When we picked up our super-sano 2001 Camaro Z28 project car for 7,500 bucks we were pretty stoked. The downside to the affordable price was that the car had over 110,000 miles on the clock, and even though the owner had babied the car, there were a few small oil leaks and the clutch was getting sort of "iffy." Back when the Z was new, it was rated at 310 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque at the crank. Many people, including us, have found those numbers to be on the conservative side. When we strapped our ride to the dyno at K&N Filters, we were pretty happy with the 322 hp and 341 pounds of twist reaching our rear wheels. After doing a K&N filter and adding in some SCT programming, those numbers were ratcheted up to 334 hp and 353 lb-ft. The problem was, we wanted a little more.
Now, if this was a classic Camaro we could easily launch the power numbers into low Earth orbit, but we're talking a newer ride in one of the toughest emission states around: California. Here in sunny SoCal, all cars newer than a '75 have to run through a sniff test every two years. They also have to pass a visual inspection, and added parts such as headers and air intakes need to have a sticker showing they have been certified by the California Air Resources Board, affectionately referred to as CARB (and un-affectionately known by several other unprintable names). Toss on a set of long tubes and you'll fail the visual. Stick in too lumpy of a cam and you'll set off alarms on the sniff test. Needless to say, have discrepancies in either aspect of the test, and you'll incur the wrath of California's bloated bureaucracy.
Our solution was to see what we could do while working within the rules. We would up the cam duration just a touch and increase the lift to better suit a pair of ported GM heads. By increasing the cam size and improving the head flow, our LS1 would make a bit more power. On the exhaust side, our only real option was installing some shorty JBA headers. These pipes have been given the CARB blessing and weigh much less than the cast-iron exhaust manifolds. They should also be worth a few ponies and they look a whole lot better.
Getting the engine out of the Camaro would also let us replace some of the seals and gaskets that had started to seep. We additionally felt this would be the perfect time to swap our tired GM clutch for a high-performance unit from Advanced Clutch Technologies (ACT). So, with parts in hand, we headed over to Don Lee Auto to see if we could infuse our Z28 project car with a bit more performance.
Look up the word cramped in...
Look up the word cramped in the dictionary and there just might be a picture of a fourth-gen's engine bay. It's made even worse by GM's decision to shove a third of the engine under the windshield. Our particular 5.7L LS1 ran pretty good even with 110,000 miles on the odometer, but it had a couple of oil leaks and we wanted just a bit more horsepower.
Sure, you can do a heads and...
Sure, you can do a heads and cam swap from the topside, but since we were also replacing a leaky rack, seeping rear main, and installing a new clutch, we decided to drop the engine out of the car. After all, this is how GM puts it into place at the factory. By going this route, we didn't need to pull the radiator, nose, or a lot of other parts. Total time to drop it out was about an hour.
With the cam in place, we...
With the cam in place, we re-installed the sprocket and chain. We had an extra LS2 timing chain lying around, so we tossed it on in place of the slightly stretched-out original chain. If you are doing this type of swap on a high-mileage engine, then it's wise to spend a few bucks on a good replacement chain.