Tech Tips: 1998-2002 Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird

By Staff Writer
Feb 2, 2021 | Chevrolet, Pontiac, firebird, camaro | Posted in Buyer's Guides | From the April 2014 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph Courtesy Chevrolet

These were excellent cars. The live axle was always a challenge, but we solved axle tramp and hopping problems with stiffer bushings and Penske shocks. Those shocks are just spectacular. I like Penskes because they’re durable, have a lot of adjustability, and they do what they say they do. Some others that aren’t as expensive just don’t last.

You can use either custom-made Delrin bushings or regular polyurethane bushings. You just have to take the compliance out of them and keep things from moving around. We did this to minimize the axle hop effect so we could reliably put the power down out of corners.

The front suspension is very well set up. It’s a double-wishbone unit, and the shock-and-spring combination is already a coil-over setup. All we did in the front was change the mounts and put Penskes on it. In 2005, Don Knowles was driving one of our F-body cars and running neck and neck against our Subarus. 

At the time, we were using non-adjustable Bilsteins. When we took a set of our Motorola Cup Penske shocks, it was just spectacular. The series limited us to a 300 lbs./in. spring in the front, but with those shocks we were able to increase the effective spring rate and make the car work really well. 

The old LS1 engines were just great engines. Don’t touch them internally. By then, they had cured the oil drain-back issues and rod bolt problems.

If you swap in an LS3, I would not track it without a dry sump. It has limited oil capacity and can oil-starve if you go to an A-compound tire or some of the stickier Nittos. If you’re using a street tire or an R-compound, you’re okay.

The real trick setup on these late F-bodies is to swap in a 2002-or-later Corvette LS6 engine. It simply bolts in, and you’ll go from 325 to more than 400 horsepower. Even the engine management system is the same.

Then, install a set of headers or just a good exhaust. The horsepower won’t be quite as good as a Corvette because the Vette has a very free-flowing system. But get a good tuner to tune it for you, and you’ll get close.

We installed Torsen differentials in ours. They worked well for putting the power down.

The ABS is very good. Do not disable it for track use. Anybody that tells you they can drive better without ABS is not understanding the whole thing. It’s better in the rain, it’s safer, and it protects you from flat-spotting tires. It doesn’t stop you any quicker, but it doesn’t cause lockups.

Any OEM-type accessory belt tensioner that has a spring wears down over time—especially with high-rpm use. We change them based on hours of use to avoid on-track failures. In general, once a year is not unreasonable. Change the belt, change the tensioner, throw it away. In racing, you age out that piece of equipment a lot quicker than during street use.

Be careful with splitters and undertrays so you don’t uncouple the cooling system. Don’t block the places for the air to get out of the engine bay. If you add aero, you’ll probably end up needing to add a louvered hood.

The Camaro uses two-piston calipers, and they’re awful. Its 12-inch rotors aren’t big enough to dissipate the heat, and then the bridge of the caliper begins weakening and you get taper wear on the pads. 

Also, the pad’s only about 15mm thick. Start using them hard, and you’ll wear them out fast. They just don’t have enough swept area to keep up with the weight of the car. You’ll get hot, and anytime you get a lot of heat, you get diminished performance. 

Go into the aftermarket and find a good set of brakes. Baer and Wilwood both make good kits.

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View comments on the GRM forums
350z247 New Reader
2/11/21 10:04 a.m.

I'd love to make a standing mile car out of one of these.

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