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2002 & 1998 Chevy Camaros - Deja Vu

R.P.M. Motorsports builds two Camaros that are as similar as they are different—one a 9-second SS nitrous car, the other a single-turbo Z28 rocket

Jan 18, 2012
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Above these words are two completely different cars, built for completely different purposes for two completely different owners. On paper, they don't sound anything alike. One features a 402 cubic-inch LSX block with a single turbocharger and the other has a stock cubic-inch LS1 stuffed under the hood that huffs nitrous from a single fogger kit. One car rides on drag radials, the other on a slick. Silver SS, Silver Z28. It's amazing then to consider that these two cars are actually extremely similar in personality and form, even though they differ so drastically in function. So similar, in fact, that even after spending hours around them, it's hard to tell each apart, even knowing the differences.

How is it possible that two different owners, one from Wichita, TX and one from Durham, NC could go to one shop, ask for two completely different things and leave with cars that are both entirely unique and uniquely similar? The answer, actually, is the man behind the madness, Ryan Robinson, who is the owner of R.P.M. Motorsports and the key component of each and every car that comes out of his shop. If the name sounds familiar, it probably is, because Ryan and his crew have built some of the sickest LSX-powered rides in the country for quite some time now and are home to "the Black Car," which has run as fast as 8.11 with it's 429 cubic-inch Dart billet block and a healthy dose of nitrous. R.P.M. Motorsports is also home to one of the coolest Trailblazer SS's in existence, which has been as fast as 9-teens in nitrous trim with four--count 'em, four--Kirkey seats inside. (More on that in a future issue...) No stranger to building rockets, Ryan and his crew weren't daunted by the task of building either one of these cars, but it is the attention to detail, the small nuances that only a true artist can have, that make these cars work as one unit, while being completely different.


Let's talk motors, from the bottom on up. On the left, we've got Migueel Watkins' '02 Camaro (it's the silver one, if your having trouble figuring out left from right), which features a 402 cubic-inch LSX fed by a massive 98mm billet-wheel turbocharger. A set of 4-inch Wiseco pistons rotate around a 4.010-inch Callies Compstar crankshaft in Migueel's LSX block, which was built by R.P.M. Motorsports to power Migueel's ride well into the 5-second zone at any eighth-mile track in the country. On the right, in the silver '98 Camaro, owned by Ken Roberts, we've got a completely different engine, one that is actually still 346 cubic-inches, although it has been fully forged using parts from Eagle and Wiseco and built by Danny Perry in Sims, North Carolina. Each car wears a separate set of cylinder heads, with Ken's Camaro rocking a set of AFR 205's and Migueel's a set of Total Engine Airflow-modified Trick Flow 235's. The camshafts, as you would suspect, are also unique to each engine, although they both feature a 116-degree lobe separation angle and have lift in the low .600-inch range. Both engines wear a set of 1.7:1-ratio roller rocker and matching Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifolds, complete with similar black throttle body spacers, although one of them is set up to ingest a healthy spray of nitrous.

Transmissions? Well, no need to mess with success here and each Camaro runs a TH400 built by Carl Rossler at Rossler Transmissions. Ken's nitrous car features a custom converter from ATI, while Migueel's turbo entry went out the door with a tweaked unit from Neal Chance. Shifting comes from a B&M unit in each Camaro and both transmissions send power back to a 12-bolt rear end built by Moser Engineering and stuffed with 35-spline axles and spools. The wheels do help separate one car from another, although they are only dissimilar in look, as each Camaro hits the track with a set of 15x10-inch rear wheels wrapped in Hoosier tires--slicks for Ken, Drag Radials for Migueel. On the big end, both racers slow to a stop with Strange front brakes and a parachute and R.P.M. even keeps both drivers safe with similar 10-point NHRA-certified roll cages and all-business interiors.

Interestingly, the suspension on each Camaro is different although the overall stance and function is the same, with Migueel's Camaro planting the power thanks to a set of suspension parts from Madman and Company, while Ken mixed it up with parts from UMI Performance and QA1. Either way, both cars rely on anti-roll bars from Wolfe and Madman travel limiters to keep the front end as close to the ground as possible while still hooking up all the power. From the grandstands (or pages of this magazine), the exterior of each car is obviously similar, although Ken has added several black accents to his car as that is the style he prefers. The hoods, which should be standard fare on any fourth-gen Camaro, are from VFN and both extend to the windshield for that race car look and aerodynamic advantage. The stance, as we mentioned, is perfect on both Camaros and has been set up by Ryan to look good, transfer weight properly, and allow for the necessary tire clearance. It's a little thing, but the similarities in ride height, rake, and wheel offset here are just one of the "telltale" signs that these are R.P.M. Motorsports built cars.

Now for the elephant in the room, the two completely different power adders. Yeah, we also thought that a serious nitrous car and a single-turbo drag radial Camaro would look nothing alike under the hood, but strangely they look eerily similar even though they are worlds apart in application. Migueel's no stranger to turbochargers as he also owns another R.P.M.-built turbo Camaro, but Ryan went above and beyond during the fabrication of this car, building a clean, functional system that makes big power while looking like it was built for a show car. Stock truck manifolds flow exhaust through 2.25-inch stainless steel tubes into the bottom of the 98mm turbocharger, which compresses a ton of air to over 25 pounds per square inch before sending it through a custom Bell air-to-air intercooler and into the engine. Sanitary, functional and well thought out, the giant turbocharger system dominates a substantial chunk of under hood real estate, yet fits everything like it was supposed to be there. Ken's nitrous-fed Camaro, on the other hand, is almost baron under hood, with the stock cubic-inch LS sitting back under the motor plate. A couple well placed 'noids and some feed lines complete the kit, which again looks like it has to be there to make the bay complete. Switching from engine bay to engine bay with both cars parked side-by-side is a weird feeling, as each one seems perfectly complete, as if there would be no other way to do it, even though each is different from the other. It's the way that Ryan and his crew run the spark plug wires, the way they mount the coils, the slick stand-up radiators matched with the cut and partially smoothed engine bay, it all makes perfect sense and has a signature feel that only a true artist could leave.

Even apart from the car, talking to each owner separately, you get the feeling that each had the same overall experience with Ryan and his crew. Ken told us, "I've made some great friends at R.P.M. over the last six years. Ryan and the crew have gone out of their way to help me many times--from loaning me his car and his trailer, to keeping my car in the shop for months. I can't thank the guys enough and when the time comes for a new build, no matter what part of the country I am in, R.P.M. will do my work." Migueel, interviewed alone, told us "I want to thank R.P.M., their courtesy, respect, attention to detail and professionalism is second to none. They'll definitely be doing more builds for me in the future." More builds, we suspect, that will be as individual as they are, with a hint of subtle R.P.M. style that keeps us interested and enthusiasts from all over the country going back for more.

Data Files

  • Car: 2002 Chevrolet Camaro SS
  • Owner: Ken Roberts
  • Block: LS1, 346ci
  • Compression ratio: 12.0:1
  • Heads: Air Flow Research 205cc, ported by B&D Automotive, 2.020 intake valves, 1.600 exhaust valves
  • Cam: Custom hydraulic roller, 242/248 duration at .050, .610/.615-inch lift, 116 LSA
  • Rocker arms: Yella Terra Ultralite, 1.7-ratio
  • Pistons: Wiseco, forged
  • Rings: Wiseco GF
  • Crankshaft: Eagle, 4340-steel
  • Rods: Eagle H-Beam, forged
  • Throttle body: Wilson, 4150
  • Fuel injectors: 42 lb/hr
  • Fuel pump: Aeromotive A1000
  • Ignition: Stock, coil-near-plug, NGK 11
  • Engine management: Stock, tuned by Ryan Robinson at R.P.M. Motorsports
  • Power Adder: Nitrous Pro-Flow, single fogger nitrous system
  • Exhaust system: Kooks 1 7/8-inch long-tube headers, Vibrant mufflers
  • Transmission: TH400, built by Rossler Transmission
  • Torque Converter: ATI Performance, custom stall
  • Driveshaft: 3-inch, aluminum
  • Front suspension: QA1 double-adjustable shocks and springs, UMI Performance upper and lower control arms, removed sway bar, Madman travel limiters
  • Rear suspension: QA1 double-adjustable shocks and springs, UMI Performance subframe connectors, torque arm, lower control arms, Wolfe Racecraft anti-roll bar
  • Rear end: Moser 12-bolt, 3.73 gear, Moser 35-spline axles, spool
  • Brakes: Strange Engineering front, Aerospace rear
  • Wheels: Centerline Rev 15x4.5 front, 15x10 rear
  • Front tires: M/T 26x4.5
  • Rear tires: Hoosier slicks 28x10.5
  • Fuel: VP Racing C23
  • ET/MPH: 9.30/144
  • Sixty-Foot: 1.29
  • Current mileage: 70,000

  • Car: 1998 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
  • Owner: Migueel Watkins
  • Block: LSX, 402ci
  • Compression ratio: 9.5:1
  • Heads: Trick Flow Specialties 235cc, ported by Total Engine Airflow, 2.080 intake valves, 1.60 exhaust valves
  • Cam: Custom hydraulic roller, 235/251 duration at .050, .621/.624 -inch lift, 116 LSA
  • Rocker arms: Jesel, 1.7-ratio
  • Pistons: Wiseco, forged
  • Rings: Wiseco GF
  • Crankshaft: Callies Compstar, forged
  • Rods: Callies Compstar H-Beam, forged
  • Throttle body: PTM, 90mm
  • Fuel injectors: 120 lb/hr
  • Fuel pump: Magnafuel 4303
  • Ignition: Stock, coil-near-plug, NGK plugs
  • Engine management: BS3, tuned by Ryan Robinson at R.P.M. Motorsports
  • Power Adder: Precision 98mm turbo (billet compressor)
  • Boost: 25 psi
  • Wastegate: Tial 60mm
  • Blow off valve: ProCharger Race
  • Exhaust system: GM truck manifolds, 2.25-inch crossover piping, 5-inch downpipe, no muffler
  • Transmission: TH400, built by ATI Performance
  • Torque Converter: Neal Chance, custom stall
  • Driveshaft: 4-inch, steel
  • Front suspension: AFCO shocks and springs, stock upper, Racecraft lower control arms, removed sway bar, Madman travel limiters
  • Rear suspension: AFCO shocks and springs, Madman subframe connectors, adjustable torque arm, lower control arms, Wolfe Racecraft anti-roll bar
  • Rear end: Moser 12-bolt, 3.42 gear, Moser 35-spline axles, spool
  • Brakes: Strange Engineering front, rear (dual)
  • Wheels: Weld Alumastar 15x3.5 front, 15x10 rear
  • Front tires: M/T ET Fronts 26x4.5
  • Rear tires: M/T Drag Radials 275/60/15
  • Fuel: VP Racing C16
  • ET/MPH: 5.30/138 (1/8-mile)
  • Sixty-Foot: 1.35
  • HP/TQ: 1,200/1,100
  • Current mileage: 60,000



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