1980 Chevy Camaro Z28 – Exit Strategy

You know the story. You’ve heard it here a hundred times before. Always remembering that one man’s erotica is another man’s ennui (boredom), Bill invariably prefers the late-second-gen Chevy Camaro Z28 (’78- 81). “I like the look of the soft bumpers, the size and proportion of the car, and the body lines,” he says. Could there be more to it than that? Probably. “Over the years,” reminded Bill, “I’ve owned four second-gen Camaros.”

What does Bill think is the most unique feature of his ’80 F-body? “I wanted a big-block but also wanted to be different and bigger than the norm. The GM Performance Parts 720R was the biggest crate available, but since then I’ve had the engine gone through.” Yes, for additional grunt. What’s an engine if you don’t modify it? Isn’t that the one thing that hot rodders can’t ever quit?

And that’s why there has been more than one memorable experience with the Z28. At a show last year, Bill heard over the PA system that’s his car had tied for First Place. Then, in typical carnival convolution, someone flipped a coin to decide the winner, and instantly Bill became a runner-up. It was getting late. He got in his car. As he was pulling out, over his shoulder he saw two of the judges scrambling after him. They were holding a 3-foot-tall trophy. They told him that his car was voted Best of Show. “I had the biggest smile on my face for the rest of the day,” Bill crooned.

Bill took the Z28 from his brother in 1994, its black paint faded to dust, its albino interior little more than a skuzzy, fuzzy memory. Time screeched along. A year later, Bill went to Fortney’s Body Shop. A couple of months after the fact, Bill Fortney had the Z28 decked out in Mazda Blaze Red. “To this day,” crowed Bill, “it still has that same paintjob that cost me $1,200.” And if that paintjob locks the Z28 into a permanent time capsule … so what? We all have to be somewhere.

Time continued to screech along, years actually. It extracted more from Bill than he realized. Between the hours he lavished on the Z and time needed to run his Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, restaurant, his main spring popped. But after a 3-year hiatus, his motivation and enthusiasm rallied. He looked at the Camaro in a different light. It turned his cogs. Since the 350 original, Bill had chopped through a couple of 383s and had been thinking seriously about a 454 when the vision vibed him just before dawn: Get a 572, the big-boy 572R. So he did. He made the basic changes to the chassis, cooling, and drivetrain to accommodate that high-compression apocalypse and drove it sparingly for three more years. Then wayward lifters took out the cam and prompted an immediate engine teardown.

Bill went to Kriner’s Racing Engines in Chambersburg. Bill went to G-Force Design Concepts in Chambersburg. The theme: Let’s build a bigger mountain. That time frame brings us current. Kriner’s balanced and blueprinted the new combination, which they based on the original steel crankshaft, connecting rods, and forged 12.0:1 pistons. The Lunati custom roller brings 309/317 degrees duration at 0.050; lift for both valves is 0.730 inch. Cam and kit were set with Cloyes double-roller timing gear and sealed with a stock front cover. The solid rollers are Iskenderian. Pushrods are Manley. Kriner’s closed off the nether end with a GMPP 8-quart sump and Melling pump.

The rectangular port cylinder heads possess 118cc combustion chambers, 2.25/1.88 stainless valves, and 113cc intake ports, but were not modified beyond the factory effort. Jesel shaft rockers streamline the system and provide a 1.7:1 ratio. Kriner’s built the rest of the job with the single-plane intake manifold indigenous to the 720R, a 1,200-cfm Pro Series 4500 carburetor, Magnafuel pump, Moroso sheetmetal rocker covers, MSD Digital 6AL box on the “stock” distributor, and 2¼-inch Lemons ceramic-coated primaries. The exhaust system was continued in-car by the Booze Brothers in Marion, Pennsylvania, who built a whopping 4-inch diameter tract that runs through an X-pipe and Bassani race mufflers. The engine also wears Jones Racing Products pulleys, CSR thermostat housing, Meziere water pump and overflow tank, and a 160-amp Powermaster alternator. Hronis got a leg up on cooling the porcine Rat with a Ron Davis aluminum core and a couple of thermostatically controlled fans. Issue from this combination is estimated at 850 hp at 6,400 rpm and 700 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. Harnessing those beastie boys is the province of a Coan Turbo 400 fixed with a manual valvebody and a Neal Chance 4,800-rpm converter. Grunt wraps around the Dynotech prop shaft. End of the line is a narrowed 12-bolt with 33-spline axles, 4.11:1 gears, and Eaton True Trac differential.

G-Force made a proper home for the motor by reinforcing the chassis with a custom Bill Smith 10-point rollcage and DSE frame connectors. DSE mini-tubs also add rigidity and make a home for the foot-wide wheels. The setup is deceptively simple: refurbished stock control arms capture Moroso Trick springs with a 2-inch drop and Calvert Racing 90/10-valved shocks. To minimize unsprung mass and increase clamping power, G-Force included 11-inch SSBC discs with two-piston calipers. The original antisway bar was trashed. Cal-Tracs bars with mono-leaf springs (with DSE hangers) and adjustable QA1 shocks establish the rear suspension, clean, easy and nearly frictionless. Brakes are OE drums. Modern 15×4 and 15×12 Centerline Qualifier hoops are crowded with narrow M/T 26×7.50 Sportsman Fronts and bulbous 325/50 ET Street Radials.

The work area is factory-neat, compact and even cozy once Bill’s shrugged into the Kirkey race seat and harness, and there’s strong organization in the straight, succinct dashpanel holding a slew of Auto Meter Ultra-Lites. G-Force continued, subbing an A.R.T. switch panel where the radio once fit. Helman’s Upholstery in Chambersburg dissected then narrowed the bench seat so it would fit nonchalant between the big tubbies. Bill wraps his digits around a Grant Signature Series tiller and changes up with a Hurst Quarter-Stick. Gene Fortney did the bodywork and blew on the DuPont Blaze Red basecoat and clearcoat. The body is steel except for the Glasstek Outlaw hood with a 6-inch rise. Brad Decker did the powdercoating.

And then there are those who work behind the curtain. Before we go, Bill thanks “parts guy” John Martin and friend/helper Dave Mickey. And finally, Bill: “I look forward to going into my garage after I close up the restaurant. I sit in my chair and stare at my Camaro. I always say that I am done with it, but is it really ever done? That’s what keeps me motivated.”

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