A local conversion with strict adherence to GM's factory standards

With full-scale conversion of the new Chevrolet Camaro underway at HSV’s Melbourne headquarters, we took a walk down the production line to see what goes into making a left-hand drive production car into one fit for registration on Australian roads.

HSV’s conversion plan for the Chevrolet Camaro sees the new car introduced as a full model line, not hampered by import or production limitations. In essence that means there’s no upper limit to how many can come into the country, although the first shipment comprises just 550 vehicles, around 70 per cent of which have already pre-sold.

Other converters are able to bring cars into the country at lower volumes, but also avoid things like local crash testing. HSV has to prove Australian Design Rule (ADR) compliance across the board – a more expensive exercise, but one that opens the door for higher volumes.

This more comprehensive process also sees HSV cover the Camaro with a three year/100,000km warranty – the whole car, not just the conversion. That's an offer few other conversion specialists are able to match.

Thanks to a close working relationship with General Motors, HSV had access to Camaro engineering data and CAD files, so before a single physical car landed in the country work could begin on sourcing new components, or planning modifications to parts that would need to be reconfigured.

Internal approval for the Camaro project was granted in April 2016, with engineering investigations underway by August that year. In January 2017 HSV met with GM to discuss the project, and by March 2017 CAD data was made available.

Access to this data allowed HSV to identify the 357 new components required to carry out a factory-quality conversion. Those unique parts were then engineered by HSV, and aren’t directly designed or supplied by GM.

Unlike a full factory production line where cars move from station to station in a heavily automated fashion, HSV’s smaller line looks like a hybrid between a traditional factory and an industrial engineering firm.

Complete, showroom-ready cars begin their conversion process looking much like any car presented for pre-delivery, but rather than having protective wrapped peeled off and getting a quick inspection and detail, HSV begins the teardown work required for the conversion process.

If you were wondering, the cars HSV gets are built to the same specification as those bound for Argentina, not those for North America, which doesn't make any significant differences but ties together the equipment, emissions standards, and specifications in a package deemed most suitable for local consumption.

At work station one, workers remove anything that might get in the way during the conversion process, including doors, bonnet, seats and the boot lining. From here, with a fairly bare looking car already, workers begin detaching the body wiring loom, and the first steps are taken to install a new HSV-designed loom.

Removed body panels and trims get carefully racked up and tagged to their origin car, so there’s no picking from a pile of panels later when they go back on.

From there it's onto work station two, where the newly fitted loom has all its body connections paired and trims begin to get refitted where they can, starting in the boot and moving towards the front of the car.

At this point the front facia and guards come off, and engine connections are detached ahead of the next stage of removal.

The newly-removed body parts join the other panels at the end of the line in preparation for refitting. What's left of the car then moves onto the third workstation, comprising six hoists.

At this stage the engine comes out, transmission lines, steering rack and one of the engine mounts are removed, with RHD-suitable components taking their place. Sections of the firewall that need to be reshaped to allow the conversion also get installed at this point.

The Camaro’s Alpha platform features a laminated lower firewall which can’t be welded, so new sections are riveted in. Higher up, sections can be welded and are. HSV also makes a minor change to the transmission tunnel at this point to maintain enough width in the right-hand footwell, so as to maintain GM standards for pedal placement.

All-new brake pipes find their way into the car, the brake booster swaps sides, and then the engine is ready to go back in – as a static install, though, with the car still pushed into position at the next stage of its rebuild.

From here the build process takes something of a detour with the Camaro’s all-new instrument panel fitted up with any carry-over components from the donor dash, alongside new RHD-specification parts.

The instrument panel itself is built to HSV’s requirement by Socobell, a component manufacturer responsible for supplying OEMs with their own dash panels ahead of the closure of local automobile production. Pulling down the old subassembly takes approximately one hour, with reassembly taking another hour.

Out of sight, the dash wiring harness gets flipped upside down, requiring no reconfiguring, and meets up with repositioned connectors in the new body harness. As with body components, dash parts are all tagged to the car to ensure seamless refitting and traceability, should any component fall under a recall.

New HVAC components get fitted up, including a rerouted heater core and condenser core, seat motors swap sides where applicable (to ensure the driver’s pew maintains the required range of adjustment) and the seats get mounted on new seat bases.

The headlights take a detour at this point, too, adjusted to ensure a correct throw pattern for left-hand traffic, and placed into an alignment buck for validation. HSV claims to be the only converter able to do so with HID lights.

Station four sees the new dash installed along with the carpet, console, seats, and doors, along with door cards adjusted to house the seat memory buttons and boot release over to the right. The engine and its associated plumbing are refitted, and the final section of body wiring through to the front of the car goes in.

Air-conditioning connections are made, and then the first engine fire-up takes place. A new plenum chamber also gets fitted, inset with a wiper assembly sent to a supplier for remanufacture as a right-hand component, and correctly oriented new wiper arms fitted.

At station five the rest of the Camaro’s bodywork is fitted, electronic systems are put through a test cycle, and the car does a rumble strip drive. A wheel alignment is carried out, a computer systems validation cycle is run, and a 2.5km road test functions as part of the validation process, as well as the transmission calibration procedure.

The final stage in the process sees a full quality check carried out. Every bolt handled by HSV gets rechecked to correct torque specs, another computer check is carried out, and for every five to ten cars that come off the line an even more comprehensive full quality control check process taking 4-5 hours is run.

Any issues are identified and rectified, and any process changes that get identified are relayed back to the line for adoption in the production process.

As the line ramps up, HSV is starting with a production rate of three cars per day, but has the ability to double its output rate should demand require it. From start to finish the process sees 130 work hours go into each build, with 51 employees on the line.

Due to the Camaro’s monocoque construction, processes differ from the way HSV does its conversion work on the Silverado 2500. Where body-on-frame utes can keep driveline components in place with the body off, the Camaro needs a more comprehensive teardown with the differential, fuel tank, glass, and boot lid the only parts not removed.

To ensure ease of operations, HSV has broken the production process down into stages that it describes as relatively simple at each station, despite the complexity of the overall task.