Custom Works Performance 1971 Z28- Three decades of progress

Discussion in 'Project Progress' started by ks71z28, Jun 11, 2019.

  1. ks71z28

    ks71z28 Veteran Member NastyZ28 Sponsor NazstyZ28 Sponsor Lifetime Gold Member

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    Keith Smith, owner of Custom Works Performance, grew up around muscle cars. "My stepfather raced dirt late models in the 80's, the second gen cars were the most popular body choice to stretch over the tube chassis" explained Keith. "He would destroy 2-3 cars a season just for the rear body skin". "I guess the early 2nd gen always had a place in my mind as a race car".

    At the age of 16, Keith began his passion for working and modifying cars. At 18 the search began for his first project car. Believe it or not, it wasn't a Camaro he was looking for. "I originally wanted a 1948-53 Chevy truck, but finally was swayed back into the muscle cars when my Dad found a pair of Camaros for sale, a 69 and a 71" explained Keith. This was in 1990, and 2nd gen Camaros were cool ,but 69 Camaros ruled the land. Keith took home his first Camaro that day, the 1971 Camaro.

    The 1971 Camaro Keith had chosen was a bit rough. It had a primer fender, ratty interior, and would later find out, a huge crack in the side of the block where it had frozen. "I was a bit discouraged by the condition of the car, but I was too young to even realize what the heck I was getting myself into" Keith explained.

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    Since Keith was just starting college and money was tight, progress was slow. "My Dad had several friends with body shops in the area, my car kind of bounced around from one shop to another as the shop owners got sick of my car around their shop." said Keith. Some how the car got striped down and body work began, learning as he went along. In the process he converted the car to a RS front end. "The car was absolutely rust free, and really needed very little body work, which was good because I had no clue what I was doing at the time". The car still wears the same DuPont paint job Keith did back in 1992. "I am still amazed how well the paint and body came out. I think I got lucky on that one."

    The car sat for a few years until Keith graduated college and finally had enough money to start building the painted shell he had. He built his first 383 sbc for the car in 1995. He stumbled on a Doug Nash 5 speed and all the stuff to convert the car to a manual trans. The first go around for suspension was a Rancho Challenger II suspension kit. It had springs, shocks, sway bars, and a host of polyurethane bushings. That set up proved to be not so great over time, which likely lead to Keith to start producing his own parts. At this time the car featured a B-body 12" brake upgrade, Cady Seville rear discs, and 16x8.5" C4 Corvette turbine style wheels. This was the start of Pro-touring way back in 1995! "I was inspired by people like Herb Adams, Dick Guldstrand, RJ Gottlieb, and the Silver State Classic!"

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    By the late 90's Keith began to get more into racing his Camaro. The first 383 was very short lived, and the Doug Nash 5 speed wasn't the best trans either. A new AFR aluminum headed, roller cam, 383 went in the car. It was build by a reputable local shop and made 358hp to the wheels with a carburetor. One of the very first Tremec TKO transmissions went into the car as well. A 6 point roll cage went in the car, just in case!

    By 2002 the car was really taking shape. A Holley Stealth Ram EFI system was added. "I hated the way the car didn't stay glued to the pavement, so I began to research and study handling and suspension design". This is where I found People Like Herb Adams, and Dick Guldstrand insightful. David Pozzi was also a big influence and a great source for information in the early days of the internet."

    In 2004 Keith began taking his car to any event that would let him run it. "I had been racing shifter karts for the past several years, and had the bug to move to cars. There weren't a lot of "muscle cars" doing autocross at this time, in fact Pro-touring was really just becoming a thing." At this period Keith was spending a lot of time on the forums, mainly nastyz28.com and pro-touring.com. "It was new and amazing to see so many creative ideas and things people were doing back then. There really wasn't a lot of stuff available for these cars."

    The 2nd gen Camaro begins to gain popularity, and Keith begins to start making parts. "It's crazy that Custom Works began as a guy making a few carbon fiber parts on a part time basis. The first parts I made were a Carbon trunk lid, 70-73 carbon bumpers and the RS nose we still sell today. Without the internet forums, there is no way anyone would have seen the stuff I was making." Keith made a lot of friends and had a good following of people who had never seen carbon fiber Camaro parts before.

    It didn't take long to realize that it took a bit more than just a poorly designed suspension kit to make his Camaro a top contender. For the first few years we were in business, we collaborated with another small company who was getting popular. "It was initially a good fit. I was an engineer, had a viable test car, and a growing customer base. We helped develop parts and had a great time growing both of our businesses."

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    Over the next few years, Keith's 1971 Camaro was getting continuous changes. Custom Works had developed their now popular C5 brake conversion kit, as well as had a complete suspension kit and a host of accessories for 2nd gen owners who wanted to do more with their cars. "I was autocrossing a lot, and had the good fortune of having Thunderhill Raceway near to do a lot of road course testing. A lot of trial and error went into figuring out what actually worked and what didn't" explained Keith.

    All that testing took Keith's 1971 Camaro to its next rebuild. The "new" 383 was dead with a spun rod bearing, and the market had grown past the current set up on the car. Custom Works Performance moved into the next chapter. "We were now officially a company, and I had a lot of ideas, as well as information on what these cars needed and how to go about making those parts. I had broken so many parts out there, that if I couldn't break it, likely no one else could either." Custom Works was one of the first to offer a true front coilover conversion kit for 2nd gens. With the help of the local university, Custom Works was able to produce a subframe connector that fit well, and was light and effective. Custom Woks also developed a rear shackle set up using delrin and rubber bushings together. "We were testing a customers car on the road course and saw the rear end was moving laterally 2-3" under hard cornering. We quickly produced delrin shackle bushings, which helped out a lot with the lateral movement, but didn't allow the spring to articulate. This lead to actually damage the springs, as well as a lot of drivetrain noise transmitted into the car. Our solution was easy, use rubber in the spring eyes." They also developed their comp leaf locator bracket at this period, after a set of poly leafspring pads shifted the rear end out of place under hard acceleration!

    It took 2 years but the rebirth of Keith's 1971 Camaro was finished. The car got a new 383 motor, with a bigger roller cam, same AFR heads, forged internals, and the Holley Stealth Ram got a carbon fiber plenum. The suspension was upgraded with it's new "competition" or Comp kit. It had the true coilover kit on the front, with AFCO coilovers all around. It didn't take long Keith's 1971 camaro to get noticed. Keith literally drove the wheels of the car at the 2012 American Street Car "Run to the Coast" event. Keith finished in the top 10 in a 100 plus car field. Not too bad for still running leafsprings. This showing caught the eye of Nick Licata, editor of Camaro Performers Magazine. "Nick came up to me and told me he had posted pictures of my car on their Facebook page and people wanted to see more. In late 2012 we loaded the Camaro back up and headed back to El Torro for the "Return to the Coast" event and did a photo shoot for the magazine". Keith's car was feature in the May 2013 issue of Camaro Performers Magazine. Keith's car was also shown in Chevy High Performance several times that same year for events like the American Street Car Series and Goodguys Autocross.

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    Not content with leaving things alone, Keith decided he needed to take his Camaro to the next level to compete with the ever growing crowd in the Pro-touring scene. The 71 Camaro got mini-tubed, a Speedtech torque arm rear suspension, and 315/30/18 rubber out back. Immediately the added traction revealed that just putting together a bunch of parts wasn't going to work. "It took a while to figure out what was wrong. The upgrades we did magnified issues we didn't even realize we had" explained Keith. "We found the weak links in the torque arm set up we were running. We bent 2 arms, and ripped the panhard bar out of the frame". Keith was able to get some shock help from Viking, a beefier torque arm was installed, and a custom frame mounted watts link was built in-house. With the rear of the car as solid as the front, Keith was running in the top 10 at nearly every Optima Ultimate Street Car series event he ran. Keith finished 4th at the 2014 event at Thunderhill, and bettered it the following year by finishing 3rd on the podium in the GTV class!

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    Now with nearly 8 seasons on the rebuild, it is time to begin the next phase. " Figure I have probably 80 autocross events, 12 Optima and run to the Coast Events, 18 track day events, and a total of 12,000 miles on the drivetrain in the car now, and it's time to refresh everything and bring it up to the level of competition of 2019. My 530hp small block and 275/35/18 front tires aren't enough to get it done anymore" says Keith. "I want to keep the car as much of a "true" Camaro as I can. I love to drive the car on the street, so it can't cross the line into a racecar". What will the next phase hold for Keith and his 1971 Camaro? You will have to wait and see, things are already in the works, and Keith hopes to have the car completed by Fall of 2019!

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    Above Picture Pro-Touring Magazine Premiere issue #1 2015


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    Speed Stop Action USCA

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    Keith with his daughter Ellie at the track

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    Custom Photo from 2005, featured in NastyZ28 calendar

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    Awesome night shot by James Larieau Photography
     
  2. SPG

    SPG Bumblebee Builder

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    Fantastic read and amazing car, I can't wait to buy my suspension parts from you guys, it's very clear you care about what you do and put a lot of time and effort into designing your products.
     
  3. ks71z28

    ks71z28 Veteran Member NastyZ28 Sponsor NazstyZ28 Sponsor Lifetime Gold Member

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    Thank you, It's still work! We build what we love and that keeps us moving. Great customers are also a big part. We look forward to working with you
     
  4. dutch73camaro

    dutch73camaro Veteran Member

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    gonna follow nice story !
     
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  5. 70Znut

    70Znut Veteran Member Lifetime Gold Member

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    Great story Keith! I always knew you had a first gen passion but now I know the rest of the story.
    I have a fair amount of your products on my car and they all have proved their worth.
    Thanks for your commitment and continuing efforts to make our cars better performers.
    ...Jeff
     
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  6. ks71z28

    ks71z28 Veteran Member NastyZ28 Sponsor NazstyZ28 Sponsor Lifetime Gold Member

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    thanks Jeff
     
  7. hummeldoktor

    hummeldoktor New Member

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    Great Report
    Keith Smith ,i trust ,and this is imoprtant !
    Great car
     
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  8. Peterson

    Peterson New Member

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    Keith,
    I can’t thank you enough for all of your help and expertise in getting my 73 RS/Z28 together. I can tell you that the parts that Keith sells are of the best quality that you’ll find anywhere, and at a great price. Keith doesn’t just sell you the parts, he also is always available day or night for any and all installation questions you may have. Thanks for being there for me, even though we’re on opposite sides of the country!
    Lorne
     
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  9. ks71z28

    ks71z28 Veteran Member NastyZ28 Sponsor NazstyZ28 Sponsor Lifetime Gold Member

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    thank you!
     
  10. ks71z28

    ks71z28 Veteran Member NastyZ28 Sponsor NazstyZ28 Sponsor Lifetime Gold Member

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    Lorne, it's been pleasure being a part of your many projects!
     

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