Race Car Build Series – Building a COPO Camaro Clone

Jenna Pierce Wilson

Last week we introduced our Race Car Build Series, as well as introduced the first race vehicle that will featured; Rob Farley’s NMCA Mustang. This week we are introducing the second car that will be covered, and that is the COPO Camaro clone being built by the Pierce-Wilson family of Muncie, Indiana.

The Wilson’s are no strangers to COPO Camaro clones. Last year Jenna Pierce-Wilson raced a Fuelab sponsored 2010 replica COPO Camaro built by her husband Jesse Pierce-Wilson. She was quite successful we might add. Competing in the NMCA Chevrolet Performance LSX Challenge Series, Jenna ended up ranking 3rd in the 5th Generation Camaro Class for the 2014 season. Shameless Fuelab plug: The Camaro’s fuel delivery system featured Fuelab’s Prodigy High Pressure EFI In-Line fuel pump, a 515 series fuel pressure regulator, and a pair of 282 Series In-Line filters.

“Building a 5th Gen COPO clone isn’t a common thing, and only a handful of race teams are doing it” Jesse told us. “We wanted to show that it was possible for a small time race team with a limited budget to build a car that would be competitive in the 5th Generation Camaro class. We started with a 2010 base V6 Camaro and built a tribute COPO using notes from a GM COPO build book. The car turned out so well built that GM took notice. A high level manager from Chevrolet Performance saw it at race and thought it was the real thing. He had to check the VIN to be sure it wasn’t! Even a competing COPO owner couldn’t tell the difference. Then we saw our car posted on GM’s Instagram and Facebook pages. That was a big compliment. After a couple of races we were invited to the COPO build center in Michigan by Kurt Collins and Dr. Jamie Meyer – the Performance Marketing Manager at GM. They gave us a tour and discussed the COPO program. We were like kids in a candy store! It was really neat to be there talking to them. We never thought in a million years that something we built ourselves would get so much notice. It’s hard to believe it snowballed into this”.

“We decided to build a second COPO replica so Jenna’s dad can race it in the new NMCA Chevy Performance Stock Class” Jesse continues. “Of course I want to do some racing in it too, but the car is being built primarily with Jenna’s dad in mind. As with our previous build, we are going to rely on our basic tools, craftsmanship and ingenuity to get the job done”.

Fuelab will be covering the build of the Pierce-Wilson’s second COPO Camaro, including the installation of a Fuelab In-Tank Power Module fuel pump. So, stay tuned to the Fuelab Vehicle Builds website page (http://fuelab.com/category/vehicle-builds/) for regular updates.


Jeff Dean tells us his drag racing story – from wheezy Chevy Citation beginnings to NADM Top Dragster Champ

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Q: When did you start racing?
A: In 1982, I was 16.

Q: What got you into racing?
A: I raced motorcycles long before I raced cars. I learned a lot about working on them and preparing them to race. I also like working on cars and motors, and the challenge of making something go fast. So, that was a lead in to racing cars.

Q: What was the first car you raced?
A: A Chevy Citation of all things! It was a stock yellow 4-door with a 4-cylinder and automatic transmission. When I was a teenager the local radio station had a big drag racing event at a local track, and it was open to the public. Every young kid had to go – it was the thing to do. Me and four buddies went, and we ran the races with all of us in the car. We actually did pretty well and ended up as one of the top four cars from over seven hundred entries. It was a long day! Our best quarter mile time was 18.8 seconds – after one of my friends got out of the car.

Q: What were some of the other cars or trucks you have raced?
A: I built a ’74 Nova. It was all low dollar stuff. I used a Chevy 327 block and modified it to use a Chevy small block 400 crank to build a 421 cubic inch small block engine. In May 1992 a couple of good friends and I pooled some money together to race it in the Hot Rod Magazine Fastest Street Car in America event in Memphis, TN. It was all heads up racing, a big grudge match deal, and we won it. Then I started racing diesel (pickup) trucks in 2006. While I was still racing cars I had noticed people were driving their modified diesel trucks to the track. Some were even using them to pull trailers to the track. Then they would race those same trucks. I thought that was really interesting. So, I started racing a 2006 Duramax in sled pulls and drag racing. In 2008 I was invited to enter the truck in the Diesel Power Magazine – Diesel Power Challenge, in Salt Lake City, UT which was an event that combined drag racing, a 10,000 lb. trailer pull, a fuel economy run, and a dyno competition. Then in 2011 I started racing the dragster with the Duramax engine.

Q: What associations have you raced in?
A: (With diesel powered) The Outlaw Circuit, and the NHRDA.

Q: What have been your major racing successes over the past 5 years?
A: In 2009 I set the Super Street record at Indy with a 10.61 second quarter mile. I would have won the World Record, but due to the technicality that my truck was 5 lbs. too light, I was bounced. A neat one to me was in 2011 at Bowling Green. It was the first time out with the Duramax dragster. I ran with the big guys and won. My time was around 8.10 at that event. In 2013 I won Top Diesel at Indy, and in 2012 and 2013 I won NADM Top Dragster.

Q: What do you like most about racing?
A: I like seeing friends you don’t get to see too often. I also like the challenge of trying to win with less, and the challenge of trying to out think and out drive competitors. Sometimes the fastest guy doesn’t always win.

Q: Is your family involved in your racing efforts?
A: Yes, normally they go. We have a motorhome – they like the camping and cooking out and seeing people.

Q: How long have you used Fuelab?
A: I started using it on the race truck in 2009 or 2010

Q: Why did you start using Fuelab?
A: We needed something reliable. I have a shop, On-Track Auto and Diesel Performance, and we do a lot of diesel work. We found through experience that other high performance diesel fuel pumps aren’t reliable.  They would often fail within a year or a year and a half. We tried Fuelab and they have had no problems – on my vehicles or customers’ trucks.

Q: Was there a particular problem you were having that Fuelab solved?
A: Pump failure – we were having problems with other fuel pump brands being problem prone. The Fuelab pumps haven’t failed.

Q: How has Fuelab affected your racing success?
A: I don’t have to worry about fuel pump failure. With one less thing to worry about, I can concentrate more on winning.

Q: What Fuelab parts do you use?
A: I have a Fuelab in-line fuel pump, and a Fuelab return style regulator.

Q: What do you see as the primary benefits of Fuelab products and company?
A: Fuelab fuel pumps are reliable. I think they are all around better and quieter other brands. I like Fuelab’s quality and tech support. They give me straight answers. For example, at one race I was convinced the fuel pump had failed. The Fuelab tech told me to check the filters – they pointed me right to the problem. It turned out the fuel cell had come apart and blocked the filter.

Q: Where do you see yourself in racing in 5 years?
A: I see myself staying in diesel. They have good power, are reliable, and are up and coming in racing. Plus it works well for promoting my diesel service business.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: Camping with family, boating on the lake, and taking our four wheelers to go play in the woods.

“There’s something wrong with my fuel pressure regulator…..”

Roughly 95% of the fuel pressure regulators we sell are for a return style fuel system, so that’s what I’m going to focus on for this tech article.

This is a tech call that I field at least 5 times each week. By design, there’s really only one thing that can fail on a regulator, and it’s pretty rare. Occasionally a diaphragm does fail. When this happens, you will experience fuel leaking out of the boost reference port. That can be caused by any number of things, but it’s usually debris in the fuel causing a small tear of some kind or a fuel additive that is not compatible with the diaphragm material. Switching regulator brands isn’t going to fix this compatibility problem because pretty much all of the main regulator manufacturers use the same diaphragm material. If you don’t experience a fuel leak at the boost reference port, chances are your regulator is not the problem. The problem is either on the feed side or the return side (before or after the regulator).

“I can’t get my fuel pressure down low enough…..”

Fuel pressure regulators are nothing more than a restriction in the fuel line – like your thumb over the end of the garden hose. The harder you press your thumb down, the higher the pressure in the hose (your fuel line) gets before the water sprays out (your return line). If you have fuel pressure that is too high, there’s one of two problems. You either have a regulator that is undersized for your application or you have a restriction in the return line. Our regulators come in a number of different configurations. One of the main differences is the size of the return seat/orifice. The return seat size is more or less what decides how much fuel the regulator can bypass (return). If you have a rather large pump(s), but you’re trying to use our mini regulator, you’re going to experience an issue where you can’t get your pressure down low enough. The return orifice of the regulator is simply too small to bypass enough fuel to keep the pressure down. If this is the case, you need to switch to a regulator that matches your flow needs. The other potential problem is a restriction in the return line (usually the issue). This can be caused by several things – the return line size is too small, drilled 90* fittings/sharp bends, restrictive fittings inside a factory fuel pump module, etc. Restrictions after the regulator are pretty much the same as an undersized regulator. You might have a regulator that can bypass enough fuel, but the restriction in the return line doesn’t allow the fuel to flow freely back to the fuel tank. The two most common return line restrictions are the use of cheap 90* drilled fittings or something in the factory fuel pump module that the customer is trying to feed into. Many customers will try to re-use a factory line for the return line. Assuming the line size is up to the challenge, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, they don’t always pay attention to the flow path once the line enters the fuel pump module – they assume it’s just dumping right into the tank. A good example is a customer I recently worked with. His particular setup seemed correct…. on the surface. He had a pump and regulator that was matched correctly and the plumbing sizing and type of fittings sounded correct, yet he couldn’t get his pressure down low enough. After taking the factory fuel pump module out, he found the restriction. The line he was using was -6, yet there was a factory fitting in the fuel pump module just before the fuel entered the tank that had an opening of only 5/64” (see photos below). While that may be enough for a factory pump, it’s nowhere near enough for a larger aftermarket pump. He doubled the size of the opening (thus allowing nearly 4x the flow) and the fuel pressure problems were gone. In short – if your fuel pressure is too high, find the bottleneck in the return side of your fuel system and remove it.

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The black flex hose is the factory return line on this particular car. That little orifice is NOT going to let fuel flow freely back into the tank. Drilling out the plastic fitting cured the high fuel pressure problems this customer was experiencing.



“I can’t get my fuel pressure high enough…..”

If you are experiencing this issue, it’s most likely a supply problem. This is caused by a weak or undersized pump. Pumps are only capable of building so much pressure – some pumps more than others. An example being someone trying to use a pump that was meant for a carbureted application in an EFI car. Most pumps for a carbureted application were built with the intent of never seeing high pressure. You shouldn’t expect a low pressure pump to be able to build EFI pressure. Pump wear can also play a part in the inability to build high enough pressure. A worn pump will have more internal leakage, thus lower pressure. Even EFI pumps have their high pressure limitations. They might be able to build high pressure, but they are unable to maintain the pressure while still flowing enough to keep up with the needs of the engine. An example of this is a car that maintains the target pressure at idle and cruising, but experiences fuel pressure drop under high demands. This is simply a case of an undersized pump and you need to look at getting something that will flow more. Take our 41401 pump and our 42402 pump for example. Both are capable of building 100psi, but the 42402 pump is going to flow significantly more fuel and that pressure and will therefore support more power. In short- if your fuel pressure is dropping off, you’re running out of fuel. You need a bigger pump. At the beginning of this paragraph, I said “….it’s most likely a supply problem.” Although pretty rare, there is the off chance that a piece of debris is caught in the seat area of the regulator which is not allowing it to seal. That will more or less allow the regulator to bypass fuel before it reaches your target pressure. If you suspect this, either disassemble the regulator to inspect/clean the seat area or loosen the adjustment screw as much as possible, hoping to flush the debris out and into the return line (not ideal, but could work in a pinch).

The key to good/consistent fuel pressure and flow is this: Buy a pump that will flow a little more than your engine needs, remove as many inlet restrictions on the pump as possible, match it to a regulator that is compatible with the flow of the pump, and remove as many return line restrictions as possible.



General Modified EFI Fuel System Diagnostics

General Modified EFI Fuel System Diagnostics:

For most mechanics, diagnosing fuel system failures is a relatively simple task. OEM Fuel systems have already been designed and tested in its entirety with the vehicle. Once the Fuel System has been modified, all bets are off. Having a modified fuel system on a vehicle complicates diagnostics dramatically, as many assumptions made during diagnostics on an OEM fuel system are no longer true. No longer is it assumed that built up heat can escape, or that the fuel line size used is adequate. Here are a few tips regarding diagnostics on a modified Fuel System. The topics discussed are not related to seeing if there is a blown fuse or an empty fuel tank. We assume that you would look at these more obvious failures anyway. These are some “not so obvious” problems that can occur.

Most Common Symptoms:

  • Cause: Cavitation. Symptoms include:
    • Inconsistent fuel pressure. Occasional or repeated Pressure Drop-offs.
    • Fuel system failure occurs after operating for a few to several minutes before symptoms are noticed.
    • Symptoms worsen over time. Each time the vehicle is operated, symptoms occur sooner and sooner.
    • As the vehicle warms up or in hot weather, symptoms worsen.
    • Pump operating sound becomes loud or has a “grinding” or “ratcheting” characteristics.
    • Pump is very warm or hot to the touch.
  • Cause: General pump failure or inlet plumbing failure. Symptoms include:
    • Operating pressure is lower than regulator set pressure, or possibly no pressure.
    • Operating pressure may be inconsistent.
  • Cause: Insufficient capacity. Symptoms include:
    • Sharp fuel pressure “drop-offs” during high engine load (normal operation during low power operation).
    • Typically symptoms occur in “higher gears” during a drag race run.

If you are experiencing any of the above issues, the problem with the fuel system is not the regulator, but likely the fuel pump or its installation. Restrictive, dirty or blocked fuel filter(s) can also create any of these symptoms as well. Replacement of filters is the typical “first point” of component replacement. Filter replacement is typically helpful only with fuel systems that have many tens if not hundreds of hours of operating time. In very rare instances (particularly considering the use of E85 or Methanol), filters can become excessively dirty after very little time of operation (cases of extremely “dirty” fuel).

Cavitation Failure:

If the Fuel System is new or newly installed, the problem is likely an improperly designed (or modified) fuel system. While pump failure could be simply a bad pump, more likely the cause is improper plumbing due to having too small of an inlet fuel line size. Other causes can include too much heat build-up or having the mounting location too high or too far from the fuel tank (external mounted pumps). One special note about cavitation: A pump that has experienced cavitation, even for a very short duration, is most likely damaged requiring repair or replacement. As people who have experienced this failure always note that the symptoms get worse and sooner, each time the system is operating.

Cavitation can also occur when fuel temperatures at the pump are high. As a diagnostic rule: If the pump is too hot to comfortably keep your hand on it (above 120°F), then heat may be building up too much, causing the failure.

Another under considered possible source of failure can be tank venting. If the venting system is not modified or is allowing a vacuum to be produced, then cavitation can certainly be the result.

More information is available through link: http://fuelab.com/forums/topic/avoiding-cavitation/

General pump or plumbing failure:

If a pump is damaged or not operating efficiently, then it may not be capable of producing enough pressure. The role of the regulator is to restrict or prevent return flow back to the fuel tank (the regulator allows fuel to return to the fuel tank, once the fuel pressure is at the set pressure). In rare instances, debris is capable of getting lodged in the main seat thus preventing proper sealing (allowing fuel to leak though the seat, returning back to the fuel tank). There is one quick way to diagnose if the failure is debris in the regulator:

Step 1: Plumb the return line from the regulator into a fuel safe container.

Step 2: Operate fuel system while observing the return line.

If fuel is exiting the line, while the pressure is insufficient, then the failure is debris in the regulator. If fuel does not exit the return line, then likely the failure is something else).

In some cases (rare), a properly operating pump can experience these symptoms by pumping air. Air can enter into the fuel system through fuel line leaks, or air being introduced in the fuel tank (such as a return line that is “mixing in air”. An example of this last issue is shown in the Fuelab video below.

Insufficient Capacity failure:

Insufficient capacity is fairly easy to understand. If the pump’s flow capacity under pressure is not enough, then pressure drops off under heavy engine load. While this failure seems very obvious, it may have other causes instead of a failed pump or even too small of a pump. Plumbing issues such as discussed in the previous section can cause this. Another suspect worth investigating is voltage. Just because a pump is turned on and is operating does not mean that the voltage is sufficient. The best way to check this is while the pump is operating: check the voltage AT THE PUMP. Checking the voltage at other location can give improper results.

While failed components on themselves can be an issue, the biggest cause of these described failures is the implementation or operating conditions. Just as one should not blame a failed engine component on faulty design or a production flaw, if there was no oil in the oil pan. This same analogy can be applied to many issues regarding fuel system failure. Proper diagnostics of fuel system failures will help prevent needless component replacement and frustration.



Sometimes, two pumps are better than one.

A suspicion that has long been speculated has officially been confirmed; that indeed, the new Fuelab EFPR (electronic fuel pressure regulator) can in fact operate two Prodigy Fuel Pumps simultaneously. In the picture shown, this “Frankenstein” mess has two Prodigy fuel pumps in parallel running through the new Fuelab EFPR.

With flow rates exceeding 325 GPH (over 2000 lbs per hour) the system remains calm. With low current draw (11.5 Amps) at zero flow rate or simulated idle, this system can run continuously for street use. Because of the unique patented design, flow rate through the regulator still remains low, so low in fact that the system operates with just a 3/8” return line! The test was conducted using a 42402-c and a 41403-c fuel pump to monitor capability and performance. The new 52901 regulator also has a zero to five volt output, to data log actual pump capacity as well as give a safety indicator. The system was operated for 45 minutes to examine heat build-up. Next step for this set-up: Get it on a live vehicle.

Runner-Up: Best Engineered New Product at SEMA!!!

SEMA announced yesterday that Fuelab won the Runner Up Award in the Best Engineered New Product category for our new Electronic Fuel Pressure Regulator!

“SEMA has announced the winners of the New Products Showcase Awards, held Tuesday at the 2011 SEMA Show. The event recognizes the most cutting-edge automotive products either on the market or about to hit the market. This year, nearly 2,000 new products were submitted for consideration, according to the association.

Criteria that ranked high on the judges’ selection for the New Product Showcase Awards included superiority of innovation, technical achievement, quality and workmanship, consumer appeal and marketability, according to the association.”

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks to everyone that stopped by to see us this weekend. It was a great show and a perfect end to the 2011 NMCA points season. The weather was perfect and the crowd was huge- what more could you ask for?

We look forward to seeing you all again next racing season. Also, don’t forget to come check us out at SEMA, PRI, and IMIS.