Race Car Build Series – Building a COPO Camaro Clone – Part 3

It’s been a while since the last installment in our Building a COPO Camaro Clone article series. As it often does, life had gotten in the way of race car build progress for Jesse Pierce Wilson. Now he and his team are back on track and the COPO Clone project has taken major strides.

Building a 5th Gen COPO clone isn’t a common thing, and only a handful of race teams are doing it. Jesse told us. Jesse said he 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. For an introduction to the build see http://fuelab.com/building-a-copo-camaro-clone/.

In an earlier segment (http://fuelab.com/race-car-build-series-building-a-copo-camaro-clone-part-2/) we touched on the removal of parts, and the repainting of the 2010 Camaro, which started life a V6. This article now focuses on the installation of new rear suspension, a solid axle, a roll cage, and ancillary components.

New Rear Suspension Installation

The COPO Camaro is designed for a singular mission; drag racing. While the independent rear suspension of the 5th Gen Camaro makes for great handling, it is not the best design for hard drag launches. Wheel hop is a major issue.

Camaro Rear Suspension - Apex Motorsports

This photo shows the 5th Gen Camaro IRS Design *Photo courtesy of Apex Motorsports

The COPO Camaro utilizes a solid rear axle design. Therefore, the stock Camaro needs major revisions to the rear floor pan and frame to provide mounting locations, for the solid rear axle assembly, as well as make room so that it can fit.


Before the process of installing a new rear suspension was started, the interior of the Camaro was completely gutted. The Pierce Wilson’s purchased the car as a theft recovery, which simplified removal of the rear suspension and differential, as thieves had already done that. Note, the carpet and insulation were permanently removed

New Control Arm Mount Installation


To provide mounting points for the new control arm mounts of the solid rear axle assembly, subframe connectors were installed. The connectors are made from square tubing which is welded to the rear passenger side and driver side floorpan. The connectors then exit the passenger compartment through cut outs in the floorpan.


Lower control arm mounting brackets come in a kit the Pierce-Wilson’s purchased from COPO Parts Direct. In order to aid proper installation, the mounts were welded to a tube which acted as a jig. Measurements were taken to determine exactly how far apart the mounting brackets would need to be to ensure their proper placement alignment, before being welded into place. The jig was done to ensure they were welded exactly where they needed to be and with proper alignment.


The lower control arm mounts were then welded to the sub frame connectors. The tube which formed the jig was later removed.


Upper control arm mounts were also included in the kit from COPO Parts Direct. Jesse and his crew cut holes in the floor to access a rectangular tube which they had mounted in the interior earlier. The mounts were welded to this tube. This photo shows an upper control arm mount welded in place. Also, note the frame rail on the left side of the photo. Originally, the frame rail extended down further, and provided a location mounting the stock rear suspension. In order to provide clearance for the new solid rear axle suspension a section of the frame rail had to be cut out. The COPO Parts Direct included the cap that was welded into place.


Here is an overview of the rear floor pan before the solid rear axle was installed. Note: The jig for the lower control arm mounts has not yet been removed.

Solid Axle Installation


The axle housing was produced by Strange Engineering, and was sent to NPR Race Cars where brackets for the control arms were welded in place. The axle will run 4.10 gears, as well as Strange Engineering axle shafts. This photo shows the axle housing and control arms bolted into place. It is being supported by a jack as springs and shocks have not yet been installed.

Roll Cage Installation

After modifying the rear suspension to accept a solid rear axle, Jesse moved on to install a roll cage.


As dictated by the NHRA safety requirements rulebook, at each point where the roll cage attaches to the floor pan a .125″ thick attachment plate must first be welded into place. This photo shows the attachment point in the driver side foot well.


Tubes were precision cut


A hole saw was used to cut notches


Careful finishing on notches made sure fit was tight


Tight fit aided welding


Jesse said a close friend did an awesome job welding everything together


Outriggers were fabricated from boxed tubing and fit between subframe connectors and the rear floor pan/sills. A hole was cut to receive the roll bar tubes.


Welding Action Shot


Roll bar tube was slid into hole cut in the outrigger. Since the tube could slide up and down before welding, it allowed Jesse to adjust it to just the right height before welding. The outrigger also helps tie the car together, making it more rigid.


Quick release roll bar fittings are in place


Hole is cut in dash cover to fit around roll bar


Completed roll cage – rear


Completed roll cage – front

Fire Containment Panels

The openings on the rear seat area and rear deck will be filled in with sheet metal (or aluminum) to seal off the trunk area which is required by NHRA if a fuel cell is being used.


Panels were cut to size and fastened into place.



This concludes Part 3 of the build. Stay tuned for future articles that will include installation of the interior, electrical and a FUELAB fuel delivery system!




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