Camaro Chronicles: A Third-Gen Built In Stages

Who says that Chevrolet’s third-generation Camaro is not worthy of being respected? If that’s you, be careful of where you’re standing when you say it. That being said, Jesse Jennings currently resides in Reno, Nevada, so you have been warned.

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Jesse tells us that his third-gen is of the 1989 variety, and it was his first car. He purchased it with the money he earned while delivering pizzas after school. The RS was originally outfitted with a T5 five-speed transmission, and a very anemic, emission-strangled 305 cubic-inch small-block.

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The 355 cubic-inch engine. Things didn’t go as planned.

That combination was definitely not conducive for drag racing, but if history has taught any of us anything, the absence of horsepower in a young man’s introductory vehicle is not always a bad thing.

But, like any young man with a car, the stock components were not to remain. Jesse let us know, “My first upgrade was to put Vortec heads on it. The valves were small enough, so they fit the 305’s small cylinder bores. I did have to mill the heads to keep the compression up. I also installed a used Edelbrock Performer RPM intake, Crane roller rockers, and a 650 or 750 cfm carburetor. I think the best 1/4-mile time with that set up was around 14.15 seconds.”

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Jesse doesn’t remember why, but he eventually pulled that engine out of the car, and put together a 355 cubic-inch short-block, using high-school-budget cast-iron rotating parts, and hypereutectic pistons. His budget meant that he reused the top end from the 305ci engine. According to Jesse, “It didn’t take very long — probably less than 5,000 miles, and the engine dropped a valve. That little mishap destroyed the block, damaged a cylinder head, bent a connecting rod, and destroyed a piston.” That was the last straw, as Jesse decided to step it up, and build something that could take any abuse he could dish out.

Sticking with a small-block, Jesse located a 400 cubic-inch block, had the cylinders opened .030-inch, and added a forged crankshaft with a 3.8 inches of throw. When assembled, the Eagle 4340 crankshaft, Scat H-beam connecting rods, and the SRP forged-pistons create large 412 cubic-inches of small-block displacement.

He also acquired a set of AFR 220-series aluminum heads, and added a Super Victor intake and an 850 cfm Demon carburetor. With this combination in front of the T5 transmission and 10-bolt rearend, Jesse’s Camaro delivered low 11-second 1/4-mile times, at around 128 mph.

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Eventually, the manual transmission was removed, and a Turbo 350 and a Moser rearend with 4.11 gears were installed. With those changes, the car’s 1/4-mile times decreased immensely, and traveled the strip in 10.80 seconds at 126 mph. Like many racers, it didn’t take long, and he was not content with the combination as it was. Jesse located and installed a set of 227-series AFR cylinder heads that have a smaller chamber than the 220s. This bumped the engine’s compression ratio from 11.5:1 to around 13.5:1. You guessed it, he now has to run race fuel. He also replaced the 850 cfm Demon with a 1050 cfm carburetor from Pro-Systems. It wasn’t long after this, and you guessed it, more upgrades were needed.

Those upgrades included the addition of nitrous oxide, a custom-ground camshaft from Dougherty Racing, and the replacement of the Turbo 350 with a Powerglide. According to Jesse, “So far the car runs consistent 1/4-mile times of 9.20 seconds at around 148 mph. Impressive as that is, the car is running the stock-style suspension that features parts from Wolfe Racecraft, Jegs, Moroso, and Lakewood.

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When we asked Jesse what was next on the list of upgrades for his Camaro, he told us, “I’m currently piecing together a big-block, and that’s pretty much the only thing in the works.” Knowing that Jesse has no plans to travel slower, we can’t wait to see how well the car runs with the new propulsion unit.

About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
Read My Articles

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