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Project Car SOTU: The Red Camaro

Robby DeGraff September 10, 2018 Featured, Project Car SOTU, Project Cars 2 Comments


I was reflecting and somewhat laughing at how the status of my red 2001 Chevrolet Camaro has changed since I drove it home twelve years ago. My (now) project car happens to also be my very first car that I still have and more importantly, love. The big red bow tie came into my life during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. Before that, sixteen-year-old car geek Robby was driving around his parents’ green ’95 Ford Windstar.

I drove the car everyday the rest of my high school career, from 6 a.m. sprints in Wisconsin snowstorms to morning jazz band practice to homecoming. That was also when I did probably 80% of the modifications to my car, when I could spend stupid amounts of money on that. My burnt copy of Paul Wall’s album “The People’s Champ” dated June 2006 is still in the car. Don’t judge. College began, and for four years the car sat on-and-off in storage, appearing in the summertime, occasionally partaking in road rallies across the country, and then back to hibernation in pole barn for the long cold months. Maintenance and modifications slowed to a creep, and after graduating from college, the car became more of a secondary priority after buying a cheap get-around car and diving into new hobbies. Enter, a gold 1995 Saturn SL1

But a few years of apologetic “neglect” towards the red Camaro added up and took its toll. The brakes went to crap, electrical fiascos of various sorts, and well, an exhaust that fell apart after foolishly “storing” the car in my other parking spot outside my apartment each winter for two years. I’m never doing that again. But last year I found a rekindled spark and new reliable job with income that allowed for some much-needed, overdue TLC.

Last year I took the plunge and lowered the car two inches all around, doing 90% of the work in my driveway under jack stands. Watching various YouTube how-to videos and scanning the golden archives of LS1Tech.com’s forums, what should have been a day’s worth of effort, turned into a nearly three-month endeavor, due to weather, stubborn bolts and wrong parts. The F-body finally got all a medicine of new, lower BMR springs (red, of course) and upgraded struts/shocks. That dropped stance in addition to thick, aftermarket BMR front and rear sway bars, combines together to create one heck of a responsive Camaro. It’s a blast to drive, stable, handles quick turns and curves like a champion quarterback desperately trying to avoid a sack, but fails at any urban driving in Milwaukee, where bomb-sized pot holes that swallow motorcycles and dent car wheels, are of no interest to our local and state politicians.

Fast-forward to now, 2018. My Camaro at the moment has a little over 128,000 miles and after pulling it out of storage in April, two projects were in order: new brakes and a new exhaust.

Last year, something felt….off while accelerating. The car felt like it was stuttering on the drivetrain front, almost as if it were dragging an anchor. When April and boxes from RockAuto arrived, I went to work. A big, comical “whoa” arrived when I removed the front passenger brake assembly: the old, rusty, tattered caliper was frozen stuck to the rotor. Banging, yanking, profanities, there was no way of separating the two. Thankfully I had bought new calipers, pads, and discs themselves, but I shook my head in frustration, realizing that the reason my Camaro had been driving like such shit, was because it was in essence dragging its front right brake. Wonderful. Anyways, its new drilled and slotted discs, pads and red calipers help GM’s catfish stop again, and drive like how it should.

Rewind back to 2017, and I was under the rear of the car finishing up installing its new shocks and lowering springs. A quick glance past the muffler and I instantly paused. A hole the size of a softball had rusted through. Enter, the debacle of replacing the entire exhaust system starting with the connecting pipe from the headers, back. True fact, this car in the 12 years I’ve owned it, has gone through now three exhaust systems. The first one that came with the car when I bought it from a lot in West Allis, pretty much fell off after I bottomed-out the car, its Midas special rusted out and now a fresh Flowmaster setup made its way underneath.


The problem, is that when I had “Chris the muffler guy” weld on my headers years ago for a price a college grad could afford, he did a slipshod job joining it to the connecting pipe. Then, two years ago when my catalytic converter went “bye bye,” a friend with a 911 and a lift in his garage quickly sawed away the old one, and slapped in a universal hi-flow cat. Since I don’t have a lift or know how to weld (someday), I brought all the new exhaust components to my local trusted shop, a mechanic I’d pay to have my car towed from Alaska to if it broke down. He’s that good, and last time I was there, he had a Olds Cutlass 442 up on the lift getting restored and a jet black Pontiac Trans-Am waiting for its turn. Then came the phone calls. The car sat in the shop for nearly three weeks. “This doesn’t fit there, that’s too long, this part needs to be replaced too, that 02 sensor probably won’t come out,” I felt as if my wallet had been sucked open. Multiple orders later to Advance Auto Parts and Flowmaster, adapters and measuring, the exhaust went finally pieced together and sounds glorious, especially at a standstill with my tune’s lower resting RPM. If you ask me, it was worth every cent.

With those two big projects done for the year, that’s my cap on pricey automotive related expenses. I’m also at the point in ownership now, that I’m just going to keep it the way it sits: tastefully modified. It’s my first car and the sentimental value is strong. I’d rather keep my Camaro in top-running shape, have fun cruising around in it, and save up for the next fun car: 996 Porsche 911 I’m looking at you.

Current Modifications:

  • Pacesetter headers
  • Flowmaster American Thunder exhaust
  • Rear spoiler, SLP front grille robbed from a Camaro SS
  • 17-inch American Racing Rebel wheels in P275/40ZR17 Sumitomo HTR Z tires
  • Red leather seats found from another donor Camaro
  • BMR 35mm front and 25mm rear sway bars
  • K&N cold air intake
  • PCM of NC tune
  • UMI front strut tower bar
  • BMR 2-inch lowering spring kit with upgraded shocks and struts

Here’s a to-do list of minor fixes I plan to tackle over the winter months:

  • Solve the mysterious noise pounding from my subwoofer. The aftermarket Infiniti BassLink occasionally sounds like its blaring bass for an obnoxious, super-fast EDM song…even when the car’s off.
  • Replace broken trim pieces inside. With any 90s/2000s GM product, the interior is a wash of cheap plastic that creaks, cracks, and snaps. How on Earth did Chevy get away with this sub-par quality?
  • Get cool. The air conditioning is currently kaput, but this can be a lower priority on the list because…t-tops ftw.
  • Lens on the outside have failed. After ditching my Fast and Furious era aftermarket eBay “halo” headlamps for the more “mature” stock OEM assemblies, the OEM assemblies on the car now are foggy and in need of a restoration, pronto. The rear running lights on the sides of the rear bumpers are both burnt out, and one of the plastic lenses cracked when attempting to tighten it back into the car. Pictured above, lazily taped together until I make my next junkyard run.

All these minor uh-ohs don’t offset at all, how much I still love this car, my first car.

  • It’s a tale of determination and passion and I love it.

    Also, I previously had no idea that you could buy a Camaro with crank windows in 2001.

    • Vairship

      Given GM circa 2001 quality, there are probably also a lot of 2001 Camaros that ended up with crank windows but didn’t start with them.

      (PS: Disqus thinks there is no such word as “Camaros”, and suggests “Marcos” instead, which is a completely different kit car).