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COPO Camaro

Behind the scenes of Chevrolet’s drag race doomsday machine

Story Wayne Scraba / Images Chevrolet Racing and MPR - September 26, 2013 10:00 AM

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In this photo, GM Racing engine builder Duncan Michael installs a 10:1 CR piston into the LSx block.

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Here Duncan is buttoning up the head studs. Chevrolet Racing uses a full compliment of fasteners from ARP inside the respective engine combinations.

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The powerplant shown here is the "little" 500 HP combination with a 2.9-liter blower which uses a 109mm round blade throttle body while the 550 horse 327 example uses a 172mm oval throttle body and a much larger 4.0-liter blower.

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As you can see here, Dyno Cell "C" in the GM Racing building is no back yard operation! This is serious stuff folks; even in today’s world of race shop sophistication.

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Here, the first COPO Camaro is set up on the Mike Pustelny Racing chassis surface plate.

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It’s easy to see how the "frame" connectors tie into the rocker boxes.

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The main roll cage hoop ties into the frame connector. This allows for the main hoop to be totally integrated into the car. The tab that’s visible is for a seat belt mount.

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The layout of the roll cage allows it to closely follow the shapes of both the windshield pillar as well as the "B" posts.

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There are no forward struts tied into the engine compartment, as NHRA regulations don’t allow it in Stock Eliminator.

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The back half of the roll cage ties into the back of the car.

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The frame rails are set up to accept the lower trailing arms. At ride height; they form a straight line from the housing to the frame "connector". This is an extremely well engineered and carefully thought out racecar package.

 

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And in case you’re wondering, the housing is a modified Strange Engineering piece. In case you’re grumbling about the use of what appears to be a nine-inch Ford, there isn’t one Ford part in the mix – it’s all aftermarket hardware.

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This is the finished rear suspension featuring Strange Engineering’s disc brakes, axles, housing and coil over shocks.

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Out back (with the deck lid open), you can see how the rear roll cage struts tie into the floor pan.

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Here’s a look at a supercharged 327 installed in the engine compartment. There’s lots of space for headers and other equipment, and room for between-rounds maintenance.

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The rolling stock is strictly drag race only.

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If you peek by the window net, you can see the five-inch tach with shift light on the A-pillar.

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Here’s a look at the very first one as it rolled out of the shop at MPR in Almont, Michigan.

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Spin the clock back four and a half decades and you’d have heard the rumblings of Chevy’s “we’re not racing” racing department at work.

That’s when the seeds were planted for their COPO 9560 (ZL1) Camaro models along with sister ship COPO 9561 (L72) Camaro examples. They caught the high performance world by surprise. And that was the intent. In fact, we have a copy of a vintage interoffice Chevy memo on hand that discusses that very point. Let’s just say the Blue Oval bunch was the intended target. History just might be repeating itself. But we digress.

Chevrolet released 69 new COPO Camaros in 2012 and is repeating the process in 2013 (with different engine combinations) and also offers a rolling chassis for 2013 that provides racers with a professionally assembled and painted body and chassis ready to be finished. Consumers can add their engine, transmission and other drivetrain components of their choice to complete their race car.

Each COPO engine is hand assembled and the 2012 build included three different combinations – a naturally aspirated 427, rated at 425 horsepower, based on the LS7, along with a pair of supercharged 327 models, rated at 500 and 550 horsepower, respectively. For 2013, the four and a quarter horse 427 will return and it will be accompanied by a 375hp 396 as well as a 300hp 350 (all LS-based combinations). The idea here is to provide engine combinations capable of “fitting” multiple classes of competition (various NHRA Stock and Super Stock classes are based upon the shipping weight divided by the factored horsepower).

All of the engines are built at Chevrolet’s Performance Build Center, in Wixom, Michigan, and the buyer can opt to participate in the engine assembly, similar to Chevrolet’s Corvette Engine Build Experience and the Chevrolet Performance Build Your Own Crate Engine programs. Customers can also select the Engine Collector’s Package, which includes all three COPO racing engines serial-number-matched to the car, with one installed at the time of delivery. Serialized engines can also be ordered separately, (i.e. only one additional engine), but will be still number-matched to the car.

COPO engines are based upon two different blocks. The 327 COPO engine combinations (327/500 and 327/550) are built with 4.065-inch bore LSX bowtie blocks, Mahle 2618 alloy forged pistons, Callies H-beam ultra rods and a Callies 4340 crankshaft. The 427 (and presumably the 2013 396 and 350 engines) uses aluminum cylinder blocks as the basis.

Cylinder heads play a big role in the performance of Chevy’s LS engine, and in the case of the COPO, they’re doubly impressive. Based off the Corvette LS7 head, they are fully CNC-machined with 275cc intake ports, 89cc exhaust ports along with a 70cc chamber. Titanium intake valves from Del West measure 2.200-inch in diameter. The exhausts are 1.610-inch diameter lightweight sodium filled examples.

The 327 engines use identical camshafts and identical bottom ends. The hydraulic roller cam has a lift of 0.630-inches (intake and exhaust) with duration at 246-degrees and 254-degrees on the intake and exhaust (respectively). Both blown COPO engines incorporate twin-screw superchargers by Whipple. Each hand-built COPO power plant is dyno tested and the complete test is videotaped including an infrared version showing hot spots on the engine.

COPO prototype chassis construction was contracted to MPR in Almont, Michigan. It’s not uncommon any of the major automotive manufacturers to outsource specialty work like this, and GM is no different. The front and rear of the COPO is tied together with a series of box section tubing segments. The “frame” connectors tie into the rocker boxes and the main roll cage hoop ties into the frame connector arrangement. This allows for the main hoop to be totally integrated into the car.

The layout of the roll cage allows it to closely follow the shapes of both the windshield pillar as well as the “B” posts, which in turn serves to make the roll cage appear next-to-invisible. If you’re wondering, there are no forward struts tied into the engine compartment. NHRA regulations don’t allow it in Stock Eliminator. The back half of the roll cage ties into the back of the car in the trunk. Eventually a series of x-braces are added to tie the roll cage into the rear suspension mounting points.

The upper trailing arm ties directly into the roll cage x-brace. In keeping with NHRA rules, the lower trailing arms cannot be adjustable, but the uppers can be for all intents and purposes, creating an unequal length four-link arrangement. NHRA’s Technical Department (headed by Danny Gracia) was consulted on construction virtually every step of the way. The battery is mounted on the right rear corner and the NHRA-mandated kill switch is located just aft of the battery. Finally, there is an aluminum fuel cell complete with an integral in-tank fuel pump from the folks at Aeromotive.

The shocks installed on the COPO are coilover examples manufactured by Strange Engineering for Chevrolet. They’re double adjustable (compression and rebound) with external adjusters. Disc brakes from Strange are used on all four corners. Strange Engineering also supplied the axles and aluminum rear end center section. Wheels are custom machined Bogarts front and rear. Front hoops as well as the slicks are from Hoosier Tire.

Inside the car, the fuel pressure, water temp, oil pressure and transmission temperature gauges are angled toward the driver. The shifter is a Hurst Quarter Stick that directs an ATI-built Pro Glide transmission and depending upon the engine package selected, COPO cars will come equipped with either an eight-inch or a nine-inch ATI-built torque converter.

In case you haven’t noticed, all of the COPO models are constructed for off-road use only — they’re pointed directly at the drag racing market and all of the engines, save for the 550hp job, are targeted toward NHRA Stock Eliminator. The big power, 550hp beast goes right to the top in NHRA Super Stock.

We had a front row seat in the 2012 prototype build process, and thanks to our friends at Chevrolet, we’re able to share much of the original build process as well as some information on this year’s offering. Check out what follows, as it’s more than intriguing.

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