What Drives You: Car love rebellion from Michigan

Elizabeth Treen has no desire to work on run-of-the-mill daily-driver cars, but she will gladly rip apart any collector car to rebuild it. For Treen, working on her 2002 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 is a labor of love — love for her car, the hobby, herself and other car gals like her. She was raised in an old-fashioned home where the thought of a girl getting dirty and working on a car was unthinkable, and whenever she tried, the tools were taken away. But her love for things that go “vroom” never left her.

Treen’s Dad always had a 1962 Ford Falcon in the garage that was originally intended for her younger brother to restore. Treen has childhood memories of playing in the car and pretending to drive it. “I remember the old car smell. I loved that car and always will. To this day I’ve never heard it running,” she said. Since the Falcon was meant only for her brother despite his lack of interest in the project, once she was able to drive, Treen set off to buy her own car — a 2002 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, which is the apple of her eye.

After four years of ownership and as soon as she landed in a place that had a garage, the build was on. Wasting no time, she immediately stripped down the car for upgrades. “I broke it down right before the 2008 Dream Cruise, but it took until Dream Cruise 2009 to button everything up,” she said. And Treen had no desire to take the easy route — no lifts or cherry pickers were used. “I’m a small girl; there was plenty of room to work with!”

Everything on the car was upgraded with the exception of the bottom end. Treen crammed the largest possible engine that would fit into the Camaro’s engine bay without modification — an LS1 — and it’s this heart-of-the-beast that received the most love, including these performance-enhancing additions: AFR 205s competition heads, a COMP camshaft, GM racing lifters to withstand the rigors of sustained high rpm usage, COMP Cams chromoly pushrods, Harland Sharp roller rocker arms, Kooks long-tube headers, a Borla 3-inch cat-back exhaust and a Vigilante 3600-3800 torque converter, among others.

With all of the extra power that these modifications offer, the following components were installed for supreme drivability: a Spohn Performance torque arm with driveshaft loop, a Panhard bar for suspension stability and sub-frame connectors to stiffen the chassis. And a nice set of Foose chromies were put on to wrap it all up into one sweet package.

This H/C LS1 car finished out as a torque-monster with 377 lb.-ft. and a tire-squealing 413 horsepower, and that is still including the emissions equipment required by the state.

According to Treen, being a female in the car world can be an awkward experience. “I’ll be driving my Camaro up to a gas station, and whoever is with me at the time — my brother, fiancé or a guy friend — will get out and pump gas as onlookers approach them to ask about the specs of my car.” Ironically, Treen also has pistons tattooed on her shoulders that make it fairly obvious that she’s a car gal. “I just watch them squirm under the pressure of all of the questions, and sometimes if I have to I’ll jump in to help. The facial expressions are priceless,” she said.

With some minor disadvantages come great advantages: Everyone wants to help a car girl with her build. This is a fortunate thing, because with Treen weighing just over 100 pounds, some of these parts weigh more than she does, not to mention that a bolt needing to be torqued to 95-lbs is a challenge to say the least. The most convenient thing, though, is that her small hands fit in tight spaces. In fact, at one point during disassembly she could fit her entire body in the engine bay.

Another advantage, Treen stated with a grin, is weight reduction. She hasn’t taken her car on a track yet because she’s afraid of being unable to afford repairs if something were to go wrong. “My heart and mind wouldn’t be able to handle that it’s broken without being able to fix it. I want to make sure I have enough money put away for any repairs before running her on a track,” she said. But someday, it will happen. She built the car as a weekend warrior and dreams about making it through the Hot Rod Power Tour.

“I will have my Camaro forever and ever,” Treen said. Someday she would love to put together an older model, perhaps a rat rod or traditional hot rod — her Camaro was only the beginning to a lifelong love of building things that go “vroom.”

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