2001 Chevy Camaro Project Car Paint Job - The Sti Killer
A Meet And Greet With Our Newest Project Car And An Insiders' Look At Paint And Body
From the January, 2010 issue of GM High-Tech Performance
By Justin Cesler
There is nothing quite like...
There is nothing quite like embarking on a new project. You feel the excitement of starting something new, the rush of building your own dream car, with fresh paint and killer parts, the thrill of stepping on the throttle for the first time.
As you scour the internet and local trader magazines, you begin to feel like you already own your dream ride. Stories of "how cool would it be" become statements of "you just wait 'till" and your once-sought-after parts start to seem like they may not be enough after all. You start thinking about upgrading the motor a little more, maybe adding a new rear gear, and stepping up to some sticky tires. Oh, but that means an upgraded transmission, which isn't so bad because you saw some real good deals online last night. Maybe you could get your buddy to paint it, some really cool color like a new Z06, that would be awesome. And then, like a shining star, you find the right car. You can't sleep the night before, as you can already picture getting started on the build.
Inevitably, about 30 minutes before putting the car on the trailer to take it home, you realize that you don't actually have 50K in the bank. In fact, you barely even have 50 cents. And with the current economy, you surely can't bet on anything these days, let alone a raise (although, I was promised "magazine riches" when I took this job. I guess they come later?). So, what's a guy to do? Pack up and forget about the dream? No. That would be a terrible choice. You have to do what any (ir)responsible adult would do; barter, beg, borrow, and steal. You have to make this work on a budget, because in the words of Stuart Smalley "I'm good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." Plus, in this particular case, I literally have to do it, since we already allotted edit room for it!
This is, admittedly, the best...
This is, admittedly, the best angle of our sorry-looking '01 SS. We managed to pick it up off the internet for under $1,500, which was a fair deal for a roller in this condition. The rear had been hit and repaired, but other than that, the body was pretty straight. That is a real SS hood, which we ended up selling to help fund our paint project.
So, like those before us, we ended up buying the best car we could afford, which happened to be an '01 SS with a salvaged title, no drivetrain, no interior, and three different color body panels. Perfect. Of course, when you buy something like this, you can't really complain and luckily, it was exactly what the seller said it was going to be. We loaded it up (in the pouring rain) and headed home; ready to see where we really stood and start building something special. The question now, with our smaller and more realistic budget was what do we build? We could do another drag build, maybe a budget 10-second street car that could stomp on the local Mustangs as well as drive to work. While certainly affordable and awesome, I needed to go down a different road with this particular SS. Then, one night while browsing the internet I ran across an all too familiar thread involving import car owners bashing on "dumbestics" for having terrible handling and basically being "old piles of junk that still ride like they are on wooden wagon wheels." And with that, its fate was sealed.
Over the course of the next several issues, we will be turning our SS into a total road course domination machine. Our sights are set on a particular Subaru STi, which has been quietly dominating the other office-based domestics at the local autocross. The STi is a fair competitor, as it ships from Japan with a 2.5L turbo boxer motor, variable all-wheel drive, big Brembo brakes, sticky tires, and a nice, driver-friendly cockpit. With it in our sights, we set some goals. The STi Killer, as it is now known, will have to be faster on an autocross course, a road course, and a dragstrip. We will have to get better gas mileage, out brake, and out accelerate it. The STi Killer has to be better in every way, for less than the price of a used 2006 Subaru STi, which as of this writing is $24,690. Not stopping there, we want to lop off the heads of every C5 and C6 Corvette we can find and take all of the BMW M3s and Porsche Turbos with them. It may sound crazy, but we have a solid game plan and one of GM's finest platforms to build from. So, tell your import buddies we're coming for them and they better be ready.
On most 4th-generation F-bodies,...
On most 4th-generation F-bodies, this is a common occurrence. Looking at the front fender from behind the door, you can see a large gap and an awkward, outward bulge. This is caused by incorrect jack/lift placement on the undercarriage, which bends the mounting tab and ruins the lines of the front end. The image on the left is what we started with and on the right is our fixed positioning.
With the clock ticking and our SS finally in the shop, it was time to start tearing it down and get it ready for the track. We decided our first step would be to get our SS looking good, since a multi-colored F-body with no hood and salad shooters doesn't exactly carry the same clout as a freshly painted German sports car. I know what you're thinking, if this a budget car, why not paint it yourself? Well, the answer is simple: we would completely ruin it. I am, what some may call, challenged, when it comes to painting anything. Sure, I went to art school and that should help but, truth be told, I am not capable of spray-painting an emblem, let alone an entire car. Plus, after adding up the costs involved in buying a compressor, paint gun, suit, and mask, then figuring out where to paint it and constructing a somewhat safe spray booth with fans, we would basically break even on cost. Of course, we still needed to do this job under budget and that meant doing the bulk of the prep by ourselves and buying quality supplies at a low price.
That last part used to be difficult to do. Luckily for us enthusiasts, Summit Racing saw the need for an affordable paint system and, in working with quality suppliers, is now able to offer a ton of great choices and accessories. We gave them a call and ordered a ton of product, the crowning jewel of which is an acrylic urethane paint called "Gray Metallic." Summit tells us that the acrylic urethane paints are much more advanced than regular enamel-based paints and offer exceptional durability. These paints are designed to be used as a single stage, but allow the use of a matching urethane clear that will really enhance both the gloss and durability of the basecoat. It didn't take much time on the phone with Summit Racing to convince us and we ended up ordering almost everything we needed right from one place, which saved both time and money.
From underneath, you can see...
From underneath, you can see the result of an improperly jacked Camaro. The tab is the primary mounting location for the lower part of the front fender and when bent, pushes it outward. We were able to grab it with a channel lock and pull it back to roughly the right position. This immediately improved the look of our body and helped keep us motivated.
Supplies in hand, we decided a road-racer needs to have some aggressive looks, so we called up VFN Fiberglass and ordered one of its gorgeous Sunoco hoods, sans bodyline. This hood, which is offered in both pin-on and bolt-on styles, not only looks phenomenal, but it offers a substantial weight savings over our old SS hood. Our next call was to Mark DeLisle of 6 LiterEater Designs, to order one of his slick front splitters and, brand new, dual exhaust rear valance covers. With the splitter, we are hoping to see an increase in front end stabilization, but even if it does nothing, it looks way too awesome not to have. His rear valance will really help set off the rear and provide a nice home for whatever exhaust tips we end up with. To finish off the rear, we called up Steven Woods at Hawks Third Generation, to order a replica SS spoiler and a couple of used mirrors. Finding an OEM spoiler was almost impossible and carried a four-digit price tag, so the sub-$300 SS replica was a no-brainer. With those cosmetics on order, we were ready to get started, until we saw the new tubular front bumper supports offered by Burkhart Chassis. A quick call to Steve Burger was all it took and we had a support on the way. Besides the obvious weight savings over the stock crash bar and foam, this new piece will also serve as a mounting point for future oil coolers and accessories, which would not be possible using the stock piece.
Since we plan on racing this...
Since we plan on racing this car quite extensively, we decided to ditch a lot of the extra weight that a normal Camaro carries around. To do this, we started by removing the front bumper to gain access to all of the "extra accessories." The bumper is held on by three bolts on the underside (seen on the left), and one bolt up in the engine bay (on the right). Once these were removed, we unclipped the top of the bumper from the support and pulled it out of the way.
A couple of days later, we had all of our parts in house and it was time to get going. We immediately bolted up the VFN hood and Hawks SS spoiler and we were impressed. The fit and finish was exceptional and the added style really put our SS on the next level. Amazingly, they needed almost no bodywork to fit properly, which is rare for any aftermarket body parts. Our 6LE splitter and DE valance were both excellent and our Burkhart tubular support looked all business. But, we still needed a quality bodyman to help us paint the car and fix some little issues it had. As luck would have it, we happened to meet one when we first bought the car. After a little convincing, Robby Novak of North Deland Auto Body set up a delivery date and gave us an amazing estimate. After seeing some of his past work, we knew he was perfect for the job and we told him we would be there. Follow along with us as we go from a complete mess to a gorgeous Camaro in just a couple of week's worth of work.
Here you can see what the...
Here you can see what the front bumper hid beneath it. That giant crash bar (foam piece) weighs a ton and takes up a lot of valuable space, so it had to go. The big leaf collector didn't weigh much, but we wouldn't need it either, so it was removed. Notice the lack of foglights and horns, as those were also deemed unnecessary. As you disassemble everything, try to label what went where. We used labeled Ziploc bags (OK, fine, they were borrowed UPS shipping envelopes from the mail room) to hold the bolts and borrowed shipping tape to wrap around the wiring harness labels.
Burkhart Chassis has developed...
Burkhart Chassis has developed this tubular front bumper support, which is a bolt-on piece to replace all of that junk in the nose of our Camaro. This piece is all TIG welded chrome-moly, which is NHRA-certified to hold a front-mount fuel cell and shipped to us for under $250. Not only does this take a ton of weight off the nose of our car, but it freed up room for a couple of new accessories, which you will see in a later installment.
With the front bumper removed,...
With the front bumper removed, we made our way to the back and pulled the rear off. This is held on by a couple of pushpins and some sneaky underside pins. Take your time and make sure you get all of them off before pulling too hard on the back bumper.
With it removed, we could...
With it removed, we could see exactly what we were working with. The rear "eggshell" support looked heavy and useless for our application, so it was later removed.
With the body completely stripped,...
With the body completely stripped, we pushed it outside to begin cleaning it. Our car had sat for a while and had collected quite the impressive leaf collection. It is important to get everything out of the little cracks and crevices, as to not ruin your paintjob in mid-application. This is also a good time to make any final changes to your bodywork plan.
Not 5 minutes after arriving...
Not 5 minutes after arriving at North Deland Auto Body, Robby Novak had already started spraying down our car with Purple Power, to prep it for pressure washing. Even though we had cleaned it at the shop, it needed to be resprayed and thoroughly checked before he began working on it. Having removed all of the trim pieces and weatherstripping ourselves helped save us money (and Robby time), which is always a good thing.