Everyone knows that school isn't supposed to be fun. You're there to learn. Even at the automotive level, it's all about the kind of hard work only a true car crafter could love. Those are the dedicated people you'll find at Lincoln Technical Institute (LTI), which has been training automotive technicians for over 50 years at locations nationwide.
With a 900-student enrollment and a new BMW factory-training facility about to open, the Automotive Division of LTI's Columbia, Maryland, campus already has a lot going for it. Thanks to Executive Director Ron Beall, now it has even more. Beall is an automotive enthusiast who knows a good idea when he sees it. So when a high-mileage '99 Z28 Camaro became available, he arranged to "enroll" the car at LTI. Beall recognized two things: He already had drag-racing enthusiasts on his staff, and the LS1 family of GM V-8s is destined to be the high-performance engine of the future.
Under the supervision of LTI automotive instructors Roy Gray and Clement Trusty, the Camaro became part of the curriculum. Their goal was to demonstrate automotive theory using this modern performance vehicle and bolt-on parts. The only criteria Mr. Beall insisted on was that the students had to perform the installations with instructor supervision.
Before the students' work could begin in earnest, the first stop was to Auto Fab, a professional chassis shop in Elkridge, Maryland. The owner, Mark Constantine, gladly donated his time and machine to demonstrate how to properly four-wheel scale the Z28. The Camaro weighed in at 3,436 pounds, with 56.6 percent of the total concentrated up front.
Now it was time for a baseline trip to the dragstrip. After suffering through years of near-drought conditions, Maryland experienced one of the wettest springs in recent history. One local track had 19 rainouts through midsummer. The students couldn't use the same facility for all the tests, but in addition to the raw times, they also kept track of weather conditions to help evaluate the results.
The '99 Chevrolet Z28 Camaro started out with a 4L60-E four-speed automatic overdrive transmission and a 3.23 open rear gear. At the beginning of these tests, it had already clocked over 100,000 miles but was still potent nonetheless. The students coded the ECM and found no faults and then replaced the oil with Royal Purple 10W30 and installed a new filter. With no more prep than that, they drove the car 60 miles to Cecil County Drag Way in northeast Maryland where instructor Roy Gray took advantage of good weather to lay down a respectable baseline e.t. of 13.41 at 105.21. This was the best weather they would see for the rest of the tests, so this is no soft baseline.
This number becomes more impressive when you factor in the dismal 2.19 60-foot time. The combination of a cold track and hard Goodyear street tires made traction scarce. In fact, the 2.19-second 60-foot times were achieved with the traction control engaged. It was obvious the Camaro had more engine than chassis. The class decided to put their initial efforts into improving traction.
The students installed a set of Alston bolt-in frame connectors, lower control arms, and a Panhard bar, along with KYB eight-way adjustable AFX shocks on all four corners. They then set the fronts on the softest No. 1 setting with the rears firm at No. 8. They also bolted on a pair of P245/50R16 Nitto drag radials and set the cold pressure at 18 psi. To save time, the second session took place at Capital Raceway in Crofton, Maryland. The air was not as good as the first session, keeping the car in the 13.50-second range at 104 mph. However, the 60-foot times improved to 2.0 seconds flat. We felt this was decent for an open-rear 3.23-geared car with a stock torque converter. The factory torque converter was so tight it was difficult to stall much past 1,500 rpm. This was definitely an area for future consideration.