The Daily Camaro Goes Full Bolt Ons With Flowmaster

Full-bolt-ons, or FBO as it is sometimes referred to, is a modern colloquialism in the automotive community which describes a car’s modifications. Typically, it includes things like a full exhaust system, headers, cold air intake, intake manifold, and things of the like. Ultimately, it means just what it sounds like, all the modifications that can be “bolted on.”

For Street Muscle’s Daily Camaro, it meant teaming up with the folks at Flowmaster. We had been driving our bone stock 2010 Camaro SS/RS for a while, and it was a great commuter/weekend canyon carver. Save for the TurnOne power steering pump swap we did, it was relatively unmolested.

But, we always knew it was only a matter of time before we started tinkering with it. It’s not like the fifth-gen’s warranty was still something to be worried about. Although, we did have a different reason for taking our time when it came to deciding upon a modification list – CARB. The California Air Resources Board is a “clean air agency” in the government of California that regulates the residents of California’s ability to modify their vehicle’s emissions. This all started back in 1963 with the federal Clean Air Act, and it’s been snowballing ever since.

Without launching into a history lesson, we’ll just say, our options were limited, and we needed our Daily Camaro to comply with the aforementioned CARB legalities. As such, we started compiling a list of bolt-on parts that fall into that category. As one might imagine, that list is pretty short for those of us living in the Golden State. Still, there are some great companies producing viable parts for our Camaro.

That said, it’s important to note, these regulations change pretty often, so what we say here may not be true in just a few years. But at this time, our mod list adheres to the current regulations.

The Plan

The fifth generation Chevy Camaro has some of the best aftermarket support in the automotive industry. Being that ours is more than ten years old adds to that fact, and yet, with the limitations set upon our project by the California Air Resources Board, we had to enlist the help of the experts at Flowmaster. So, we called up our friend and all-around expert, Steve Sparkman – marketing manager and engineer for Flowmaster.

By now, Steve is no stranger to the fifth-gen Camaro. In fact, he’d taken part in several videos the company and its subsidiaries launched around the time our Camaro was fresh off the lot. So, he was all too familiar with our limitations and he made several suggestions.

First and foremost, we had to get the LS3 under the hood of our Camaro breathing better, (extra tidbit of information for those of you who aren’t familiar with the platform – fifth-gen Camaros that came equipped with a manual transmission from the factory were also equipped with the GM LS3 engine, and the auto variety got the L99. Both were developed specifically to be paired with their respective transmissions – the LS3 being the more powerful of the two.) Getting the LS3 to flow more air comes down to intake and exhaust flow.

Steve suggested we install a set of shorty headers and an accompanying cat-back exhaust system from the historic house of circulation that is Flowmaster.

Another way to eek some more horsepower out of our high-mileage daily driver was to increase the spark. Steve explained the benefits of upgrading our ignition coils, spark plug wires, and spark plugs with parts from MSD Ignition. While this might not necessarily be a conventional “bolt-on” upgrade, it would undoubtedly increase the performance of our LS3 and they did bolt right on…so, we’ll count it.

Now, at this point, most people would be considering the intake side of things. Unfortunately, the limited number of CARB-legal aftermarket intake manifolds that were once available for the LS3 and L99 are hard to come by and very expensive on the used market. Since we are planning on going with a forced-induction setup in the future (which is arguably a bolt-on upgrade anyway), we elected to forego the installation of an intake manifold or cold air intake. Although, Flowmaster does offer a cold air intake for the fifth-gen Camaro.

Instead, we spent that time we would have used on the intake, to install a Hurst short shifter. Again, this might not be on the list of conventional “bolt-on” upgrades, but it definitely increased the drivability of our aging Camaro. We complained to Steve about the sloppy shifting feedback we’d been getting while rowing the gears in the twisty Southern California roads we frequent, and he suggested we go with the tried-and-true Hurst unit.

Installing The Headers

We started with the driver side of the car when it came time to install the Flowmaster Scavenger Series Elite headers. There are obvious pros and cons to shorty headers, and we quickly saw what one of the pros is as we got about halfway through our installation – you can install them from the top of the engine bay! GM’s F-body platform has never had a spacious engine bay – even dating back to the first generation, so installing headers is sometimes a chore. Especially, if the headers you’re installing are of the long tube variety.

After removing the engine cover, intake, spark plugs, wires, and ignition coils, we gained unimpeded access to the factory cast manifolds and began removing them by loosening the flange bolts.

Once the flange mating the manifold to the cylinder head was unbolted, we got to work on the lower flange that mates the manifold to the catted-midpipe. With some clever work with a long extension and swivel, we got the two bolts out and were able to remove the cast manifolds.

So, we were pleasantly surprised when we were able to wedge the shorty headers in from the top of the engine bay. We didn’t need a lift or to try and do it while laying on our back in the driveway. This was due to the fact that, unlike long-tube headers, the mid-pipe doesn’t need to be removed. Since the shorty headers take up the same amount of space as the GM factory cast-iron exhaust manifolds, they bolt right in and we got to keep our catalytic converters so everything is nice and legal.

A side-by-side comparison of the factory manifold and our new Scavenger Elite series headers shows a clear improvement and picking them up indicated a drastic weight reduction. Even though space is tight, the headers are able to fit in from the top of the engine bay.

The tradeoff, of course, is performance. Long tube headers simply flow better than any shorty headers out there. Unfortunately, it requires getting rid of the midpipe and catalytic converters we mentioned. Still, there is definitely performance to be gained by swapping out the old cast manifolds for the highly-polished Scavenger Elite headers. For starters, the rough surface the cast manifolds sport isn’t just on the outside, it’s the same on the inside, which creates turbulence in the exhaust flow. By polishing the inside of the headers, the exhaust gasses can flow freely, thus making more power.

The headers come with all the necessary hardware, gaskets, and even a spark plug wire to accommodate the rearmost cylinder since the new header pipe requires it.

Installing The Ignition Coils and Wires

Since we were already working in the engine bay and had to make way for the headers to go in, we had already removed the factory ignition coils, wires, and spark plugs. While ignition components aren’t exactly as sexy as shiny new headers, they do play a pivotal role in the overall performance of an engine.

So, when we talked to Steve about the project he made sure to mention the MSD components as they would undoubtedly make a difference, even if it wasn’t astronomical in its numbers. One of the three things an engine needs to run is spark – the other two being air and fuel. We’d already upgraded the exhaust flow with the headers, so replacing our LS3’s high-mileage ignition components was the next logical step.

The first step to removing the ignition coils involved disconnecting the negative battery terminal. Then we simply disconnected the connectors from the engine harness and removed the stock spark plug wires.

By adding MSD Blaster ignition coils and 8.5mm Super Conductor spark plug wires, we gained spark performance due to the improved materials they’re constructed with. Although the coils are OE replacements, they’re designed with premium materials and windings to produce a stronger spark.

In order to harness that added current, the Super Conductor plug wires feature a helically wound core that has a mere 40-50 ohms of resistance per foot. According to Steve, “In fact, each foot of finished wire includes 40 feet of tightly wound copper for superior conductivity. This winding procedure, combined with a ferromagnetic impregnated center core, produces an extremely effective Electro Magnetic Interference “choke.” This choke, or suppression capability, keeps the EMI inside the wire where it cannot interfere with other electronics on your vehicle.”

The new MSD coils installed in the factory location atop the ls3's valve covers using the stock brackets, but provide greatly improved performance.

So, clearly, this was not simply a cosmetic modification. As far as the installation goes, it was as simple as removing the factory coils and wires and directly replacing them with the new MSD parts.

Installing The Short Shifter

Installing the short shifter came next. As you may imagine, it was fairly easy to accomplish. It required us to remove some plastic trim panels surrounding the shifter from the interior of the vehicle and accessing the linkage from the underside of the car. As such, it did necessitate the use of a jack, jack stands, and wheel chocks.

The installation of our new Hurst shifter began with the removal of the factory shifter. The plastic trim was placed aside and the shift boot removed, followed by the shift knob.

After removing the plastic trim around the shifter, we gained access to the shift boot retaining screws. Before we removed those screws though, we pulled the shift knob upward with a considerable amount of force to free it from the actual shift lever. If you’re going to attempt this install yourself, we recommend proceeding with caution – there are several videos floating around the internet of people “liberating” their shift knobs, only to have the knob fly up and hit them in the face. You’ve been warned…

Moving to the underside of the car gave us access to the shifter itself. Pushing the rubber boot aside revealed the retainer clips that hold cross-pin that connects the shifter handle to the linkage. By removing the cross pin and the two ring bolts the factory shifter could be lowered out of the car and replaced with our new Hurst unit.

Moving on to the underside of the car, we began by loosening the four crossmember bolts, but not removing them completely. This gave us access to the rubber boot on the bottom of the shifter. The boot is there to keep dirt and debris from getting into the shifter. Upon removal, we just let it hang out of the way which exposed the connection between the shift lever and the shifter assembly. This allowed us to remove the square clips on either side of the cross pin.

After pushing the pin out, we freed the shift lever by removing the two 10mm bolts which fasten the retaining ring to the underside of the shifter housing. That enabled us to lower the shift lever out of the car. Being careful to orient the new shift lever in the proper direction. we greased the O-rings and pressed the lever into its new forever home.

After a quick comparison between the two shifters, it was plain to see how superior the Hurst shifter is. The short throw provides a much more crisp and positive feel while rowing gears.

Once the new shifter was in place, the rest of the install was little more than bolting on the new blacked-0ut billet aluminum shift handle and iconic Hurst shift knob and repeating the disassembly steps in reverse order. The new shifter provides us with a 35 percent shorter shift throw, a more positive shift feel, and it just plain looks badass!

Installing The Flowmaster American Thunder Cat-Back Exhaust

When selecting an exhaust system for our Daily Camaro, there were several factors to consider. The most glaring of which was volume and overall tone. Flowmaster provides two options for the 2010-2015 Chevy Camaro. Both options provide users with unique tones, although one is substantially louder than the other.

The exhaust that was previously in the car left much to be desired. It was made of, small by comparison, two-inch tubing and off-brand bullet-style mufflers. The only good thing about it was how easily it came out.

The two exhaust options are the American Thunder and Outlaw series. We’re sure you can guess which of the two is louder. After some contemplation, we realized that while in our younger days we might have eagerly clamored for the loudest exhaust available, that might not be the most practical choice. We like setting off car alarms and waking the neighbors, but that wouldn’t make the most sense for a “daily driven” street car.

Still, the American Thunder series provides us with an aggressive exhaust note, without sacrificing interior comfort. The tone is pleasant and free of excessive drone. So, while the Outlaw Series sounds awesome, in name and literal sense, we felt it more logical to go with the American Thunder.

The new American Thunder series exhaust went in almost exactly as the old one came out, except when it came time to join the Scavenger Series X pipe to the rear pipes and mufflers. We used the supplied clamps

Both sport the same Flowmaster-exclusive Scavenger Series X-pipe. All of the tubing is made from three-inch stainless steel that has been mandrel-bent to mitigate any flow restriction…We’re starting to see where the name “Flowmaster,” came from. Seriously though, mandrel bending is an important feature to note because the alternative – compression bending – creates wrinkles at bend points, which, in turn, causes turbulence when the engine is expelling exhaust gasses. Conversely, mandrel bending, while more costly for the manufacturer, provides end-users with smooth bends and unrestrictive exhaust flow.

After fiddling with the mufflers to get the fitment just right, all that was left to do was start up the Camaro and let the new Flowmaster system sing!

The three-inch tubing is capped off by four-inch polished stainless steel exhaust tips featuring a prominent Flowmaster logo. Of course, all the hangars are in the factory location so it bolts in just as the factory exhaust came out, using the same hangars. As the name “cat-back” implies, the American Thunder series connects at the catalytic converts and leads all the way back to the Super 44 series performance mufflers. The option to weld the joints together is always there, but we elected to use the supplied exhaust clamps the kit comes with for an easy install.

Stay Tuned For Power Numbers

In the next installment of our Daily Camaro project series, we install a DiabloSport Trinity Tuner and our black fifth-gen Camaro hits the dyno. It will be interesting to see what the emissions legal tuner combined with our bolt-on modifications will make by way of horsepower and torque improvements.

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About the author

Vinny Costa

Fast cars, motorcycles, and loud music are what get Vinny’s blood pumping. Catch him behind the wheel of his ’68 Firebird. Chances are, Black Sabbath will be playing in the background.
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