Not wanting to follow the conventional paths of COPO Camaro ownership that find the rare car huddled in a collector’s garage or racing in NHRA’s tightly controlled Super Stock class, the septuagenarian owner of this 2013 COPO wanted to go outlaw.
“He’s 70 years old and didn’t want to learn NHRA-style racing at his age,” explains Todd Patterson of Kansas-based Patterson-Elite Performance where the car’s power and chassis upgrades were completed. “He wanted a more exciting outlet. He wanted to go faster.”
The car originally came with a 427 cubic-inch naturally aspirated engine.
“You couldn’t buy a blown COPO that year, so he decided to do it on his own,” recalls Patterson. “He didn’t care about originality.”
The first shop he tried suggested adding a 4.0-liter Whipple supercharger. Problem was, the shop didn’t change out the 14.5:1 pistons or beef up the aluminum block, and within two runs on the track the bearings were knocked out.
He got disenchanted and put the car in a barn for two years,” says Patterson. “Then he brought the car to us and, again, said he wanted to go faster. We told him about the 350 cubic-inch supercharged engines we built for Factory Showdown racing. He wanted a blown 427 and he also wanted to use the 4.0 Whipple blower because of money already invested.”
There were restrictions, of course, with transforming the COPO Camaro–which is delivered from GM with numerous racing features, such as a fuel cell, hand-built engine and multi-link rear suspension–into an outlaw ready to run in no-rules competition.
We wanted to keep it simple and use off-shelf parts.–Todd Patterson, Patterson-Elite
Small-tire racing is all the rage these days with numerous radial tire races and “no-prep” challenges around the country. And the owner wasn’t opposed to meeting up with locals on a back road to lay down some rubber.
The aluminum block that came with the LS7 was discarded in favor of an iron LSX block. The new strategy was to build a stout, easy-to-maintain long-block for the Whipple. The LSX block was a sound choice as it offers 6-bolt-per-cylinder head-bolt pattern and a very robust bottom end. Patterson-Elite bored and honed the new block out to 4.125-inch and added ARP main and head studs.
“We wanted a good cylinder block because we were building quite a bit of boost,” adds Patterson.
In gathering parts for the engine, Patterson leveraged past performance builds with numerous COPO Camaro projects.
“We wanted to keep it simple and use ‘off-the-shelf’ parts, those that we’re familiar with,” says Patterson. “So that as you cycle parts through the engine you’re not waiting on custom pieces.”
For example, even though Patterson ordered a Winberg billet crankshaft, he kept the bearing dimensions stock.
“That way we could use a standard off-the-shelf rod,” says Patterson.
Cam selection was motivated by ease of maintenance.
“We went with a Bullet hydraulic roller because the customer didn’t want to pull the valve covers after every run,” says Patterson. “We do use GM tie-bar-style lifters that we modify heavily to take most of the bleed out so they operate almost like a solid lifter.”
“The head still uses a pedestal-style rocker, so we didn’t have to put together a shaft system,” adds Patterson.
Lubrication was also kept simple, utilizing a stock-style Melling high-volume oil pump and installing a 7-quart Stef’s pan designed to fit the COPO chassis.
“We didn’t go with a dry sump because of cost and packaging concerns,” says Patterson.
“Even with the amount of boost, we felt the MLS gasket would work and we wouldn’t have to O-ring the block and put a receiver groove in the head,” says Patterson.
The Whipple supercharger comes with an intake manifold and internal intercooler. The belt drive was improved with a billet tensioner from American Racing Solutions and a special Gates ribbed belt. Patterson installed Siemans 80-pound injectors that flow VP Racing C25 gas. Spark is provided by MSD coils. Fuel and ignition are controlled with a Holley HP ECU.
On the dyno the engine topped out at 1,213.7 horsepower at 7,400 rpm, making more than 1,100 horsepower from 5,900 up to the redline at 7,600 RPM. Boost was set at 17 pounds, so there’s potential for more power with a pulley change.
Taking that power to the rear axle is a Reactor flexplate, 10-inch Coan torque converter and Coan 3-speed Big Dog 400 XLT transmission with a 1.77:1 low gear and transbrake. It’s controlled with a Precision Performance Products shifter and an Advanced Control Devices shift control.
The factory rear end also needed some beefing up with a new Strange center section and 40-spline axles.
Most of the chassis modifications follow the Patterson-Elite formula for setting up a COPO to race in the Factory Showdown. PRS-Penske shocks are added in the rear, which require new upper mounts. The Penske shock is a dual-Heim arrangement, so proper brackets have to be fabricated and bolted in place. The shop also installs suspension sensors that are fed into a RacePak data logger. Finally, Lamb brakes were installed at all four corners, and the front bushings were upgraded to help reduce vibration during shutdown.
Attention then turned to tires.
“10.5-inch is all we can get on the stock axle,” says Patterson. “The COPO originally comes with a 9-inch tire on a 10.25-inch wide wheel. We go to an 11-inch wheel but the critical issue is backspacing to get the tire to fit.”
As a 427 naturally aspirated car, it’s best time would have been in the 9.70 or 9.60 range.
“It’s already going a full second faster,” confirms Patterson, noting that much of the post-transformation action has been on no-prep, back-country surfaces where conditions for tuning for quick ET isn’t ideal. “He wanted to run in the eights, possibly low eights. He didn’t care about originality.”