A Classic with an Eye Towards the Future
Only Two Tom Henry SS Phase 2s were Built and We
Drove one of Them
by the staff of
the Camaro Homepage
photography courtesy of Tom Henry Chevrolet
been around 40 years or so–a special breed of dealer called
"conversion shops", "upfitters" or "tuners". The greatest
Camaro legends were created by such Chevrolet dealers. Don
Yenko, Baldwin, Dick Harrell, Berger and Bill Thomas were
all dealers which, back in the late-60s and early-70s, sold
self-branded, hot rod Camaros which were either
specially-built by Chevrolet via the Central Office Purchase
Order (COPO) mechanism or regular production units modified
with aftermarket parts.
these Camaros, the Yenko and the Baldwin Chevrolet/Motion
Performance Phase III are the most famous conversion shop
F-cars of the Muscle Car Era. Others, such as 50 1969
Camaros Fred Gibbs Chevrolet ordered with a COPO, aren't
known as "Gibbs Camaros", but once you know they were 50 of
the 69 ZL1s built, you recognize them, too.
Suffice to say: gearhead Chevy dealers jump at the chance to
put their name on a "second sticker", (from the second
window sticker which describes modifications and, of course,
any price surcharge) tuner car. That brings us to Tom Henry
Chevrolet in Bakerstown, Pennsylvania.
late-1940s, Thomas B. Henry owned a Gulf Oil station in
Glenshaw, just north of Pittsburgh. In the early-'50s, he
sold cars at Coyne and Evans Chevrolet in nearby Etna and,
by 1954, was the top salesman in the Pittsburgh Zone. On
February 14, 1958, Tom Henry opened his own Chevrolet dealer
in Bakerstown, 15 miles north of Pittsburgh.
mid-'60s, son, Tom G. Henry, started sweeping floors for Dad
after school. During high-school summers, he worked in Parts
and Service. In November of '75, fresh out of college, he
went to work, full-time, as a Service Writer. In 1976 Tom
moved to Sales, by '78 was Truck Manager and in '80, General
Manager. Finally, in May 1982, with Tom B. wanting a
less-busy schedule, young Tom G. took over as
Dealer/Operator. The founding Henry retired in early '91.
Tom Henry's finger and he bleeds Bow-Tie Red. In fact,
Chevrolet runs deep in the whole family. In addition to his
Dad founding the business, Tom's Uncle once was once the
Sales Manager. Tom's sister, Sue, who's a hardcore Corvetter,
is the store's Office Manager. Tom's cousin, Scott
Settlemire, was the last Camaro Brand Manager at Chevrolet
and now is Chevy's Manager of Shows and Exhibits.
Early-on Tom was a hot rodder. His first car was a '64 Vette,
327/365-hp four-speed, and his first new car was a '72
Corvette LT1, four-speed he still owns. Later, married and
raising a family, Tom got hooked on Camaros because they
where performance cars with a back seat for his kids."
the late-'90s, Henry Chevrolet formed a subsidiary, Tom
Henry Racing (THR), to sell parts on the Internet (www.tomhenryracing.com)
and to sponsor World Challenge road racer, Scotty White, and
open road event competitor, Rick Doria. By 2000, he was ripe
to get Tom Henry Chevrolet into the second-sticker thing and
later that year, THR became an upfitter, pairing-up with
GMMG on a self-branded Camaro, the "Tom Henry SS". As Tom
tells the story, it all began at the "Indy Y2K Camaro
Classic" at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August that year.
took my '98 Brickyard
"Scott had a prototype of a tuner car with a 380-hp LS1
which a company down in Atlanta, GMMG, built. Scott
says,'You gotta drive this car. You won't believe it.'
took this chambered-exhaust, 380 LS1 for a ride around the
Speedway. I drove that car and said, 'This thing's great.
How do I get one?' That's when they introduced me to GMMG's
owner, Matt Murphy who said, 'I'm doing some for Berger
had already done 50 2000s. He said Earnhardt was comin' on
and that he would include me for '01, but I needed to order
at least five cars or it wasn't worth it. I came home,
started poundin' the pavement and found it was easy to sell
five. Then, I jumped in with both feet and sold a lot of
Thirty-two TH-SSes were built, three '01s and 29 '02s. There
were: three automatics, 29 six-speeds spread amongst Nine
coupes, 17 T-Tops and six Convertibles. Other than two
Convertibles with "Phase 2" engines, Tom Henry SSes had LS1s
modified with a carbon-fiber air box, high-flow MAF, 180°
thermostat, ported exhaust manifolds, a Stainless Works
chambered exhaust system and a reprogrammed ECM. GMMG rated
these engines at 380-hp for manuals and 350-hp for
automatics. TH-SSes also had a 3.73 axle ratio.
Phase 2 Tom Henry SS, a mid-'02 offering, had the 380-hp
short block upgraded with GM Performance Parts', CNC-ported,
10.5:1 compression, LS6 heads; a different cam; a ported
throttle-body; headers and a 6500-rpm rev. limit. This made
a 435-hp package and included a 4.10 axle.
retained a Phase 2, '02 Convertible for his collection and
it joins his '68 RS and the '98 Brickyard 400 Pace Car. It
was the 11th TH-SS built, the first retrofitted on '05 with
a Ph2 motor and the car you see on these pages. It has
typical Tom Henry appointments: 1.5-in. lower height via
Eibach springs, American Racing Torque Thrust wheels (18x8s
in ft, 18x10s rr), Dunlop SP Sport 900 tires (245/40ZR18 ft,
275/35ZR18 rr.), THR instrument cluster with silver gauge
faces, Hurst shifter and seats with houndstooth cloth
inserts. This TH-SS, also, some special touches: Baer
AlumaSport calipers and EradiSpeed Rotors, a McLeod clutch
and Red Line Synthetic lubricants, 10W30 Engine Oil in the
motor, MTL in the trans and 75W90 in the rear axle.
asked Tom why a Convertible. "I
knew the ZL1 Supercar
final GMMG product)
was coming. I didn't want a hardtop and the ZL1s were 60-70
grand list price. I felt I could build my own LS6
convertible because open-air driving really appeals to me.
crossed my 380-hp SS and GMMG's ZL1. I did two–one for me
and another for a buddy of mine in Indiana. I ordered mine
new. It was drop-shipped to GMMG for the basic 380 work then
I had my people here in Bakerstown make it a Tom Henry SS
and add the Phase 2 engine stuff. When I was done, the car
went for $55,330.
enjoy the topdown, open-air feeling. Most of the guys
(the second sticker dealers)–Berger
was doin' all T-roofs, Earnhardt was doin' all
T-roofs–nobody was doin' a Convertible.
car has about 2500 miles. It's been to the GM Nationals down
in Carlisle in '02 and '03. It was in the Pittsburgh
CarQuest World of Wheels in '03. Other than that, I drive it
once every week or so. I'll keep that car a long time. Who
knows–I might 'Phase 3' it, now that the 427
available as a crate engine."
asked Tom why not upfit some other Chevrolet.
a business standpoint, it was easy. They
were available. GM constrains Corvettes, so you can't do any
volume. With the Vette, I can't say, 'Hey Chevrolet, I'm
doin' this package and I need 20 or 30 cars.' They'd tell ya,
'Forget it.' I could get as many Camaros as I needed. Also,
I like the motor in the Camaro and the sound. It's just a
neat package. I got two kids. They can't go with me in a
Vette. With the Camaro's back seats, they can.
"Actually, since Camaro went away at the end of '02, we did
something else for a while. It's a full-sized, short-bed,
straight-cab, pickup called the "THR Supercharged
Silverado". It's got a Magnuson Radix Supercharger on it.
The five-three version makes 500hp. Our website,
www.tomhenryracing.com, has some stuff about those trucks."
time for lunch. Tom blew me away when he quipped, "You
drive." and tossed me the keys. Right away, I understood why
Tom Henry likes his Phase 2. On Route 8 just north of the
dealership, I didn't pop the clutch, didn't even floor it.
I gave it, like–3/4s throttle. The motor hit about two grand
and those big Dunlops smoked. I banged second, barked the
tires, then the car hooked and I buried the gas. That Tom
Henry SS took off like a shot with the chambered exhaust
making a glorious sound. I tagged the rev limiter in second,
upshifted and stayed hard on it well into third. I was
totally liking this car. Seeing a cop in a Crown Vic up
ahead, I stood on the Baer brakes and drove by the nice
police car like an honest man. I had a fleeting thought that
this would kinda feel what the 2009 Camaro might feel like.
over lunch, I asked Tom if he would resume building Tom
Henry SSes once the new Camaro, to be built on GM's "Zeta"
platform, arrives in 2009.
yeah. We'll be in this time. Now I know where and how to
advertise and market the Tom Henry SS. We could really take
it and run with it. I think this will be a V8, rear-drive,
sporty coupe and I bet we could make twice as many in first
couple of years as we did in '01 and '02.
"Another thing's that's interesting is my SS, with the Phase
2, 435 horse motor has about the same power and might be
about the same weight as the '09 Z28, SS or whatever they'll
call the uplevel performance convertible. You take the
difference between a regular Z28 from back in '02 and my '02
Tom Henry SS, then factor that into the difference between a
regular V-8 '09 and a future Tom Henry SS
and...wow...500-hp! That oughta be a fun car!"
only hope, Tom.
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