There’s this cat in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Tommy Zondervan. A young guy with young ideas and what surely looks like the stones to back them up. Now that’s the chutzpah what we like to see in any endeavor.
So the new Camaro was set for a May ’09 release. Z pre-ordered a hood so he could be the first to market with a ram-air version. The Camaro finally came to life and within a few months Z came up with a chin spoiler, new emblems, rear diffuser, and even a smiley grille. He built a few cars for customers and then one for ’09 SEMA that featured several innovations for the fifth-gen market.
Zondervan was among those chosen by the Chevrolet Image Vehicle Team. His task was to design and build an ’11 Camaro SS/RS for the ’10 SEMA convention. This concept had to be different from all others, no slicks or cowl hood. It had to be a sleeper. Though a Mary Kay-pink Camaro concept probably wouldn’t lift an eyebrow, Z knew that his approach should be decidedly un-racy, upstanding rather than menacing, but altogether knock your socks off with its pancake hood and sleek, subdued lines.
“I wanted [the car] to really stand out and help Chevrolet gain more interest from consumers that do not think of the Camaro as a high-end sports car. This was the objective of the build. After talking with our team at Revolution, we decided to build the ultimate super Camaro,” said Z, just slightly out of breath. In this world of “hurry up and wait” the car was assembled in just eight days and “finished” about 72 hours before its Vegas debut.
The egg ready to be hard-boiled was an active fuel management L99 6.2-liter and the rush on the engine was a big one. Z wanted 1,000-flywheel horsepower and maybe he nearly got it. He farmed the work out to Victory Racing Engines in Detroit where the Victory crew assembled and developed the first top-mount twin-turbocharger package. The Turbonetics 63mm turbochargers push charge air through a Vibrant Performance intercooler core and operate with a maximum of 8 psi positive manifold pressure.
The machine work done at PSA Performance incorporated some real parts in the bottom end: cast crank swapped for Callies steel, hypereutectic slugs changed to slick Diamond 9.5:1 forgings (stock CR is 10.4:1), and Howards H-beam connecting rods. PSA equalized cylinder head runners, ports, and bowls via ubiquitous CNC but all hardware is original equipment. A Howards hydraulic roller, retainers, and springs work with Diamond pushrods. The fuel system collects around an OE LS3 intake manifold and a dual fuel pump unit from a ZR1 Corvette.
While Stainless Works supplied the basic material, Victory walked hand-in-hand with Revolution to develop a prototype that would keep tract length short thus exhaust velocity up. The primary pipes are 17/8 inches that blend into a 3-inch terminus and are fitted with flanges for the turbocharger. The 3-inch stainless system is all MagnaFlow that terminates in a pair of wicked looking four-stack stainless finishers. The custom engine cover is a Revolution perk; the engine dress-up is billet from Trent’s Trick Upholstery. When it was all done, no one bothered to test the enchilada, but Z feels that it’s worth 800 hp and 860 lb-ft at the wheels. Before the crate left for SEMA, PSA’s Cam and Mike tuned it to a velvet hammer.
With that much grunt ready to seethe, you would think that the drivetrain might be appreciative of a little moxie too. Well, maybe later. For now, the 6L80 six-speed automatic is having too much fun to worry about something as silly as staying intact. Same goes for the axle; it maintains 3.45:1 gears, a positive traction differential, and the OE halfshafts and ends. The truth on this, we surmise, is the power of the cosmetics. The XS Concept Camaro is a call-out, an advertising tool that gets its point across just sitting still.
Though a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the stance of the vehicle in that it has to be just so, the viewer either re-creates what he sees or goes with what’s in front of him. In the 2010 debut, the XS concept was outfitted with an Air Lift suspension and the benefit of unlimited altitude adjustments, but now the car simply settles 1½ inches lower on Pfadt Race Engineering coilovers, “mainly for track use.” Front and rear antisway bars are also Pfadt improvements. The forged step-lip rollers are 20x9.5 and 20x11 USW forgings that Z designed and stubbed with 275/35 and 305/30 Pirelli P Zero tires.
“The exterior was the main location for change,” said Z. “Smoothing and changing emblem layout, building custom fenders, a custom grille and surround, adding a flat hood, and eliminating the cowl induction area has given the car a whole new look, much more European and refined. The most unique thing is probably the paint. I chose this color because it was very classy and very retro. A similar color was used on the ’68-69 Yenko Camaros as well as the new Bentley GT [along with a zillion mundane ’70s and ’80s Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs], so I knew it would stand out.”
Z says that OE steel is good but that it’s thin. This means extra care must be taken when untoward heat (like welding) enters the equation. Surfaces change, angles change, tolerances shrink or separate. To achieve the look he wanted, Z had to build his prototypes from working sketches, several gallons of Bondo, and lively scraps of metal. That was more than a year ago. He’s built at least 20 vehicles for customers since.
Bodywork was done by Z and Revolution’s Mike Englehardt. Into its shape-shifted niche went the streamlined DJ Grilles XS Phantom insert. Then the production Revolution chin spoiler, deck spoiler, and rear diffuser. The door handles vanished. The bulky cowl disappeared. Z built a pancake hood of aluminum and he and Brent from Halo Super Cars in Benton Harbor, Michigan, figured out how to make it open from the rear and make the front of the car absolutely flat. Jason Burns applied the BASF Antique Gold in marathon-style with only hours left before the car and crew were Vegas-bound.
Down the road, Z will include Euro-spec taillights and rear fascia. It comes as no surprise that a year later at the ’11 SEMA show, The Revolution Styling team took the Best New Vehicle, Exterior Design award from Chevrolet for another turbocharged blood-red 2011 Camaro convertible.
If the car has a failing, admits Tommy, it’s that he didn’t spend enough time on the interior design. By his word, the interior doesn’t exactly vibrate a khaki mystique. Big George at Stitch Alley in Holland, Michigan, did the best in the time allotted, fitting up the Roadwire Custom Interiors (purveyor to several OE manufacturers) leather and Alcantara ensemble. Todd at Advanced Performance Interiors made sure the kit came out exactly as designed. Edge Performance offered its CTS monitoring system that allows the driver to scan all mechanical inputs on the touch-screen unit. If you hear that rave in the other room, it’s coming from a Pioneer App radio head unit and it’s coming out of three Orion XTR amplifiers, 6.5-inch and 6x9 speakers, and a pair of 12-inch XTR 12 subwoofers. Ron Williams of Detroit fabbed up the custom fiberglass enclosures that were finished and covered by Tommy and the Revolution crew.
Many hands are critical to a procedure like this, especially during the 72-hour SEMA thrash. Z gave props: “Mikey for staying there day and night with me all week, scuffing, wet-sanding, and polishing. Jason for painting the entire car in about 10 hours. Mark, Brent, and Mike from Halo Super Cars for helping assemble and finish the car in the final 14 grueling hours. Dean, Jody, Denny, and even my father for helping put it all back together and making the late-night parts runs. My fiancé was a peach. She dealt with my zombie sleeplessness and cranky attitude, packing lunches and even setting clothes out for me for the week-long thrash. And lastly to Cam, Kevin, and Mike for getting it running smoother just hours before its SEMA debut.”