond Plasma Moly|
|Rods:|| Eagle H-beam|
|Main Caps:|| Callies billet 4-bolt|
|Throttle Body:|| BBK 58mm|
|Fuel Pump:|| Twin Walbro 255lph pumps|
|Injectors:|| SVO 42 lbs/hr|
|Ignition:|| Mallory 685 box, Taylor wires, NGK TR7 plugs|
|Exhaust:|| LPP SS 1 3/4 to 1 7/8 x 3-inch long-tube headers, off road Y-pipe, 4-inch catback, Magnaflow muffler|
|Engine Management:|| Stock ECU, tuned by Jim Moran of Speed Inc.|
|Nitrous:|| Nitrous Outlet wet plate kit, single-stage 200 hp|
|Transmission:|| GM 4L60E, built by Finish Line Transmission|
|Converter:|| Yank Super Stock 4000-stall|
|Driveshaft:|| Strange 3-inch chrome moly|
|Rear End:|| Strange S60, 3.73 gear, spool, 35-spline axles|
|Front Suspension:|| Stock upper/UMI lower control arms, QA1 coilovers, polyurethane bushings, UMI K-member, custom power steering relocation kit|
|Rear Suspension:|| BMR lower control arms, stock cut springs, QA1 shocks, BMR Xtreme Drag sway bars, Spohn torque arm|
|Wheels:||Billet Specialties Street Lite 15 x 3.5 front, 15 x 10 rear|
|Tires:|| M/T Sportsman 26x7.5x15 front, M/T ET Street drag radials 275/60/15 rear|
|Best ET/mph:|| 10.89/123|
|Best 60-foot:|| 1.45|
|Current Mileage:|| 90,000|