While small-tire drag racing has on occasion seemed like it’s been dominated by Fox-Body Mustangs — be they Ford-powered or otherwise — there are plenty of other makes and models out there that people power down the track with. Team Z Motorsports, long known for its prowess with late-model Mustangs, has been working on fourth-gen Camaros and Firebirds for years under the radar, and is now poised to bring a host of products to the market for them. We rang them up and asked Team Z Motorsports proprietor, Dave Zimmerman, what it takes to get the Fourth-Gen F-body chassis to work on the track.
Team Z Motorsports is in its 21st year of building race cars and manufacturing chassis upgrades for both street and racing vehicles. With a background in prototyping for the OEMs, Team Z owner Dave Zimmerman was already fabricating at a high level of quality when he went into business for himself. Now over 20 years later, he leads a team of 35 employees with enough machinery to build just about anything.
The company has often been the go-to choice for many Mustang racers over the years, and that’s largely the platform that the company marketed and sold components for. In fact, Zimmerman explained that Team Z Motorsports designed the three-link rear suspension that went into the Ford Performance Cobra Jet Mustang from 2008-14.
Team Z has had plenty of experience over the years of building and upgrading chassis of other makes and models, though, including the fourth-gen F-body (Camaro and Firebird) platform.
“We do suspension well. We’re extremely vertically integrated, and can do everything in-house. We love muscle cars, and the fourth-gen, next to the Mustang, is one of the favorite muscle cars for people to race,” Zimmerman notes. “We’ve been working on those cars forever, and haven’t launched a line of suspension, but we’ve offered a rearend and suspension for four or five years now.”
Fixing The Foundation
Like many other unibody chassis, the fourth-gen F-body is prone to flex, especially with the T-top-equipped cars, and the majority of them seem to be so equipped. Even the hardtops cars can benefit from something as simple as subframe connectors, but stiffening the chassis is only part of making a car safer and having it work better on track, especially in a racing application where horsepower has increased dramatically.
“If you’re going to do a cage, you want a good set of subframe connectors. You definitely want a good foundation before you do a cage. We have a cage kit that fits really well in those cars,” Zimmerman said of his products for the fourth-gen F-body twins. “They are pre-notched, pre-bent, and certified to 8.50. Making everything fit is the hardest part with them. Most of the cars are T-top cars, so making the cage fit around the mechanism for those and making the main hoop miss the seat belt buckets is a challenge.”
Team Z offers both 8- and 10-point options, and is considering a 6-point, should the market demand it.
As part of fixing the foundation, Zimmerman also noted that good shock absorbers on all our corners is important.
“You want to control the rise of the front end, as well as the extension and squat on the rearend,” he says.
Rear Suspension Changes
Zimmerman noted that the area needing the biggest changes and improvements for performance is the rear suspension, and his company started working on suspension components for the fourth-gen platform about seven or eight years ago.
“The design of the rear suspension with the torque arm is good, but the location of the lower control arms in relationship to it is the issue. Getting the instant center correct is hard. A lot of guys need to extend the lower control arms. The length of torque arm lends itself more towards road racing. We are building a stock bolt-in to replace the stamped steel one and its rubber bushings, and a shorter one for drag racing that is designed around the Strange S60 rearend.
“We also have a 9-inch rearend that we designed,” Zimmerman continues. “We have an economy one and a fabricated version of the 9-inch. The center section on the fabricated version is pretty compact so not to have clearance issues with the driveshaft tunnel and rearend relief. The trunk floor and beginning of the transmission tunnel is pretty low, especially at a lower ride height.”
The shorter, drag racing version of the Team Z F-body torque arm utilizes heim joints and solid bushings, and the shorter length, combined with the lower control arm extension brackets, provides for a lot of adjustment for pinion angle and instant center.
While not as important as the rear suspension, the front suspension of the fourth-gen F-body does play a part in how a car works on track. Before building any performance parts, Team Z Motorsports realized it needed to address a common rust issue with this platform, and that is where the upper control arm bolts to the chassis.
“Midwest cars start to rust out at the bracket,” Zimmerman explains of the need to offer a new upper control arm mounting bracket to replace the factory one that may have expired or no longer offer adequate support.
The Team Z Motorsports F-body tubular K-member is another new product coming to market, and works for both drag and road racing applications.
“We messed around with the design to give more room and adjustability for the road racing guys,” Zimmerman tells us. “It’s lightweight, and we employed a modular way of manufacturing with it. We street-tested for six months in Michigan, the pothole capital.” Team Z took a slightly different approach when engineering the K-member, as they wanted to build in adjustability but ensure that the user’s adjustments remain constant despite external forces acting on it.
“Where the lower A-arms mount in other manufacturers’ K-members, they have a slotted adjustment. A lot of the drag racing guys complain about that. Sometimes when braking hard at the end of the track, if the A-arm bolt comes loose, the alignment can go out. Ours are keyed and slotted. We put that on the K-member and adjust in 1/8-inch increments and lock it into the place,” Zimmerman says. Complementing the K-member are fabricated upper and lower control arms.
Another component that Team Z offers is a tubular front end, which replaces the sheet metal from the strut tower forward. This saves about 25 pounds of weight and provides additional space for turbo systems or other components.
“We’ve worked on those for a while and have been trying to get a mount to work to sell them welded, Zimmerman explains. “We have it figured out for the Camaro, but the Trans Am with the flip-up headlight mounts is proving problematic. Our unwelded kit will work, but end user will have to make it work on their end.”
Additional Components For The Fourth-Gen F-Body
With the chassis, front and rear suspensions covered, Team Z found there were more areas of the fourth-gen F-bodies that they could provide products for, especially when it comes to racing applications.
“We will be manufacturing lightweight steering columns, which are bolt-in replacements,” Zimmerman explains. “They come with a Strange Engineering SFI-rated, five-bolt quick release hub, and we also have an adaptor at the end to adapt a stock intermediate shaft. When we release our K-member, we’ll make our own intermediate shaft so people don’t have issues with headers and stuff like that.”
Additionally, Team Z is manufacturing door hinges, as well.
“They are replacement door hinges that allow you to use a composite or stock door and make it a lift-off door,” Zimmerman explains. “We machine the pin and use a bronze bushing, so it’s a pretty stout piece.”
On the company’s website, you’ll also find seat mounting brackets, parachute mounts and more.
Installation — Best Practices
It should go without saying that the number one best practice when using tools and installing speed parts is to employ proper safety techniques, but of course, there are those that will skirt the issue to save time.
“You should have the proper protective equipment when grinding and cutting,” says Zimmerman. As a metalworker himself, and a business owner with metalworking employees, one can imagine the experience Zimmerman has accrued over time when it comes to what can go wrong during fabrication and installations. “Use jackstands and use proper safety equipment,” he continues.
He also recommends following the company’s videos that are hosted on their YouTube channel and soon will be embedded in their new website.
“We find that doing an install video is a much better aid than a downloadable PDF online,” Zimmerman says. “We have 10-15 years of videos. We try to make installation as easy as possible. With the tubular front ends, there’s some work there, a lot of precise cutting, and people need to be able to precisely measure. The bolt-in stuff is usually straightforward.”
Sometimes when components and systems are redesigned, it’s better to install all of the parts as a system so they work optimally, rather than install them piece by piece. We asked Zimmerman about this regarding the Team Z Motorsports F-body components.
“We set it up so people can grow into it,” Zimmerman explains. Just as this article has presented an order of things to follow, enthusiasts looking to fortify their fourth-gen F-body will want to follow the order.
Looking Towards The Future
As Team Z Motorsports’ F-body products officially hit the market, the company will be keeping an eye on additional components that consumers may demand. For now, though, they are ready to ship their current product offerings.
“There are a few manufacturers out there for F-body parts that make good stuff, and have a good hold on the market,” Zimmerman concludes. “We have a few good ideas that may disrupt that and will be working on our marketing more.”