Gramps always said, "You get what you pay for," and more often than not, the curmudgeon was probably right. But getting great street performance out of an inexpensive performance car shouldn't be like squeezing water from a rock. That said, for pennies on the dollar (and a little grease on the knuckles), we've set out to make a used Fourth-Gen Z28 an everyman's road rocket.
In the first part of this series, we'll be installing some basic, modestly priced aftermarket suspension components. Compliments of Tokico and Granatelli Motor Sports, our parts list includes four shocks and springs, a front shock tower brace, g-load brace and driveshaft loop, and tubular rear lower control arms. We'll also be replacing the factory 16x7 alloy wheels and 245/50ZR16 tires with OE Concepts 18x8.5 C-6R Corvette-modeled wheels and Bridgestone Potenza S-03 255/40ZR18 tires. Installation was performed courtesy of Muscle Cars USA. Trusty MCUSA techs Jose Avina and Thom Trafford turned the wrenches for us.
Before we loosened a single nut, here is the baseline: One not-so-brand-new '97 Camaro Z28 (last production year of the LT1 engine) with 68,000 miles; purchase price: $9,900. As tested, best 70-foot slalom and 200-foot skidpad results were 6.50 sec/44.1 mph and 12.42 sec/0.80g, respectively.
We can safely say that on track day we were ecstatic at the difference our modest changes had made. Slalom results jumped to 6.22/46.3mph and skidpad numbers to 11.98/0.87g. The car is still comfortable to drive, but now the ride has a sportier feel. Cornering has progressed from manageable to impressively crisp and flat. Inside wheel lift on cornering has been virtually eliminated, which in itself is impressive on our open-differential Z28. Well, Grandpa may have known a thing or two about pipe tobacco quality, but he didn't know Z about performance handling. For less than three-and-a-half K we got almost a full g in return, and cornering power equals the performance of many sports cars that cost three times as much. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Gramps!